Donnison (1970)

Volume I (text)

Volume II (pdf file)

The Donnison Report (1970)
The Public Schools Commission: Second Report

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1970
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

Background notes

Historical context

The Fleming Report of 1944 The Public Schools and the General Educational System had failed to deal with the philosophical questions surrounding private educational provision and had focused entirely on the value of boarding education. Some of its recommendations had been implemented, mostly in a watered down form, but overall the 1944 Education Act, which had set out the arrangements for the post-war education system, had failed to tackle the question of private education.

Harold Wilson's Labour administration of 1964-70 set up the Public Schools Commission to suggest a way of dealing with the problem. It was announced by education secretary Anthony Crosland in December 1965.

The Commission decided to produce two separate reports: the first (the Newsom Report of 1968) dealing with private boarding schools; the second (the Donnison Report of 1970) with private day schools, direct grant and maintained grammar schools.

Crosland was replaced by Patrick Gordon-Walker in August 1967 but he remained in post for only eight months and was in turn replaced by Edward Short, so it was Short who received the First Report in April 1968 and the Second Report in January 1970 - just five months before Ted Heath's Conservative government came to power with Margaret Thatcher as education secretary.

Both reports failed to deal with the problem and the private schools were left intact.

The First Report noted the objections to private education, but spent 200 pages pointlessly arguing for more boarding provision.

This Second Report considered the part that independent day schools and direct grant grammar schools might play in a state education system which was in the middle of comprehensive reorganisation.

For this second report, the Commission was chaired by Professor David Donnison, director of the Centre for Environmental Studies.

The 19 members - including seven who had served on the Commission for its first report - were hopelessly divided on many issues and most of their recommendations were ignored, though when Margaret Thatcher later became Prime Minister (in 1979), her government's 1980 Education Act created the 'assisted places scheme', which provided public money for children to go to private schools.

Summary of the report's main recommendations

The report lists 25 recommendations relating to England Wales and 22 relating to Scotland, including:

England and Wales

  • day schools receiving grants from central or local authorities should participate in the movement towards comprehensive reorganisation and should no longer charge fees - the present direct grant arrangements should therefore be discontinued;
  • children already in the schools at the time of the change should be entitled to continue their education undisturbed;
  • the salaries and status of staff in schools participating in reorganisation should be protected on the same terms that are applied to staff in maintained schools undergoing reorganisation;
  • seven of us recommend the introduction of a new 'full grant' status for former direct grant and independent day secondary schools willing to participate in comprehensive reorganisation;
  • eight of us consider that participating schools should adopt one of the forms of locally maintained status already available;
  • four of us find either of these two proposals acceptable in principle and think that the choice between them should be taken by the Government of the day in the light of the response made by schools and local authorities to our proposals;
  • all of us agree that direct grant schools unwilling or unable to participate in comprehensive reorganisation should retain the right to become independent schools;
  • governors, heads and staff at direct grant schools which choose to become full grant or locally maintained schools should retain the essential freedoms they already have;
  • maintained secondary schools should have the same essential freedoms as former direct grant schools;
  • the legal right of voluntary bodies to provide efficient private education paid for by parents should not be curtailed;
  • independent secondary day schools should be encouraged to participate in a comprehensive system on terms similar to those we propose for direct grant schools;
  • the interpretation of local education authorities' powers and duties to assist with or pay the fees of pupils at independent schools should be more nearly uniform;
  • if the Government accepts the recommendation in the Commission's First Report that integrated independent boarding schools should be established, it will be open to the direct grant boarding schools to become independent and participate in this form of integration;
  • if the Government accepts the proposal made by some of us to establish a new full grant status, the direct grant boarding schools will be able to apply for this status;
  • whether or not the Government accepts any of these proposals, it will be open to the direct grant boarding schools to apply for locally maintained status;
  • local authorities should be encouraged to take up day places in boarding schools becoming integrated on the terms proposed in the Commission's First Report;
  • the procedure for determining boarding fees at maintained schools, the income scale used for parental contributions and the criteria for distinguishing pupils for whom no contribution is required should be standardised;
  • more research and experiment should be devoted to discovering how best to find and develop exceptional talents;
  • fourteen of us think that academically gifted children should be educated in comprehensive schools with special attention and opportunities;
  • five of us think that a small number of highly selective schools should take pupils from the top two per cent of the ability range.

The main recommendations of the Scottish Report (Volume III) included:

  • all schools in the public system of education should fulfil comprehensive roles in local schemes of reorganisation and should not charge fees;
  • education authorities should, wherever practicable, make their zoning arrangements flexible enough to allow freedom of choice of school;
  • education authorities should take positive action to assist neighbourhood comprehensive schools in under-privileged communities;
  • if grant-aided schools are to receive support from public funds they should be part of the comprehensive system;
  • participating schools should retain their governing bodies and the essential freedoms and responsibilities which their managers, heads, and staffs presently enjoy, so far as is consistent with central and local supervision of the whole public system of education;
  • the governing bodies of participating schools should include representatives of the different interests concerned with the schools;
  • when proposals for participation have been approved, grant-aid and fee-paying should cease;
  • a new system of public support is required for schools participating in comprehensive reorganisation - alternative schemes of finance and control were proposed by different members of the Commission;
  • debts incurred by participating schools should be taken over;
  • the proposals for secondary departments of grant-aided schools should equally apply to their primary departments;
  • schools and education authorities should complete discussions about the future roles of grant-aided schools within two to three years;
  • the salaries and status of staff affected by the participation of their schools should be protected on the same terms as those applying to teachers in education authority schools;
  • schools which are unable or unwilling to participate in comprehensive reorganisation should be free to become independent;
  • participating schools should retain their present freedoms and responsibilities, so far as they are compatible with playing a part in comprehensive reorganisation;
  • independent day schools should be invited to participate in the movement towards comprehensive reorganisation on exactly the same principles as grant-aided schools;
  • tuition should be free for all pupils and no boarding fees should be charged for cases of 'need';
  • some of us recommend that boarders who have no recognised boarding need should be assisted on a scale related to the income of their parents, others recommend that parents who choose a boarding education for their children should meet the full boarding cost.

The report online

The full text of Volume I (the report itself) is presented in a single web page.

I have corrected a handful of printing errors. Otherwise, the text presented here is as printed in the report.

The tables and diagrams are presented as images, embedded in the text where they were in the printed version.

Volume II, which contains the Appendices, is presented in the form of an image-only pdf file.

There is mention of a separate Volume (III) dealing with Scotland: it is not currently online, but its recommendations were included in Volume I and are summarised above.

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 18 April 2012; they were revised on 13 November 2012.