Harold Dent

obituaries

Harold Dent, who died six weeks after reaching his centenary, more than any other individual not in government played a central part in the battle for the 1944 Education Act, the passage of which was by no means a foregone conclusion.

Appointed "acting" editor of the Times Education Supplement in July 1940 (when its future was in doubt) he transformed an obscure journal focusing only on the public- and grammar-school world into a mass-circulation instrument propagating social and educational change and faithfully reflecting new developments throughout the world of education. The Supplement became a major force supporting, indeed leading, the movement for legislation culminating in the Act.

Dent's appointment took place partly by chance. A freelance journalist (with teaching experience), he had made occasional contributions to the TES in the late Thirties and was a familiar figure at student and youth conferences. His appointment was originally stop-gap but success soon led to permanence. Most striking was a series of four leading articles in June and July 1941 in which Dent defined his ideas on the totally new approach to education demanded by current circumstances. The principle of equality of opportunity, he wrote, "demands a total reform based on a new conception of the place, status and function of education in a democratic State, not a patching and padding of the present system." But this would be fought "openly, subtly or, most dangerously of all, unconsciously". So all should "realise to the full the implications of this most revolutionary principle". Only thus could everyone be given "the fullest opportunity to develop every innate power. Only thus can we hope to produce a noble race".

Dent was supported by only one assistant in producing the weekly TES. Joan Peel, aged 24 (who shortly afterwards became my wife), sent him early in 1941 a sharply critical (or "fierce" ) letter. His response was to tell her not to criticise from the outside, but to come and help him. She did; so there were two of them sharing a tiny room in the historic Times building in Printing House Square.

"Those war-torn years when H.C. Dent drove himself on all cylinders to take a lead in policy-making . . . must rank as the most exhilarating, demanding and influential in the paper's history," Patricia Rowan, now editor, has written. After putting the paper to bed each week Dent, whose packed bag was always ready, took off for all parts of the country, leaving his assistant to field all comebacks (sometimes dramatic) and to prepare for the next number.

In 1942 Dent presented his full educational policy in a popular book aptly titled A New Order in English Education, which obtained a mass sale. Dent drew on his four leaders to present a powerful case for educational advance across the board. When legislation came on the agenda first with the White Paper (1943) and then with the publication of the Bill itself, Dent threw his full weight behind their propagation both in the journal and in his own independent publications which used his journalistic skills to extricate and popularise their content. The high level of support the legislation achieved was in no small part due to Dent's tireless energy, to his skills and popular touch.

Dent remained editor of the TES until 1950 when he was aged 56. He then moved into the academic world as a professor at Sheffield University, senior research fellow at Leeds and finally as assistant dean at the London Institute of Education. During these years he published several books on education, commenting acutely on the contemporary scene.

Reaching the age of 80 he retired completely, living finally in Devon in a pleasant, sunny house where he was lovingly cared for by his daughter. Visiting him a year or two ago my wife and I found him lively and articulate, though recalling little of the great days of his past. His centenary was celebrated in the educational press and at his home in Cullompton. With Harold Dent's death a chapter in educational history may be said to have closed. His ideals, however, remain as relevant today as they were 50 years ago.

Brian Simon

Harold Collett Dent, journalist and educationist: born 14 November 1894; assistant master in secondary schools 1911-25; Head of Junior Department, Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School 1925-28; first headmaster, Gateway School, Leicester 1928-31; freelance journalist 1931-35; assistant editor, Odhams Press 1935-40; Editor, Times Educational Supplement 1940-51; Educational Correspondent, the Times 1952-55; Professor of Education and Director of the Institute of Education, Sheffield University 1956-60; Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Education, Leeds University 1960-62; Assistant Dean, Institute of Education, London University 1962-62; married 1922 Loveday Martin (died 1987; one son, one daughter); died Cullompton, Devon 23 January 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company provides global satellite communi...

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Ashdown Group: HR Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms