Workers’ Educational Association featured in new book about Citizenship

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Co-editor John Griffiths writes about the publication, having spent time researching in the TUC Library.

The new book titled The Citizen: Past and Present has been published by Massey University Press, New Zealand. (2017), and contains 11 chapters, the last of which focuses on the history of the WEA as an association for the promotion of citizenship in the 20th/21st century.

Cover of new book

Quite how citizenship has been defined at points across time and whose agenda lies behind the notion of citizenship is discussed in chapter 11 by co-editor John Griffiths, Senior Lecturer in History at Massey University. For his chapter titled From Citizens to Dilettantes and Back Again? The Workers’ Educational Association and its Students Since 1945 John explored the archive of the WEA, held within the TUC archive. He used annual reports (1945-) of the Association’s districts, the Association’s journal The Highway, various pamphlets written by WEA administrators which contemplated the Association’s objectives and purpose and the many volumes written about the WEA since its inception, also held in the TUC archives.

WEA publication

The Plan for Education, published by the Workers’ Educational Association in 1942, outlines their proposals for the restructuring of educational policy after the war and includes a special appendix on agriculture and rural education.

The Association had prided itself in the years before World War II in preparing students for active citizenship in areas such as local government, parish council, school and hospital governance. Several members of the post 1945-Attlee government (1945-51) had connections with the WEA. After 1945, if not before however, it was noted by several observers that the Association was becoming more dilettante, in that those taking WEA classes were more middle-class than working-class and ‘education for social purpose’ was being diluted. This concerned the Association for at least the next three decades.

A change in direction was noted in the 1970s as the WEA also began to offer education for the socially disadvantaged – known as ‘Russell type work’ – taking its name from the report into adult education of 1973, headed by Lionel Russell. This work was seen as more socially relevant and by the later 20th century placed the WEA in a position as a significant organisation for offering citizenship and social inclusion which chimed with New Labour’s objectives (1997-2010), particularly the introduction of citizenship instruction in schools. This chapter sits alongside other contributions which examine what citizenship has meant at points across history, from the very early civilizations to the modern day.

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