OBITUARY:Eric Briault

Eric Briault, geographer, athlete, conscientious objector and educator, will be remembered for his enormous contribution to the education service in London. For 20 years he was the Deputy Education Officer (1956-71) and then the Education Officer (1971-76), initially of the London County Council, then of its successor body, the Inner London Education Authority. He was a leading protagonist of the large comprehensive school as the solution to the problems of selection and the abolition of the 11 plus. He never ceased to be, at heart, a teacher - though he became a brilliant administrator.

Eric was a scholarship boy. He followed that route through grammar school in Brighton to Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he took a First in Geography and gained Blues as a middle-distance and cross-country runner. He then went straight into teaching, but continued his studies by working on land utilisation in Sussex, gaining a PhD in 1939. His interest in geography, especially in field studies, remained. For 10 years (1953-63) he was honorary secretary of the Royal Geographical Society.

After 15 years' teaching, including a decade as Head of Geography at Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, he was appointed Inspector of Geography with the LCC. That post carried with it the responsibilities of being the District Inspector for Lambeth. This was Briault's first exposure to working with underprivileged inner-city children, and it marked all his subsequent career. Much later, in 1973, there appeared in the Introduction to an Education Service for the Whole Community (the only ILEA report ever circulated to every teacher in London) the sentence:

We are sometimes dismayed by the way in which children are tugged apart by the divergent influences upon them: a home which has no contact with school, teachers who do not appreciate the degree of deprivation to which the child has been subjected, the leisure group, the gang, with an ethos quite different from that of either home or school.

It could have been the young Eric Briault speaking.

As an inspector with a solid teaching background, Briault well understood the need to combine support for teachers in the classroom with constructive criticism of their failings. In difficult situations, as at Risinghill Comprehensive, where he arranged for the Head's departure, he could, and did, act swiftly and resolutely when he thought that children were being short-changed. His earlier experiences stood him in good stead later on when the ILEA became the subject of adverse criticism from ill-informed sources.

At the same time, he had the weaknesses of his strengths. He could not understand those whose approach to children's needs was uninformed by any coherent values system, which made it impossible for him to comprehend the events at the William Tyndale Junior School in 1975. If he had had his way, the teachers would have been summarily dismissed: in the event, he was still giving evidence to the subsequent disciplinary tribunal in his last week of service with the ILEA.

His experience and interests meant that Briault was more concerned with London's schools than with the rest of the service, even though the ILEA had an exceptionally well- developed further and adult education service, and was responsible for about one-fifth of the country's polytechnic higher education. Briault's practice was to ensure that his senior colleagues working in the post- schools sector were on top of the job, and then, except in the provision of teacher training, to let them get on with it.

In this way, a major reorganisation of the ILEA's further education colleges was carried through in the early 1970s, and the support of the great polytechnics rested on other shoulders, even during the travails at the Polytechnic of North London. Briault continued his commitment into semi-retirement, when, having moved to Sussex, he worked as a visiting professor at the university.

He was fortunate with his politicians. In those days, public service in the great county education authorities attracted very committed and able people. London was no exception, and Eric Briault's name will always be coupled with those of (Sir) Ashley Bramall, Leader of the ILEA from 1970, and the very knowledgeable group of senior politicians who worked with him. For a brief period, it seemed as though the formidable team of tough politicians united with the highly competent officers under Eric Briault's leadership could really transform the London education service for the benefit of those it sought to serve. It was not to be, though to many observers the fault seemed to lie across the road in the DES, and in Westminster, rather than in County Hall.

Throughout his life, Briault was a committed, practising Christian. His firm faith had led him to register as a conscientious objector in the Second World War, and Protestant Christian values underpinned all he sought to do. Even when he was "the Education Officer", his colleagues knew that only the most important and immediate matter would keep him away from weekly choir practice at his church in Harrow.

To many, he seemed on first meeting to be almost excessively reserved. But he was capable of great personal warmth. He and his wife Marie (who survived him by only six days) regularly entertained newly appointed junior colleagues at their home; his human legacy is to be found in the many former members of ILEA staff who will remember him with affection and respect.

John Bevan

Eric William Henry Briault, teacher and education officer: born London 24 December 1911; Inspector of Schools, LCC 1948-56; Deputy Education Officer, ILEA 1956-71; Education Officer, ILEA 1971-76; CBE 1976; Visiting Professor of Education, Sussex University 1977-81, 1984-85; married 1935 Marie Knight (died 1996; two sons, one daughter); died Burwash, Sussex 14 January 1996.

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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'