Education in England:
a brief history

Introduction, Contents

Chapter 1 600-1800
Chapter 2 1800-1860
Towards a state system
Chapter 3 1860-1900
Class divisions
Chapter 4 1900-1944
Taking shape
Chapter 5 1944-1951
Post-war reconstruction
Chapter 6 1951-1970
The wind of change
Chapter 7 1970-1979
Recession and disenchantment
Chapter 8 1979-1990
Thatcherism: marketisation
Chapter 9 1990-1997
John Major: more of the same
Chapter 10 1997-2007
The Blair decade
Chapter 11 2007-2010
Brown and Balls: mixed messages
Chapter 12 2010
What future for education in England?

Chapter 13 2010-2015
Gove v The Blob
this is a draft of a chapter which will form part of the revised version currently in preparation


Organisation of this chapter

1900-1914 Laying the foundations
The Cockerton Judgement
1902 Education Act (Balfour)
   Secondary education
   Teacher training
   Summary of the Act
Further developments
   1904 Secondary Regulations
   1906 and 1914 Education (Provision of Meals) Acts
   1907 Education (Administrative Provisions) Act
   1907 Free Place Regulations
A bewildering variety of schools
   Higher elementary schools
   Central schools
   Day trade schools
   Junior technical schools
   Infant schools

World War I
1918 Education Act (Fisher)
   Summary of the Act

1918-1939 Between the wars
1921 Education Act
   Summary of the Act
1936 Education Act
Other Acts
   1920 Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act
   1923 Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act
   1921 Newbolt Report
   The Hadow Reports
   1938 Spens Report
Primary education

World War II
More reports
   1943 Norwood Report
   1944 McNair and Fleming

Special educational needs
Provision for
- mentally defective children
- the blind
- the deaf
- maladjustment


Education in England: a brief history
Derek Gillard

copyright Derek Gillard 2011
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Chapter 4 : 1900-1944

Taking shape

1900-1914 Laying the foundations

The Cockerton Judgement

The 1870 Elementary Education Act had created local school boards to be responsible for the provision of elementary education. Some of them, however, had 'significantly altered the legislators' original concept of elementary schooling in terms of buildings, equipment, curricula and age range' (Chitty 2007:19) by establishing higher classes, 'higher tops' and even separate higher grade schools for older pupils who showed ability and commitment. A few had gone still further and created a new type of evening school for adults.

This had angered the churches, which were already suffering from a decline in the number of worshippers, and now found their schools being overtaken by board schools funded by ratepayers. It had also angered many of the older endowed grammar schools, whose finances were precarious.

Leading Conservatives, notably Sir John Gorst, began attacking the school boards for what they regarded as inappropriate use of the rates. An influential committee was formed to 'combat the School Boards' and, in particular, to 'undermine the advanced work' they were sponsoring.

In 1899, Gorst's private secretary Sir Robert Morant (1863-1920) engineered a test case in which a School of Art in London complained of competition from evening classes run by the London School Board. The District Auditor - Cockerton - ruled that the London School Board could not use the rates to fund higher-grade classes in science and art. The famous 'Cockerton Judgement', as it became known, was of profound importance, because it 'sealed the fate of advanced, or secondary, teaching fostered by the more radical and enterprising School Boards' (Chitty 2007:19).

The London School Board appealed twice against the ruling, but it was upheld on both occasions. It was clear that a new education act was needed to regularise the situation.

As an interim measure, the Board of Education established, by Minute dated 6 April 1900, a new system of 'Higher Elementary Schools' (more about these below).

In the Cockerton Judgement, Morant and Gorst had achieved their first objective: to prevent school boards from funding anything but elementary schools.

Their second objective - to create all-embracing local education authorities and provide much-needed public cash for the church schools - was achieved by the 1902 Education Act, which Morant drafted. (He went on to become Permanent Secretary of the Board of Education in April 1903).

1902 Education Act (The Balfour Act)

Across Europe and the USA systems of publicly financed elementary schools had been rapidly developed in the second half of 19th century, providing educated personnel for the new industries. Now, at the turn of the century, the USA was beginning to open common secondary high schools as well, and many European schools were giving priority to engineering and science, subjects 'conspicuously downgraded in England's classical model of education, the one preferred by gentlemen' (Benn and Chitty 1996:4).

So the development of a national public system of education in England and Wales was lagging behind much of Europe and the USA 'by a good half a century' (Green 1990:6 quoted in Benn and Chitty 1996:4), and it was against this background that the newly-elected Conservative government of Arthur Balfour presented its 1902 education bill to the Commons.

Balfour (pictured) warned the House that 'England is behind all continental rivals in education' (quoted in Benn and Chitty 1996:3).

Despite this, the bill caused dissent among both Conservative and Liberal politicians, who feared that the cost of popular education would lose them the support of the large landowners and industrialists who were the major taxpayers.

Most, however, accepted the argument that, with mass education developing fast elsewhere, Britain needed an educated workforce if it was to maintain its position in world trade. So Balfour got his bill.


But not before religion had once again reared its divisive head. The 1870 Act had taken 28 days to debate. The 1902 Act took 59, and most of that time was spent on the religious clauses.

Dissenters and Doubters objected to state funds being used to support denominational schools, including those of the Church of England but more especially those of the Catholic Church. 'Inside and outside Parliament there was outcry against "Rome on the rates"' (Gates 2005:19).

The 1902 Education Act (18 December 1902) abolished the school boards and created local education authorities (LEAs), based on the county councils and county borough councils which the 1888 Local Government Act had established. The new LEAs had authority over the secular curriculum of voluntary (church) schools. They provided grants for school maintenance, but if a school wanted to provide denominational teaching the buildings had to be paid for by the church.

Church of England schools generally heeded the rule that no pupil or teacher should be required to conform to religious belief or ritual. Roman Catholic schools were less enthusiastic about obeying the rule. They enforced religious observance more strictly and in 1917 the church issued a canon expressly forbidding Catholic parents from sending their children to non-Catholic schools on pain of excommunication.

Secondary education

The Act laid the basis for a national system of secondary education into which the higher grade elementary schools and the fee-paying secondary schools were integrated - a move approved of by a few socialists, like Sydney Webb, but disapproved of by many others, like Keir Hardie.

Thus it had the effect of creating two types of state-aided secondary school: the endowed grammar schools, which now received grant-aid from LEAs; and the municipal or county secondary schools, maintained by LEAs. Many of the latter were established in the years following the Act, and others evolved out of the higher grade science schools or pupil teacher centres. 'These new Municipal Secondary Schools, influenced by the tradition of the Higher Grade Schools, attached more weight on the whole to scientific and modern studies than the older types of Secondary School, especially for girls' (Hadow 1926:26). The new LEAs also began to establish first and second grade secondary schools, since the raising of the elementary school leaving age had rendered the 'third grade' schools outmoded.

As a result of the Act, therefore, there was a massive expansion in the building of secondary schools in the years up to 1914.

Another important feature of the Act was its clear distinction between elementary and secondary education:

From now on there was to be no confusion: two systems, each with a distinct educational and social function, were to run parallel to each other; and there was to be no place for the higher-grade schools and classes which were deemed to have strayed into the preserves of secondary and higher education. The vast majority of children were to be educated in elementary schools where they would remain until they reached the statutory school-leaving age. (Chitty 2007:19)
Teacher training

The Act also empowered LEAs to support teacher training colleges. Most of the existing colleges were church owned, though new non-denominational colleges (eg Froebel, Edge Hill and Charlotte Mason) had opened in the last years of the 19th century, as had teacher training departments in the universities - 16 of them by 1900.

The expansion of LEA teacher training meant that by 1906 not all places at denominational colleges were being filled. The Board of Education therefore decreed that if the church colleges wished to receive grant aid, they must forfeit the right to use denominational criteria in offering places. The Church of England and the Catholic Church protested, the government backed down, and the churches were allowed to recruit up to half their students on the basis of their denominational allegiance.

Summary of the Act

Part I Local Education Authority

County and county borough councils were to be the local education authorities for their areas (Section 1).

Part II Higher Education

LEAs were required to 'consider the educational needs of their area' and 'supply or aid the supply of education other than elementary, and to promote the general co-ordination of all forms of education'. (2). Smaller councils were empowered to support 'education other than elementary' (3).

The religious clauses of the Act stated that:

A council, in the application of money under this Part of the Act, shall not require that any particular form of religious instruction or worship or any religious catechism or formulary which is distinctive of any particular denomination shall or shall not be taught, used or practised in any school, college or hostel aided but not provided by the council, and no pupil shall, on the ground of religious belief, be excluded from or placed in an inferior position in any school, college or hostel provided by the council, and no catechism or formulary distinctive of any particular denomination shall be taught in any school, college or hostel so provided, except in cases where the council, at the request of parents of scholars, at such times and under such conditions as the council think desirable, allow any religious instruction to be given in the school, college or hostel otherwise than at the cost of the council: Provided that, in the exercise of this power, no unfair preference shall be shown to any religious denomination. (4(1))

A scholar ... shall not be required, as a condition of being admitted into or remaining in the school or college, to attend or abstain from attending any Sunday school, place of religious worship, religious observance or instruction in religious subjects in the school or college or elsewhere. ... The times for religious worship or for any lesson on a religious subject shall be conveniently arranged for the purpose of allowing the withdrawal of any such scholar therefrom' (4(2)).

Part III Elementary Education

LEAs were to have the power and duties of the former school boards and attendance committees (5).

All public elementary schools provided by the LEA were to have a body of managers including up to 4 LEA representatives; managers of non-provided schools were to include 2 LEA representatives; schools could be grouped under one management body (6).

LEAs were required to 'maintain and keep efficient' all public elementary schools in their areas. Non-provided schools must obey LEA directions relating to the 'secular instruction' and the number and qualifications of the teachers of secular instruction; LEAs were also empowered to inspect the schools (7(1)).

'Religious instruction given in a public elementary school not provided by the local education authority shall, as regards its character, be in accordance with the provisions (if any) of the trust deed relating thereto, and shall be under the control of the managers (7(6)).
Managers of non-provided schools were to have 'exclusive power of appointing and dismissing teachers', subject to the powers of the LEA (7(7)).

Other provisions relating to elementary education included:

  • the provision of new schools, enlargement or transfer of schools to or from an LEA (8) - in disputed cases the Board of Education would determine whether such new schools were necessary (9);
  • Parliament would pay LEAs four shillings per scholar per year (10);
  • foundation managers were to be appointed under the provisions of the trust deed of the school, as long as such provisions were consistent with the provisions of the Act (11);
  • LEAs were empowered to group provided and non-provided schools under one management body, with the consent of the managers in the case of the latter (12);
  • provisions relating to endowments (13);
  • non-provided schools which previously charged fees could continue to do so, but LEAs were empowered to pay a proportion of those fees (14);
  • provisions relating to schools attached to institutions (marine schools etc) (15); and
  • the Board of Education was empowered to hold an inquiry where an LEA did not fulfil its obligations in relation to elementary schools (16).
Part IV General

LEAs were required to appoint education committees which were to have a majority of council representatives, must include women, and might cover more than one council area (17).

The remaining provisions of the Act (18-27) related to various miscellaneous matters including council expenses (18), council borrowing (19), arrangements between councils (20), and the power of LEAs to make provision for teacher training (22(3)).


1 Provision as to Education Committee and Managers
2 Provisions as to Transfers of Property and Officers, and Adjustment
3 Modification of Acts etc
4 Enactments Repealed

Further developments

Balfour's Conservative government lost the general election of 1905 and was replaced by a Liberal administration. The Liberals were to remain in power until 1916 under prime ministers Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1905-08) and Herbert Asquith (1908-16) and then as part of a coalition government under David Lloyd George (1916-22).

1904 Regulations for Secondary Schools

In 1904 the Board of Education published the first of its annual Regulations for Secondary Schools, defining a four year subject-based course leading to a certificate in English language and literature, geography, history, a foreign language, mathematics, science, drawing, manual work, physical training, and, for girls, housewifery. The Regulations reinforced the tendency of the new secondary schools to adopt the academic bias of the established ones.

The object of these rules was 'to ensure a certain measure of breadth and richness in the curriculum of Secondary Schools, and to provide against Schools recognised under that name offering only an education which is stunted, illiberal, unpractical or over-specialised' (Hadow 1923:39).

The Board explained that with the growth of educated public opinion it might be possible - and it was certainly highly desirable - 'to relax these requirements in schools of tested efficiency, and to leave them a larger freedom in devising and executing schemes of education of their own' (Board's Report for 1905-6 (Cd. 3270) page 46, quoted in Hadow 1923:39).

1906 and 1914 Education (Provision of Meals) Acts

The Education (Provision of Meals) Act 1906 (21 December 1906) empowered (but did not require) LEAs to provide meals for undernourished elementary school children.

The Education (Provision of Meals) Act 1914 (7 August 1914) extended this power.

One LEA which quickly took advantage of this new power was the City of Bradford. In an Education Committee Report, Medical Superintendent Ralph H Crowley reported on a 'Course of Meals given to Necessitous Children' between April and July 1907:

The meals, consisting of breakfast and dinner were given in a School in one of the poorest quarters of the city, about 30 of the children coming from this school, and 10 from an adjacent one. The children were selected out of Standards I. to IV. by the Head Teacher and myself. ... Every effort was made to make the meals, as far as possible, educational. There were tablecloths and flowers on the tables; monitresses, whose duty it was to lay the tables and to wait on the other children, were appointed, one to each group of 10 children; they were provided with aprons and sleeves and had their meals together after the other children. ... The table cloths, it is true were very dirty at the end of the week, but this was chiefly due to the dirty clothing of the children, and owing to the very inadequate provision at the school for the children to wash themselves, it was difficult to ensure that even their hands were clean. (quoted in The National Archives: School Dinners)
1907 Education (Administrative Provisions) Act

The 1907 Education (Administrative Provisions) Act (28 August 1907) established the scholarship and free place system for secondary education (which already existed in some areas), designed to give promising children from elementary schools the opportunity to go to secondary schools (sections 11-12). It required LEAs to provide for the medical inspection of children in public elementary schools and the power (which became a duty in 1918) to attend to their health and physical condition (13). This was effectively the start of the school health service.

The Act's main provisions related to:

  • the acquisition of land by LEAs (sections 1-2);
  • various financial matters (including the repayment of loans by county councils and their power to contribute to capital expenditure incurred in the provision of non-elementary education (3-9);
  • councils' powers under Parts II and III of the 1902 Education Act (10);
  • councils' power to 'aid by scholarships or bursaries the instruction in public elementary schools of scholars from the age of twelve up to the limit of age fixed for the provision of instruction in a public elementary school by subsection two of section twenty-two of that Act' (11);
  • the extension of councils' power to aid 'education other than elementary' (12);
  • the extension of councils' power to provide vacation schools and play centres, and their duty to provide medical inspections (13);
  • school attendance - distance was not to be an excuse where the LEA provided 'suitable means of conveyance' (14);
  • the duty of councils to provide the Board of Education with information (15); and
  • changes in the registration of teachers (16).
1907 Free Place Regulations

In 1903 the Board of Education adopted a new policy for the training of pupil teachers. The Regulations for the Instruction and Training of Pupil Teachers provided that from August 1905 intending pupil teachers should, as a rule, receive instruction in a secondary school up to the age of 16. The LEAs were faced with the urgent need for more generous provision of scholarships and bursaries so that able pupils from public elementary schools could go on to secondary schools (see Hadow 1931:16).

The system of scholarships - which had been in place since 1902 - was greatly advanced by the 1907 Education (Administrative Provisions) Act and the Free Place Regulations which followed. These made it easier for elementary school pupils to attend the new fee-charging secondary schools. Enhanced grants were offered to secondary schools in which 'free placers' - who had to sit a competitive qualifying examination - formed at least a quarter of the pupils.

As a result of these arrangements for the education of pupil teachers and for the examination of candidates for free places, teachers began to devote more attention to the instruction of children under the age of 11. So, while primarily designed to further secondary education, the regulations indirectly fostered the improvement of education in the elementary schools, and strengthened the case for a break in education at the age of 11 or 12 (see Hadow 1931:17).

The Board of Education's Elementary Code of 1907 sought to clarify the aims and improve the quality of elementary education.


The first half of the 20th century was a period of great activity in educational thinking and research. This is clearly demonstrated by the number of reports produced by the Board of Education's newly-established Consultative Committee.

In this early part of the period (1900-1918) these were:

A bewildering variety of schools

By the end of the 19th century the nomenclature of England's schools was already bewildering: public, grammar, endowed, proprietary, elementary, first, second and third grade, board, voluntary, preparatory, monitorial, higher tops etc.

Now, in the early years of the 20th century, yet more categories of school were added.

Higher elementary schools

As we have seen, higher elementary schools were established in 1900 as an interim measure following the Cockerton Judgement. These schools received a higher rate of grant than the ordinary public elementary schools on condition that they provided a four-year course for promising children aged 10 to 15. The curriculum included drawing, theoretical and practical science, a foreign language and elementary mathematics.

In July 1905 the Board of Education asked the Consultative Committee to consider the curriculum of the higher elementary schools.

The Report of the Consultative Committee Questions affecting higher elementary schools was published in May 1906. It argued that a higher elementary school should continue the general education which a child had already received in the ordinary elementary school. The first need was 'to secure for each child as much humanity, as much accurate knowledge of general elementary fact and as much mental power and manual aptitude, as could be expected during a short course of instruction extending over three years at a comparatively early age.' The course should consist of three strands: humanistic, scientific and manual, and, in the case of girls, domestic.

The Committee envisaged a comparatively small number of such schools and recognised that it was impossible to lay down general rules as to their distribution: different places would require different provision. It was essential that employers should be encouraged to take an interest in them. Pupils should not be allowed to sit external examinations, because this would unduly influence the character of the curriculum and result in their transformation into pseudo-secondary schools.

In fact, few schools of this type were ever recognised - just 31 in England and 14 in Wales - mainly because their science-based curriculum was expensive in terms of buildings, equipment and maintenance (see Spens 1938:63 and Hadow 1926:27-28, 30-31).

Central schools

The expansion of secondary education after 1902 enabled England to keep pace with its growing technical demands. By 1911, the national census and Board of Education surveys showed that about 8 per cent of 14 and 15 year olds and 2 per cent of 16 and 17 year olds were being educated in schools either publicly provided or recognised by the Board of Education, and fifty per cent of children were staying on at school until they were 14.

However, as more and more elementary school pupils wanted to stay at school beyond 14, the new secondary schools could not meet the demand. So new 'central schools' were established to take up the work of the higher grade schools (see Crowther 1959:12).

Central schools provided an improved general education of a practical character, sometimes with a slight industrial or commercial bias, for pupils between the ages of 11 and 14 or 15. A considerable number of such schools, both selective and non-selective, were established in London, Manchester and elsewhere from 1911 onwards. They were 'another example of the general tendency of the national system of elementary education since 1870 to throw up experiments in post-primary education' (Hadow 1931:17). The development of central schools, alongside the secondary schools, further accentuated the tendency in the larger urban areas to introduce a break in school life at the age of 11.

A number of higher elementary and higher grade schools, and some built originally as 'organised schools of science', were absorbed into the central schools system. Chapter XV of London County Council Education Committee's Elementary Schools Handbook (1923) explained that the schools were primarily to prepare girls and boys for employment and that they should have an industrial or commercial bias or both.

About 1912 Manchester Education Authority instituted six district central schools on similar lines, designed to give an improved general education to children up to the age of 15, and several other LEAs had established central schools by 1918 (see Hadow 1926:31-32).

Thus the position of the Central School was intermediate between that of the Secondary School on the one hand and that of the Junior Technical School or Trade School on the other, being distinguished from the former by its lower leaving age and less academic curriculum, and from the latter by its earlier age of admission and the fundamental fact that it did not in any sense aim at providing technical training for any particular trade or business. (Hadow 1926:32)
Day trade schools

Day trade schools, mainly for boys, were established, especially in the London area, from about 1900 onwards. The first of these was the Trade School for Furniture and Cabinet-making, founded at the Shoreditch Technical Institute in 1901. They were designed to take boys at or near the completion of their elementary school career for a period of one, two or three years, and to give a specialised training that would fit them to enter into workshop or factory life, at about the age of 16, with the prospect of becoming skilled workers or of rising ultimately to positions of responsibility as foremen, draughtsmen, or even managers.

Such trade schools received grant as 'Day Technical Classes' from 1904-05 onwards under Article 42 of the Regulations for Evening Schools, Technical Institutions, etc. Many of these were organised as Courses within an existing Technical School or College (see Hadow 1926:32).

Junior technical schools

In 1913 the Board of Education issued Regulations for a new category of 'Junior Technical Schools'. These were day schools providing two or three year post-elementary courses for boys and girls. They combined a general education with preparation for industrial employment at the age of 15 or 16 (see Hadow 1926:33).

Infant schools

By the early 1900s the environmental conditions needed for the proper physical and mental development of young children were better understood than before, and the training of children below the age of five was discussed by both educationists and doctors.

Educationists argued that the elementary schools were not providing a suitable type of education for under-fives, while doctors suggested that attendance at school was actually prejudicial to health, since it deprived young children of sleep, fresh air, exercise and freedom of movement at a critical stage in their development (see Hadow 1933:30-31).

The new LEAs sought guidance on the issue, so the Board of Education asked five of its recently appointed Women Inspectors to conduct an inquiry regarding the admission of infants to public elementary schools and the curriculum suitable for under-fives.

In their reports, published in 1905, the inspectors were agreed that children between the ages of three and five did not benefit intellectually from school instruction, and that the mechanical teaching which they often received dulled their imagination and weakened their power of independent observation.

Kindergarten teachers were praised, but kindergarten 'occupations' - when taught mechanically in large classes - were condemned as being contrary to the spirit of Froebel. One inspector wrote:

Kindergarten occupations are often distinguished by absence of occupation, for in effect it is not education that is offered, nor even instruction in anything but drill, the children being kept idle, silent and still for long intervals, while the teacher inspects the last little act that she has imposed upon the class by word of command. (Board of Education 1905, quoted in Hadow 1933:31)

1914-1918 World War I

It is almost impossible to exaggerate the effects of the first world war. Eight million soldiers died and more than twenty million were seriously injured. Diseases flourished in the chaos - especially typhus, malaria and flu. The political map of Europe was changed irrevocably, and the continent emerged from the turmoil facing social and economic devastation.

The war took an equally terrible toll on Britain: of the six million men who were conscripted to fight, 750,000 were killed and 1.7 million were wounded. Most of the casualties were young unmarried men, but 300,000 children lost their fathers.

David Lloyd George (pictured) replaced Asquith as Liberal prime minister in the middle of the war and became leader of a coalition government of Liberals and Conservatives. His own party was very divided over his decision to enter this coalition and he was frequently forced to rely on Conservative support.

Lloyd George was an able war leader and an important player in the reconstruction of both Europe as a whole and Britain in particular during the post-war period. In the 1918 election he declared that Britain must become a land 'fit for heroes'. His 'National Liberal' coalition won a landslide victory, but the divisions within his own party were now even more pronounced: Asquith led a group of 'Independent Liberals' who gained 33 seats in Commons and, once again, Lloyd George had to rely on Conservative support.

The world war spluttered to a halt during 1918 as the various combatants made peace deals. The armistice with Germany was signed on 11 November, though a state of war officially existed between the two sides until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.

Lloyd George set about an ambitious programme of post-war social reform: the national insurance scheme was extended to cover almost all workers, old age pensions were doubled, local authority house building programmes were subsidised, and in 1919 the Ministry of Health was established.

Education was not entirely neglected during the war and was an important element in the post-war reconstruction programme. The government's Consultative Committee produced its report on Scholarships for higher education in 1916, after which it was suspended until 1920. In 1917 the Secondary Schools Examination Council was established to administer the new School Certificate and Higher School Certificate examinations, and the Lewis Report proposed a school leaving age of 14 with no exemptions, followed by attendance for at least 8 hours a week or 320 hours a year at 'day continuation' classes up to age 18.

Unfortunately, spiralling public expenditure forced the government to implement severe cuts in the early 1920s (the so-called 'Geddes axe'), which meant that progress in social reform was slower than Lloyd George had hoped.

  • For more on this period see David Lloyd George (Wikipedia).

    1918 Education Act (The Fisher Act)

    Most of the Lewis Report's recommendations were enacted in the 1918 Education Act (8 August 1918), which extended educational provision, increased the powers and duties of the Board of Education, raised the school leaving age from 12 to to 14 and gave all young workers right of access to day release education. (The raising of the leaving age was not immediately implemented, however, and had to wait until the 1921 Act).

  • Download the Education Act 1918 (pdf text 748kb).

    Summary of the Act

    Sections 1-7 dealt with the provision of a National System of Public Education.

    Every county and county borough was required to provide for 'the progressive development and comprehensive organisation of education in respect of their area' (Section 1).

    Local education authorities were required to ensure

    (a) that public elementary schools included 'practical instruction' in the curriculum and offered advanced instruction 'for the older or more intelligent children';
    (b) that they attended to 'the health and physical condition of the children; and
    (c) that they co-operated with other LEAs to prepare children for further education 'in schools other than elementary', and to provide for the supply and training of teachers (2).
    LEAs were to establish and maintain 'a sufficient supply of continuation schools', co-operate with universities in the provision of lectures and classes, and appoint LEA representatives to the managing bodies of such schools 'if practicable' (3).

    In preparing schemes for submission to the Board of Education, LEAs were to consult with other authorities and parents within their area, take into account non-LEA provision, and ensure that 'children and young persons shall not be debarred from receiving the benefits of any form of education by which they are capable of profiting through inability to pay fees' (4). Suitable schemes would be approved, inadequate ones discussed with the LEA concerned and, if agreement could not be reached, the Board of Education would hold a public inquiry (5).

    LEAs could combine to form federations. The managing bodies of such federations should include 'teachers or other persons of experience in education and of representatives of universities or other bodies' (6).

    The limit on LEA education expenditure imposed by the 1902 Education Act was abolished (7).

    Sections 8-16 covered Attendance at School and Employment of Children and Young Persons.

    School attendance would be compulsory from 5 to 14 (15 in certain cases). Such attendance could only count if the school was inspected and registers were kept. In certain circumstances an LEA could make the lower age limit 6 and the upper age limit 16. Any changes the LEA made to arrangements for secular instruction must not prevent a child from receiving religious instruction (8).

    LEAs could require that pupils' admission and leaving dates coincided with the start and end of school terms (9).

    It would be compulsory for all children under 16 (with certain specified exemptions) to attend continuation schools for 320 hours a year (a minimum of 280 hours would be acceptable during the first seven years of the operation of the Act), with dates and times to be arranged by the LEA (10). Non-attendance could result in fines ranging from 5s (25p) to 5 (11). There were new administrative provisions relating to continuation schools (12).

    The rules relating to the employment of children were amended. No under-twelves were to be employed and there were new limits on the employment of over-twelves. No child was to be employed in street trading. LEA permission would be needed for children taking part in licensed entertainments (13). Children were banned from working in factories, workshops, mines, and quarries (14) and no child was to be employed in circumstances which might be 'prejudicial to his health or physical development, or to render him unfit to obtain the proper benefit from his education' (15). The Act laid down penalties for the illegal employment of children and young persons (16).

    Sections 17-25 dealt with the Extension of Powers and Duties of local education authorities. They were:

    • empowered to provide holiday or school camps, physical training centres and equipment, playing fields, school baths, and school swimming baths (17);
    • required to provide medical inspections and treatment in all maintained schools (not just in elementary schools, as had been required by the 1902 Education Act) (18);
    • empowered to provide or aid nursery schools for 2-5 year olds. The Board of Education would make grants for such schools provided they were inspected by the LEA (19);
    • required to identify 'physically defective or epileptic' children in their areas. The scope of the Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act 1914 was widened to include physically defective as well as 'mentally defective' children (20);
    • empowered to offer board and lodging to children in certain circumstances - such lodging to be, where possible and if the parents requested it, 'with a person belonging to the religious persuasion of the child's parents' (21);
    • empowered (in some cases) to extend the provision of employment advice to 18 year olds (22);
    • empowered to aid teachers and students in carrying out research 'for the advancement of learning' (23);
    • empowered to include maintenance allowances in the provision of scholarships under the 1902 Education Act (24); and
    • prohibited from establishing 'a general domiciliary service of treatment by medical practitioners for children or young persons' but were required to 'consider how far they can avail themselves of the services of private medical practitioners' (25).
    Section 26 provided for the Abolition of Fees in Public Elementary Schools:
    No fees shall be charged or other charges of any kind made in any public elementary school, except as provided by the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906, and the Local Education Authorities (Medical Treatment) Act, 1909.
    The remainder of the Act (sections 27-52) dealt with various technical and administrative matters:
    • voluntary inspection of schools not liable for government inspection (27);
    • provision of information by non-maintained schools to the Board of Education (28);
    • appointment of certain classes of teachers by LEAs (29);
    • managers of non-maintained elementary schools to give the LEA 18 months' notice of their intention to close the school (30);
    • grouping of non-provided schools 'of the same denominational character' if required by an LEA (31);
    • power of LEAs over central schools and classes (32);
    • acquisition of land by a local education authority (34);
    • LEAs' power to provide elementary schools outside their own areas (35);
    • allocation of expenses to particular areas (36);
    • council expenses relating to Provisional Orders (37);
    • expenses of education meetings and conferences (38);
    • expenses of prosecution for cruelty (39);
    • public inquiries by the Board of Education (40);
    • minutes of LEA proceedings to be open to the ratepayer (41);
    • payments to the Central Welsh Board (42);
    • 'certificates, notices, requirements, and documents' issued by local education authorities (43);
    • Board of Education grants to LEAs for at least half of their expenditure on schools (44);
    • the trustees and property of educational trusts (45-47); and
    • other technical matters (48-52).
    As a result of the provisions in section 2 of the Act, the Board withdrew the Regulations for Higher Elementary Schools (see Hadow 1926:33-34).

    1918-1939 Between the wars

    Politically, the twenty years between the two world wars saw leaders of all three main parties come to grief. Lloyd George's Liberals were defeated in 1922 and his party has never won an election since. Ramsay MacDonald led Labour into government for the first time but he was expelled from the party after he agreed to lead a Conservative-dominated coalition. Stanley Baldwin led the Conservatives for most of the period, with Neville Chamberlain replacing him in 1937. Chamberlain was forced to resign in 1940 when Labour and the Liberals refused to join a coalition while he remained Conservative leader.

    In socio-economic terms, the inter-war years were equally difficult. The depression of the early 1930s caused devastation in northern industrial areas. Unemployment rose to 2.5 million and in some areas the proportion out of work reached 70 per cent. A quarter of the population existed on a subsistence diet, often with signs of child malnutrition such as scurvy, rickets and tuberculosis. National Hunger Marches were held and queueing at soup kitchens became a way of life.

    Towards the end of the period there were signs of improvement, especially in the more prosperous areas of the midlands and the south: the manufacture of electrical goods, a booming motor industry and improvements in agriculture were matched by a growing population and an expanding middle class.

  • For more on this topic see Great Depression in the United Kingdom (Wikipedia).

    In education, the period may be viewed as one of consolidation and preparation.

    The wide-ranging education act of 1921 consolidated all previous education legislation and raised the school leaving age to 14. The 1936 education act raised the leaving age to 15.

    Meanwhile, the government's Consultative Committee produced six reports - the five Hadow reports published between 1923 and 1933, and the Spens report of 1938. All these made recommendations which would shape the national education system in the wake of the 1944 Education Act.

    There was also much debate about the nature of primary education, with growing interest in the works of Dewey, Montessori and Edmond Holmes, and Susan Isaacs' books on the intellectual and social development of children.

    Even the Board of Education came up with some surprisingly modern ideas. The Prefatory Note to the 1918 edition of its Handbook of Suggestions for the Consideration of Teachers declared that:

    Neither the present volume nor any developments or amendments of it are designed to impose any regulations supplementary to those contained in the Code. The only uniformity of practice that the Board of Education desire to see in the teaching of Public Elementary Schools is that each teacher shall think for himself, and work out for himself such methods of teaching as may use his powers to the best advantage and be best suited to the particular needs and conditions of the school. Uniformity in details of practice (except in the mere routine of school management) is not desirable even if it were attainable. But freedom implies a corresponding responsibility in its use.
    And it added:
    However, the teacher need not let the sense of his responsibility depress him or make him afraid to be his natural self in school. Children are instinctively attracted by sincerity and cheerfulness; and the greatest teachers have been thoroughly human in their weaknesses as well as in their strength.' (1918 Handbook, quoted in MoE 1959:9)

    1921 Education Act

    The 1921 Education Act (19 August 1921) raised the school leaving age to 14 and consolidated all previous laws relating to education and to the employment of children and young persons.

    Summary of the Act

    Part I Central and Local Education Authorities

    The Board of Education remained the Central Authority for education (Section 1) and the consultative committee was retained (2).

    The Act specified which councils would be local education authorities (LEAs) (3), required them to have education committees (4) and laid down rules for their operation (5-10).

    Part II Schemes as to Powers and Duties

    LEAs were to provide for 'the development and comprehensive organisation of education in respect of their area' (11) and to submit schemes to the Board of Education for elementary education and for continuation schools (12-16).

    Part III Elementary Schools

    LEAs were:

    • required to 'maintain and keep efficient all public elementary schools within their area' and provide sufficient accommodation, including new schools where the Board of Education deemed them necessary (17-19);
    • required to ensure provision in elementary schools of 'practical instruction suitable to the ages, abilities, and requirements of the children', and 'courses of advanced instruction for the older or more intelligent children' including those who stayed on beyond the age of 14 (20);
    • empowered to provide nursery schools (or classes) for 2-5 year olds, and to attend to the 'health, nourishment, and physical welfare' of children attending such schools (21);
    • empowered to provide children with 'vacation schools, vacation classes, play-centres or other means of recreation during their holidays' (22);
    • empowered to provide board and lodging in certain cases (23), scholarships or bursaries (24), marine schools (25), and, in certain cases, education up to the age of 16 (26).
    The Act laid down regulations for the conduct of public elementary schools:
    • no pupil was to be required to attend or abstain from attending 'any Sunday School, or any place of religious worship' (27(1)(a));
    • parents were entitled to withdraw children from religious observance or instruction (27(1)(b));
    • schools (and the religious instruction in them) was to be open to HMI 'at all times' (27(1)(c));
    • LEAs were to report infractions of these rules to the Board of Education (27(2));
    • 'No religious catechism or religious formulary which is distinctive of any particular denomination shall be taught in the school' (28);
    • LEAs were to have control of secular instruction in non-provided public elementary schools (29);
    • every public elementary school provided by the LEA was to have a body of managers, and two LEA representatives were to be appointed to the managers of non-provided schools (30);
    • other provisions concerned:
      foundation managers (31-32),
      the grouping of schools under one management (33-34),
      the powers of managers (35),
      the management and grouping of provided schools in London (36),
      the prohibition of fees in public elementary schools (37),
      the power to transfer a school to the LEA (38),
      the re-transfer of schools (39),
      the closure of a school (40), and
      endowments (41).

    Part IV School Attendance

    It shall be the duty of the parent of every child between the ages of five and fourteen, or, if a byelaw under this Act so provides, between the ages of six and fourteen, to cause that child to receive efficient elementary instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic. (42)
    The Act went on to make provisions regarding:
    • the duty of LEAs to enforce attendance (43);
    • school attendance orders (44);
    • proceedings in cases of non-compliance with school attendance orders (45);
    • the duty of LEAs to make byelaws (46);
    • the powers of the Board of Education in case of default of an authority (47);
    • procedure for Board of Education approval of byelaws (48);
    • the definition of 'reasonable excuse' for non-attendance of a child (sickness etc) (49); and
    • application of the attendance rules to children in canal boats (50).
    Part V Blind, Deaf, Defective and Epileptic Children

    The Act required:

    • parents to ensure that blind and deaf children received suitable education (51);
    • LEAs to provide or obtain suitable education for blind and deaf children - but not for 'idiots or imbeciles', residents of workhouses or those 'boarded out by guardians' (52);
    • parents to ensure that 'defective and epileptic' children received suitable education (53);
    • LEAs to enforce attendance of defective and epileptic children (54);
    • LEAs to identify defective and epileptic children - certificates 'in such form as may be prescribed by the Board of Education' were to be obtained from a 'duly qualified medical practitioner' (55); and
    • LEAs to provide or obtain suitable education for defective and epileptic children (56).
    LEAs were empowered to close special schools or classes for defective and epileptic children if the average attendance was less than 15 (57) and were required to consult with parents and others over provision for such children (58).

    The remainder of Part V made general provisions regarding the education of blind, deaf, defective and epileptic children (59-69).

    Part VI Higher Education

    Part VI made provisions regarding:

    • the duty of LEAs to 'supply or aid the supply of higher education, and to promote the general co-ordination of all forms of education' (70);
    • the power of LEAs to train teachers for such education, to make provision outside their area, and to provide scholarships (71);
    • rules regarding religious instruction: these were to be the same as for elementary schools (72);
    • the transfer to LEAs of schools for science and art (73);
    • the power of LEAs to aid educational research (74);
    • LEAs' duty to provide sufficient continuation schools 'in which suitable courses of study, instruction, and physical training are provided without payment of fees' (75);
    • LEAs' power to require attendance at continuation schools (76);
    • exemptions from attendance at continuation schools (77); and
    • the enforcement of attendance (78).

    Part VII Provisions for Health and Well-being of Scholars

    LEAs were:

    • required to provide medical inspections and treatment (80);
    • empowered to recover the cost of treatment from parents (81);
    • empowered to support the provision of meals by 'school canteen committees' (82);
    • empowered to recover the cost of meals from parents (83);
    • empowered to provide free meals to children 'unable by reason of lack of food to take full advantage of the education provided for them' (84);
    • empowered to provide holiday or school camps, centres and equipment for physical training, playing fields, swimming baths and 'other facilities for social and physical training' (86);
    • required to ensure the 'cleansing of verminous children' (87);
    • empowered to provide transport for teachers and children in certain cases (88); and
    • empowered to bring prosecutions for child cruelty (89).
    Teachers were under no obligation to supervise meals or collect money for them (85).

    Part VIII Employment of Children and Young Persons

    The Act laid down rules regarding:

    • LEAs' powers to make byelaws for regulating the employment of children (90) and street trading (91);
    • limitations on the employment of children (no under 12s etc) (92);
    • the suspension of employment to ensure attendance at continuation schools (93);
    • LEAs' power to prohibit employment if it was prejudicial to the child's health, physical development or education (94-95);
    • offences and penalties (96-97);
    • the power of LEAs to inspect places of employment (98);
    • restrictions on the employment of children in entertainments (99), and LEAs' power to issue licences for such employment (100-104);
    • general provisions (105);
    • provisions relating to the city of London (106);
    • LEAs' powers to offer employment advice to under 18s (107); and
    • exceptions relating to children in 'certified industrial or reformatory schools' (108).

    Part IX General

    This last part of the Act covered matters relating to:

    • purchase of land by LEAs (109-117);
    • Board of Education grants (118-132);
    • inspection of schools (133-134);
    • age of children (135-138);
    • legal proceedings (139-147);
    • LEA officers (148-149);
    • powers of the Board of Education to enforce the duties of LEAs (150-151);
    • the duty of LEAs and school managers to provide the Board of Education with attendance returns and other information (152-155); and
    • the power of the Board of Education to hold public inquiries (156).
    The remaining sections of the Act dealt with other technical matters (157-172).

    1936 Education Act

    The 1936 Education Act (31 July 1936) raised the school leaving age to 15, but empowered LEAs to issue employment certificates to allow 14 year olds to work rather than attend school in certain circumstances - for example, where a family would suffer 'exceptional hardship' if the child did not work (Sections 1-7).

    The raising of the school leaving age necessitated extra accommodation which had enormous cost implications, especially for the churches. The 1936 Act therefore empowered LEAs to make agreements regarding the enlargement or establishment of non-provided elementary schools for senior children, and to make grants of between half and three quarters of the cost of such a scheme; provided that religious instruction was given in accordance with the LEA's syllabus and that the teachers were employed, appointed and dismissed by the LEA (8-11). These became known as 'special agreement' schools. As a result, the Church of England submitted proposals for 230 new schools, the Catholic Church for 289.

    The Act required non-provided schools, where possible, to provide religious instruction in accordance with the LEA's syllabus if parents requested it (12); and it allowed parents to withdraw their children during religious instruction periods if they wished them to receive 'religious instruction of a kind which is not given in the school' (13).

    Other Acts

    Two other acts in this period related to children's welfare and higher education.

    1920 Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act

    This Act (23 December 1920) amended employment law to bring it into line with conventions agreed by the International Labour Organisation of the League of Nations in 1919 and 1920.

  • Download the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920 (pdf text 220kb).

    1923 Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act

    This Act (31 July 1923) established Commissions for the two universities and set out their membership and duties.

  • Download the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act 1923 (pdf text 384kb).


    1921 Newbolt Report

    The Board of Education's enthusiasm for reports continued after World War I. In 1919 a departmental committee was set up under Sir Henry Newbolt 'to inquire into the position occupied by English (Language and Literature) in the educational system of England'.

    The committee's report The Teaching of English in England declared that 'every teacher is a teacher of English' (Newbolt 1921:63) and that, while all pupils should be taught to speak standard English, dialects should not be suppressed. It stressed the importance of the art of listening, communication skills and drama; and argued that the needs of business were best met by 'a liberal education' (Newbolt 1921:129). It called for improvements in teacher training and the raising of the status of English in university exams.

    The Hadow Reports

    Six further reports were published in the decade between 1923 and 1933. These were produced by the government's Consultative Committee, chaired by Sir Henry Hadow. They were:

    The importance of the Hadow reports to the development of the education system during the 20th century is hard to overestimate. The Education of the Adolescent, for example, proposed the division of the elementary school system into two stages, junior and senior, with a break at eleven for all.

    Galton, Simon and Croll (1980:32) argue that

    the motivation for this fundamental change did not arise from any serious consideration of the needs and character of children aged seven to eleven (or five to eleven). It arose solely from a consideration of the needs of the older (senior) children.
    This is, perhaps, a little unfair. The 1931 and 1933 reports demonstrated a considerable concern for the education and welfare of younger pupils and contained some surprisingly progressive ideas.

    The 1931 report suggested, for example, that 'A good school ... is not a place of compulsory instruction, but a community of old and young, engaged in learning by co-operative experiment' (Hadow 1931:xvii) and that 'the curriculum of the primary school is to be thought of in terms of activity and experience rather than knowledge to be acquired and facts to be stored' (Hadow 1931:93).

  • For summaries and analysis of the Hadow reports, see my article The Hadow Reports: an introduction.

    1938 Spens Report

    By the late 1930s, about ten per cent of elementary school pupils were being selected to go on to secondary schools. The rest either remained in 'all-age' schools or went on to senior schools.

    It was becoming clear that England's class-divided secondary schools were failing the nation's children. Twice as many students were going on to higher education in Germany, more than twice as many in France, over three times as many in Switzerland, and almost ten times as many in the US. Scotland's education system, 'based on a widespread respect for learning and a more traditionally egalitarian social outlook' (Benn and Chitty 1996:4), was also doing much better than England's.

    Yet arguments were still put forward in support of a divided and elitist system. The only difference was that, whereas in the late 19th century such divisions were openly based on class, now they were based on notions of intelligence and aptitude.

    Thus the 1938 Spens Report Secondary Education with Special Reference to Grammar Schools and Technical High Schools recommended that there should be three types of secondary school:

    • grammar schools for the academically able;
    • technical schools for those with a practical bent; and
    • new 'modern' secondary schools for the rest.
    (Spens also recommended that the school leaving age should be raised to 16. Incredibly, it would be 1973 before this was finally implemented).

    The newly-appointed principal of London University's Institute of Education, Fred Clarke, was horrified. The proposed 'tripartite system' would be 'hardly intelligible ... in ... any British dominion or in the United States', he wrote, and warned that failure to change would 'weaken the power of Britain to co-operate with the other free peoples of the world' and would 'intensify social conflict' at home (Clarke 1940:44, quoted in Benn and Chitty 1996:5).

    Trades unionists and others in the Labour Party began to campaign for a unified and more equal system of schools, and in 1942 several local government chief executives, anxious to have a more rational system, asked for an end to plans for differentiated secondary education. But their pleas fell on deaf ears and, as we shall see in the next chapter, 'The decision-makers at the Ministry of Education were determined on the divided system' (Benn and Chitty 1996:5).

    Primary education

    The Education Act of 1918 enforced compulsory education up to the age of 14 and, by making it a duty of local education authorities to provide courses of advanced instruction for older and more intelligent children, encouraged some of the more enlightened authorities to revise their arrangements for children below the age of 12. From 1919, several authorities began to create junior schools and departments.

    By the 1920s, London - and some other towns - had numerous 'three decker' schools. The infant department was on the ground floor, then at the age of seven boys and girls were promoted to one of the other storeys which normally housed separate boys' and girls' departments where pupils stayed until they left school at the age of 14.

    The 1926 Hadow report proposed a rearrangement of the two upper storeys: it suggested that there should be a change of department at 11 as well as at seven years of age. The typical three decker could be rearranged quite easily to meet these suggestions. The three storeys could house infant, junior and senior departments instead of infant, girls' and boys' departments (see Plowden 1967 I:97-99).

    Following the Hadow reports of 1926 and 1931 reorganisation began in earnest. In just three years, from 1927 to 1930, the number of pupils in separate junior departments rose from 150,000 to 400,000 - an increase from seven to sixteen per cent of the total child population aged between eight and twelve (see Plowden 1967 I:99).

    Hadow's 1926 recommendation for transfer at age 11 led to the creation of primary schools (sometimes referred to as junior schools) for children aged 5-11, which became government policy from 1928, though they were only formally established in the 1944 Education Act.

    In their reports of 1931 and 1933 the Hadow committee made suggestions about the style of education to be offered in these schools. This was important because, despite the efforts of the developmentalists, the earliest primary schools bore all the hallmarks of the elementary system 'in terms of cheapness, economy, large classes, obsolete, ancient and inadequate buildings, and so on' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:33). They also continued to provide a curriculum based on the arid drill methods of the elementary schools.

    But the principles of child development were beginning to influence - albeit very slowly - the style of education offered to younger pupils. Blyth (1965:40-1) distinguishes five factors which gave impetus to the developmental tradition during this period:

    • the growth of developmental psychology;
    • the writings of Dewey, especially his emphasis on the 'curricular importance of collective preparation for change, and on liberation from the traditional thought-patterns which could be regarded as undemocratic whether in the home, the school or society at large' (Blyth 1965:40);
    • the 'great wave of emancipation that characterised the years after 1918. Children were to be given the chance to be themselves at any age and in concert with their peers of both sexes' (Blyth 1965:40);
    • the growth of what is now rather loosely described as the 'welfare state';
    • the rapid growth of the concept of 'secondary education for all' officially enunciated for the Labour Party by the great socialist historian RH Tawney in 1923.
    To Blyth's list we may add the following:
    • the kindergarten movement, based on Froebel's theory and practice from the 1890s onward - 'natural development', 'spontaneity' etc. This had been adapted to the Board Schools' drill practice in an extremely mechanistic manner, so losing its educative significance;
    • the work of Dr Maria Montessori in the early 1900s, with its emphasis on structured learning, sense training and individualisation. Its main impact was in infant schools, especially middle class private schools;
    • Margaret and Rachel McMillan and their emphasis on improving hygienic conditions, overcoming children's physical defects, and providing an appropriate 'environment' for young children;
    • What is and what might be published by ex-Chief Inspector of Elementary Schools Edmund Holmes in 1911. This was 'the first striking manifesto of the "progressives" in its total condemnation of the arid drill methods of the contemporary elementary school' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:34);
    • Susan Isaacs' two books of 1930 and 1933 on the intellectual and social development of children.
    The developmentalists appeared to be winning the argument. Galton, Simon and Croll (1980:35) argue that 'the approach of the "new" educationalists had, by 1939, become the official orthodoxy; propagated in training colleges, Board of Education in-service courses, by local authority inspectors, and the like.'

    But was developmentalist education being put into practice? Galton, Simon and Croll (1980:35) are doubtful: 'How far it affected actual practice in schools is, however, another matter.'

    There were two main reasons why the implementation of developmentalist education was slow and patchy.

    First, the new primary schools quickly became the battleground for a number of competing forces. Those who believed in the new ideas about child development clashed with those who saw the job of the primary schools as being to get children through the 'scholarship' examination. The latter group tended to win, so the primary schools were seen as a 'sorting, classifying, selective mechanism' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:36).

    And second, psychologist Cyril Burt and educationist Percy Nunn continued to assert 'the absolute determination of "intelligence" by hereditary or genetic factors' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:36). They therefore strongly recommended that children should be segregated into classes on the basis of ability ('streamed').

    For these two reasons, 'the basic class teaching approach, with the main emphasis on literacy and numeracy, continued in the new junior schools after the Second World War' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:36).

    The inter-war years, then, can be characterised as a period when there was a lot of debate about lots of ideas - but little significant action. Once more, educational developments would have to rely on a major war to be the catalyst which precipitated a real advance.

    1939-1945 World War II

    The second world war, which began in September 1939, had serious effects on the country's children and their education:

    It also led to increasing criticism of the education services - and of the Board of Education in particular - over the persistence of half-time schooling and the delay in starting up school medical and meals services for returning evacuees.

    More reports

    But the war didn't stop committees from producing yet more reports on education.

    1943 Norwood Report

    The Norwood Report Curriculum and Examinations in Secondary Schools backed Spens' idea of three types of schools by arguing that children naturally had three 'types of mind'. The first was the type who

    is interested in learning for its own sake, who can grasp an argument or follow a piece of connected reasoning, who is interested in causes, whether on the level of human volition or in the material world, who cares to know how things came to be as well as how they are, who is sensitive to language as expression of thought, to a proof as a precise demonstration, to a series of experiments justifying a principle. (Norwood 1943:2)
    The second was
    the pupil whose interests and abilities lie markedly in the field of applied science or applied art. The boy in this group has a strong interest in this direction and often the necessary qualities of mind to carry his interest through to make it his life work at whatever level of achievement. He often has an uncanny insight into the intricacies of mechanism whereas the subtleties of language construction are too delicate for him. (Norwood 1943:3)
    As to the third group - the majority:
    The pupil in this group deals more easily with concrete things than with ideas. He may have much ability, but it will be in the realm of facts. He is interested in things as they are; he finds little attraction in the past or in the slow disentanglement of causes or movements. (Norwood 1943:3)
    'Norwood thus imagined an entire mental and emotional universe for its groupings, each of which as it were lived on different worlds, inhabiting different subjectivities' (Jones 2003:21).

    McNair and Fleming Reports

    Two further reports were published during the second world war, both in 1944.

    The McNair Report Teachers and Youth Leaders (Report of the Committee appointed by the President of the Board of Education to consider the Supply, Recruitment and Training of Teachers and Youth Leaders) recommended the rationalisation of teacher training provision, a three year course and salary increases.

    And the Board of Education's Committee on Public Schools, under the chairmanship of Lord Fleming, published its report The Public schools and the general educational system, which examined how independent schools might be integrated into the state system. It was never implemented.

    Special educational needs

    Note: The information in this section is taken from chapter 2 (pages 14-19) of the 1978 Warnock Report Special Educational Needs, which itself was largely based on DG Pritchard's 1963 book Education and the Handicapped 1760-1960.

    Following the 1902 Education Act, the new LEAs assumed the functions previously exercised by school boards, including those relating to special education. They were empowered to provide secondary education for blind, deaf, defective and epileptic children.

    New facilities were opened, many by voluntary organisations: open air schools, day and boarding schools for physically handicapped children, schools in hospitals and convalescent homes and trade schools. These included the Heritage Craft Schools and Hospital at Chailey, Sussex (1903), the Swinton House School of Recovery at Manchester (1905), the London County Council's Open Air School at Plumstead (1907) and the Lord Mayor Treloar Cripples' Hospital and College at Alton (1908). Manchester's LEA opened a residential school for epileptics in 1910: by 1918 there were six such schools throughout the country.

    Provision for mentally defective children

    In 1908 of the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded concluded that institutional provision for mentally defective children on occupational lines was to be preferred to provision in special schools. This proposal was not accepted, however, and the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 required local education authorities to ascertain and certify which children aged 7 to 16 in their area were defective. Only those who were judged by the authority to be incapable of being taught in special schools were to pass to the care of local mental deficiency committees. The duty to provide for the educable children which naturally followed was enacted a year later (see Warnock 1978:14-15).

    The Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic) Act 1914 converted into a duty the earlier powers conferred on authorities by the 1899 Act to provide for the education of mentally defective children; the 1918 Education Act did the same in respect of physically defective and epileptic children. Thus compulsory provision was extended to all the categories of handicapped children which had so far been recognised (see Warnock 1978:14).

    In 1929 the Report of the Mental Deficiency Committee (the Wood Report) made recommendations regarding the classification and education of 'mentally defective' children. reported that 105,000 school children were mentally defective, that only a third of them had been 'ascertained' and only half of these were actually attending special schools. The Committee also estimated that a further ten per cent of all children, though not mentally deficient, were retarded and failing to make progress in ordinary schools. (After 1944 these children were categorised as 'educationally sub-normal').

    The Wood Committee argued that mentally deficient children should not be isolated from the mainstream of education and proposed that the system of certification should be abolished:

    We do however contemplate that these [special] schools would exist with a different legal sanction, under a different system of nomenclature and under different administrative provisions. If the majority of the children for whom these schools for retarded children are intended are, ex hypothesi, to lead the lives of ordinary citizens, with no shadow of a 'certificate' and all that it implies to handicap their careers, the schools must be brought into closer relation with the Public Elementary School system and presented to parents not as something both distinct and humiliating, but as a helpful variation of the ordinary school. (Wood 1929:117)
    This view of special education as a variant of ordinary education advanced a principle which would later be extended to all forms and degrees of disability.

    Provision for the blind

    By 1902 most blind children were receiving education - free for those whose parents could not afford to contribute towards the cost. There were, however, three areas of deficiency: there was no pre-school provision, children with partial sight or hearing were at a disadvantage in ordinary schools, and there was no provision of academic education for girls.

    Nursery education for blind children began in 1918 when the Royal National Institute for the Blind opened its first residential home for deprived blind children.

    The first provision for partially sighted children was made by the London County Council in 1907, when myopic children in the Authority's blind schools were taught reading and writing from large type instead of braille. The following year the Council established a special higher class for myopic children. By 1913 eight English authorities were making provision for the partially sighted, and in 1934 the Board of Education Committee of Inquiry into Problems relating to Partially Sighted Children recommended that where possible these children should be educated in classes within ordinary schools and should not be taught alongside the blind. The Committee found that provision for 2,000 partially sighted children was being made in 37 schools and that a further 18 schools for the blind offered special education for the partially sighted. Nevertheless many partially sighted children were being educated as if they were blind.

    In 1921 the Institute founded Chorleywood College as a secondary school for blind girls.

    Provision for the deaf

    Educational provision for the deaf was not brought into line with the blind until 1938 (under the Education (Deaf Children) Act 1937).

    The first special school for partially deaf children was established by the Bristol LEA in 1906, and another by the London County Council soon afterwards. But most partially deaf children continued for many years to receive ordinary education or to be taught with deaf children in special schools.

    Their needs were examined by the Committee of Inquiry into the Problems relating to Children with Defective Hearing appointed by the Board of Education in 1934. Reporting four years later the Committee recognised that the needs of partially deaf children were different from those of deaf children, and were also varied. It suggested a three-fold classification: those capable of attending ordinary classes without special arrangements; those more severely affected who might either attend an ordinary school with the help of a hearing aid and support from visiting teachers of lip-reading or be taught in a special school (day or boarding) for the partially deaf; and those whose hearing was so impaired that they needed to be educated with the deaf. Teachers of partially deaf pupils should have the same qualifications as those of the deaf. The report led some authorities to provide residential schools for the partially deaf.


    The notion of 'maladjustment' was relatively new. The British Child Study Association had been founded in 1893 and by the turn of the century University College London's psychological laboratory was studying difficult children.

    In 1913 the London County Council appointed psychologist Cyril Burt to examine cases referred by teachers, school doctors, care workers, magistrates and parents. Largely influenced by developments in America, the concept of child guidance on multi-professional lines began to emerge, and in 1927 the Child Guidance Council, which later merged into the National Association for Mental Health, was formed. It aimed 'to encourage the provision of skilled treatment of children showing behavioural disturbances'.

    Voluntary bodies and hospitals began opening clinics, with LEA provision following: by 1939 22 clinics, officially recognised as part of the school medical service, were wholly or partly maintained by authorities. However, since maladjustment was not an officially recognised form of handicap, virtually no provision was made by authorities for these pupils before 1944.

    The Board of Education's Green Paper Education after the war (June 1941) proposed that maladjustment should be recognised as an additional category of handicap. Part V of the 1921 Act, which dealt with the education of handicapped children, should be revised and updated, and the system of certification of defective children should be reconsidered.

    The White Paper Educational Reconstruction (1943) contained a chapter devoted to children's health and welfare. Handicapped children were dealt with in the two sentences of paragraph 97: 'Provision for the blind, deaf and other handicapped children is now made under Part V of the Education Act, 1921. This Part of the Act will require substantial modification' (Board of Education 1943:25). (For more on the white paper see the next chapter).


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    Chapter 3 | Chapter 5