Simon was noted as a key Communist Party figure in the campaign in the 1950s and 1960s for the end of intelligence testing. He was best known as life-long advocate of comprehensive schooling.
Born on March 26th 1915, his background was cosmopolitan, with an awareness of international events from which many of his English contemporaries were sheltered. As a schoolboy, Simon had encountered German fascism. The restaurateur Marcel Bostestio was briefly the family chef and was an early educational influence.
His father’s family had German roots, with involvement in the 1848 revolution, and moved to England at the time of the First World War, a story he uncovered in retirement. Both of his parents were well-known civic figures in Manchester. His father, Ernest Simon, head of the family engineering firm, was made first Lord Simon of Wythenshawe after a long spell on the city council and service as Lord Mayor. Among close family friends was R H Tawney. Brian Simon’s mother, Shena, to whom he was always very close, was for 50 years on Manchester’s education committee. While at Cambridge, Simon became involved in international student politics. In later life there were unsubstantiated and probably inaccurate allegations that that Simon recruited Burgess for the KGB.
After his degree, Simon trained at the London Institute of Education as a teacher. After war service with the Corps of Signal and GHQ Liaison Regt (Phantom), he taught in Manchester and Salford. Much of his later work was carried out in Leicester. His work to promote ways other than testing to define intelligence were largely ignored at the time by western academics, influenced by anti-communism. Ironically, he was influenced by L S Vygotski, a Russian psychologist who had fallen out of favour with Stalin but who now recognised as a key contributor to knowledge about early childhood development.
He became a professor in 1966, the year after the publication of the first volume of his four-volume history of the English education system from 1780-1990, this has become a standard text and is among the most translated of the 40 or so books he wrote. He co-authored a research study on comprehensive education with Caroline Benn.
He was critical of the 1956 Soviet intervention in Hungary and was for a short period a member of the CPGB executive. Simon formally retired in 1980, completing a draft autobiography, which was published in truncated form, concentrating on educational rather than personal issues.
Simon ended his career as Emeritus professor of education at the University of Leicester and died aged 86 on January 17th 2002.
Source: Guardian January ? 2002
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