Robert Blackburn (educationalist)

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Robert Blackburn (26 September 1927 – 16 July 1990) was an Irish educator. He was an early pioneer of the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) and was instrumental in establishing the first United World College (UWC) in the early 1960s.

Life and work[edit]

Born in Kilkenny, Ireland, Robert Blackburn attended St. Columba's College, Rathfarnham and, in 1946, Trinity College, Dublin, where took a first-class degree in History with gold medal and was captain of the rugby XV. As a student, Blackburn was an active member of the United Nations Association, where he met his future wife, Esther Archer.[1]

Blackburn started his teaching career at Downside School in Stratton-on-the-Fosse, Somerset, moving to Merchant Taylors' School near Northwood, Middlesex, in 1954. During this time, he supplemented involvement in the United Nations Association and the Council for Education in World Citizenship with work in refugee camps.[2]

In 1962, he was appointed Deputy Headmaster and Director of Studies of United World College of the Atlantic, South Wales, which was the first United World College. The college took sixth formers from all over the world, mixing the children of South American millionaires with Maoist Chinese children secured with the help of the Foreign Office.

He was appointed UWC International Secretary in 1968, working with the then president, Lord Mountbatten of Burma. Together they visited many countries, particularly those with Commonwealth links, to establish committees which were to lead to the development of three UWC colleges in Blackburn's time. Using his contacts, Blackburn also organised charity concerts with line-ups including Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Leonard Bernstein.[3] In 1978 Blackburn became Deputy Director General of the IBO, taking on particular responsibility for Africa and the Middle East.

Robert Blackburn was one of the speakers at the World Goodwill seminar in London in 1988, where he set out his belief that:

Personal life[edit]

Robert Blackburn married Esther Archer in 1952.[1] They had two daughters together, including future BBC executive Kari Blackburn.[5] After the death of his first wife, Blackburn married Nina Little in 1980.[1] In 1990, he died aged 62 while on holiday in Sand, Norway.


  1. ^ a b c "Robert Blackburn; Obituary", The Times, 14 August 1990
  2. ^ "Robert Blackburn; Obituary", The Daily Telegraph, 14 August 1990
  3. ^ Englefield, Dermot, "Robert Blackburn; Obituary", The Independent, 2 August 1990
  4. ^ World Goodwill Newsletter, 1990 No. 3
  5. ^ Sapsted, David (2007-06-29). "BBC chief 'kills herself' by walking into the sea". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-05-26. 

External links[edit]