Eric James and the Founding of the University of York

Posted on 1 November 2017

"From a green field site and no staff, he inspired the evolution of a University." In our latest publication, Allen Warren writes about Eric James and his vision for education.


This is the first study of the life of a man who shaped both secondary and higher education in the UK in the critical years after World War II. Eric James was the son of a commercial traveller in brushes from Derby, who was appointed High Master of Manchester Grammar School in 1945 at the remarkably young age of 36, just as the 1944 Education Act was implemented. A passionate advocate of the Direct Grammar School as an essential part of post war reconstruction and the desire to build a New Jerusalem through science and technology, he led the most successful academic school in the country until 1961. Throughout this time he influenced the public debate on education through radio appearances, speaking, and writing. He was made a life peer in 1958.

In 1961, he was appointed the founding Vice-Chancellor of the new University of York. From a greenfield site and no staff, he inspired the evolution of a University that was significantly different to the other new universities with its distinctive campus, focus on a small number of large departments, and college system.

He remained concerned with education at all levels, and in 1973 he was invited by the Secretary of State for Education, Margaret Thatcher, to conduct a review of teacher training, which remains the core document underpinning the training of teachers to this day.

The focus and timeliness of this study, coinciding with a revival of political interest in grammar schools, the scope and role of higher education, and the training of teachers, reveals the impact of the past on the present and adds a distinctive voice to an important modern debate.

Our new publication 'Eric James and the Founding of the University of York', written by Allen Warren, formerly Provost of Vanbrugh, is available to buy for £10.00 (+ postage and packing).