Dr Roland Meighan.

29.5.1937 – 20.1.2014.

Our dear friend and colleague Roland Meighan will live long in our hearts and his work will continue to be the engine underpinning  the Centre for Personalised Education – Personalised Education Now. This full obituary includes listings of his work.

A brief obituary has also been published in The Guardian hard copy Other Lives p.54… 12.04.2014 and The Guardian eNewspaper’s – Other Lives

Dr Roland Meighan died on 20th January 2014, he had been hospitalised since the New Year finally succumbing to heart failure. Roland was an academic at Birmingham, Nottingham (Special Professor of Education) and the Open Universities. He was a global thinker, researcher, publisher, and author who helped establish the Education Now Publishing Co-operative, was a founding trustee and director of Centre for Personalised Education – Personalised Education Now (CPE-PEN) and publisher of the Educational Heretics Press.

Roland worked in primary, secondary and further education in the UK and he also had experience of the Local Education Authority Inspectorate. He lectured principally in Social Psychology, Curriculum and Sociology, and was involved in teacher training and in-service teacher education. He was Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Birmingham for over twenty years and was associated with the Open University in various part-time roles since its inception. Roland was appointed Special Professor of Education at the University of Nottingham (1992-98) in recognition of his research and writings in the field of current and future learning systems in education.

In a distinguished career Roland researched, wrote and presented extensively on a range of topics including home-based education, personalised education and educational futures. His research included: 1. a ten year study of the perspectives of pupils and their judgements of teaching performance, 2. an ongoing study of over twenty years duration of the learning systems of parents who educate their children at home, 3. action research into democratic learning practices in teacher training over a fifteen year period, 4. theoretical research into the concepts of (a) the Hidden Curriculum, (b) Ideologies of Education, and (c) Flexischooling (d) Current and Future Learning Systems.

Roland opened a window on and provided a framework for understanding education and schooling. His focus on learning systems, past, present and future led him to identify key distinctions between authoritarian, autonomous and democratic patterns.  He proposed that, in a democracy, learners must manage their own education, choosing the mode of learning that is appropriate for their learning style and type of intelligence, rather than making the best they can of what is prescribed for them by the state.

Roland had a very clear view of how he was educated and perceived. Typically, he wrote a tongue-in-cheek alternative curriculum and vitae that included the following…

Roland appears to have made most of the ‘blunders of education’.  He was an early school-leaver who grew to think that the boy’s grammar school he attended was a machine for insulting the intelligence of its inmates.  He therefore missed out on the much-vaunted sixth-form experience and as a result was probably deemed to be eternally handicapped. He was a two-year trained teacher and therefore a non-graduate entrant to what he considered the semi-profession of teaching.  His first degree was triple-tainted.  It was an external degree, obtained part-time and in Sociology and the Social Sciences. His research was amongst the despised and rejected, the ‘low castes’ of education.  First, there was a study of part-time youth leaders, and then investigations into the perspectives of pupils and their judgements of teaching performance.  Next, there was an account of the world of deviant parents – those who chose to educate their children using the home-based alternative. Then there was a fifteen year action research into using democratic methods of learning with new entrants to teaching by giving them the opportunity to plan, direct and review their own curriculum.  The education establishment barely stirred. Despite these handicaps, he somehow managed to become one of the most highly qualified professors of education with both a doctorate and a higher doctorate to his credit before going independent. 

The thread running through all his activity was an interest in learning systems, past, present and especially, the future. He was founder and director of Educational Heretics Press, a not-for-profit concern devoted to questioning the dogmas of education in general and schooling in particular, a director of the Education Now Publishing Co-operative, and a trustee and director of the Centre for Personalised Education.

He accepted no labels, political or otherwise, other than that of educational heretic and freethinker.  He was hostage to no man, institution or ideology and he didn’t bend with the wind.  He was very much the British John Holt (a man he met and greatly admired) and the Bertrand Russell of educational philosophy. He was an internationally renowned critic of oppressive educational systems, the upholder of reason, the enemy of bad schooling, and sloppy educational thinking. His voice was forthright, his analysis razor sharp, his wit equally so, his values as solid as rock.

 Although an academic, Roland wanted to reach a broader audience and he learned to communicate in an enthusiastic, compelling manner with child-like directness and playfulness.  He didn’t waste words he thought more, spoke and wrote economically. Consequently, what you heard and what you read is steeped in wisdom, clarity and common sense.

This was a man who knew his lines, his facts and figures and examples… as those who challenged him soon found out. His influence on educational ideas is incalculable. He never sought fame, would never compromise his values and principles but his ideas and his language ranges across the creative, radical and alternative educational thought. Many educational thinkers and writers will find Roland’s work underpins their own. He composed and recycled a range of memorable strap–lines and phrases that are much emulated ‘guide on the side’, ‘sage on the stage’ ‘alternatives for everyone, all the time’, ‘anybody, any age, anytime, any place, any pathway, any pace.’

Roland’s work cut to the heart of personalised education and learning. This was not about the shallow tailoring of a proscribed curriculum offer as epitomised in current governmental interpretations of personalised education. This was something more fundamental, deeper and wholly personalised with the learner directly in the driving seat, self-determining their own lives and learning pathways.

His experience, research and position gave him credibility and gravitas. It was a potent, convincing combination.

At Birmingham University in the 1970s and 1980s Roland both ran a PGCE secondary teacher training course in social sciences and taught courses in the sociology of education. Roland had a lifelong professional interest in humane and democratic alternatives to the existing nature of formal education that might take place within or outside of existing educational structures. This influenced his practice so that, based on an idea put forward by Adam Curle, then Professor of Peace Education at Bradford University, Roland developed the idea of ‘democratic learning co-operatives’ both on the teacher training programme and in his sociology of education courses. This was where the students designed their own course as a group and implemented it with staff as senior learners. This had a profound effect on the thinking of students as it immediately raised fundamental issues about the nature and purposes of education that questioned the assumptions of their previous experiences.

He also became increasingly interested in the practice and theory of home-based education during this period and in the early 1980’s was critically involved with one of the early court cases (the Harrison family) where a family’s right to educate their children at home was tested by the law. He was also active in ‘Education Otherwise’, the organisation run for and by people who are educating their children at home and being educated at home.

His writing on social science education and the sociology of education attracted the interest of the publishers Holt Rinehart who approached him about writing a book on the sociology of education. The first edition of A Sociology of Educating was published in 1981 and was an immediate success and was sold globally. It is still probably the book that Roland is best known for. Roland was particularly proud when it was translated into Polish. It has now been revised and reprinted five times. The title suggested its interactionist approach to sociology and, while being an introductory textbook, it nevertheless also introduced readers to alternative approaches to education and the ideas behind them.

Roland retired from full-time employment at the University of Birmingham in 1989 but continued for one day a week for three years. Towards the end of the 1980s Roland helped to establish the Education Now publishing cooperative and then later Educational Heretics Press and the Centre for Personalised Education. These were to become a major focus of his ‘retirement’. In the 1980s he had become increasingly concerned at the way mainstream publishers of books on education focussed solely on conventional education or the government agenda and he wanted to provide a publishing outlet for those more concerned with alternatives to existing patterns of formal schooling. He also wanted to try to reach a wider audience than academic writing permits.

One of the first books published by Education Now was Flexischooling written by Roland himself in 1988 which examined how education can become better suited to the complex, post-industrial world rather than the nineteenth century institutions that schools currently are. This book followed on from conversations with John Holt about the notion of flexischooliing. Holt had stayed with the Meighan’s during one of his European Tours and cemented the close association of their friendship and their shared educational world view. This was followed by a catalogue of nearly one hundred books all of which were in some way critical of existing provision and providing an alternative to it, whether in the form of more democratic education, home-based education or personalised education. A number of these such as Damage Limitation, Comparing Learning Systems and The Freethinkers Guide to the Educational Universe were written by Roland himself. Through his own writing and his encouragement of others via Education Now, Centre for Personalised Education – Personalised Education Now and Educational Heretics Press Roland has had a significant influence on the thinking of generations of those involved in education, whether in schools, higher education or otherwise. Whether of not they fully agreed with him, he made people think and his voice will be missed in the landscape of uniformity and dullness.

Roland undoubtedly had a massive and direct impact on countless lives. Tributes flooded in to his partner Janet from far and wide on his death. He had been a man who gave people an educational home when we were lost in the wilderness of learning systems dogged by oppressive control, increasingly narrow curriculum offers and the empty rhetoric of success. He gave hope and direction; he pointed to a saner educational future and encouraged people to remain free-spirited and true to themselves and to democracy.

Audiences listened to Roland intently. They knew that they were likely hearing something significant, certainly worth while and potentially life-changing. Such was the respect Roland engendered that countless families and learners redirected their lives to try and put some of his educational work into practice. Others were inspired to create their own radical alternative educational projects and settings. Recently even mainstream schools have started to think creatively about how they could accommodate flexischooling. For all the rhetoric about choice and change in Academies and so called Free schools they are not transformational and pale by the side of these alternatives.

Roland lived his unshakable beliefs in co-operation, democracy and free thought. He was a light in the creeping darkness of the nation’s politics and yet painfully, towards the end he declared himself weary of the battle, knowing that all had been said and done. His legacy is beyond measure and one day what he stood for will be surely be revisited and reasserted; the deaf ears of this generation will become the open minds of generations to come. Roland could take heart in the fact that, twenty-six years after he brought the concept of flexischooling to our attention he witnessed the current growth in interest in flexischooling and the part CPE-PEN is taking in its development.

His works provide a map for an alternative educational future based on the deep and natural principles of personalised learning and social justice. He understood acutely that an education is very different from schooling and would not settle for the limitations of the latter.  Roland’s prolific writings were driven by his inexhaustible conviction that the world could be a better place and an education could be more efficiently and effectively gained. He was unwilling, unlike so many of his contemporaries, to bow to the orthodoxy of the times.

As a youngster Roland had been a gifted footballer and made the books of his beloved West Bromwich Albion. He spent his National Service with the Royal Signals Regiment. Later, he worked for the army as Lieutenant Colonel in Malta. He nearly trained to be a vicar, but became a humanist. His politics were originally Liberal then finally Green, his market views were co-operative and mutual, underpinned by an adherence to democratic ideals. He loved jazz and would regularly frequent festivals and concerts. He was self-taught on the keyboard and loved playing for his own pleasure. His sense of humour made him a joy to work with. He was always full of interesting and provocative ideas

A fortunate minority are able to make a difference to lives and influence this world for the better. Roland was such a man. He was a truly unique and imaginative educator and thinker whose absence from the educational landscape will be sorely missed.

Peter Humphreys. Chair / Trustee / Director Centre of Personalised Education,

Professor Clive Harber. Emeritus Professor of International Education, University of Birmingham,

Paul Ginnis. Independent educational trainer, consultant and author.

Editorial Work:
Publications – Selected List
Books and Edited Collections
Book Contributions
A collection of short articles written by Professor Roland Meighan (pdf)

Compliled on April 11th, 2014 by Peter

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