(page numbers in brackets)
Preliminary pages (i-vii)
Chapter I (1-5)
Appendix I (65-74)
The Gurney-Dixon Report (1954)
A Report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England)
London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1954
1. Towards the end of 1952, we were asked by the Minister of Education to undertake an enquiry into the problem of premature school-leaving in England,* and it was agreed that the terms of reference should be:
'To consider what factors influence the age at which boys and girls leave secondary schools which provide courses beyond the minimum school-leaving age; to what extent it is desirable to increase the proportion of those who remain at school, in particular the proportion of those who remain at school roughly to the age of 18; and what steps should be taken to secure such an increase.'
2. The first two parts of these terms of reference prescribe two distinct fields of enquiry. In one, our aim is to discover facts; in the other, we are asked to consider what is desirable. At the outset, therefore, two tasks confronted us: to examine the principles which must underlie any opinion on the value of a longer school life for any child or group of children, and to establish the facts of the present situation, as far as our time and resources and the nature of the subject allowed. The two tasks overlapped, but it will be convenient to consider them separately here.
3. We are concerned only with schools providing courses beyond the minimum school-leaving age, which is at present 15. Some children leave such schools on reaching this age. Though we shall discuss the problem they set, it is not our main business. The 1944 Education Act provides both for the early introduction of compulsory part-time education up to the age of 18 and for the raising of the general school-leaving age to 16 as soon as possible. We do not wish to express any opinion on which step should be taken first, but we accept whole-heartedly the intrinsic importance of a full-time education to the age of 16.
4. The value of a school life prolonged beyond the age of 16 is a different matter. Two possible approaches to this question may seem to lead to different answers. The first is to ask whether continued education will assist a child to develop more fully as an individual, the second whether it will fit him for the work he may be called upon to do later in life.
5. Each of these approaches is inadequate by itself. An education which sought to deal with the individual in isolation from the community would be both unrealistic and immoral. A child must grow up into the community and adjust himself to its economic demands and moral obligations; and it is wrong to create the illusion in the child's mind that he has the right to demand from it the kind of life that pleases him or will give him the greatest scope for self-expression regardless of the needs of others. On the other
*This report does not concern Wales and Monmouthshire, for which a separate Central Advisory Council is established under Section 4 of the Education Act, 1944.
hand, a citizen's economic role is not his whole life. His daily work ought to make substantial demands on his abilities; but no economic system will ever be so organised that everyone will use his whole talents in his employment. Nor is it desirable to impoverish the manifold leisure-time activities which contribute so much to the richness and variety of ordinary life. Thus the antithesis which we have stated disappears on closer examination. Some of the most valuable qualities that education can discover in the individual will find expression only in his relations with others: they are meaningless if he is considered in isolation. Only as a member of a community living and working with other people can he attain his full stature. Let him use his talents to the full, and he will contribute most to society. The greater the contribution he makes, the more he will develop his own personality. While it is unrealistic to encourage some boys and girls to imagine that they are entitled to follow certain sorts of superior careers, education must not confine itself to cultivating those abilities which may be economically useful, but should be given in good measure to develop the whole man. It must combine generous encouragement of whatever talents pupils may possess with a frank recognition of the roles they are likely to fill in after life.
6. What ought to determine how long a boy or girl should remain at school? The most obvious consideration is perhaps his academic ability. There are boys and girls whose interest flags as the work of the school in the upper forms calls for an increased power of abstract thought. If the more advanced work is beyond their capacity or if their interest in it cannot be secured, then the schools should not try to persuade them to stay. It is true that they are not yet adult. They may well need help in their further emotional and social development; but this can be given outside school through various organisations. Industry also has a special responsibility in this respect.
7. The school is not only an intellectual stimulus to all who can profit, it is also a society. In this ampler capacity it imposes restraints and it shields its members from some of the influences of the world at large. The extent to which older boys and girls thrive in this atmosphere depends on temperament and above all on academic inclination. Some find such a life irksome before they are 18. Of course some irritation with school is perfectly normal and is not in itself a good reason for leaving; we do not suggest that life at school must be uninterruptedly pleasant and indeed a most valuable feature of it is the submission to reasonable discipline at the expense of the inclinations of the moment. With many this irritation and unsettlement is merely a passing phase at about the age of 16. But there are boys and girls of ability whose personality at the age of 17 or even earlier is such that it genuinely requires an environment different from anything school can offer. Where school life produces not passing fits of revolt but a real and continuous sense of frustration, the right thing is to leave.
8. Thus there are some boys and girls who, because of their intellectual or emotional characteristics, should leave school before they are 18. If they have the ability to do work beyond the level they have reached at school, we should not wish their education, in a wide sense, to stop at this point. They may continue it at an institution of further education, or may take up employment in which part-time study or training is possible; or they may wish to return after a period of outside employment to a further course of academic
education. For the moment the school should not attempt to dissuade them from leaving.
9. Wise teachers will also take into account, both in advising individual pupils and in planning courses, the openings for employment and training available at various ages. On a wider scale, those who are responsible for the general development of the educational service must take account of the nation's needs for men and women qualified in various fields. It is not within our scope to undertake any new investigation of the respective needs of the various professions and skilled occupations. Much has already been done by various official bodies, and the Ministry of Labour and National Service has a general responsibility to keep in touch with trends of employment. We shall draw on this experience later in this report, but it is enough here to note that external considerations of this kind are rightly among the influences affecting the length of school life.
10. For the purpose of our enquiry it was necessary to discover, not only the numbers of leavers at various ages, but something of their background, circumstances and school records and, so far as possible, of the careers which they took up. At the same time our terms of reference required us to find out what we could of their motives.
11. Such a study, to be reliable, needed to be comprehensive. It would obviously have been impossible, within the scope of our resources, to obtain information in the necessary detail from every grammar school in the country over a period of years. We decided therefore to confine ourselves to a representative sample at a particular point in time. A 10 per cent sample of maintained and direct grant grammar schools in England was accordingly prepared on expert advice, accurately proportioned to the whole body of such schools in various ways such as size, geographical location, status and provision for either or both sexes.* The heads of these 120 schools, by courtesy of the responsible governing bodies and local education authorities, were asked to co-operate in the enquiry by completing a questionnaire on the background, school record, and potentialities of each boy or girl who had entered the school in the normal intake in September, 1946 or had joined this age-group at a later stage after transfer from a secondary modern school, and another on the school as a whole. The 1946 intake was selected because no later group had reached its seventh year at the time of the enquiry, while that of the previous year was unsuitable because it was the first admitted after the abolition of fees and after the end of the war. We realised that the work of completing these forms would add to the burdens of these very busy men and women, and we were extremely gratified that nearly all of them found time to do it. We should like to take this opportunity of thanking them cordially and of assuring them that without their help the preparation of this report would have been impossible. We are particularly grateful for the personal information which was often inserted in the margin of the forms to supplement the bare facts elicited by the questionnaire. This has helped us to see the
*After the answers had been received and analysed, the standard errors of some of the resulting estimates were worked out. We have been assured that, over any large sector of the sample, the estimates are extremely reliable and can be used with confidence. For a small sector, e.g. for direct grant schools taken separately, the estimates are moderately reliable, and need to be treated with more reserve than the main estimates. See Appendix III.
individual boys and girls behind the figures and has been used for illustration in many places in the report.
12. For the greater part of our statistical material we have drawn on this sample. We realised, of course, that in judging the boys' and girls' motives the head of schools could express only their own opinions. It seemed desirable to hear other points of view as well. We should have liked to obtain a sample of parents' opinions but we were unable to devise a satisfactory way of doing so. We did, however, obtain some evidence from the boys and girls themselves, in two groups, one of members of youth clubs in various parts of the country, and the other of national servicemen interviewed in connection with certain courses of further education. These samples were arbitrarily selected for ease of questioning and we do not claim that they are representative. Their evidence has simply been used in relation to that of the schools to provide a comparison of points of view. We are greatly indebted to all who have made these enquiries possible.
13. Some of the information on matters of fact supplied by the heads of schools may fall short of the precision that a statistical enquiry ideally needs. In particular, as is explained more fully in Appendix IV, the information about fathers' occupations will have been taken in most cases from the admission register. This does not record occupations in sufficient detail for classification in a form directly comparable, for example, with that used in the Census returns. Fathers' occupations have therefore been classified in broad groups which can be related only approximately to the Census categories, and even within these groups there will be some degree of error. Some of the other information supplied by the schools may also be inaccurate - for example, information about the careers of those who have left school some years ago.
14. For our information about home background we have had to rely almost entirely on the answers to our enquiry about fathers' occupations. We considered the possibility of making a direct study of the home itself, but we decided that this was beyond our means. We believe, as we shall emphasise later, that there is a great need for such a survey. This is the only reliable way of finding out the many details of home background that need to be known before any precise judgment can be made. Nevertheless, the information which a knowledge of occupation alone has been able to give us has proved to be exceptionally valuable.
15. Our samples cover maintained and direct grant grammar schools only. Our terms of reference direct our attention to 'secondary schools which provide courses beyond the minimum school-leaving age', a broad category which includes a large number of independent schools, most secondary technical schools, a minority of secondary modern schools, and some schools of other types such as comprehensive, multilateral and bilateral schools. We have referred to most of these types of schools at various places in this report, while drawing our statistical evidence from the grammar schools.
16. Copies of the questionnaires used in the enquiry are reproduced in Appendix I. The statistical tables analysing the answers are set out in Appendix II, but extracts appear in the body of the report where appropriate.
17. We have not received any formal evidence, but we have had the benefit of informal discussions with representatives of the associations of local education authorities and of teachers' organisations and with certain individuals, including officers of the Youth Employment Service, heads of schools, and H.M. Inspectors. To all these we should like to express our thanks. If their opinions are not quoted in this report it is not for doubt of their value but because they were personal opinions put forward in confidence.