The Advisory Centre for Education was founded in 1960 by Michael Young and Brian Jackson who both felt Local Education Authorities (LEA) did not involve parents enough in the education of their children. They were primarily concerned with the lack of information available to parents and students about the workings of the education system. During the early years they campaigned in all areas of education from nursery, to compulsory, to further and higher education, to the private sector.
In the first edition of the Centre's magazine, WHERE?, Michael Young explained ACE's six main principles:
(1) 'parents of all income groups should have as much choice as possible, as well as the information needed' - based explicitly on the wording of Section 76 of the Education Act 1944 which stated that children should be educated according to the wishes of their parents
In addition to this main principle, ACE would:
(2) 'never attempt to evaluate the quality of any particular school'
(3) answer questions by letter with the help of an expert panel
(4) include all sectors, institutional types, ages and stages of education in its brief
(5) liaise with educationalists (including LEA administrators)
(6) be geographically confined to England and Wales.
During the early years the Centre's staff completed research to gather as much information about the how the education system worked. They provided a postal advice system (on payment of £1/year), published their magazine WHERE? (which was based on the magazine Which?), organised conferences on various subjects, forged alliances with other organisations, and established innovative pilot projects.
Between 1961 and 1970 ACE's membership rose quickly from 3000 to 23 000.
The initial advice service offered by ACE tended to attract enquiries from middle class parents; and ACE's membership tended to come from the top two social classes. During the 1960s ACE tried to reach a more socially representative audience and opened 'education shops' in Ipswich, Manchester, Wigan, Baslidon, Brighton and Huddersfield. Often located in shops the aim was to break down barriers and provide advice to parents in an informal environment. During the early 1970s this idea was expanded by providing similar services at a number of Butlins' holiday camps.
Originally founded in London, the Centre soon moved to Cambridge. In 1977 the ACE offices moved from Cambridge to Bethnal Green, London, after a rental claim from Peterhouse threatened the financial situation and the future of ACE altogether. Later on that year Peter Newell became director of the Centre with funding from the Gulbenkian Foundation. Financial problems meant ACE had to narrow its scope and a number of staff left, but it was also at this time that the Centre became more involved in civil rights issues.
By the mid-1970s ACE was finding that their campaigning (and that of other organisations such as the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education) was starting to have an impact. Local education authorities had introduced some teacher and parent representation on school governing boards; and the Labour Government appointed the Taylor Committee to look at school governance. The subsequent report recommended equal partnership between parents, teachers, pupils, LEAs and the local community on decision making processes.
During the 1980s work increasingly focussed on accountability. They campaigned against corporal punishment, education cuts, school closures, and exclusions, and advocated an end to secrecy regarding pupil records and greater equal opportunities - particularly racial equality.
After the publication of the Warncok Report in 1978, ACE became increasingly interested in the provision of education for those with Special Educational Needs (SEN). When the 1981 Education Act made provisions for SEN pupils to be educated in mainstream (rather than special) schools, and that parents should be more directly involved in their children's education provision, about 50% of all the Centre's advice work was about this issue. In response they set up a SEN Unit. It was also during this time that they set up a specialist advice service for Bangladeshi parents in Tower Hamlets.
In 1991 ACE offices moved again - this time to Highbury. They increased their staff - to six - which included a dedicated fundraiser. The Education Law Association was established to educate and train people about education law. In 1993 funding from the Nuffield Foundation enabled ACE to establish the Local Education Advice Project (LEAP). Forums were established to bring together voluntary sector workers and members, and provide them with training on education law and procedures. The aim was for these forums to then act as a catalyst for the eventual establishment of local independent parents advice centres. The most popular training focused on SEN, admissions and exclusions. Alongside this work ACE began to provide a face-to-face advice service for parents in Islington. This went on to become the Education Step-by-Step project - a central ACE activity. In 1998 a specific manual was finalised.
During the 2000s ACE increasingly attracted government funding for its telephone advice work, including a separate advice line for exclusions. Advice was also made available on the internet. An experimental project to provide advice by text message received a BT/Telephone Helplines Association Award for innovation. In 2010 the Centre celebrated its 50th birthday. In 2013 the centre closed.
This administrative history was produced using documents from the Records of the Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) collection.