Obituary: Dr Joseph Dunning CBE; Education theorist instrumental in restructuring secondary education and Napier College
Born: 9 October, 1920, in Dukinfield, outside Manchester. Died: 18 June, 2012, in Penrith, aged 91.
Dr Joseph Dunning was a visionary educationist, a driving force behind far-reaching improvements in Scottish education in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. In 1963, he was the first principal of Edinburgh’s Napier Technical College and presided over its elevation to Napier College of Science and Technology, adding two extra campuses. There he remained until 1981, pressing his vision that it could grow from a local technical institution into a major force in Scottish higher education. Although he had retired in the 1980s, he watched his “baby” become the world-recognised Edinburgh Napier University in the 1990s, something for which he remains recognised with the utmost honour at the university to this day.
While at Napier, “Joe” also became nationally known in Scotland for his general contribution towards restructuring Scottish secondary school education.
The 1977 Dunning Report, officially titled Assessment for All and still quoted widely, and followed, to this day, was a landmark in the development of Scottish education.
Before it was politically correct to do so, his report insisted that every Scottish schoolchild should have the right to leave school showing positive achievement and the possibility of further education. It recommended that all pupils be given the opportunity to take courses leading to the Scottish Certificate of Education and that both examinations and internal teachers’ assessments be involved in pupils’ future.
He and fellow educationist James Munn, were probably the most influential hands-on educational theorists in Scotland during the latter third of the 20th century.
Together, they helped Scottish education become recognised as an example to follow, not only south of the Border but worldwide.
The Dunning and Munn reports (both published in 1977 for the Scottish Education Department) led to the introduction of a new curriculum for 14-to-16-year-olds and Standard Grade examinations. Scottish education flourished.
Whether it has since regressed is for others to decide. According to Professor William Turmeau (now retired in Stromness, Orkney), who followed Dr Dunning as Principal of Napier in 1982: “Joseph Dunning was a rather special person. He built Napier up from a local college to help it become what it is today.”
An only child, Joseph Dunning was born in 1920 in Dukinfield on the Cheshire-Lancashire border, across the river Tame from Ashton-under-Lyne and six miles from Manchester. His father, Joseph, was a mechanic in the new-fangled automobile industry, his mother the owner of a popular local haberdashery where Joseph used to help out.
As the Great Depression spread, he left school at 14 and got a job in a local iron and steel foundry, called the National, to help put food on the family table. But, perhaps with the vision that would guide him to his later vocation, he refused to be denied an education and attended night school. “He worked hard but was always sociable and, despite the hardships and storm clouds of the 1930s, still found time to have fun,” according to his son and daughter, John and Liz.
“He played serious cricket at an amateur level – a left-arm spin bowler – became interested in photography, performed in a local amateur dramatic society and was an active member of the Scouting Association, where he began his life-long love for the Lake District.”
With teachers in need after the Second World War, he taught metallurgy in Rotherham and Wolverhampton before being appointed principal of Cleveland Technical College, at the heart of the Teesside iron and steel industry. He was still only 35, possibly the youngest college principal in the UK at that time. Still perhaps feeling robbed of his own education, he studied for and achieved a BSc from London University, followed by a Masters in Education from Durham University.
Realising what education could mean, not least to kids like himself, he knew he had found his vocation. While at Napier, he travelled extensively, including behind the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, to Hong Kong, and to the Caribbean, South Africa and Australia, following his love of cricket.
After retirement from work in Edinburgh in the mid-1980s, Dr Dunning followed his dream of moving to the Lake District, where he led a gentler life but became chairman of Lothian Health Board.
He settled in the red sandstone village of Great Salkeld, outside Penrith, down the M6 from Gretna and Carlisle, where he had time to indulge his passions for fell-walking and creating woodwork. For his grandchildren, he created dolls’ houses, miniature farmyards, a mini-sailing boat and a Bugatti classic car in the original blue, powered by the motor of a real car’s windscreen-wiper mechanism.
The errant paint spray from that little car, built in his kitchen, might have upset his wife but a compromise was reached. They repainted the kitchen blue. For his local church, he helped build an electric organ. “Bricklaying, plumbing, glazing, his trademark was never to finish one project without starting the next,” his children recalled.
In their eulogies, they quoted American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To laugh often and love much… to leave the world a little better … to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Dr Joseph Dunning was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1977 but perhaps his proudest moment was when Napier was formally inaugurated as a university in 1992.
He died in Penrith Hospital after a short illness. His first wife Edith (née Barlow), whom he married in 1950, died in 1972. He is survived by his second wife Eileen (née Murdoch, from Edinburgh, whom he married in 1992), by his children from his first marriage, Elizabeth and John, and grandchildren Matthew, Adam, Miriam, Charlotte, Nathan and Jonathan.
A memorial service will be held in the chapel at the Craiglockhart campus of Edinburgh Napier University on Saturday 14 July at 2pm, to which his family invites all who knew him.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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