IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


In memory of Professor Sir William Taylor CBE (1930-2023)

7 February 2023

The former IOE Director passed away in January at the age of 92.

Professor Sir William Taylor CBE

Sir William Taylor was a graduate of the London School of Economics; he qualified as a teacher (PGCE) at Westminster College and undertook postgraduate study and research at the IOE (then the University of London Institute of Education), where he obtained an Advanced Diploma in Education and a PhD. His early career was as a teacher in secondary modern and primary schools and then as Deputy Head of a secondary modern school in Kent. He went on to teaching posts in two Church Colleges of Education (St Luke’s and Venerable Bede), and then as a lecturer in the Department of Education at Oxford University, prior to his appointment as Professor of Education and Director of the Institute of Education at Bristol University. He then spent ten years as Director of the IOE. 

Taylor was young and ambitious when he came to the IOE and he would subsequently go on to a range of other posts. During his directorship, the IOE would move from Senate House to its current home, 20 Bedford Way. Taylor focused on financial realities and attempted to steer clear of the political entanglements that were a feature of the time. He was a skilled administrator and worked closely through the relevant committees, organising meetings that brought together all staff, academic and professional, in a time of constricted finances. He believed ‘everyone needs to share responsibility for the way an academic institution is to be managed’. As a leader, he was personable and learned everyone’s name. He is remembered for one year working through the building to thank staff individually and wish them a happy Christmas. The cafeteria which subsequently became the Lawton Room was opened to all with no reserved spaces for senior professors, in contrast to many senior common rooms then. Leadership and administration were also starting to cut into some areas of professorial autonomy: Taylor preferred to seek advice from a Policy Advisory Committee rather than work through the Committee of Professors. 

It was also a time when the training of teachers underwent a cultural shift with the great increase in the number of comprehensive schools and corresponding reduction in grammar schools. Along with colleagues such as Brian Simon and Richard Peters, Taylor believed that education was not best conceived as a discipline but rather as a field of study with which various other disciplines interacted. In responding to these changes, he worked with William Tibble and others to develop the influential Students Library of Education, which made available educational research for the growing numbers studying education.

Taylor’s own academic work was most closely associated with the rapidly developing areas of the sociology of education and educational administration. His PhD thesis was supervised by George Baron and Jean Floud and was completed in 1961 on ‘The changing concept of the secondary modern school: A study of the development of the modern school and its function as a social institution’. This led to the publication of probably his best-known book, The Secondary Modern School, in 1963, for many years the key work on the topic. His many influential collaborations included the landmark text Educational Administration and the Social Sciences, jointly edited with Baron in 1969. His other principal publications include, as author: Society and the Education of Teachers; Heading for Change; ‘And Gladly Teach’; Research and Reform in Teach Education; Universities under Scrutiny. As editor and contributor: Towards a Policy for the Education of Teachers; Metaphors of Education; (with Brian Simon) Education in the Eighties

During this period Taylor was also Chair or President of a number of UK and international organisations, including the National Foundation for Educational Research, the Association of Colleges of Further and Higher Education, the Council of Europe Committee for Educational Research, and the European Association for Institutional Research. He was awarded Commonwealth visiting scholarships in Australia and New Zealand, and undertook country assessments for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. He chaired the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education from 1984 to 1993, and the equivalent body in Northern Ireland from 1996 to 2002.

Following his directorship of the IOE, Taylor spent two years as Principal of the University of London. He then moved in 1985 to become Vice Chancellor of the University of Hull, taking retirement in 1991. He subsequently responded to invitations to serve as full-time interim Vice Chancellor of Huddersfield University (1994-5) and Thames Valley University (1998-9), and acted as Interim Head of the Winchester School of Art, 2004-5. 

Across the 1980s and 1990s he was an independent member of several school and university governing bodies, including Hymers College, Sevenoaks School, Christ Church University College, University of Glamorgan. He chaired the panel of the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation, which considered the Hong Kong Institute of Education’s application for degree-awarding status, and later completed two terms as a Governor of the Institute. 

He was Academic Advisor to South East Essex College (1999-04) on the development of its relations with the University of Essex, and to the States of Jersey Education Committee concerning its postgraduate scholarship programme (2001-4). In 2001-2 he chaired the Universities UK committee on the future funding of universities. He was Chair of Convocation of the University of London for three years in the late 1990s, and visiting Professor at the University of Southampton from 1998. He was a Leverhulme Emeritus Research Fellow from 1994 to 1998. Between 2000 and 2007 he served as specialist adviser to House of Commons committee enquiries into student retention, sustainability and the Bologna process. From 2001 to 2005 he chaired Learning and Skills Council reviews and prepared reports and recommendations concerning Post-14 Education and Training on the Isle of Wight, in Southampton, in Portsmouth and in Hampshire as a whole. In 2008 to 2009 he chaired the Skills Commission’s enquiry into Apprenticeships.

He took an equally active part in international activities, travelling extensively for academic visits, including to Australia (23 in total), Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Hong Kong (PRC), Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, the United States and several European countries. He was for ten years President of the Council for World Citizenship. He was Visiting Professor at the University of Bloemfontein in 1992, and visited most of the Republic of South Africa’s universities. 

Into the 1990s and 2000s he undertook institutional and area reviews and produced reports and recommendations for DFID and the Foreign Office as well as many other bodies, such as the Quinquennial Review of the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission, Book Aid International, overseas postgraduate scholarship schemes (now Chevening scholarships), Prince of Wales Scholarship scheme at Atlantic College, Seven Year Review of the University of Ulster, Governance of the University of Warwick, Henley Management College, University of Melbourne Institute of Education, and others. He was also a columnist for the Times Higher Education Supplement.

He was awarded honorary doctorates by Aston, Bristol, Essex, Huddersfield, Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hull, Kent at Canterbury, Kingston, Leeds, Leicester, Loughborough, London University, Open University, Southampton, Thames Valley, University of the West of England, Ulster, Queens (Belfast), Plymouth and Glamorgan.

He was made CBE in 1982 and knighted in 1990.