Education

Clyde Chitty obituary | Education degree courses

My friend and PhD supervisor, Clyde Chitty, who has died aged 78 of a progressive neurological disease, was a powerful voice in education studies, particularly as an advocate for comprehensive schools. He wrote numerous articles and academic papers, and more than 20 books, including an important text on comprehensive education, Thirty Years On (1996), with his friend and collaborator Caroline Benn.

However he once confided in me that his proudest publication was a short story he wrote as an undergraduate about a gay relationship. This was before male homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967.

Born in Guildford, Surrey, Clyde was the only child of Dick Chitty, a high-ranking police officer at Scotland Yard, and his wife, Elizabeth. As Clyde grew into adolescence there was little to connect the gay, leftwing son with his father’s values, and the pair became increasingly estranged. The young man’s attendance at Latymer public school in west London produced a profound personal and political opposition to private education and the embedded inequality he saw as fundamental to its survival.

After studying history at Leicester University, and teacher training, in 1966 Clyde began teaching English and history, first at Malory school, Downham, Kent, for three years, then Kentwood secondary modern boys’ school, Penge, south-east London, where he was head of humanities, until 1973. He then taught at Roger Manwood comprehensive in Lewisham for four years before becoming vice principal, then principal, at Earl Shilton Community College, Leicestershire (1977-85).

An academic career in higher education followed, first as a lecturer at the Institute of Education (1985-97), where he completed his PhD, then senior lecturer rising to professor of modern history of education at Birmingham University (1997-99), and finally as professor of policy and management in education at Goldsmiths College, University of London, until retirement in 2010. Among his many publications were Eugenics, Race and Intelligence in Education (2007) and Education Policy in Britain (Contemporary Political Studies, 2009). In 2004 he also edited A Tribute to Caroline Benn, Education and Democracy, with her daughter, Melissa, and a foreword by her husband, Tony, following her death in 2000.

Central to Clyde’s career was an enduring commitment to equality of opportunity for all pupils and students. He approached teaching by acknowledging the limitlessness of a student’s potential and worked for the curriculum innovation that could realise this. In others this may have been just an expression of generosity of spirit but for Clyde it was a worked-through methodology: his preparation for teaching was thorough and his teaching spaces were orderly and promoted the respectful interchange of ideas. As a lecturer he impressed by being able to speak without notes for up to an hour – a skill enhanced by an amazing memory. Even more impressive than this was his exercise of compassion and kindness.

At Goldsmiths he met Gang Chi, a teacher and actor, who became his civil partner in 2006, and who survives him.

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