Papers relating to education and the Black Papers

Scope and Content

The subgroup includes a series of alphabetical correspondence files, each devoted to a specific correspondent; these are principally contributors to the first three Black Papers, and the correspondence relates to their contributions, education issues, the Black Paper campaigns, and the 'Freedom in the Academic Community' manifesto. There is also a sequence of more general files relating to the first three Black Papers, Black Paper 1975, and the 'Freedom in the Academic Community' manifesto, which includes manuscripts or annotated proofs of some of the contributions to the first four Black Papers, along with related correspondence, cuttings, publicity material and other papers.

Administrative / Biographical History

The background to the publication of the first Black Paper,Fight for Education (1969), is outlined briefly in the collection level Administrative History description. This special issue of Critical Survey, to which various teachers, well-known academics and writers contributed, opened with a group of brief essays on student revolt and egalitarianism. Cox followed this with an article on examinations, and the central section of the pamphlet focused on direct-grant, public and comprehensive schools, and progressive education techniques. The final section was devoted to higher education, and the social and cultural background to the student protests of the 1960s.

Black Paper Two (published as the autumn 1969 issue of Critical Survey) received as much public attention as the first. It was similar in form, with short polemical articles balanced by more lengthy academic pieces. Contributors included eminent psychologists such as H.J. Eysenck and Cyril Burt, other academics such as Arthur Pollard and Max Beloff, teachers such as Rhodes Boyson, and one Conservative MP (Angus Maude, who had also contributed to the first Black Paper). An opening section argued for educational selection according to intelligence and ability rather than social class - an idea based on the theory that intelligence levels are innate. This was followed by sections on: comprehensive schooling, and criticism of the way the comprehensive system had developed; progressive education and discovery methods in primary schools; and universities and the importance of academic freedom.

The press response to Black Paper Two, after a conference held on 7 October 1969, was largely negative and some of the ideas it promoted (such as inherited intelligence) were widely attacked. Despite this the pamphlet achieved high sales. Brian Cox determined to publish further Black Papers, and to produce manifestoes for publication in newspapers. The first of these, 'Freedom in the Academic Community', appeared in the Times on 23 November 1970. Signed by 154 members of university staff, it set out points relating to the central functions of universities and the rights of the members of these institutions, criticizing in particular the 'sit-in' as a form of protest, and the appointment of students to executive and decision-making bodies in universities.

This manifesto was quickly followed by Black Paper Three, published on 27 November 1970. This took a similar format to the first two pamphlets, containing a similar mix of articles written by many of the same contributors. Black Paper Three did not receive such hostile criticism as the first two Black Papers, and was discussed in more detail by education journalists. By this time, too, there was a Conservative government which was more sympathetic to Black Paper views.

After the collapse of this government in 1974 two further Black Papers were published, edited by Brian Cox and Rhodes Boyson, who was by this time a Conservative MP. Black Paper 1975 included a contribution from the novelist (and socialist) Iris Murdoch as well as pieces by a number of established Black Paper contributors. This pamphlet and Black Paper 1977 were more restrained in tone than the earlier, more polemical, papers. Their central arguments were based on the lack of structure and contradictions inherent in progressive education. These two pamphlets made proposals for implementing the ideas they promoted, such as the establishment of national standards and uniform testing at specific ages. By the later 1970s the general climate of opinion was more favourable towards these ideas, some of which were ultimately realized in the Education Reform Act, passed by the Conservative government in 1988.


The material is arranged into two series, based on original order:

  • CQA4/1 Alphabetical correspondence files
  • CQA4/2 General files

Related Material

Brian Cox's own archive contains further files relating to the Black Papers at COX1, and papers relating to the Freedom in the Academic Community manifesto at COX2.