OBITUARY: Education's Liberal Pioneer; Robert Dearden, Who Has Died at the Age of 71, Was a Professor of Philosophy of Education in the University of Birmingham. A Former Colleague, Dr D Ieuan Lloyd, Pays Tribute to One of the Country's Leading Thinkers in the Field of Primary Education

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Byline: Dr D Ieuan Lloyd

Robert Dearden was the most influential British philosopher of primary education. His book, The Philosophy of Primary Education (1968), has sold over 20,000 copies. He pioneered a liberal approach to education consistent with what might be regarded as a traditional view of knowledge.

He was Professor of Philosophy of Education in the University of Birmingham from 1978 until 1989 and died recently after a long illness from Parkinson's disease.

Robert Dearden was born in 1934 and lived his early life in Hayes, Middlesex. He attended Southall Grammar School and later trained to be a draughtsman on the railways.

During his national service, he joined the Intelligence Corps and became a Russian linguist. Thereafter he did his teacher training at Borough Road College and taught as a primary teacher in Middlesex, Derby and Buckinghamshire, during which time he studied philosophy at Birbeck College.

He joined professors Richard Peters and Paul Hirst at the London Institute of Education in 1964 and ensured that the study of primary education had an important place in its work. The criticism that philosophers have their heads in the clouds could not be levelled against Dearden. He was always on the side of teachers helping to clarify their problems.

At Birmingham he held Saturday morning sessions with headmasters where he took topics relevant to their professional interest and brought illumination to those at the chalk face who were often understandably befuddled by documents that were issued by government departments.

As head of department, he was without equal. He was always reasonable as well as rational. He had no favourites, everyone was dealt with fairly. His judgment was free of envy or vanity.

At committee meetings, he was impressive. He had mastered the documents better than those who had compiled them, correcting their authors both in the consistency of their arguments and of theirspelling. Students had an enormous respect for him. They often reported that they came to the university at the end of the school day tired, but left stimulated and refreshed. His lectures were prepared to the last detail, illustrating every major point with an example.

Among colleagues he gave and received criticism without malice. The argument for him was always the most important thing.

He was, as one ex-student put it to me, gentlemanly and modest in his manner. …