Obituary: Martin Lightfoot
Tuesday 01 June 1999
An energetic and radical thinker, Lightfoot was impatient of convention. There is a story told of his younger schooldays. At the age of eight, in response to the teacher's request that the class should draw farm animals, Martin drew a red duck on his slate. He was told that ducks were white and asked to try again: he drew a red duck. Finally, after the teacher had confiscated all but the white chalks, Martin produced a drawing of a white duck - with, underneath it, the words "A red duck". All his life he demonstrated the qualities of quirkiness, humour, stubbornness, persistence and a complete lack of deference for authority.
Although he could have been many things - including perhaps one of the most interesting chief education officers we never had - many of Lightfoot's friends believe that he was born to be a publisher. Before university at Cambridge he had already begun to learn his trade during a short period at the Athlone Press, and at Cambridge he was involved with magazines such as Delta and the Cambridge Quarterly - which still uses his original design. But it was at Penguin Education, which he joined as an editor in 1967, that he began to make his mark.
There was a creative buzz then about Penguin Education. The imprint was in at the beginning of integrated litho printing and making books of a kind which had never before been produced for schools. Collaboration was the keyword: editors, designers, picture researchers and production staff worked closely together, with no division between departments. Lightfoot's impact was immediate. As managing editor and, later, managing director, he united a formidable critical intellect with a creative mind - a rare combination - and relished the opportunity to make beautiful books which exploited all the possibilities of communicating through words and images together, creating instant classics such as Geoffrey Summerfield's Voices anthologies.
His appetite for ideas was reflected in his contributions to the Penguin Education list, two of which were particularly important. First, he built an English teaching list which drew heavily on the talents of teachers in the National Association for the Teaching of English (Nate).
Thoroughly understanding the importance of Nate's work on the role of language in learning at that time, he gave it a wider audience, publishing James Britton's Language and Learning in 1970 and a number of other key texts such as Language, the Learner and the School (Douglas Barnes, James Britton and Harold Rosen 1969), and The Language of Primary School Children (Connie and Harold Rosen, 1973). Second, he was fascinated by radical American discussions of the relations between schools and society and published books by Ivan Illich, Neil Postman and Herbert Kohl.
In retrospect it seems the years at Penguin Education may have been Lightfoot's most successful. He was a bold publisher who would not be stopped once he had decided to do something: the element of arrogance in him was put to good use. The books that Penguin Education published were influential in shaping the educational scene in the 1970s.
In 1974, Penguin Books closed Penguin Education. No convincing reason was ever given for the closure, which happened soon after Longmans took over Penguin, and there was widespread protest. Lightfoot fought the decision fiercely and tried strenuously, without success, to find an alternative home for the Penguin Education team.
He then went as a Deputy Education Officer to the ILEA. He was the first person ever to come into the administration from completely outside the world of local government. In what was still a firmly hierarchical world, his style did not always fit. But he brought a breath of fresh air to County Hall, making a strong intellectual contribution and injecting a national and international perspective into internal discussions. He insisted, in the face of some inertia, on the need for ILEA to take a stronger stand on racial equality and find more effective ways of promoting the achievement of young black people.
From 1978 to 1982, Lightfoot directed the Schools Council Industry Project, which brought together, on its steering committee, representatives of the TUC, the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Schools Council. He was determined that the project should not just be about job-related links between schools and industry, but should affect the curriculum. His vision was of opening up the culture of schools to encourage far more participation from industry and the community as a whole.
To this end, he created a devolved project in which regional directors were encouraged to take account of local strengths and circumstances. This was a high-risk model, which he had to defend constantly against criticism, including criticisms from within the steering committee. A measure of the success of the project is that some of its innovations have remained deeply embedded: a network of local SCIP co-ordinators still exists 21 years later.
After a period as an adviser to the Select Committee on Education (1980- 82), Lightfoot became director of a Home Office project on race relations and the police. The Centre for the Study of Community and Race Relations was set up in 1984 at Brunel University following a report by the Police Training Council, which drew attention to the urgent need for training in this field. Lightfoot brought together a multi- disciplinary team, including academics, police officers and community workers, to run a series of six-week courses for police training staff.
In the 1990s, Lightfoot found himself swimming against the educational tide. He returned to one of his earliest passions, the relationship between words and images and, in partnership with Brigitte Guillaumet, set up a small gallery specialising in affordable prints of this kind. He was a knowledgeable collector with a particular interest in pictures and illustrations with literary associations. As he became ill, in recent years, Brigitte Guillaumet gave him devoted support and care.
Martin Lightfoot, publisher and educationist: born London 15 February 1942; died London 5 May 1999.
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