Sir Toby Weaver

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The Independent Online

Tobias Rushton Weaver, civil servant and educationist: born London 19 July 1911; civil servant, Department of Education and Science 1946-56, Under-Secretary 1956-62, Deputy Secretary 1962-73; CB 1962; Kt 1973; married 1941 Marjorie Trevelyan (one son, three daughters); died London 10 June 2001.

Toby Weaver was an educator and educational administrator of penetrating understanding and ability, with a clear and critical mind and unpretentious authority. He was a master without illusions, a public servant whose many studies and reports had profound influence on government policy and educational thinking, and were, moreover, with their wide reference, eminently readable.

It was his years at the Department of Education and Science (1946-73) that constituted his lasting importance as an authoritative educator. While always giving credit to his political masters, notably Edward Boyle, Anthony Crosland and Margaret Thatcher, Weaver was responsible for drafting many statements and definitions of policy. In particular his was the fundamental thinking behind the adoption of the binary system and the designation in 1967 of 30 polytechnics.

He saw their development as a crucial element in the redirection of education and training ­ of establishing the essential place of the socially vital culture of doing and making, in addition to C.P. Snow's famous two cultures of arts and science. In 1992 the polytechnics were renamed universities, but Weaver insisted that the polytechnic ideology must not be destroyed, but absorbed into the university curriculum.

Addressing a conference on higher education at Newcastle in 1976, in a speech which was printed later as an important contribution to the Royal Society of Arts' publication Education for Capability (1986), he characteristically summarised, under the capital letter C, "the capacities and attributes that constitute the armoury or equipment of the educated man or woman". These were Cultivation, Comprehension, Competence, Capability, Creativity and Communion. Of the most important of them he wrote:

I am thinking of a person's general capacity to manage his own life, to cope with his environment, to profit from experience, to master what used to be called the art of living, to reach sensible decisions and act on them. To call this quality gumption or "nous" is to incur the charge of vulgarity, to call it wisdom verges on the high-faluting, to call it lifemanship lacks seriousness. May I settle for Capability as the nearest I can get to describing the ability to apply the stock of knowledge and manifold skills, as Bacon put it, for the benefit and use of man.

Education for capability was an absorbing preoccupation of his later years.

Tobias Rushton Weaver was born in 1911 and educated at Clifton College, Bristol, and Corpus Christi, Cambridge, where he took a First in Law. His father, Sir Lawrence Weaver, was Architectural Editor of Country Life and author of a huge number of articles on country houses and gardens, the most seminal of which were on the houses and gardens of Edwin Lutyens. He was knighted for his brilliant organisation of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley of 1924-25.

Toby Weaver thus grew up in a community of culture which gave him a lifelong enthusiasm for reading widely and a familiarity with the classics. He also inherited his father's organisational ability and literary skill. After his father's early death in 1930, Weaver was virtually adopted by Sir Stafford Cripps, and the influence of the Cripps family added a further dimension to his education.

After leaving Cambridge, he worked as a teacher (for a time at Eton) and during the war at the Admiralty. In 1946 he became an official in the Department of Education and Science and worked there until 1973, becoming Deputy Secretary for his last 10 years. After retirement from the Ministry he was Visiting Professor of Education at Southampton University and then in the Institute of Education, London University, and in the Open University.

In 1941 he married Marjorie Trevelyan, and they had one son and three daughters. It was a close and happy family. Both he and Marjorie were devoted to aspects of design and music. After retiring, he learned to play the piano, and they put aside a regular part of the day to play duets together. He taught himself calligraphy and would send his friends beautifully lettered original comic verses, often limericks or clerihews, to celebrate some event in their lives, always marked with his witty delight in word play.

He will be remembered for his humour, friendship, loyalty and mental incisiveness; but essentially because he helped to change the shape of education, making it personally rewarding and more relevant to everyday life.

Patrick Nuttgens