Since the nineteenth century, the history of childhood has been inextricably linked to the history of schooling. Throughout the period of state-provided schooling, the approach to teaching the youngest children, originally from five but currently usually from three years old, has been contentious. This article looks at Susan Isaacs as a major figure in the shaping of views about early childhood education and thus in the history of contemporary childhood. It surveys her rather special position as someone who was herself a child in the urban late Victorian school system when schooling became compulsory for all, and who later combined radical innovation in the combination of educational theory and practice. She experienced for a period the running of a small experimental primary school on a daily basis, yet also engaged in high level academic research and writing which was founded on psychological, educational and, unusually for the time, observational principles. She thus provided evidence-based thinking for policy making at a crucial point in England’s educational history (The 1944 Education Act). Her early life, her neighbourhood as shown by the 1901 census and the educational significance of her position on the value of assessment through detailed observation are discussed within the overall context of the last one hundred and thirty years of educational change. This reveals the principles which formed during her childhood and which teachers who work with young children share now even though these are challenged by current government policy. This article focuses on educational policy in England, as the other countries of the UK have at times evolved separate structures for their school systems.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited