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

Political background
1951-1964 Conservatives
   Wind of change
1964-1970 Labour
   Mixed picture

Selection: missed opportunity
Growing concerns
1963 Newsom Report
Labour U-turn
Circular 10/65
Independent schools

Primary education
1967 Plowden Report

Middle schools
Sir Alec Clegg
1964 Education Act
Educational justification
Rapid development

Special educational needs
Post-war progress
Further developments
   1954 NACTST Report
   1955 Underwood Report
   1956 Jameson Report
   1959 Mental Health Act
   1968 Summerfield Report
   1970 Education (Handicapped Children) Act

Other developments
London's local government
   Section 11



Education in England: a brief history
Derek Gillard

copyright Derek Gillard 2011
Education in England: a brief history is my copyright. You are welcome to download it and print it for your own personal use, or for use in a school or other educational establishment, provided my name as the author is attached. But you may not publish it, upload it onto any other website, or sell it, without my permission.

You are welcome to cite this piece. If you do so, please acknowledge it thus:
Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history

In accordance with the conventions set out by the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association, you should seek my permission to reproduce

  • any extract of more than 400 words;
  • a series of extracts totalling more than 800 words, of which any one extract has more than 300 words; and
  • an extract or series of extracts constituting a quarter or more of the original work.
For shorter extracts you do not need my permission, provided the source is acknowledged as shown above.

In references in the text, the number after the colon is always the page number (even where a document has numbered paragraphs or sections).

Where a document is shown as a link, the full text is available online.

Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

Chapter 6 : 1951-1970

The wind of change

Political background

1951-1964 The Conservatives

Clement Attlee's Labour government won the general election in February 1950 - but only just. It managed to survive until October 1951 when another election resulted in the return of a Conservative government under Winston Churchill (pictured).

The Tories were to remain in power for thirteen years under prime ministers Anthony Eden (1955-57), Harold Macmillan (1957-63) and Alec Douglas-Home (pronounced 'Hume') (1963-64).

The ministers of education for this period were:

In 1964, the Ministry of Education was reorganised as the Department of Education and Science (DES), and Quintin Hogg became the first Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Wind of change

In an address to the South African parliament in February 1960 prime minister Harold Macmillan famously declared that 'the wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.'

He was speaking, of course, about the desire of African nations for their independence. But he might just as easily have been talking about education in England, where public consciousness of the unfairness of the selective system and awareness of the need for a more child-centred style of education - especially in primary schools - had been growing for some time and was now reaching a climax.

So the wind of change was blowing through England's schools. In the 1960s and early 70s it would become something of a hurricane.

1964-1970 Labour

In October 1964, after 13 years of Conservative government, Harold Wilson led the Labour Party to a general election victory with a majority of just five.

He went to the country again in March 1966 and was rewarded with a larger majority of 96.

The period was one of low unemployment and relative economic prosperity, though there were problems with the country's external balance of payments.

Mixed picture

In social policy terms Wilson was a liberal and during his first administration

  • capital punishment was abolished (1965);
  • homosexuality was decriminalised (1967);
  • abortion was legalised (1967);
  • theatrical censorship was abolished (1968); and
  • divorce law was reformed (1969)
- a remarkable achievement by any standard.

Wilson was anxious to increase opportunity within society. In the education system this meant change and expansion: for the first time ever, a British government spent more on education than on defence. There was a significant increase in the number of university places, with more women undertaking higher education courses.

But Wilson's record on secondary education was disappointing: while the proportion of children attending comprehensive schools rose to thirty per cent during this period, his government, like Attlee's in the post-war years, failed to establish a fully comprehensive system and selection survived.

The secretaries of state for education and science in this period were:

  • October 1964: Michael Stewart
  • January 1965: Anthony Crosland
  • August 1967: Patrick Gordon-Walker
  • April 1968: Edward Short
Wilson lost power in June 1970 when Ted Heath's Tories won the general election with a majority of 30.

Selection: missed opportunity

Around the world, selective education systems were being replaced with comprehensive ones. The Scandinavian countries and Japan had begun the process immediately after the war; Israel and most of Europe followed; New Zealand and Canada continued with the reforms they had started before the war; eastern Europe adopted the common school model of the Soviet Union.

Yet in Britain, the Conservatives seemed determined not to notice what was going on elsewhere. Indeed, their commitment to grammar schools and their lingering doubts about the benefits of mass education were backed by various conservative commentators, including poet and literary critic TS Eliot, who wrote:

In our headlong rush to educate everybody, we are lowering our standards, and more and more abandoning the study of those subjects by which the essentials of our culture ... are transmitted; destroying our ancient edifices to make ready the ground upon which the barbarian nomads of the future will encamp in the mechanised caravans. (Eliot 1949:111, quoted in Jones 2003:36)
Churchill appointed Florence Horsbrugh (pictured) minister of education in November 1951.

In 1954 Horsbrugh intervened to stop London County Council (LCC) closing Eltham Hill Girls' Grammar School and transferring its pupils to the new Kidbrooke School. So 'London's first purpose-built comprehensive school was not as "comprehensive" as it might have been' (Chitty and Dunford 1999:20).

And shortly after becoming education minister in October 1954, Sir David Eccles made it clear that the Tories did not approve of comprehensive reorganisation. In determining the pattern of secondary education, he said, 'one has to choose between justice and equality, for it is impossible to apply both principles at once. Those who support comprehensive schools prefer equality. Her Majesty's present government prefer justice. My colleagues and I will never allow local authorities to assassinate the grammar schools' (quoted in The Schoolmaster 7 January 1955).

Growing concerns

But criticism of the selection process was growing - as was parental dissatisfaction with the system, especially among the middle classes. As Benn and Chitty (1996:8) put it: 'The middle class was expanding and grammar schools were not'.

The selection system was perceived as failing because:

  • research cast doubt on theories of inherited intelligence;
  • there were many errors in school placements owing to the fallibility of the selection mechanism;
  • there was a great deal of inequality in outcome - the level of provision of grammar school places ranged from 10 per cent in some LEAs to more than 30 per cent in others;
  • there was a great deal of gender inequality - many LEAs had single-sex grammar schools with far more places for boys than for girls;
  • talent was being wasted as many children left school too early - a view reinforced by the Newsom Report (see below).
So change was in the air, and despite government hostility, the 1950s did see 'the development of largely unnoticed "experimental" comprehensive schools, often on urban sites in Labour authorities affected by Luftwaffe bombing' (Crook 2008). 46 such schools were open by 1958.

In 1957 Conservative-controlled Leicestershire began what became known as the 'Leicestershire experiment' in which all the children in a locality transferred at age 11 to a three-year 'junior high' school. The brightest went on at 14 to grammar schools, the rest did a final year in the junior high and then left school.

This scheme seemed to appeal to education ministers, and the 1958 white paper Secondary Education for All: A New Drive emphasised the importance of local initiatives in secondary education.

But educational apartheid was further exacerbated in 1960, when the Beloe Report Secondary School Examinations other than the GCE recommended that there should be a new exam system for pupils considered incapable of coping with the demands of the GCE. This led to the introduction of the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) in 1965.

Williams (1961:146) summed up the problem of a divided schools system thus:

Differences in learning ability obviously exist, but there is great danger in making these into separate and absolute categories. It is right that a child should be taught in a way appropriate to his learning ability, but because this itself depends on his whole development, including not only questions of personal character growth but also questions of his real social environment and the stimulation received from it, too early a division into intellectual grades in part creates the situation which it is offering to meet.
Sir Edward Boyle became education minister in July 1962. He shared Eccles' enthusiasm for local initiatives and approved limited comprehensive experiments in a few small areas. But otherwise the Conservatives continued to support the divided system and the eleven plus that Labour had introduced, arguing that 'Britain's grammar schools and public schools were the envy of the world' (Benn and Chitty 1996:8).

1963 Newsom Report

The concerns about selection were given added weight by the 1963 Newsom Report Half Our Future, which looked at the education of 13-16 year olds of average and less than average ability and urged that they should receive a greater share of the nation's educational resources.

When Churchill had come to power in 1951 he had immediately cut spending on education. But in the ensuing years the Tories accepted the notion that increased investment in education led to national economic growth, and public expenditure on education rose from 3 per cent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in 1953-4 to 4.3 per cent in 1964-5. As a result, there had been huge improvements in educational provision since the end of the war. 1,800 new secondary schools had been built in England and Wales, there was more variety in the curriculum, equipment and materials had improved, and there were more out of school activities.

However, children of average or less than average ability had largely missed out on this progress. A survey conducted for the Newsom Committee showed that 40 per cent were still being taught in overcrowded and inadequate school buildings. Children in slum areas were particularly badly served: 79 per cent of the schools in these areas had seriously inadequate buildings; playing fields were often some distance away; and there were frequent changes of teaching staff. Moreover, expectations were low: they were set less homework and the curriculum they were offered was more traditional. 'The contrasts in educational provision were growing sharper' (Rogers 1980:67).

Labour U-turn

No wonder, then, that where comprehensive schools were introduced they were popular and that many people argued that they fostered greater social cohesion. Public concern about the unfairness of the selection process convinced the Labour Party that comprehensivisation would now be a vote winner.

So Labour authorities in northern industrial areas - Bradford, Lancashire, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield - began planning a new wave of authority-wide comprehensive systems, and Labour went into the 1964 general election promising to abolish the eleven plus and develop the secondary school system on comprehensive lines - 'without any clear idea of what this really meant' (Benn and Chitty 1996:8).

Labour's manifesto for the 1964 general election couldn't have been clearer: 'Labour will get rid of the segregation of children into separate schools caused by 11-plus selection: secondary education will be reorganised on comprehensive lines'.

The provision of secondary education in England and Wales at the time was as follows:

Secondary modern schools3,906
Grammar schools1,298
Direct grant grammar schools179
Technical schools186
Bi- and Multi-lateral schools69
Comprehensive schools195
Other secondary schools240
All-age schools411

(Statistics of Education 1964 HMSO 1965 p.12, quoted in Lester Smith 1966:108)

In a speech in May 1965, education secretary Anthony Crosland said:

The fact is that there has been a growing movement against the 11-plus examination and all that it implies. This movement has not been politically inspired or imposed from the centre. It has been a spontaneous growth at the grassroots of education, leading to a widespread conviction that separation is an offence against the child as well as a brake on social and economic progress ... The whole notion of a selection test at this age belongs to the era when secondary education was a privilege of the few. (quoted in Chitty and Dunford 1999:21)

Circular 10/65

Two months later, after 'a fierce debate within the DES' (Chitty 2004:29), the new government published Circular 10/65, The organisation of secondary education, which began with the bold declaration that it intended 'to end selection at eleven plus and to eliminate separatism in secondary education' (DES 1965: para.1).

But the boldness was short-lived. Although the language of the Circular made it clear that the government expected LEAs to go comprehensive, it stopped short of actually compelling them to do so. It presented some of the schemes which LEAs had put forward and invited others to adopt one: 'local education authorities are requested to submit plans to the Secretary of State for the reorganisation of secondary education in their areas on comprehensive lines' (DES 1965: para.43).

It concluded that the government had no desire to impose 'destructive or precipitate change on existing schools' and that 'the evolution of separate schools into a comprehensive system must be a constructive process requiring careful planning by local education authorities in consultation with all those concerned' (DES 1965: para.46).

The prevarication continued. Dates for submission of schemes were set but not enforced. The government made a further - fatal - mistake in accepting plans for partial comprehensivisation. No one bothered to explain how you could logically run comprehensive and grammar schools side by side.

See also DES Circular 10/66 School building programmes, which set out government proposals for 1967-70.


When Labour won a bigger majority in the 1966 general election with a clear mandate for comprehensivisation, many hoped the new government would require all LEAs to go fully comprehensive. In fact, four years were to pass before a bill was drafted and, when Labour lost the 1970 general election, the bill was lost too.

'From the beginning, therefore, comprehensive reform in England was implemented in an uneven way. It lived in the shadow of selective education and in many cases perpetuated selective arrangements' (Jones 2003:78). The whole process was a shambles.

Little wonder then, that radicals lost heart. Fife head teacher RF McKenzie spoke for many when he declared: 'those of us who imagined that the Labour Party would make fundamental changes in our society, and particularly in our education system, now see their efforts overborne like an irrelevant eddy in a stream' (McKenzie 1970:67, quoted in Jones 2003:90).

Certificate of Secondary Education

Even within schools there was selection. The Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE), introduced in England and Wales in 1965, increased the pressure on schools to divide students between 'academic' and 'non-academic' streams. 'Within comprehensives, GCE students were placed in different teaching groups from CSE students, while in the secondary modern school ... students who were deemed capable of CSE entry were separated from those who were not' (Jones 2003:84-5).

(The CSE did have one positive effect, however. Through its localised teacher-designed 'Mode 3' syllabuses it encouraged school-based curriculum development).

Comprehensivisation in Scotland

In Scotland, comprehensivisation was much more widely supported. Indeed, it had been awaited since 1945, when Scotland's Advisory Council on Education had recommended a comprehensive system for all secondary pupils aged 12 to 16 with a common core curriculum and a common leaving exam. This, the Council said, was 'the natural way for a democracy to order the post-primary schooling of a given area' (quoted in Benn and Chitty 1996:10).

In the event, the Scots had to wait twenty years for reorganisation, which began in 1965 following the publication of Circular 600, the Scottish equivalent of Circular 10/65.

Independent schools

Another long-held ambition of the Labour Party was to integrate the independent ('public') schools into the state system. But Wilson seemed no more determined to realise this aim than he was to get rid of selection.

The Public Schools Commission's first report (the Newsom Report, 1968) - a 'costly and prolonged exercise' (Benn and Chitty 1996:10) - was shelved because its proposals were based on the continuation of selection. The Commission's second report (the Donnison Report, 1970) proposed that the direct grant grammar schools should either become comprehensives or go fully private.

Over the following six years a third of them (around fifty) went comprehensive, but the majority (more than a hundred) joined the private sector.

Primary education


By the early 1960s educational developments were 'rapid, all-embracing, and, in retrospect, perhaps surprising' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:39). Galton, Simon and Croll argue that some of the problems which were to face primary education in the 1980s (of which more later) 'clearly [had] their roots in this period and the apparent subsequent reaction from ideas and practices then regarded as positive' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:39).

These 'ideas and practices' can loosely be defined as the move towards more informal, child-centred education with an emphasis on individualisation and learning by discovery: in short, a 'progressive' style of education.

This trend was facilitated by the introduction of comprehensive secondary education. In those LEAs which went comprehensive - Oxfordshire, Leicestershire, Bristol, London, and the West Riding of Yorkshire were among the first - the abolition of the eleven plus freed the curriculum of the junior schools from the constraints of the eleven plus exam.

It was in these areas, also, that the system of streaming, which reinforced the methodology of class teaching, was most rapidly discarded. The swing from streaming in the junior schools in these and other areas, which started very slowly in the mid 1950s, meeting strong opposition, suddenly took off with extraordinary rapidity in the mid to late 1960s, gaining influential support from the Plowden Report of 1967. (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:39)
A number of factors provided the context for these educational developments in the 1960s:
  • the 'permissive society';
  • a heightened consciousness among young people of their role in society - full employment, relative affluence and so increased independence and autonomy;
  • the encouragement by LEAs of innovation in schools;
  • the increased professionalisation of teachers and the high degree of autonomy which they enjoyed;
  • a decline in the inspectorial role of HMI and LEA inspectors;
  • the development of new 'open plan' schools, which reflected the decline in whole-class teaching methods and the increasing importance (encouraged by the Plowden Report) given to the individualisation of the teaching/learning process.

1967 Plowden Report

Children and their Primary Schools, the report produced by the Central Advisory Council for Education (CACE) chaired by Bridget Plowden (pictured) was thus published at a time of great excitement and creativity in education. The eleven plus was being abolished, freeing primary schools from the constraints imposed by the need to 'get good results'. Streaming was being abandoned. Sybil Marshall was writing about the creativity of primary pupils in An Experiment in Education. Comprehensive schools and middle schools were being established. Teacher-led curriculum innovation was being actively encouraged.

Plowden, the first thorough review of primary education since Sir Henry Hadow's Report of 1931, was very much a product of its time, full of enthusiasm and optimism. It

clearly and definitely espoused child-centred approaches in general, the concept of "informal" education, flexibility of internal organisation and non-streaming in a general humanist approach - stressing particularly the uniqueness of each individual and the paramount need for individualisation of the teaching and learning process. (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:40)
The essence of Plowden is summed up at the start of Chapter 2: 'At the heart of the educational process lies the child' (Plowden 1967 I:7). And not just the child, but the individual child. 'Individual differences between children of the same age are so great that any class, however homogeneous it seems, must always be treated as a body of children needing individual and different attention' (Plowden 1967 I:25).

In relation to the curriculum, the committee was clear. 'One of the main educational tasks of the primary school is to build on and strengthen children's intrinsic interest in learning and lead them to learn for themselves rather than from fear of disapproval or desire for praise' (Plowden 1967 I:196).

The report's recurring themes were individual learning, flexibility in the curriculum, the use of the environment, learning by discovery, and the importance of the evaluation of children's progress - teachers should 'not assume that only what is measurable is valuable' (Plowden 1967 I:202).

  • The full text of the Plowden Report and articles about it by AH Halsey and Kathy Sylva, Maurice Kogan, George Smith, David Winkley, Neville Bennett, Maurice Galton, Philip Gammage, Andrew M Wilkinson and Bridget Plowden can be found here.

    Middle schools

    During the 1960s a number of LEAs chose to change their school systems from two-tier (primary and secondary) to three-tier (first or lower schools, middle schools, upper schools). Why and how did this come about?


    Up to 1964 transfer at age 11 was determined by both convention and law: the 1907 Secondary Regulations had required LEAs to provide 25 per cent of their grammar school places free by examination at 11; the 1926 Hadow Report had identified 11 as the start of adolescence; the 1944 Education Act had given this legal backing by defining children who had not reached the age of 12 as primary pupils. The effect was to make transfer at ages other than 11 illegal.

    During the 1940s and 50s many relatively small schools were built to house the grammar, technical and secondary schools which had been recommended by the Spens and Norwood Reports (1938 and 1943). This was to prove a problem when comprehensivisation began to take hold in the late 50s and early 60s. Many of the schools were too small to become comprehensives but the Ministry of Education insisted that those buildings which were in good condition must continue to be used.

    Some LEAs solved the problem by creating split-site schools. Others decided that the only solution was to divide their secondary schools on the basis of age. Leicestershire, for example, created 11-14 and 14-18 schools. Two main concerns were expressed about some of these schools - the 'junior high schools' were thought to be too small and would have difficulty attracting well-qualified staff; the upper schools would have insufficient time to prepare students for examinations.

    Sir Alec Clegg

    To avoid these problems, Sir Alec Clegg (pictured), Chief Education Officer of the West Riding of Yorkshire, proposed in 1963 that schools should be organised in three tiers with age ranges 5-9, 9-13 and 13-18. Such a system would alleviate the pressures on upper schools caused by their sheer size.

    His proposal required a change in the law and he set about trying to persuade minister of education Edward Boyle of the desirability - even the necessity - of the change.

    1964 Education Act

    Boyle agreed, and shortly before the 1964 general election he gave the Ministry what he called his 'parting gift' - the 1964 Education Act (31 July 1964), which permitted transfer at ages other than 11 and granted limited experimental status to the middle school. (Although Boyle was responsible for the formulation of the 1964 Act, it was actually his successor as Minister of Education, Quintin Hogg, who saw it through Parliament).

    The 1964 Act had widespread cross-party support in both local and central government. David Crook has described it as 'the high point of consensual post-war educational policy-making' (Crook 2008:120). It provided the context for the Plowden Committee to consider the age of transfer, and it enabled 'excited LEAs to dispense with the 11-plus without creating over-large "all-through" comprehensives' (Crook 2008:121).

  • Download the Education Act 1964 (pdf text 64kb).

    Educational justification

    Educational arguments were put forward for middle schools. They would 'extend the best practices of primary education' and would provide better support for pupils 'during a critical transitional stage of their personal development and educational career' (Hargreaves and Tickle 1980:3).

    Clegg summed up his vision of the middle school thus:

    Middle schools as we envisage them in the West Riding are a new departure. It would be unfortunate if they came to be regarded simply as the last two years of what we now know as primary education joined to the first two years of the secondary school. The main educational justification for this kind of school is a belief, shared by many primary and secondary school teachers, that there is a similarity in the kinds of interests and needs and ways of learning of children within this age group which could be better catered for if they could be brought into the same school, where forms of organisation and ways of working might be developed which would enable these needs to be satisfied more effectively than is at present possible in a system which has a break of school at about the age of eleven. (Clegg 1967:2-3 quoted in Crook 2008:121)

    Rapid development

    The Wilson government's Circular 10/65 (see above), which invited LEAs to submit their proposals for comprehensivisation, listed six possible forms of school organisation. The last of these was:

    (vi) A system of middle schools which straddle the primary/secondary age ranges. Under this system pupils transfer from a primary school at the age of 8 or 9 to a comprehensive school with an age range of 8 to 12 or 9 to 13. From this middle school they move on to a comprehensive school with an age range of 12 or 13 to 18. (DES 1965: para.3)
    Two years later the Plowden Report advocated 12 as the age of transfer: 'on the whole we think that transfer at 12 is more likely to give us the middle school we want to see' (Plowden 1967 I:146).

    From then on, the development of middle schools was extraordinarily rapid. In 1967 there were none. In 1968 the first opened in Bradford and the West Riding. By 1980 there were more than 1400. Blyth has described this development as 'one of the strangest stories in the history of English education' (Blyth 1980:20 quoted in Crook 2008:122).

    Yet no one had done any academic research into the effectiveness of middle schools. They were, it's fair to say, created out of financial necessity - any educational justification for them was very much an afterthought. 'The middle school was an innovation that cried out for legitimation' (Hargreaves and Tickle 1980:5).

    In 1970 the DES published Towards the Middle School, which noted the views of psychologists and experts in child development that middle schools could provide good pastoral support, especially for girls and early-maturing boys; that they could stimulate children's creativity in language and the arts; and that they shielded children from the undesirable pressures of exams (DES 1970).

  • For more on middle schools see chapters 9 and 10 of this history and the website of the National Middle Schools Forum, which represents the interests and aspirations of middle school head teachers, staff, pupils and governors.

    Special educational needs

    Note: Much of the information in this section is taken from chapter 2 (pages 22-32) 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.

    Post-war progress

    Considerable progress in special needs provision had been made in the decade 1945-1955, despite the huge problems which had faced the country in the aftermath of the war. The number of special schools had increased from 528 to 743 and the number of pupils in them from 38,499 to 58,034. The number of full-time teachers in special schools had risen from 2,434 to 4,381.

    Provision for the blind and partially sighted was now judged to be adequate, while provision for the deaf and partially hearing had expanded rapidly to cope with the lower age of entry to school and was 'nearing sufficiency' (Warnock 1978:22). The importance of early diagnosis, assessment and an early start to education was coming to be recognised.

    There had been improvements in the methods of controlling epilepsy, and teachers in ordinary schools were increasingly willing to accept responsibility for less severe cases, with medical help. Twenty-five new boarding schools had been built for children suffering from all kinds of physical handicap, including cerebral palsy.

    The development of provision for children with speech defects had been delayed by lack of qualified staff, though the number of speech therapists employed full or part-time by LEAs had increased from 205 to 341 between 1949 and 1954.

    In 1955 12,000 'delicate' children were being educated in day and boarding open air schools in England and Wales. The National Health Service and the provision of milk and meals in schools had led to considerable improvements in the standard of living and in the general health of school children.

    The needs of educationally sub-normal (ESN) pupils, however, remained 'obstinately unsatisfied' (Warnock 1978:23). By the end of 1955 nearly 11,000 new places had been provided and 8,000 more were planned. The number of children in ESN special schools had nearly doubled between 1947 and 1955 (from 12,060 to 22,639) but there were still 12,000 children awaiting placement.

    The special education of children in hospitals had been safeguarded by the 1946 National Health Service Act, and the number of hospital special schools had grown from 95 in 1947 to 120 (15 run by voluntary bodies) in 1955.

    Further developments

    1954 NACTST Report

    In 1954 the fourth report of the National Advisory Council on the Training and Supply of Teachers (NACTST) recommended that, with certain exceptions, all intending teachers of handicapped children should have experience in ordinary schools and some preliminary experience with handicapped children, and then undertake a full-time course of additional training.

    In Circular 324 The Training and Supply of Teachers of Handicapped Pupils (29 May 1957), the Ministry accepted this recommendation in principle but declared it to be impracticable for the time being.

    1955 Underwood Report

    Provision for maladjusted pupils had expanded and improved but was still seen as being 'relatively undeveloped' (Warnock 1978:24).

    The 1955 Underwood Report Maladjusted Children recommended that there should be a comprehensive child guidance service in every LEA area, involving a school psychological service, the school health service and child guidance clinics, all of which should work in close co-operation.

    Progress was hindered by the continuing shortage of professional staff, a problem which was exacerbated by the Underwood Committee's recommendation that maladjusted children should, wherever possible, continue to live at home during treatment and attend ordinary schools or special schools or classes.

    1956 Jameson Report

    The 1956 Jameson Report An Inquiry into Health Visiting and the 1959 Younghusband Report on Social Workers in the Local Authority Health and Welfare Services urged a national scheme for the training of health visitors and social workers. This was enacted in the 1962 Health Visiting and Social Work (Training) Act (see Warnock 1978:25-26).

    1959 Mental Health Act

    Increasing concern about the exclusion of many mentally handicapped children from school was addressed by the 1959 Mental Health Act. Criticism of the system continued to grow, however. Moreover, the concept of special education was 'broadening to encompass needs hitherto regarded as beyond its reach' (Warnock 1978:28).

    1968 Summerfield Report

    The 1968 Summerfield Report Psychologists in Education Services made recommendations regarding the duties, training and supply of educational psychologists.

    1970 Education (Handicapped Children) Act

    This Act (23 July 1970) transferred the provision of training for mentally handicapped children from the health authorities to the LEAs. As a result, 24,000 children in junior training centres and special care units, 8,000 in hospitals, and an uncertain number at home or in private institutions ceased to be treated as 'mentally deficient' and became entitled to special education. For this purpose they were to be regarded as severely educationally sub-normal (ESN(S)), as distinct from the moderately educationally sub-normal (ESN(M)) who had previously made up the ESN category. Many of the children had other difficulties.

  • Download the Education (Handicapped Children) Act 1970 (pdf text 60kb).

    Other developments

    London's local government

    One of the last acts of Sir Alec Douglas-Home's Tory government was the reorganisation of local government in London.

    Since the boundaries of the London County Council (LCC) had been set in 1855, many people had moved out of central London into the suburbs. Labour control of the city had become unchallengeable, so the Conservatives decided to create a council covering the whole greater London area which they had some chance of controlling.

    Sir Edwin Herbert was appointed to head a Royal Commission on the matter, and his report, published in 1960, recommended that new London Boroughs, covering an enlarged area of London, should be the primary institution of local government, while the LCC would be replaced by the Greater London Council (GLC) with fewer powers. Education would be under the control of a new Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).

    These proposals were enacted in Part IV Section 30 of the 1963 London Government Act (31 July 1963) and the GLC and ILEA were established in April 1964.

  • Download the London Government Act 1963 (pdf text 5mb).


    The education of 'ethnic minority' children began to be the subject of much debate in the 1960s.

    The British Nationality Act of 1948 had given Commonwealth citizens recognition as British subjects, entitled to work and live in Britain. Immigration from these countries had been encouraged and the children of the new immigrants were now passing through the schools.

    The question which needed to be answered was: should they be assimilated into the 'host' society and lose their own language and culture, or should they integrate but retain their distinctiveness?

    Until the mid sixties central government had no policy on the education of immigrant children. The main concerns were to teach English to non-English speakers and to disperse immigrant pupils, partly to prevent individual schools having to cope with large numbers of them and partly to facilitate their assimilation into British society.

    However, Birmingham's LEA and the newly-established Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), both of which had large numbers of immigrant children, rejected this dispersal policy and it was eventually ruled illegal in 1975.

    Section 11

    Section 11 of the 1966 Local Government Act (13 December 1966) dealt with the funding of education for immigrant children.

    It authorised the secretary of state, with the consent of the Treasury, to make grants for the employment of staff in those local authorities which were 'required to make special provision in the exercise of any of their functions in consequence of the presence within their areas of substantial numbers of immigrants from the Commonwealth whose language or customs differ from those of the community'.

  • Download the Local Government Act 1966 (pdf text 880kb).

    Many LEAs and schools began to develop their own policies and practices, mainly concerned with the teaching of English as a second language. ILEA in particular achieved a considerable reputation for its equal opportunities policies. (See chapter 6 for more on ILEA).

    Towards the end of the sixties, 'assimilation' was replaced by 'integration' in policy statements which began to refer to diversity, tolerance and equal opportunity and attempted 'to give at least some recognition in schools to the backgrounds of ethnic minority children' (Swann 1985:191).


    The 1953 Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (14 July 1953) required LEAs to provide free dental treatment for children and amended the provisions of the 1944 Act relating to school attendance orders.

  • Download the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1953 (pdf text 424kb).

    In the Gurney-Dixon Report (1954), Early Leaving, the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) examined the problem of premature school-leaving in England.

    The 1956 Teachers (Superannuation) Act (5 July 1956) made provisions relating to teachers' pensions (the contributions of teachers and employers were both raised from five to six per cent) and to the employment of teachers over the age of sixty-five years.

  • Download the Teachers (Superannuation) Act 1956 (pdf text 572kb).

    In 1956 selected technical and further education colleges were upgraded to College of Advanced Technology status - most of these would become the 'new universities' in the mid-1960s.

    The Carr Committee (1958) reported that employers were overwhelmingly opposed to vocational instruction provided by schools and the 1959 Crowther Report 15-18 recommended raising the school leaving age to 16 and the provision of further education for 15-18 year olds. It questioned the value of day release provision for apprenticeships.

    The 1959 Education Act (29 July 1959) enlarged the powers of the Minister of Education 'to make contributions, grants and loans in respect of aided schools and special agreement schools, and for purposes connected therewith'.

  • Download the Education Act 1959 (pdf text 68kb).

    In 1960 the teacher training course was extended from two years to three.

    In 1962 the Ministry of Education set up a 'Curriculum Study Group' to consider curriculum issues and pedagogy, but the initiative failed because of opposition from teachers' organisations and local authorities.

    The 1962 Education Act (29 March 1962) required LEAs to provide grants for living costs and tuition fees to students resident in their area for full-time first degree courses, for teacher training, and for courses leading to the Diploma in Higher Education (Dip HE) and the Higher National Diploma (HND). These mandatory local authority maintenance grants were sufficient to support students away from home if necessary. Over 25s could receive a higher rate of grant, as could under 25s who had been employed or had lived away from home for a substantial period.

  • Download the Education Act 1962 (pdf text 240kb).

    In 1963, the Robbins Report Higher education, commissioned by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, recommended a massive expansion of higher education to cater for all who had the necessary ability. The Conservative government accepted its recommendations in full, but they were not all implemented by Harold Wilson's Labour administration, which came to power in October 1964.

    The 1963 Children and Young Persons Act (31 July 1963) updated the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. It made provisions relating to local authorities' responsibility for the welfare of children, approved schools, juvenile courts, and the employment of children and young persons.

  • Download the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 (pdf text 1020kb).

    Following the failure of the Curriculum Study Group set up by the Ministry of Education in 1962, the government now accepted the recommendation of the Lockwood Report and, in 1964, established the Schools Council to disseminate ideas about curricular reform in England and Wales. The Council was dominated by teachers' representatives. 'It was teachers - through their organisations and as individuals - who had a leading influence on curriculum change' (Jones 2003:52-3).

    Scotland went one better. The 1965 Teaching Council (Scotland) Act (2 June 1965) provided for the establishment of a General Teaching Council for Scotland, for the registration of teachers, for regulating their professional training, and for cancelling registration in cases of misconduct.

  • Download the Teaching Council (Scotland) Act 1965 (pdf text 336kb).

    The four year Bachelor of Education (BEd) course, which had been proposed by the 1963 Robbins Report, was introduced in 1965. The rising birth rate forced the government to increase provision for student teachers: there were 80,000 places for them by the end of the decade.

    The 1967 Education Act (16 February 1967) enlarged the powers of the secretary of state to make contributions, grants and loans in respect of aided and special agreement schools and to direct LEAs to pay the expenses of establishing or enlarging controlled schools; and to provide loans for capital expenditure incurred for purposes of colleges of education by 'persons other than local education authorities'.

  • Download the Education Act 1967 (pdf text 68kb).

    The 1968 Education Act (10 April 1968) amended the law relating to changes in the character, size and situation of county and voluntary schools to enable special age limits to be adopted, and made other amendments relating to the approval or provision of school premises.

  • Download the Education Act 1968 (pdf text 180kb).

    The 1968 School Meals Agreement ended the obligation on teachers to supervise children at lunchtimes.

    The 1969 Children and Young Persons Act (22 October 1969) amended the law relating to the care of children undergoing court proceedings, in care or being fostered.

  • Download the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 (pdf text 2.2mb).


    Perhaps the word which best sums up education in the 1960s is optimism.

    It is, of course, easy to look back through the proverbial rose-tinted spectacles. But I think it is fair to say that, in areas where the eleven plus was abolished, it felt as though a great weight had been lifted from the shoulders of the schools. Teachers - especially in primary schools - suddenly had enormous freedom to experiment with progressive styles of teaching, child-centred learning, open plan schools, discovery methods, creativity and spontaneity. It was a heady mix.

    It seemed that Britain was, at last, emerging from the twin dark shadows of the second world war and the old ideas about children and their education.

    It is fashionable to deride the 1960s as culturally aberrant and wildly idealist. Healthy idealism may be preferable to entrenched ideology parading as pragmatism, which has been the chief characteristic of subsequent decades. Many of us who were active in education in the 1960s look back on a time of optimism, a spirit of shared concerns, and the beginnings of an articulation (in every sense) of an education system which would offer the greatest possible opportunities to everyone as an entitlement, not a privilege. (Plaskow 1990:90, quoted in Chitty and Dunford 1999:22)
    As a young teacher beginning his career in 1966, I shared Plaskow's 'healthy idealism' - as did many of my colleagues. Regrettably, our optimism was not to survive long in the following decade.


    Benn C and Chitty C (1996) Thirty years on: is comprehensive education alive and well or struggling to survive? London: David Fulton Publishers

    Blyth WAL (1980) 'Middle schools and the historical perspective' in Middle schools: origins, ideology and practice A Hargreaves and L Tickle (eds) 20-31. London: Harper & Row

    Chitty C (2004) Education policy in Britain Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

    Chitty C and Dunford J (eds) (1999) State schools: New Labour and the Conservative legacy London: Woburn Press

    Clegg A (1967) 'The middle school cometh' in A Clegg et al (eds) The middle school: a symposium 1-9. Kettering: The Schoolmaster Publishing Co. Ltd

    Crook D (2008) ''The middle school cometh'... and goeth: Alec Clegg and the rise and fall of the English middle school' Education 3-13 36(2) 117-125

    DES (1965) Circular 10/65 The organisation of secondary education

    DES (1970) Towards the middle school Education Pamphlet No. 57. London: HMSO

    Eliot TS (1949) Notes towards the definition of culture London: Faber & Faber

    Galton M, Simon B and Croll P (1980) Inside the primary classroom (The ORACLE Report) London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

    Hargreaves A and Tickle L (1980) Middle schools: origins, ideology and practice London: Harper and Row

    Jones K (2003) Education in Britain: 1944 to the present Cambridge: Polity Press

    Lester Smith WO (1966) Education (revised edn) Harmondsworth: Penguin Books

    McKenzie RF (1970) State school Harmondsworth: Penguin

    Norwood (1943) Curriculum and Examinations in Secondary Schools Report of the Committee of the Secondary School Examinations Council London: HMSO

    Plaskow M (1990) 'It was the best of times' Education 3 August

    Plowden (1967) Children and their Primary Schools Report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) London: HMSO

    Rogers R (1980) Crowther to Warnock: how fourteen reports tried to change children's lives London: Heinemann

    Spens (1938) Secondary Education with Special Reference to Grammar Schools and Technical High Schools Report of the Consultative Committee London: HMSO

    Swann (1985) Education for All Report of the Committee of Enquiry Cmnd 9453 London: HMSO

    Warnock (1978) Special Educational Needs Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the education of handicapped children and young people. Cmnd. 7212 London: HMSO

    Williams R (1961) The Long Revolution London: Chatto and Windus

    Chapter 5 | Chapter 7