Education in the UK

Preliminary pages
Introduction, Contents, Preface
Chapter 1 Up to 1500
Chapter 2 1500-1600
Renaissance and Reformation
Chapter 3 1600-1660
Chapter 4 1660-1750
Chapter 5 1750-1860
Towards mass education
Chapter 6 1860-1900
A state system of education
Chapter 7 1900-1923
Secondary education for some
Chapter 8 1923-1939
From Hadow to Spens
Chapter 9 1939-1945
Educational reconstruction
Chapter 10 1945-1951
Labour and the tripartite system
Chapter 11 1951-1964
The wind of change
Chapter 12 1964-1970
The golden age?
Chapter 13 1970-1974
Applying the brakes
Chapter 14 1974-1979
Progressivism under attack
Chapter 15 1979-1990
Thatcher and the New Right
Chapter 16 1990-1997
John Major: more of the same
Chapter 17 1997-2007
Tony Blair and New Labour
Chapter 18 2007-2010
Brown and Balls: mixed messages
Chapter 19 2010-2015
Gove v The Blob
Chapter 20 2015-2018

Organisation of this chapter


1902 Education Act (Balfour)
The issues
   The school boards
   Secondary education
Preparation of the bill
Summary of the Act
Comment on the Act
After the Act
   The local education authorities
   Religion and secularism
   Teacher training
   Attempts to revise the Act

Education 1902-1914
Secondary education
   Grammar schools
   Central schools
   Day trade schools
   1904 Secondary Regulations
   1907 Education (Administrative Provisions) Act
   1907 Free Place Regulations
   Junior technical schools
   Secondary education for girls
Elementary schools
   Infant education
   Higher elementary schools
Child welfare
   Child labour
   School meals
   Children's health
Consultative Committee Reports
   1906 Higher elementary schools
   1908 Under-fives
   1909 Continuation Schools
   1911 Examinations
   1913 Practical work
The Great Unrest

1914-18 World War I
Education during the war
   1917 Lewis Report
   1918 Thomson Report

1918 Education Act (Fisher)
Progress of the bill
Summary of the Act
The fate of the Act

Education 1918-1923
Economic woes
   The Burnham Committee
   Suspension of the 1918 Act
   The Geddes Axe
   Further cuts
Secondary education
   1920 Young Report
   The curriculum
   Girls' secondary education
   1922 Secondary Education for All
1921 Newbolt Report
1921 Education Act
   Summary of the Act

Progressive education

Higher education
University expansion
State funding
The teaching
The students
Acts of Parliament
Royal Commissions

Adult education
Workers' Educational Association
Ruskin College Oxford
Other developments

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


Education in the UK: a history
Derek Gillard

first published June 1998
this version published May 2018

copyright Derek Gillard 2018
Education in the UK: a history is my copyright. You are welcome to download it and/or 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.

A printer-friendly version of this chapter can be found here.

You are welcome to cite this work. If you do so, please acknowledge it thus:
Gillard D (2018) Education in the UK: a history

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 7 : 1900-1923

Secondary education for some


Britain was at the height of its power and influence around the world when Queen Victoria died in January 1901 and the Edwardian period began.

Arthur Balfour replaced Lord Salisbury as Prime Minister in 1902. His Conservative administration was defeated in 1905 by the Liberals, who formed governments under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Henry Asquith and David Lloyd George until 1922, when the Tories returned to power. The Labour Party was formally established in 1906 and formed its first administration (briefly) under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924.

The population of England and Wales, which had been 26 million in 1881, reached 32.5 million in 1901 and 36 million ten years later.

There were many positive developments in this period, not least in social legislation: old age pensions were introduced in 1908, health and unemployment insurance in 1911, maternity and child welfare provisions in 1918.

The position of women in society changed dramatically, as did relationships between parents and children. Emmeline Pankhurst's suffragette movement secured women the right to vote: the 1918 Representation of the People Act enfranchised all men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 30; the 1928 Representation of the People Act extended the vote to all women over 21.

There was a growing sense of collective responsibility for serious social problems and an awareness that nineteenth-century England had failed to achieve a fair distribution of wealth. Membership of trade unions doubled from two million in 1900 to four million in 1915.

Technological developments were rapid, especially in mass communication, leisure and entertainment. Electricity, the telephone and radio became commonplace: the BBC began broadcasting in 1922.

The internal combustion engine revolutionised transport: by 1914 Britain had around 400,000 licensed road vehicles and, following the Wright brothers' first successful flight in 1903, aviation was quickly exploited for both civil and military purposes.

There were significant advances in medicine, including the discovery of blood groups, the use of X-rays, and the invention of electrocardiography. The practice of birth control increased: the number of children in the average family, which had been 6.1 in the 1860s, was 2.6 by the 1910s. Infant mortality was significantly reduced and the death rate fell dramatically (Lawson and Silver 1973:366, 386).

But the period was not without its problems: it began with the second Boer War (1899-1902) and contained the First World War (1914-1918); and there were severe economic difficulties with high levels of unemployment.

Education, which was now a public service, became a contentious issue between the political parties and began to feature in election manifestos, both local and national.

There was at the beginning of the twentieth century no less an awareness than before of the existence of 'two nations', of the barriers of social class. Elementary education continued to be seen as something specifically provided for the working class. Increased school and university provision had not altered the definitions that surrounded the different strata of education (Lawson and Silver 1973:365).
There were two significant education acts during this period, in 1902 and 1918. Neither sought to meet the demand for secondary education for all, and the 1918 Act was in any case effectively killed off by budget cuts. (The 1921 Education Act was a consolidation act - it brought together all previous education legislation but added nothing new.)

1902 Education Act (Balfour)

The issues

Three issues dominated the debates surrounding Balfour's education bill: the role of the school boards; religion; and the need for more and better secondary education.

The school boards

Within the limits placed on it, the system put in place by the Elementary Education Acts from 1870 onwards had been remarkably successful. Many of the school boards had proved themselves progressive in outlook and some of their schools had become beacons of hope for the working class:

The massive board schools built in some areas, with their striving for a new form of secular architecture, sharply contrasted with the tiny church or chapel-like buildings that housed the typical voluntary school before and after 1870. Erected sometimes in the midst of the worst kind of slum property, these towering structures represented in an important sense the means of a new life for the mass of the people (Simon 1965:176).
The demand for children to stay on at school beyond the age of twelve had grown, and the boards had sought to meet this need in a variety of ways, sometimes by providing 'higher grade' schools.

It was not long, however, before these developments had begun to meet with strenuous opposition from supporters of the status quo:

It was not only that they transcended the rigidly demarcated structure of education planned but also that the new, lively and cheaper structure of near-secondary schooling in the great cities was, in some cases, threatening the existence of the endowed and somewhat stagnant grammar schools (Simon 1965:180).
Various attempts to undermine the school boards through administrative means had been taken in the 1890s, culminating in the Cockerton Judgement of 1899 (see the previous chapter).

Critics - led by Conservative Vice-President of the Committee on Education Sir John Gorst (1835-1916) (pictured) - argued that the school boards had dabbled in secondary education, damaging financially insecure grammar schools in the process; that they had put the voluntary schools under an 'intolerable strain' (Balfour's words, quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:367); and that they were competing with the new local councils, which had begun to provide schools.

The labour movement was divided over the issue of the boards. On the one hand, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) supported them: its Parliamentary Committee published a circular in August 1900 which ended with an appeal and a programme:

The retrograde steps of the last few years have revealed the weakness of our position, and before the ruin of all the slowly-built edifice of popular education is accomplished we appeal to the workers of England and Wales to speak out.

The education of the nation is a national interest. Equality of opportunity free and ungrudgingly given to every child is of vital concern. The rights of those of humble birth are too precious to be left at the mercy of warring sects or social prejudices. The only safeguard of democratic interest is a democratic franchise and a free, direct, and efficient popular control. We therefore demand that:

(1) The scheme of National Education foreshadowed by the Act of 1870 shall be completed and made secure by the appointment in every district of Education Authorities elected as freely and democratically as other municipal bodies.

(2) That they shall be empowered to provide efficient and suitable education to all who require it.

(3) That the clerical managers and clerical organisations shall not be allowed to control the education of the people to serve sectarian purposes.

(4) That the elementary and higher education of the people shall be at the public expense, free, unsectarian, and under the management of the elected representatives of the people (quoted in Simon 1965:199).

On the other hand, the Fabian Sidney Webb (1859-1947), then chairman of London County Council's technical education board, played a crucial role in formulating the philosophy which underpinned the 1902 Education Act and thus ultimately destroyed the school boards.
While the TUC strongly opposed the development of an élite, or selective, system of education - one which, by definition, denied the desirability or practicability of secondary education for all - Sidney Webb threw all his weight, and that of the Fabian Society, behind plans to develop precisely such a system (Simon 1965:203).
But the Fabians were in a minority, and anger at the government's attacks on the school boards was growing. In an article in the Nineteenth Century Review (reprinted in the January 1902 number of the Social Democrat), Sir Joshua Fitch, Principal of the Borough Road Training College, expressed the views of many:
It is, after all, on the School Boards that the future destiny of English primary education mainly rests ... it is to them the nation owes all the best educational enterprise of the last few years, the best school buildings and equipment, the most rational and effective experiments in the direction of good organisation and better teaching. In particular it is wholly to their initiative that we owe the higher Board schools, and the continuation and evening schools, which are so popular in our great industrial centres, and which have done so much to invigorate the life and to increase the power and resources of the people. And it is rather to measures which will improve the constitution of the Boards, and invest them with new powers and responsibilities, than to a resolution that would destroy them, that the best friends of education look for the adaptation of our machinery to the changing circumstances and the intellectual and social advancement of the nation in the coming century (quoted in Simon 1965:214).
But, he continued, there were two classes of people who wished to discredit the School Boards - the Tories, who believed that any further advance in the education of the 'lower classes' would imperil the social order, and those who wished to increase religious teaching in the schools.


The religious arguments focused on the future of the voluntary (church) schools and the teaching of religion in non-denominational schools.

The Church of England's objective was

to get the maximum public subsidy while conceding the least possible control, and at the same time, if possible, to reverse the 1870 compromise embodied in the Cowper-Temple clause and obtain entry for Anglican teaching in the board schools (Simon 1965:215).
On these issues the argument was between Anglicans and Roman Catholics on the one hand, and nonconformists and secularists on the other. 'This line-up had very definite political connotations since the Church naturally looked to the Tories for support, nonconformists and radicals to the Liberals' (Simon 1965:215).

The religious issue was interlinked with arguments about the school boards. The Anglican church wanted the boards abolished because they

put secular interests first in education and as a result of their greater financial resources and general enthusiasm for education, threatened the very existence of the voluntary schools (Simon 1965:215).
Secondary education

The third issue - the need for more and better secondary education - was now more urgent than ever. The USA was beginning to open secondary high schools for all pupils, while in Europe many 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).

The development of the public education system of England and Wales was therefore lagging behind much of Europe and the USA 'by a good half a century' (Green 1990:6 quoted in Benn and Chitty 1996:4). Pressure for the creation of a state-supported system of secondary schools had been growing for twenty years or more; it was specifically on this question that the Bryce Commission had reported in 1895 (see the previous chapter).

Preparation of the bill

It was against this background that Balfour presented his education bill, which was largely the work of Robert Morant (1863-1920), who went on to become the first Permanent Secretary of the Board of Education in April 1903. Morant was 'a man of ability who ... held unwaveringly to the policy of separating secondary from elementary schooling' (Simon 1965:194).

Sir John Gorst led the attack on the boards; Sidney Webb defined an alternative policy; Robert Morant masterminded the Act; Balfour steered it through Parliament (Lawson and Silver 1973:368).
Balfour (pictured) warned the House of Commons that 'England is behind all continental rivals in education' (quoted in Benn and Chitty 1996:3).

MPs were divided: most Liberal MPs were supportive and accepted Balfour's argument that, with mass secondary education being rapidly developed elsewhere, Britain needed an educated workforce if it was to maintain its position in world trade.

But many Conservatives feared that the cost of increasing the provision of secondary education would lose them the support of the large landowners and industrialists who were the major taxpayers. The Tory attitude 'varied from lukewarm support to outright opposition to any expenditure of public money whatever on secondary education' (Simon 1965:217).

There was also considerable confusion - reflected in the parliamentary debates on the second clause of the bill - as to what exactly 'secondary education' meant.

Morant, Balfour and others in the government were clear in their own minds about the policy: having 'successfully halted the upthrust from the elementary schools' (Simon 1965:233), they would create a separate system based loosely on the endowed grammar schools. But this was not at all clear to MPs or to the country at large.

However, the debate about the future development of secondary education was overshadowed by the religious arguments.

Morant believed that the only way to get rid of the school boards would be to enlist the support of the churches, and to do that the bill would have to include a scheme for aiding denominational schools, which were less well funded than the board schools:

Their premises and equipment were inferior; their teaching staff less well qualified; their income from subscriptions, although double that raised in 1870, only equivalent to 6s. 5d. [32p] a child plus a special aid grant of 5s. [25p] as compared with the 25s. 6d. [1.27] per board school child contributed by the rates (Lowndes 1937:71).
But providing state funds for church schools was a hugely contentious issue: from its first reading, on 24 March 1902, the bill occupied 59 parliamentary days - despite the ruthless use of the newly introduced guillotine procedure - and most of that time was spent on the religious clauses:
had the Bill been confined to the twofold task of creating local education authorities and endowing them with power to establish and maintain secondary and technical schools, and training colleges for teachers, there would have been little opposition to it (Lowndes 1937:80).
It was clear, argues Lowndes, that the voluntary schools 'must either be ended or mended' (Lowndes 1937:71). They could have been abolished: the cost of replacing every voluntary school in the country would have been around 27m - one tenth of the sum spent on the Boer War which, coincidentally, ended on the day the Commons began debating the 1902 bill (Lowndes 1937:89).

Instead, the bill proposed that, while the managers of the voluntary schools would provide the buildings, the new local authorities would maintain the schools and pay the teachers' salaries. It was this proposal that provoked 'the most fierce and lasting resistance' (Lawson and Silver 1973:371). Non-conformists and secularists objected to state funds being used to support denominational schools, especially those of the Catholic church: both inside and outside Parliament there was an outcry against 'Rome on the rates' (Gates 2005:19).

Lloyd George characterised the bill as a device for 'riveting the clerical yoke on thousands of parishes in England' (quoted in Simon 1965:223) and threatened a movement of passive resistance if the bill became law.

It was the fight against the settlement with the voluntary schools, not the fight to keep the boards, that loomed largest and lasted longest, and influenced the landslide return to power of the reforming Liberal government at the end of 1905 (Lawson and Silver 1973:371).

Summary of the Act

Despite the intense hostility, Balfour got his bill and the 1902 Education Act (18 December) passed into law. Its provisions concerned:

Part I Local Education Authority

County and county borough councils, which had been created by the 1888 Local Government Act, were to be the local education authorities (LEAs) for their areas (Section 1).

Part II Higher (ie Secondary) 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 four LEA representatives; managers of non-provided schools were to include two 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 (20p) 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 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

Comment on the Act

Writing in the Daily Mail (17 October 1902), Sidney Webb declared:

For the first time, the Bill definitely includes as a public function education as education, not primary education only, or technical education only, but anything and everything that is education from the Kindergarten to the University. This renders the Bill of 1902 epoch-making in the history of English education (quoted in Lowndes 1937:92).
In Brian Simon's view, this was a wildly over-optimistic assessment:
It is ... important to recognise that the Bill did not appear, and was not intended to appear, as a great charter for secondary education - though it has since often been so described; if anything, the contrary was the case (Simon 1965:220).
Simon was right. The Act further strengthened the class-based nature of English education by making a 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 ... 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).
This was unsurprising, since both Morant and Balfour had 'similar middle-class educational values, similar doubts about the abilities of the masses' (Eaglesham 1967:39 quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:371). Their Act laid the basis for a national system of secondary education into which the higher grade elementary schools and the fee-paying secondary schools would be integrated. A few socialists, notably Sydney Webb, approved of this scheme; many others, including Keir Hardie, did not.
By defining the board schools as strictly elementary, and then bringing them into a relationship with the newly strengthened grammar schools, Morant (and with him Gorst, Balfour and Webb) defined also a strictly class relationship to be tempered only by the introduction of a formal system of transition from one system to the other (Lawson and Silver 1973:372).
As well as strengthening this 'cultural gap between the secondary education of the minority and the elementary schooling of the mass of the population' (Stephens 1998:103), the 1902 Act also created a social divide between the new local authority secondary schools and former third grade schools on the one hand, and the first and second grade grammar schools on the other:
Though Morant genuinely sought a system which would open the universities and the professions to intelligent children of all classes, he did not conceive of a single system of secondary schools nor of making working-class entry to secondary education easy (Stephens 1998:103).
It should be noted that the 1902 Act did not specify the future direction of educational development. It merely empowered the new local authorities to subsidise education 'other than elementary' out of the rates. 'It said nothing whatsoever about the nature of this education and its relation to that in elementary schools, nor, indeed, did the word "secondary" figure' (Simon 1965:237).

It was only after the Act came into operation that, largely through administrative measures, 'a new type of secondary system began to take shape under the guiding hand of Morant' (Simon 1965:233-4). Successive sets of regulations (and their covering memoranda) 'defined the respective spheres of elementary and secondary education, and controlled the development of the two types of school concerned' (Simon 1965:237).

Under Morant there was, therefore, a determination to develop a system of 'genuinely secondary' schools alongside, but qualitatively different from, the elementary schools - 'a system of education for the middle and lower middle class as distinct from a system of education for the working class' (Simon 1965:238).

The definition of a secondary school was attempted in the Prefatory Memorandum to the 1904 Regulations for Secondary Schools:

For the purposes of these Regulations ... the term 'Secondary School' will be held to include any Day or Boarding School which offers to each of its scholars, up to and beyond the age of sixteen, a general education, physical, mental and moral, given through a complete graded course of instruction of wider scope and more advanced degree than that given in Elementary Schools (quoted in Simon 1965:240).
Brian Simon comments:
This definition well expresses the dilemma of the Board, seeking a rational justification for subsidising from public money a system of schools, running parallel to the 'elementary' schools, but catering for a different social class; for secondary schools in fact took in children from the age of seven or eight. The only possible definition was, therefore, along the lines given, that is in terms of something ... qualitatively different from what was provided in elementary schools. It was impossible to define secondary education as a definite stage, 'end-on' to primary education, since it was precisely this concept that the Board, implementing a long standing policy, was determined to destroy. Secondary education was a different education - but the Board could not say it was a different education for a different class. Hence the purely pragmatic and indeed illogical definition offered (Simon 1965:241).
The Board's policy was clear: 'to develop effective secondary education it was essential to charge fees, so excluding all but a chosen few from the working class' (Simon 1965:241). Thus it disapproved of the development by some progressive local authorities of new municipal secondary schools - a majority of whose pupils came from elementary schools - and took 'active steps to prevent this development, or at least to keep it within bounds' (Simon 1965:242).

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) objected to the Board's refusal to recognise schools which did not charge fees, and the union's Executive accused the Board of attempting to 'organise a system of secondary education for the middle classes as a thing apart' (quoted in Simon 1965:243).

Thomas Macnamara (1861-1931), Liberal MP and editor of The Schoolmaster, wrote:

We are bound to say that we expected great things from the Act of 1902 in the direction of the establishment of public secondary schools - cheap, effective and democratically based .... The policy should have been to remember that, while class prejudices cannot be altogether put out of sight, they ought to be firmly subordinated ... to the demands of a genuinely democratic and broadly based scheme of general education (The Schoolmaster 11 March 1905, quoted in Simon 1965:243).
Lowndes notes that the Act was the first to deal with education in England and Wales as an integrated whole and argues that it achieved 'three remarkable results at once' (Lowndes 1937:57):
The first of these results was the extinction of no less than 2568 School Boards, and the abolition of the direct access to Whitehall, with no intermediary, hitherto enjoyed by 14,238 bodies of Voluntary School Managers. By the substitution of 328 Local Education Authorities for this multiplicity of small or independent bodies education was for the first time brought into the main stream of central and local finance (Lowndes 1937:57).
Lawson and Silver argue that
The 1902 Act created a more impersonal educational administration, as part of an expanding, multipurpose local government machinery. It made education less amenable to direct public influence. It resulted in the confirmation of the traditional role of the grammar school. On the other hand, the Act made secondary education a more stable element in a coherent pattern of education. It established a new relationship between central and local government in the education field. It transformed the financial position of the grammar schools (Lawson and Silver 1973:373).

After the Act

The local education authorities

The 1902 Act designated as local education authorities the councils of counties and county boroughs. Part II of the Act required them to 'take such steps as seem to them desirable ... to supply or aid the supply of education other than elementary, and to promote the general co-ordination of all forms of education' (Section 2(1)). These authorities were often referred to as 'Part II authorities'. The Act did not make it mandatory for them to provide secondary schools, but it did require them to fulfil the functions previously performed by the school boards and the technical instruction committees.

However, non-county boroughs with a population of more than 10,000 and urban districts with more than 20,000 were to have responsibility for elementary education in their areas and, as this was dealt with in Part III of the Act, these councils became known as 'Part III authorities'.

Those who disapproved of the abolition of the school boards warned that the creation of multi-purpose authorities would lead to a lessening of local interest in education: the commitment to separate ad hoc authorities for education was especially strong in Scotland.

Religion and secularism

The new LEAs were required to provide grants for the maintenance of voluntary (church) schools and were given control of the schools' secular curriculum. However, if a school wanted to provide denominational teaching, its buildings had to be maintained by the church.

The rule that no pupil or teacher should be required to conform to a particular religious belief or form of ritual was generally heeded by Church of England schools. The Roman Catholic church, however, ignored section 4 of the Act and strictly enforced religious observance in its schools. In 1917 it went even further and issued a canon expressly forbidding Catholic parents from sending their children to non-Catholic schools on pain of excommunication.

Meanwhile, the Labour movement continued to argue for the secularisation of the entire public education system. The Secular Education League, founded in February 1907, insisted that the teaching of religion was not the responsibility of the state. The League became

a focus of activity, uniting representatives of the Labour movement and advanced liberal thinkers with that minority of Anglican and Nonconformist ministers who supported a secular solution (Simon 1965:273).
However, the Liberal government, re-elected in 1910 with a reduced majority, made no further attempt to reverse the 1902 Act and, while support for secularism increased in the Labour movement generally, the Roman Catholic element, led by James Sexton and James O'Grady, fought the issue with increasing bitterness.

At the TUC Congress in 1912, the Catholic minority prevailed:

The Miners' Federation moved that the question of secular education be eliminated from discussions at any future Congress; it had already been eliminated from their own conferences since it led to such bad feeling. After a long debate this resolution just scraped home (952,000: 909,000) (Simon 1965:277).
Elsewhere, the demand for state education to be secular continued.

Teacher training

Most of the existing teacher training colleges were church owned, although a few non-denominational colleges (including Froebel, Edge Hill and Charlotte Mason) had opened in the last years of the nineteenth century, as had teacher training departments in the universities - 16 of them by 1900.

The 1902 Act empowered LEAs to provide teacher training colleges, and many did so. The result was that by 1906 not all places at the 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. By 1922 there were twenty-two local authority and fifty voluntary training colleges (Lawson and Silver 1973:381).

Meanwhile, the pupil teacher centres had continued to flourish. Many had

specially designed buildings, with assembly halls, laboratories, art rooms, and an experienced teaching staff; in short they provided with considerable success a secondary education for intending teachers (Simon 1965:244).
Morant regarded the centres with suspicion because they effectively provided secondary education for former elementary-school pupils, all of whom received grants. In 1903, therefore, 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. (Further changes were made in the 1905 Regulations for the Instruction and Training of Pupil Teachers.) As a result, 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 (Hadow 1931:16). From 1907, intending teachers were enabled to stay at school up to the age of seventeen or eighteen.

At the same time, the Board began closing down the pupil teacher centres or transforming them into secondary schools which charged fees and took pupils at age twelve. All local school boards' applications to build new pupil teacher centres were rejected.

In 1907, the Board announced its intention of ending payments to pupil teachers aged 14-16. The TUC objected strongly, describing it as a policy 'designed to close the door of the teaching profession against the workman's child' (Simon 1965:269).

As the minimum age for pupil teachers was raised, their numbers fell - from over 11,000 in 1906-7 to fewer than 1,500 in 1912-13 (Lawson and Silver 1973:381) - and the system became largely confined to rural areas.

By contrast, the number of adult teachers in elementary schools in England and Wales rose from around 114,000 at the turn of the century to almost 170,000 in 1920-1, of whom 132,000 were women (Lawson and Silver 1973:388). Most elementary teachers now undertook a two-year college course or were trained in elementary schools as 'student teachers' before going on to college.

Attempts to revise the Act

Hostility to the 1902 Act and the Balfour government's attacks on the unions resulted in a Liberal landslide in the election of 1905. The TUC decided that this was the moment to put forward its own proposals for the state education system to the new Liberal Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman. In the autumn of 1905, it prepared an education bill:



Be it enacted by the King's most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

1. On and after the 1st day of January, 1907, all (Elementary) schools receiving Government grants shall be placed under the local education authority of their respective districts and boroughs.

2. The education authority shall be empowered to make such arrangements for the purchase or hiring of any denominational or privately owned school as may be mutually agreed upon, subject to the approval of the Education Department. Failing the making of such arrangement, the local authority shall provide a new school, and within one month of the opening of same, grants to the denominational schools shall cease.

3. The instruction in all State-aided schools shall be in secular subjects only, and no theological or denominational tests shall be applied to any of the staff or officers of the school or of the educational authority.

4. Provision shall be made by the local authorities for secondary and technical instruction for all who desire to avail themselves of it; and a sufficient number of free maintenance scholarships shall be provided by grants from the Board of Education, to enable all who have fitted themselves, by their previous work, to continue their studies at technical institutes or universities until they attain adult years.

5. Each education authority shall make suitable provision for the technical training necessary to complete the equipment of the teachers in State Schools.

6. The cost of carrying out the provisions of this Bill shall be met by grants from the Imperial Exchequer, and by the restoration of educational endowments.

7. Each education authority shall provide at least one free meal a day for children attending the schools in their respective areas.

8. Each education authority shall take steps to record the height, weight, and chest measurement of children attending elementary schools; and shall furnish the first returns thereon to the Board of Education not later than December 30th, 1906.

9. Each education authority shall appoint a medical officer, or officers, whose duty it shall be to medically examine, and to treat such children as the teachers may consider in need of medical advice.

This Bill shall be cited as the "State Education Act, 1906".

(from Simon 1965:257-8)

The Labour Representation Committee endorsed the bill and it was presented to the Commons on 2 April 1906 by Labour MP Will Thorne (1857-1946).

A week later, Augustine Birrell (1850-1933), President of the Board of Education, tabled the government's own bill to revise the 1902 Act. But it 'contained no reference whatsoever to secondary education' (Simon 1965:264) and was widely criticised by the Labour movement.

In the event, Birrell's bill was abandoned after the Tory-dominated House of Lords twice sent it back to the Commons, 'mangled beyond recognition' (Simon 1965:251). Further battles between the Commons and the Lords led to the passing of the 1911 Parliament Act which curtailed the power of the upper house. The Liberal administration - now led by Asquith - could then launch its programme of social reforms:

With steps to introduce old age pensions, unemployment insurance, health services, the first foundations were laid of what is now called the 'welfare state'. Some of these measures directly related to the educational field (Simon 1965:252).

Education 1902-1914

Secondary education

As a result of the 1902 Act, there were now 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 the LEAs themselves.

By 1911, the National Census and Board of Education surveys showed that about eight per cent of 14- and 15-year-olds and two 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.

The number of grant-aided secondary schools rose from around 500 in 1904-5 to over 1,000 in 1913-14; the number of pupils from 64,000 to 188,000, a trend which continued after the First World War (Lawson and Silver 1973:373). From the 1920s, schools also increased in size as the demand for grammar school places grew.

The grammar schools

The role of the grammar schools in the new education system was set out between 1900 and 1904, and by 1918 'their numbers, processes and objectives had been readjusted and redefined' (Lawson and Silver 1973:376).

At first, grammar schools run by voluntary bodies could receive grants from both the local authority and the Board of Education, but after 1919 they had to choose between the two; those which had a special relationship with the Board became 'direct grant' schools and and were 'closer to the independent public schools than to the provided or aided grammar schools' (Lawson and Silver 1973:373).

Central schools

Meanwhile, there was a massive expansion in the provision of LEA secondary schools in the years up to 1914. Many of these schools were new; 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).
More and more elementary school pupils wanted to stay on at school beyond 14 so, from around 1911, local authorities began to open 'central schools' to take up the work of the higher grade schools. The Board of Education later described the central schools as 'another example of the general tendency of the national system of elementary education since 1870 to throw up experiments in post-primary education' (Board of Education 1931:17 quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:376).

London led the way in opening central schools, both selective and non-selective: by 1914 it had fifty. Manchester opened six district central schools around 1912, and several other LEAs had established central schools by 1918 (Hadow 1926:31-32).

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. The development of these 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. The Elementary Schools Handbook, published by London County Council's Education Committee in 1923, explained that the schools were primarily to prepare girls and boys for employment: they were therefore expected to have an industrial or commercial bias or both. 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 between one and three years, and to give them 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.

Trade schools received grants 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 existing technical schools or colleges (Hadow 1926:32).

1904 Regulations for Secondary Schools

In 1904, a secondary branch of the inspectorate was established and 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 were written by Robert Morant and echoed his preference for traditional studies and his doubts about the higher-grade type of curriculum. The intention was clearly

to preserve as much as possible of the traditional grammar- and public-school emphasis and spirit, and the assumption was that secondary education should be designed with university requirements in mind (Lawson and Silver 1973:372).
Thus the Regulations reinforced the tendency of the new secondary schools to adopt the academic bias of the established ones.

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 of Education Report for 1905-6 (Cd. 3270) page 46, quoted in Hadow 1923:39). In 1907, therefore, the regulations covering the grammar school curriculum were changed to allow greater freedom, though it 'remained largely determined by the established principles' (Lawson and Silver 1973:4).

There have been differing views on the 1904 Secondary Regulations. In 1923 the Hadow Committee argued that their aim 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).
But the Spens Committee commented in 1938:
we cannot but deplore the fact that the Board did little or nothing after the passing of the Education Act of 1902 to foster the development of secondary schools of quasi-vocational type designed to meet the needs of boys and girls who desired to enter industry and commerce at the age of 16 (Spens 1938:73).
1907 Education (Administrative Provisions) Act

Two issues featured in the 1907 Education (Administrative Provisions) Act (28 August).

The first related to pupil teachers. As noted in the section on Teacher training above, the Board had adopted a new policy for the training of pupil teachers; this had resulted in LEAs facing the urgent need for more generous provision of scholarships and bursaries so that intending teachers from public elementary schools could go on to secondary schools (Hadow 1931:16).

The second issue was the physical condition of children. Margaret McMillan urged the Independent Labour Party (ILP) to call for medical inspections and effective physical education and, at the TUC in 1905, Will Thorne won support for his resolution demanding free meals, free medical advice and inspection, and efficient physical training for all children. Birrell eventually accepted the principle of medical inspection of schoolchildren.

The Act empowered local authorities to provide scholarships or bursaries (sections 11-12); required them to provide for the medical inspection of children in public elementary schools; and gave them the power (which became a duty in 1918) to attend to children's health and physical condition (13). This was the first step towards the creation 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' (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

There was continuing criticism of the provision of scholarships, few of which, it was claimed, were actually won by working-class children. In January 1907 Reginald McKenna (1863-1943), who had just become President of the Board, admitted that the system was not entirely satisfactory, but defended the policy of charging fees.

The issue was raised again in May 1907, and on this occasion it was announced that schools willing to offer at least a quarter of their places free to pupils from elementary schools would receive an increased grant. The children would have to pass an 'attainment test', but this, it was claimed, would not amount to a competitive entrance examination, so this method of entry would be different from winning a 'scholarship'.

The aim, according to the new Regulations for 1906-7, was 'to secure that all secondary schools aided by grants shall be made fully accessible to children of all classes'; or, as the Liberal Party put it in The Government's Record, 1906-13:

to secure that all Secondary Schools aided by the State shall be accessible to all scholars who are qualified to profit by the instruction they give (quoted in Simon 1965:270).
Brian Simon argues that, with the introduction of the free-place policy, 'the selective system was fully established' (Simon 1965:246).

McKenna said he hoped all local authority secondary schools would become free, but by 1913-14, when there were over a thousand schools on the grant list, only six charged no fees (Simon 1965:271).

By 1919, there were 1,140 grant-aided secondary schools in England and Wales with 307,759 pupils (Tawney 1922:23). In England there were 282,005 children in secondary schools, of whom 82,630 had free places (Tawney 1922:81).

Stephens claims that, within a decade of the 1902 Act, 'state secondary schooling had been established with a sound academic liberal curriculum and worthy corporate ideals' (Stephens 1998:104). This seems remarkably over-enthusiastic, given that free secondary education had been established for just one third of the children in public elementary schools. Furthermore, the areas with the greatest poverty, overcrowding and infant mortality were also those in which the fewest children were able to attend secondary schools (Lawson and Silver 1973:382).

Equally sadly, scholarship boys from the board schools were not always welcome: some grammar schools refused to cooperate at all and, in 1911, parents of fee-paying boys persuaded University College School in Hampstead to renounce the considerable annual grant from London County Council and to admit no more elementary-school pupils.

The Guardian commented:

We are afraid that there is only one explanation possible. There is a fear, no doubt, among the parents that the 'board school boys' may communicate to the other boys some taint of faulty pronunciation or inelegant manners.

It is a pity. If these parents valued the right things they would be only too glad of a stiffening of scholarship boys - that is, picked boys of special ability from the popular elementary schools. They would see in it a guarantee that their boys would have the stimulus of a keen intellectual rivalry and a high standard of earnestness and accomplishment (A caste system in schooling is a bad ideal The Guardian 20 March 1911).

As a result of the 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 (Hadow 1931:17).

Junior technical schools

In 1913 the Board of Education issued Regulations for a new category of junior technical schools (sometimes known as technical high schools or trade schools). These took children from elementary schools at thirteen or fourteen and provided two- or three-year post-elementary courses for both boys and girls. Their role was strictly limited to training skilled employees for the needs of local industry, so that they were not seen to be competing with the grammar schools. They combined a general education with preparation for industrial employment at the age of 15 or 16 (Hadow 1926:33).

The Hadow Committee later described the development of the trade and technical schools as

the half-conscious striving of a highly industrialised society to evolve a type of school analogous to and yet distinct from the secondary school, and providing an education designed to fit boys and girls to enter the various branches of industry, commerce, and agriculture at the age of 15 (Hadow 1926:35).
Secondary education for girls

The number of secondary schools for girls in England and Wales increased during this period. In the 1890s there had been around 220 endowed and proprietary girls' schools; by 1914 there were 349 girls' and 237 mixed secondary schools receiving government grants. The girls at these schools were 'almost entirely middle-class', but represented a small proportion of middle-class girls, 'the vast majority of whom, even in 1914, were still educated at home or in traditional private schools' (Stephens 1998:110).

While some of the private girls' schools continued to emphasise the traditional role of women in society and scorned academic study, an increasing number - notably the denominational schools - attracted well-educated staff committed to girls' intellectual development:

These schools achieved very high academic standards, with curricula embracing Latin and some mathematics and structured approaches to history, geography and modern languages - though not often science. To varying degrees they emulated the structures and ethos of the corporate institutions, preparing girls for public examinations and university entrance while maintaining the ideal of a distinct female education (Stephens 1998:111).
Stephens argues that the aims of most reformers were 'conservative rather than revolutionary' and that 'input from feminists who believed in educational reform primarily as a means to advance female emancipation was limited' (Stephens 1998:111):
Intellectual education for girls was not yet intended to produce emancipated females competing with men for careers, but to allow middle-class women, freed from household duties by labour-saving devices and more servants, to develop intellectual and personal attributes enabling them to fulfil their traditional roles as wives and mothers more effectively. It aimed also to prepare women to assist intelligently in voluntary social work and to act generally as guardians of liberal culture (Stephens 1998:111).
Few girls' schools offered specifically vocational training, but 'they provided the necessary intellectual and personal basis for entry into employment - just at a time when openings for women increased' (Stephens 1998:113):
Many lower middle-class girls from public secondary schools took jobs from necessity; others increasingly from choice. Before 1914, however, most took up modestly paid clerical posts, teaching and other jobs which did not compete with men. Entrepreneurial activities remained male preserves and only a few women aspired to the higher professions and the more prestigious posts in civil and local government (Stephens 1998:112).

Elementary schools


In terms of its content and methods, elementary education had changed little since the end of the nineteenth century.

The ending of payment by results and the ideas of the new educationists were having only slow results in the elementary field, and those mainly in the education of younger children (Lawson and Silver 1973:380).
Such curriculum developments as there were tended to be 'of a confused or conservative kind' (Lawson and Silver 1973:380). There was a new emphasis on speech training, but resistance to new methods of teaching reading. The growing interest in geography had much to do with national pride in the empire. The object lesson was in decline, while nature study and basic science were 'beginning to offer more systematic alternatives', though apparatus for science was 'limited or nonexistent' (Lawson and Silver 1973:381). New municipal amenities facilitated the provision of swimming and games, and school outings were becoming more common.

But there was now growing interest in the works of John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Edmond Holmes and Susan Isaacs (see the section on Progressive education below); and the Board of Education itself came up with some surprisingly modern ideas. The Prefaratory Note to the 1918 edition of its Handbook of Suggestions for the Consideration of Teachers, for example, 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 (Board of Education 1918 quoted in Ministry of Education 1959:9).
As a result of these views, the Board of Education 'loosened some of the restrictions around elementary schools at this time, culminating in 1926 with the abolition of the compulsory elementary curriculum' (McCulloch 2007:65).

Infant education

By the early 1900s the environmental conditions needed for the proper physical and mental development of young children were better understood, and the training of children below the age of five was being widely discussed.

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 (Hadow 1933:30-31).

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

In Reports on children under five years of age in public elementary schools, by Women Inspectors, published in 1905, the inspectors argued 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, whose ideas and methods had become popular in the 1870s (see the previous chapter).

They are often, says one Inspector, distinguished by absence of occupation, for the children do a line or a stitch or add a brick by word of command, and then sit still for five minutes while the teacher goes round the class to ensure perfect accuracy; meanwhile all interest is killed in the child who may only touch his material to order (Board of Education 1905:ii).

Higher elementary schools

The higher-grade schools, which had been established by some school boards from the 1870s onwards, straddled the divide between elementary and secondary education. Some were now absorbed into the secondary system, while others became 'higher elementary schools'. The latter offered a largely scientific and vocational course, but were 'deliberately designed to be lower in standard than secondary schools' (Lawson and Silver 1973:376). (For more on the higher elementary schools, see the 1906 Dyke Report below.)

Child welfare

Child labour

One issue on which virtually no progress was made at this time was that of child labour, 'a question vital to the effective raising of the leaving age both in terms of lengthening elementary schooling and extending secondary education' (Simon 1965:290). Fewer children were now employed under the half-time system, but there were growing concerns about the employment of children before and after school hours.

The Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Employment of School Children, published in 1902, cited

striking examples of the actual working hours of children employed, not only as half-timers, but also as street sellers, in shops, on milk delivery and other jobs, and calculated that 300,000 schoolchildren were so engaged (Simon 1965:290).
The outcome was the 1903 Employment of Children Act which the Social Democrat described as 'a partial and tardy recognition of the duty the community owes to its citizens, a piecemeal restriction of child slavery' (Simon 1965:290).

Four years later the half-time system was made the subject of another official enquiry, when an Inter-Departmental Committee chaired by Charles Trevelyan reviewed the working of the Employment of Children Act. Its report on Partial Exemption from School Attendance, issued in July 1909, recommended that partial exemption should be completely abolished and that there should be strict limits and conditions on total exemption. In the event, nothing was done for almost ten years: the matter was investigated again in 1917 (see the Lewis Report below).

School meals

Following the end of the second Boer War in 1902, the government appointed an Inter-Departmental Committee to investigate why so many would-be recruits had been in poor physical condition.

The Committee, appointed by the Duke of Devonshire, Lord President of the Council, on 2 September 1903, was chaired by Almeric W Fitzroy (1851-1935), a civil servant who had been Clerk of the Privy Council since 1898.

Evidence was provided by 68 witnesses, and the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration (the Fitzroy Report) was submitted to Devonshire's successor, the Marquess of Londonderry, on 20 July 1904. It made 53 wide-ranging recommendations which are summarised in Part III (pages 84-93).

Perhaps its most significant recommendation was that the state should assume responsibility for feeding under-nourished children. Support for this among the witnesses was all but unanimous:

With scarcely an exception, there was a general consensus of opinion that the time has come when the State should realize the necessity of ensuring adequate nourishment to children in attendance at school; it was said to be the height of cruelty to subject half-starved children to the processes of education, besides being a short-sighted policy, in that the progress of such children is inadequate and disappointing; and it was, further, the subject of general agreement that, as a rule, no purely voluntary association could successfully cope with the full extent of the evil. Even those witnesses who were inclined to think that its magnitude had been much exaggerated, did not question the advisability of feeding, by some means or other, those children who are underfed, provided it could be done quietly and without impairing parental responsibility. The only witness who appeared absolutely to dissent from that view was the Bishop of Ross, who, while admitting an enormous number of underfed children in Ireland, deprecated any steps being taken to remedy the evil, on the ground that it would weaken the sense of self-respect and self-reliance both of parent and child (Fitzroy 1904:69)
More than 120,000 children in London alone were shown to be underfed, with similar proportions - 15 to 16 per cent - in Manchester and elsewhere.

In January 1905 there were two conferences on the issue. The TUC's, at the Guildhall, was chaired by Sir John Gorst - 'often regarded as an enemy, but an ally in this context' (Simon 1965:281); while the Labour Representation Committee's conference was chaired by the Labour MP Arthur Henderson (1863-1935), with Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937) and Keir Hardie (1856-1915) among the speakers.

Following the election of 1906, WT Wilson, a new Labour MP, introduced a bill providing for the feeding of necessitous schoolchildren. 'In an important sense the Bill introduced a new principle in social legislation - it implied acceptance by the community of responsibility for poverty' (Simon 1965:282).

Wilson's bill became the 1906 Education (Provision of Meals) Act (21 December), which empowered (but did not require) LEAs to provide meals for undernourished elementary schoolchildren.

Many local authorities were reluctant to use their new powers: by 1910-11 a hundred had done so, less than a third of the total (Simon 1965:283).

One LEA which did take advantage of the Act 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).
The 1914 Education (Provision of Meals) Act (7 August) extended local authorities' powers to provide meals: no longer would they need to apply to the Board for permission to do so.

Children's health

In 1913 the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education estimated that of the six million children in public elementary schools in England and Wales,

10 per cent suffered from a serious vision defect;
5 per cent had defective hearing;
3 per cent suffered from 'suppurating ears';
3 per cent had adenoids or enlarged tonsils;
50 per cent had 'injurious decay of their teeth';
10 per cent were dirty;
2 per cent had tuberculosis;
1 per cent had heart disease; and
1 per cent had ringworm (Lawson and Silver 1973:383-4).

Consultative Committee Reports

The 1899 Board of Education Act had provided for the establishment of a Consultative Committee to keep a register of teachers and to offer advice 'on any matter referred to the committee by the Board' (section 4).

The Consultative Committee produced many reports. In the period 1900 to 1914 these were:

The Committee went on to produce the six Hadow Reports between 1923 and 1933 and the 1938 Spens Report. Following the 1944 Education Act, it was replaced by the Central Advisory Council for Education.

1906 Dyke Report

Following the Cockerton judgement of 1900 (see the previous chapter), which had banned the London School Board from using the rates to fund higher-grade classes in science and art, the Board of Education had established higher elementary schools as an interim measure whose purpose was to contain the higher grade schools and prevent them moving into the field of secondary education.

The higher elementary schools received a higher rate of grant than the ordinary public elementary schools on condition that, under the Code of 1904, they provided a course of a predominantly scientific type for promising children aged 10 to 15. The curriculum included drawing, theoretical and practical science, a foreign language and elementary mathematics.

As a result of the 1902 Act, the old higher grade schools found themselves in an anomalous position:

they could no longer receive grants from the Board at a higher rate than the normal elementary school, and the additional expense incurred for higher level work had to be borne by local authorities out of the rates (Simon 1965:244).
It was partly to clear up the confusion that, in July 1905, Morant asked the Board of Education's Consultative Committee to report on the curriculum and nature of higher elementary schools. The Chair of the Committee for this report, the Right Hon Sir William Hart Dyke (1837-1931), was a Conservative MP who had held several ministerial posts in the governments of Disraeli and Lord Salisbury and had been Vice-President of the Committee of Council on Education from 1887 to 1892.

In the first paragraph of their report, Questions affecting higher elementary schools, the Committee stated that they had taken evidence not only from administrators and teachers but also from employers, 'with a view to determining what, in the employers' opinion, is the kind of product most to be desired' (Dyke 1906:5, my italics). The employers had replied that 'boys and girls in their service should possess habits of discipline, ready obedience, self-help, and of pride in good work for its own sake whatever it may be' (Dyke 1906:7).

The Committee was clear that this type of education had no connection with the 'liberal' purposes of secondary education. Indeed, any attempt to make such a connection was a trend 'that we shall have occasion to deprecate' (Dyke 1906:16). Pupils should not be allowed to sit external examinations, because this would unduly influence the character of the schools' curriculum and result in their transformation into pseudo-secondary schools.

Higher elementary schools should provide a curriculum with a practical bias. There should be three strands: humanistic, scientific and manual, with an additional domestic strand for girls. The aim 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 can be expected during a short course of instruction extending over three years at a comparatively early age (Dyke 1906:5).
Subjects should be illustrated by practical examples familiar to the children, and the course should be planned with the school's context in mind, especially in rural areas.

The schools should be staffed by teachers with an interest in science and technology, and the training colleges should offer appropriate courses for them.

The Committee envisaged a comparatively small number of higher elementary schools and recognised that it was impossible to lay down general rules as to their distribution: different places would require different provision. There was a need for them in the larger towns, but elsewhere higher primary instruction could be provided by supplementary courses in ordinary elementary schools. It was essential that employers should be encouraged to take an interest in the schools.

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

The report provoked an outcry among the Labour movement, elementary school teachers and the more progressive local authorities, who were already angry at the Board's policies. It was 'a completely frank statement of a class outlook in education' which 'confirmed all the worst fears about the outlook in governing circles in general - and the intentions of the Board of Education in particular' (Simon 1965:264).

The NUT rejected the whole concept of higher elementary schools. Its pamphlet Higher Education and the People's Children, published in January 1907, declared that the establishment of the schools was part of 'a deliberate policy on the part of the Board to discriminate against the children of the working classes' (quoted in Simon 1965:267).

1908 Acland Report

For the remaining four reports in this period, the Consultative Committee was chaired by the Right Hon Arthur Herbert Dyke Acland (1847-1926), who had been MP for Rotherham between 1885 and 1889 and Vice-President of the Committee of the Council on Education from 1892 to 1895.

In its 1908 report, School Attendance of Children Below the Age of Five, the Committee argued that the proper place for a child between the ages of three and five was at home with its mother, provided that the home conditions were satisfactory. However, a large number of children came from unsatisfactory homes, and the best place for them was in nursery schools, provided by the local authorities, in which the rooms were spacious, well-lit, warmed, and ventilated. As soon as finances allowed, therefore, the system of grants should be modified to make it easier for local authorities to build new nursery schools and to improve existing ones.

The children should not be subjected to mental pressure or undue physical discipline. Formal lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic should be excluded from the curriculum: instead, there should be plenty of freedom of movement, constant changes of activity, frequent visits to the playground and opportunities for sleep. The maximum class size should be thirty.

Ideally, children should be eligible for admission to nursery schools at the age of three. The Committee argued that this should be possible in towns, but acknowledged that it might be impracticable in rural areas. There should be no change in the existing lower age limit either of voluntary or compulsory attendance at school.

The teachers should be selected with scrupulous care. They should study the physical and mental development of children, have a 'sympathetic and motherly instinct' (Acland 1908:23) and a bright and vigorous personality. Nurse-attendants or school-helps should be provided wherever possible to attend to the general physical needs of the children but they must be in addition to, and not in place of, the teachers.

All teachers should be reminded of the importance of dealing with very young children appropriately: local authorities should arrange classes for teachers, and the Board's Certificate Examination should require knowledge of young children's educational and physical needs.

Finally, the Committee recommended that the Board of Education should appoint a body of experts to inquire into the question of the impurity of the air in public elementary schools, and the best methods of heating and ventilation.

1909 Acland Report

In their next report, Attendance, Compulsory or Otherwise, at Continuation Schools, the Consultative Committee made a wide range of recommendations regarding the education of older pupils, including better connections between continuation schools and public elementary schools in order to achieve greater continuity of attendance. Junior Employment Registries should be established to advise parents, managers and teachers on suitable occupations for children leaving the day school.

The curriculum of continuation schools should include the duties of citizenship, practical and manual instruction and systematic physical training as part of a general education. In planning courses, local education authorities should establish advisory committees including representatives of employers and workpeople as well as teachers.

1911 Acland Report

In Examinations in secondary schools, the Committee recommended that examinations conducted by external examining bodies should be linked with the system of inspection, which needed to be modified and developed so as to meet new needs. The existing multiplicity of external examinations (including those of universities and professional and other bodies), should be reduced urgently; and all external examinations should emphasise the principle that every secondary school should provide a sound basis of liberal education for pupils up to the age of 16.

The first external examination - to be called the Examination for the Secondary School Certificate - should be a suitable test of the general attainments of an average pupil of 16; though mainly written, it would include practical and oral elements, and it would be taken by whole classes, not just by selected pupils. Candidates would be required to pass in five or more subjects, including at least one from each of three groups - 'English' subjects, languages, and science and mathematics; a fourth group including music and manual subjects was available but not obligatory (Lawson and Silver 1973:375).

A Secondary School Higher Certificate Examination should be established for pupils who stayed on after the age of 16.

These examinations were introduced in 1917 and the Secondary Schools Examinations Council was established to administer them. They became popularly known as the 'school certificate' and the 'higher school certificate' and were the forerunners of the GCE O Levels and A Levels of the 1950s.

As a result of the new exam system, sixth-form work in many of the grammar schools, which had been 'uncertain or non-existent' (Lawson and Silver 1973:375), began to improve and student numbers rose.

1913 Acland Report

In its final report under Acland's chairmanship, Practical work in secondary schools, the Consultative Committee argued that 'learning by doing' was a principle which should be applied in all areas of school work. Handwork - which was of benefit to both 'normal' and 'backward' children - should therefore play an important part in secondary education and should be linked with other areas of the curriculum. Its aims were both educational and vocational: it should be taught to all pupils up to the age of 16, and to older pupils should they wish to specialise in certain branches of it.

The Committee's definition of handwork included modelling with paper, cardboard and plastic media (such as clay), woodwork, metalwork, gardening and domestic subjects, including needlework, cookery, laundry, housewifery.

Small rural schools should introduce manual methods of work and teach natural science from a practical point of view, they should have appropriately qualified teachers, and the Board of Education should convene a conference of rural heads to clear away 'the many misunderstandings and misapprehensions that at present exist' (Acland 1913:41).

Domestic subjects, beginning with needlework, should be taken by girls up to the age of 16, and links between science and domestic subjects such as cookery should be strengthened.

Finally, the Committee recommended that the value of handwork should receive greater recognition in the exam system, and that the status, pay and promotion prospects of handwork teachers should be improved.

The Great Unrest

As the First World War loomed, there was widespread industrial action - the so-called 'Great Unrest' - which was met with the use of troops. Union membership rose dramatically and there were new calls for a fairer education system.

Such struggles naturally sharpened class feeling ... Nowhere was equality of opportunity to be found, education was stratified into three grades, elementary, secondary and university, each the monopoly of a different class, while the public schools were also class schools. In secondary schools there was one teacher to every seventeen children, in elementary schools the ratio was 1 to 50; the Board insisted that the secondary school must have four classrooms for every 100 children, none to be designed for over thirty children; no such mandate existed for elementary schools except that none should be planned for more than 50 to 60 pupils 'except in special cases'. The financial grants for each type of school differed enormously (Simon 1965:293-4).
The TUC called for a Royal Commission to enquire into the misuse of educational endowments, especially those supporting the public schools and ancient universities. In 1913 the Labour Party sent a deputation to raise the matter with the Prime Minister: Asquith refused to meet them. 'On this issue nothing was to be conceded' (Simon 1965:295).

1914-18 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 influenza. The political map of Europe was changed irrevocably, and the continent emerged from the turmoil facing social and economic devastation.

In Britain, six million men were conscripted to fight, of whom 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 December 1916 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 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 the Commons and, once again, Lloyd George had to rely on the Conservatives.

The 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.

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

Education during the war

Labour MP Arthur Henderson held the post of President of the Board of Education in the Asquith administration from May 1915 to October 1916. As he had been brought into the government mainly to deal with labour relations, he was 'unable to give any attention to the work of the Board' and complained that he was seen 'principally as the defender of the reactionary policies inherited from his predecessor' (quoted in Simon 1965:343).

The Board of Education's Consultative Committee produced its report on Scholarships for higher education in 1916, after which it was suspended until 1920.

But education continued to be an important issue. There was pressure for change, partly because 'the higher level of German education was seen as a continuing threat' (Simon 1965:343), partly because education was seen as an effective antidote to social unrest, but mainly because the education system was seen as unfair: 'The whole system is rotten', declared a speaker at the 1916 TUC congress (Simon 1965:344).

In April 1916, Liberal educationists met in London to discuss educational reconstruction and formed the Education Reform Council. Its programme was signed by, among others, Gilbert Murray, Michael Sadler, Percy Nunn, AN Whitehead, William Garnett and Henry Miers (Simon 1965:349).

In October 1916 the Bradford Trades Council called a conference which agreed a programme of 'universal, free, compulsory secondary education' (quoted in Simon 1965:348), the raising of the school leaving age to sixteen and no exemptions for part-time employment. It quickly became known as the Bradford Charter.

The Workers' Educational Association (WEA), the NUT and the Educational Reform Council also published schemes in 1916 but, while each gave an important place to secondary schooling,

Only the Bradford scheme, taking up what had for years been a key point of TUC policy, insisted squarely on full-time secondary education up to a leaving age of sixteen (Simon 1965:350).
Thus there was much thinking and planning during the war in the hope of creating a better and fairer system in the post-war period. Lloyd George was determined to take a fresh approach:
Vigorous prosecution of the war would be coupled with plans for all-round reconstruction, education would have priority as a chief means of promoting in social life that equality of condition with which men now faced death on the battlefield (Simon 1965:343).

As evidence of his sincerity, Lloyd George appointed as President of the Board of Education HAL (Herbert) Fisher (1865-1940) (pictured), then Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield University, gave him a seat in the Cabinet and promised that money would be found for 'ambitious educational measures' (Simon 1965:343). Education, then, was to be an important element in the post-war reconstruction programme.

Meanwhile, the Times Educational Supplement (10 April 1917) recalled that in 1913 the Liberal (later Labour) politician and philosopher Lord Haldane (1856-1928) had declared education to be the most urgent of the great social problems with which the government had to deal. Yet nothing had been done, said the TES: indeed, during the war child labour had been 'revived and intensified' and local authority budgets slashed (Simon 1965:345).

1917 Lewis Report

Fisher appointed a Departmental Committee to advise on Juvenile education in relation to employment after the war. The Committee was chaired by Sir John Herbert Lewis (1858-1933) (pictured), a Welsh Liberal politician who was Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education between 1915 and 1922.

The Committee's brief was:

To consider what steps should be taken to make provision for the education and instruction of children and young persons after the war, regard being had particularly to the interests or those

(i) who have been abnormally employed during the war;
(ii) who cannot immediately find advantageous employment;
(iii) who require special training for employment (page ii).
They submitted their report to Fisher in March 1917. They criticised the continuation of half-time schooling resulting from the exemption clauses of previous Acts of Parliament, the chaotic organisation of apprenticeships, and the conditions of child labour. What was needed, they said, was a complete change of attitude: the conception of the juvenile as 'primarily a little wage-earner' must give place to the conception of him as 'primarily the workman and the citizen in training' (Lewis 1917:5).

They 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.

We do not think it necessary to detail once more the arguments in favour of bringing to an end at the earliest possible date the present detestable system of half-time exemptions below the age of 14 (Lewis 1917:8).
1918 Thomson Report

The policies of the Board of Education - notably the ending of the special grant arrangements for 'schools of science' - had had a damaging effect on the quantity and quality of science teaching. Following the 1904 Secondary Regulations, there had been some attempts to improve it in the grammar schools (and in the public schools which had previously adhered to the classical curriculum), but it had been 'levelled down in those [schools] which had previously accepted the grants of the Education Department for science subjects' (Lawson and Silver 1973:375).

The social status of science 'remained low in the community at large' and its place in the secondary-school curriculum was 'frequently one of tolerance' (Lawson and Silver 1973:375); while in the universities it did not enjoy the prestige of the traditional literary subjects.

In August 1916, in the middle of the First World War, Prime Minister Henry Asquith invited the physicist Sir Joseph Thomson to chair a Committee 'to enquire into the Position of Natural Science in the Educational System of Great Britain'.

Thomson (1856-1940) (pictured), who had shown great interest and ability in science as a child, had been admitted to Owens College (now the University of Manchester) at the unusually young age of 14.

Six years later he moved to Trinity College Cambridge, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics. He became a Fellow of the College in 1881 and was awarded his Master of Arts degree in 1883.

In June 1884 Thomson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and, in December that year, he was appointed Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge.

He was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1906 for his work on the conduction of electricity by gases. He was knighted in 1908, received the Order of Merit in 1912, and became President of the Royal Society in 1915. In 1918, he was elected Master of Trinity, holding the post until his death.

David Lloyd George replaced Asquith as leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister in December 1916, so it was to him that the Committee submitted its report on 19 February 1918.

It warned that

in a considerable number of schools the time for Science might be as little as four three-quarter-hour periods a week, or even less. In some schools, owing to the pressure of other subjects, the time allotted to Science has been reduced in recent years, and the minimum which the Board has accepted is in our opinion too low to ensure that sufficient opportunity is afforded for the carrying out of a satisfactory course (Thomson 1918:10).
The Committee noted that most science courses were designed to lead to university entrance, and that this was inappropriate for many boys. It stressed the value of science 'in opening the mind, in training the judgment, in stirring the imagination and in cultivating a spirit of reverence' (Thomson 1918:7).

The Thomson Committee made 83 wide-ranging recommendations relating to:

The status of science:

  • in schools and universities; and
  • among the public at large;
The schools:
  • the provision of science teaching for all children up to the age of 16 in both elementary and secondary schools;
  • better training for teachers; and
  • better laboratory facilities in schools.
Training for the professions:
  • medicine;
  • engineering;
  • agriculture;
  • the army; and
  • the Civil Service.
The universities:
  • changes in entrance requirements;
  • science degrees;
  • more state aid;
  • better provision for research; and
  • more scholarships for women.

1918 Education Act (Fisher)

Progress of the bill

Well aware of the growing determination that 'after the war things would be different' (Simon 1965:345), Fisher began work on a new education bill. He toured the country giving speeches in which he declared that during the war we had

overdrawn our account with Posterity ... I conceive that it is part of the duty of our generation to provide some means for compensating the tragic loss which our nation is enduring, and that one means by which some compensation may be provided is by the creation of a system of education throughout the country which will increase the value of every human unit in the whole of society (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:384)
According to his An Unfinished Autobiography, published in 1940, he was often deeply moved by the reception he got. Of a meeting with dockers in Bristol, for example, he wrote:
I have never encountered such enthusiasm. ... The prospect of wider opportunities which the new plan for education might open to the disinherited filled them with enthusiasm (quoted in Simon 1965:345).
Fisher presented his bill to the Commons on 16 August 1917. Its main proposal - in line with the recommendations of the Lewis Report - was that all children should remain at school until they were fourteen: there would be no exemptions below this age and the half-time system would be abolished. Those who did not stay in full-time education up to age sixteen would have part-time education - 320 hours a year - up to the age of eighteen.

The bill also provided for the establishment of nursery schools for under-fives; improvement in the provision of school meals, baths and swimming baths, playing-fields and games centres; and the abolition of fees in elementary schools. It also called for a general survey of educational provision and a closer relationship between the public schools and the state education system. The Board of Education's administrative role would be strengthened.

It is worth noting that the bill said nothing at all about religion, probably because Fisher wanted to avoid the hostility this would inevitably cause.

This did not mean that either the churches on the one hand, or the secularists on the other, were satisfied. The Bradford scheme, as we have seen, demanded the overthrow of the 1902 Act, and full public control over all schools. The supporters of sectarian education felt that their schools were at a disadvantage. They did not, however, feel that this was the time to prosecute sectarian ends. 'A great scheme of educational reform' had been unfolded 'in which there was no mention at all of religion', said the Bishop of Oxford in May (Simon 1965:352-3).
The bill had a mixed reception. The Liberal press described it as 'a great bill', but Lancashire cotton manufacturers attacked it, claiming that the abolition of the half-time system would damage the textile industry, and the TUC criticised the failure to raise the school leaving age to sixteen.

By October it was clear that the bill was in difficulty and it was eventually withdrawn. A new bill was tabled in January 1918, which

turned out to be the same in all essentials as the first; beyond minor changes it was only the administrative clauses, giving more powers to the Board, which had been excluded (Simon 1965:355).
However, further concessions had to be made with regard to child labour: an amendment proposed postponing for seven years the provision of part-time education for 16- to 18-year olds. Fisher wrote later that, without this amendment, 'the Bill would not have passed' (quoted in Simon 1965:356).

The 1918 Education Act finally received the Royal Assent on 8 August, almost a year after the first bill had been introduced.

Summary of the Act

The 1918 Education Act (8 August) gave all young workers right of access to day release education; provided for the establishment of nursery schools, continuation schools, and more central or 'senior' schools; and ended the half-time system.

It set the school leaving age at fourteen, with the continuation schools providing post-school, part-time education. However, these and the nursery schools were early victims of post-war economic stringency.

National System of Public Education (Sections 1-7)

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 cooperated 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', cooperate 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).

Attendance at School and Employment of Children and Young Persons (Sections 8-16)

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).

School Leaving Certificate

Michael Clayton has kindly supplied a copy of his father's School Leaving Certificate, issued in accordance with the 1918 Act, and dated 23 November 1928.

(click on the image for a larger version)

Extension of Powers and Duties (Sections 17-25)

The local education authorities 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 1914 Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act 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).
Abolition of Fees in Public Elementary Schools (Section 26):
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: this replaced the block grant system with more generous percentage grants (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 (Hadow 1926:33-34).

The fate of the Act

The aims of the 1918 Act were seen by many as grandiose and unrealistic. Sadly, this proved to be the case: severe economic problems resulted in the abandonment or curtailment of many of its measures.

The 1918 Act intended to provide a new national momentum in implementing established ideas; like many other hopes for the post-war implementation of radical social policies it ended in a struggle to cope even with existing provisions, given the demands for economy in public spending from the beginning of the 1920s (Lawson and Silver 1973:385).
Brian Simon argues that
The Fisher Act did not mark a stage in educational advance. As one provision after another fell victim during the years of post-war crisis it merely operated ... as a measure to abolish the half-time system. In 1920 the school leaving age was raised to fourteen but there was neither compulsory part-time continued education after that age (except at Rugby) nor full-time secondary education for the great majority (Simon 1965:357).

Education 1918-1923


Lloyd George's 'Coalition Coupon' government, elected in December 1918, was dominated by Conservatives. Nonetheless, it 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.

But in the early 1920s spiralling public expenditure forced the government to implement severe cuts - the so-called 'Geddes axe' (see below) - which meant that progress in social reform, not least in education, virtually ground to a halt.

The Conservatives won power in 1922 and then, in 1924, Ramsay MacDonald became Labour's first Prime Minister.

In education, the wide-ranging Education Act of 1921 drew together all previous education legislation but added nothing new.

The organisation of the state system of education remained a key issue. Calls to revise the relationship between elementary and secondary schools were partly inspired by the increasing demand for secondary education, but also had their roots in the economic and political conditions of the post-war years and concerns about poverty and unemployment, particularly juvenile unemployment.

By the 1920s it was clear to many that a simpler, more logical, consecutive system of primary and secondary education was necessary.

Economic woes

As a result of severe inflation - the value of money fell to a third of its pre-war level - expenditure on education rose dramatically (figures from Simon 1974:29):


There was a similar rise in the contribution from local rates.

The Burnham Committee

In 1919 Fisher, anxious to achieve better arrangements for the payment of teachers, set up the Standing Joint Committee on the Salaries of Elementary School Teachers. It was chaired by Viscount Burnham (1862-1933) and became commonly known as the Burnham Committee.

The committee recommended the creation of a provisional minimum national scale. This resulted in considerable increases in teachers' salaries, which now comprised a major proportion of total expenditure on education - 68 per cent of expenditure on elementary education in 1921-2 (Simon 1974:29).

Not all local authorities accepted the new scale, and the teachers' organisations had to fight for implementation of what was, in any case, a minimum figure. Those who were 'already disposed to regard increased expenditure on the elementary education of the working class as wasteful, if not dangerous' (Simon 1974:29) regarded the increased salaries as unsustainable.

The Burnham Committee survived until 1987.

Suspension of the 1918 Education Act

Burnham's recommendation for higher teachers' salaries was immediately undermined by the economic state of the country. In December 1920 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Austen Chamberlain, informed MPs of the Cabinet's decision that all 'schemes involving expenditure not yet in operation are to remain in abeyance' (quoted in Simon 1974:30).

A week later, a Commons Select Committee report on national expenditure criticised the Board of Education for wasting money on irresponsible reforms and proposed suspension of the chief financial reform of the 1918 Education Act (Section 44) - the replacement of the block grant system with percentage grants (Simon 1974:30).

On 7 December 1920, Fisher was forced to postpone the raising of the school leaving age to 14, which had been due to come into operation on 1 January 1921. The announcement was greeted with protests.

On 11 January 1921, three weeks after the publication of the Select Committee's report, the Board issued Circular 1190 which, 'to all intents and purposes, called a complete halt to educational development' (Simon 1974:33). Only projects of special urgency would be considered; costly new buildings would be allowed only if the need for them was 'unavoidable'; secondary school fees would almost certainly have to be raised; and there would be no new nursery schools or continuation schools. The 'strictest economy must for the present be exercised in the administration of the public system of education' (quoted in Simon 1974:33-4).

Circular 1190 was an economy measure with a vengeance, announcing the clear intention of the central government strictly to limit and control educational development. In effect, with the economy campaign now in full blast, the statutory requirements of the Education Act were swept aside by administrative means. This can be seen as one aspect of the general squaring up against a working class fighting to maintain gains won during the war (Simon 1974:34).
The weakness of the opposition in the Commons meant that there was 'no parliamentary barrier to the policy of saving the taxpayer from the intransigent demands of public spending' (Simon 1974:34).

There was, however, plenty of opposition outside parliament. In the Manchester Guardian (18 January 1921), the historian RH Tawney (1880-1962) argued that by suspending the 1918 Education Act, the government had 'done a grave wrong to the higher interests of the nation' (quoted in Simon 1974:35); a conference in London on 5 February 1921, called by the WEA and other Labour organisations, drew 1,200 delegates; and the Association of Directors and Secretaries of Education unanimously called on the President of the Board 'to resist in every way possible, any attempt to postpone the Act' (Simon 1974:36).

Despite the protests, the economy campaign rapidly gathered pace, with the support of a virulent 'anti-waste' campaign conducted by the Daily Mail, which regularly attacked the teachers (Simon 1974:35-6). Midland Bank chairman Reginald McKenna - a former Liberal President of the Board of Education - called for measures which would be 'ruthless, relentless, remorseless' (quoted in Simon 1974:36).

The result was the publication of two further circulars in August 1921 (1225 and 1228) which stressed the need for 'stringent economy'. But local authorities were particularly angered by Circular 1238, which followed in the autumn. It announced that grants for maintenance allowances for children aged 14 to 15 - provided under Section 24 of the 1918 Education Act - must be regarded as withdrawn. Some authorities had already allocated them (Simon 1974:40).

The Geddes Axe

Thus a full-scale economy drive was already in operation before the Geddes Committee was appointed in August 1921. The committee consisted 'entirely of business men, several of them personal friends of the prime minister' (Simon 1974:37). Chaired by ship owner Sir Eric Geddes, it was asked to produce plans for cutting around 100m - on top of the 75m already cut - from the budget for public services.

In December 1921 the Committee proposed that education's 50m budget should be cut by 18m. Their report strayed into the realm of policy-making, arguing that the age of entry to school could be raised from 5 to 6; that class sizes should be increased; and that teachers' salaries should be cut (Simon 1974:38). Furthermore, the cost of secondary education should be reduced by 'eliminating' children not able to benefit from it; there should be limits on the development of junior technical and day continuation schools; a cut in the number of teachers in training; and no more state scholarships to universities (they had only been introduced in 1919). Finally, the committee attacked the teachers' pension scheme, provided for by the 1918 School Teachers' Superannuation Act, which embodied the 'most vicious principle' (quoted in Simon 1974:39) that the taxpayer should foot the bill.

It was one thing to appoint a committee to consider drastic cuts in estimates, at a critical moment, which departments were likely to find it difficult to face up to. It was quite another for so inexpert and unrepresentative a group to pronounce on matters relating to education in such a way as to cancel out parliamentary legislation and the Burnham agreements and to limit developments over at least the next decade (Simon 1974:40).
While the Cabinet debated what to do about the report, rumours of drastic cuts spread rapidly and protests mounted.

Percival Sharp (1867-1953), Director of Education for Sheffield, told the annual meeting of the Association of Directors and Secretaries of Education: 'I cannot believe that any body of responsible men with any degree of vision can contemplate what amounts to a wreckage of the educational system' (quoted in Simon 1974:41).

On 19 January 1922, Fisher received a deputation from the National Union of Women Teachers whose President, Miss Bale, pleaded:

Sir, you will go down to history as the author of the greatest Education Act that has ever been put on the Statute Book. We must earnestly hope that not the Treasury nor any other people will be allowed to interfere in any way with the success of that Act. We are asking you to do even more than has been done already and carry that Act out in its entirety (quoted in Simon 1974:41).
And at the end of January the influential Association of Education Committees added its own protest.

Fisher was deeply unhappy about the position in which he found himself and contemplated resigning but decided to stay on to do what he could to minimise the damaging effects of the 'Geddes Axe'. He and the teachers were supported by Lord Burnham, who described Geddes' proposals as 'rank, gross and palpable'. The teachers, said Burnham, 'had a contract with the local authorities, confirmed by the Treasury' that the present scale would be maintained until 1925: they had an 'indefensible moral claim' and he would not remain a member of any body which treated this contract as a 'scrap of paper' (quoted in Simon 1974:43).

Faced with such widespread hostility - and the loss of two seats to Labour in by-elections - the Cabinet decided to cut the education budget by 6.5m, rather than the 18m proposed by Geddes. Sir Robert Horne, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, told the Commons that, while most of the Geddes cuts would be implemented, teachers' salaries would not be reduced, the age of entry to school would not be raised to six, and free places at secondary schools would not be restricted to 25 per cent.

Further cuts

In March 1922 another committee - chaired by Lord Meston - was appointed to investigate the relative merits of the percentage and block-grant systems. 'The committee took evidence, and presumably produced a report, which has remained a mystery since it was never published' (Simon 1974:50).

Later in 1922, the Economy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill contained a clause raising the school entry age to six. Although the proposal came to nothing, its inclusion in the bill damaged Fisher's reputation.

As the cuts began to bite, elementary school teachers became increasingly militant, partly in response to continual attacks from the right-wing press - particularly the Daily Mail.

Teachers' salaries were effectively cut by the imposition of a five per cent levy towards superannuation; state scholarships to universities were ended, and new regulations for secondary schools resulted in a fall in the number of pupils entering them - from 85,464 in 1919 to 70,154 in 1922 (Simon 1974:56).

In this way, the Board was able to achieve by administrative means what the government had 'quailed from securing head on'. This was to become 'the regular mode of procedure in the politics of education' (Simon 1974:56).

By the end of the coalition government's term of office, both the local authorities and the teachers were 'increasingly disillusioned with the turn of events - and only too well aware what these meant for the future of education' (Simon 1974:58). There were concerns, too, that the budget cuts were frustrating attempts to develop teaching as a profession:

The quality of the teachers ... was conditioned by the resources available for training and salaries. The search for professional status was profoundly undermined by cuts in teachers' salaries during the economic crises of 1922-3 and 1931 (Lawson and Silver 1973:388).
In October 1922 Lloyd George resigned. The new Conservative Prime Minister, (Andrew) Bonar Law, appointed Edward Wood (1881-1959) as President of the Board of Education.

Wood announced further severe cuts in the education budget in April 1923: special schools' staffing, grants for feeding the needy and maintenance allowances were all reduced; the number of free places was frozen; there would be no new schools; and local authorities were encouraged to take on untrained teachers - something many refused to do (Simon 1974:68).

In his memoirs, Wood, a country gentleman who later became Baron Irwin and then Viscount Halifax, made no reference to his two periods at the Board, though he found room to explain how 'he managed, together with his duties as both MP and minister, to fit in two days a week hunting' (Simon 1974:66).

Following Bonar Law's resignation in May 1923, Stanley Baldwin took over as Prime Minister. His policy of protectionism resulted in further economic stagnation and an attempt to make even deeper cuts in teachers' salaries:

1923 was marked by a series of what have been described as 'the most bitter strikes' in the history of the National Union of Teachers. Schools were closed for three and a half months at Southampton, for two and a half months at Gateshead, for nearly a year at Lowestoft (Simon 1974:70).

Baldwin was warned about the growing support for Labour among teachers but he went ahead and called an election, which was held on 6 December 1923. The result was a hung parliament: the Tories won 258 seats, Labour 191 and the Liberals 158. With Liberal support, the first Labour government took office on 21 January 1924.

Secondary education

The number of pupils entering secondary schools in England had risen from 54,141 in 1913-14 to 81,056 in 1918. Children were 'packed into the schools, classes increased unduly in size, but even so the demand could not be met' (Simon 1974:15). The shortage of secondary places affected thousands of children - both working-class children who qualified for free places and those seeking places reserved for fee-payers.

At the Labour Party's annual conference in 1919, discussion of education focused on the demand for free secondary education for all. The MP Jack Jones, secretary of the National Union of General Workers, told the conference that the biggest problem was the system of competitive scholarships which restricted access to secondary schools (Simon 1974:25). The resolution adopted called for 'a non-competitive system of maintenance scholarships' (quoted in Simon 1974:26) so that all those reaching the required standard could stay on at school.

The TUC annual conference took a similar line the following year, demanding amendment of the 1918 Education Act 'to provide that every child desiring and qualifying for secondary education should receive it, including maintenance' (quoted in Simon 1974:26).

Young Report (1920)

In October 1919, Fisher appointed Liberal MP E Hilton Young (1879-1960) to chair a departmental committee to examine the issue of scholarships and free places for secondary education.

The Report of the Departmental Committee on Scholarships and Free Places was published in November 1920. It noted that there were almost six million children in the public elementary schools, but just 961 grant-aided secondary schools in England with 246,000 pupils. Of these, 72,386 had "free places", 53,400 awarded by Local Authorities, 16,548 by school governors, and 2,378 by other endowments (Young 1920:4).

Lack of space had resulted in the exclusion from secondary schools of 10,076 potential fee-payers and 11,134 who had qualified for free places (Young 1920:68). This was contrary to Section 4 of the 1918 Education Act, which required that no children should be debarred from 'the benefits of any form of education by which they are capable of profiting through inability to pay fees'.

Having heard evidence from thirty organisations and sixty-six individuals, the committee concluded that 'practically all children, except the subnormal' were 'capable of profiting by full time instruction up to 16 or beyond' (Young 1920:9).

Three-quarters of each year group in the 11-16 age range (around 2.25m children) should be allocated places in secondary schools - a massive increase on the existing 300,000. As a first step, the proportion of free places should be increased from 25 to 40 per cent (Young 1920:10), the financial responsibility transferred from schools to local authorities, and maintenance allowances should be available 'for all free-place pupils who show need, from the age of 11' (Young 1920:48).

The Committee agreed that 11 was the best age for transfer, but was divided on how the able should be selected. The majority recommended a formal test, 'of capacity and promise rather than attainment', which should be taken by all children except 'those who, at the age of 11, have failed to reach a place in the school corresponding to that reached by their contemporaries', because 'the country cannot afford to miss intelligent children' (Young 1920:24).

Finally, the committee hoped that all secondary places would eventually be free: this aim should be regarded as 'a prospective policy to be carried out as soon as the conditions of national finance allow' (Young 1920:49).

The Labour movement welcomed the report, seeing it as condemnation of a system of elementary schooling 'tailored to the pattern of nineteenth-century industrialism and social relations', which relegated 'the great majority of working-class children to an inferior form of education for the shortest possible time at the cheapest possible rate' (Simon 1974:28).

But for some employers, stuck in a nineteenth-century mindset,

there was neither justice nor efficiency in withdrawing an important section of the work force from its proper function by retaining the children of the working class in school ... beyond the age at which a use could be found for them (Simon 1974:28).
It was a view shared by many on the political right:
Before the close of 1919 Fisher had been labelled in the House of Commons as 'one of our most expensive statesmen' and blacklisted in Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail as one of the 'spending ministers' (Simon 1974:28).

The curriculum

After the First World War, the Board of Education sought to encourage secondary schools to take greater responsibility for the curriculum. Lord Eustace Percy, President of the Board from 1924, claimed that 'The whole tendency of the Board in recent years has been to give greater freedom in the curriculum of secondary schools' (quoted in McCulloch 2007:65).


The reception given to these initiatives revealed the generally conservative nature of secondary school heads and teachers, and thus the difficulties that confronted any extensive reform of the secondary school curriculum (McCulloch 2007:65).
Furthermore, the new examination system introduced in 1917 (the School Certificate and Higher School Certificate) had quickly become a powerful influence over the secondary-school curriculum. In October 1924 one district inspector observed that
Inspectors are unanimous that the controlling check on experiment is the First School Exam [the School Certificate]. I must confess to being uneasy at the tremendous hold this exam is getting over the Schools, and the tendency of LEAs to estimate Schools according to exam results (quoted in McCulloch 2007:67).
Similarly, FRG Duckworth, who would later become senior chief inspector - warned that in the Middlesex area
The worship of examinations flourishes ... and the LEA's habit of publishing results fosters this (quoted in McCulloch 2007:67).
This was particularly evident in the grammar schools, whose curriculum was now 'moulded by the requirements of the school certificate and higher school certificate' (Lawson and Silver 1973:389). The Spens Report would later argue that, while the school certificate examination had been based on the principle that it would 'follow the curriculum and not determine it', there were indications that 'in practice this principle has been reversed' (Spens 1938:80).

Girls' secondary education

With regard to the education of girls, there was increasing pressure - notably from the Association of Head Mistresses - for a wider range of non-academic subjects to be recognised in the School Certificate examination. Board officials and chief inspectors were doubtful, fearing that such a move would threaten the character and standards of secondary education. They were, however, 'happy to concede the argument about gender differences necessitating further differentiation of the curriculum' (McCulloch 2007:70).

In 1920 the Board of Education sought the advice of its Consultative Committee on the issue: the first of the Hadow Reports on The Differentiation of the Curriculum for Boys and Girls Respectively in Secondary Schools was published in 1923 (details in the next chapter).

Secondary Education for All (1922)

The Young Committee's recommendations were taken further two years later in Secondary Education for All, which set out the Labour Party's education policy. It was produced by an education advisory committee, established in 1919 to serve the party and the TUC, and edited by RH Tawney (pictured), one of the committee's leading members.

Secondary education, it said, had now become 'the aspiration of families who, twenty years ago, would have withdrawn [their children] from school at the earliest age which the law allowed' (Tawney 1922:37). However, many children were still disadvantaged because of their parents' poverty or the shortage of free places. What was needed was 'a system of universal secondary education extending from the age of eleven to that of sixteen' (Tawney 1922:77).

It went on to argue that 'The only policy which is at once educationally sound and suited to a democratic community is one under which primary education and secondary education are organised as two stages in a single and continuous process' (Tawney 1922:7). Secondary education - 'the education of the adolescent' - and primary education - 'education preparatory thereto' - should therefore be improved and developed

to such a point that all normal children, irrespective of the income, class, or occupation of their parents, may be transferred at the age of eleven+ from the primary or preparatory school to one type or another of secondary school, and remain in the latter till sixteen (Tawney 1922:7).
Such a scheme was now essential, because
Nothing less than this will satisfy the demands of the workers of the country; nothing less is urged by the most eminent educationalists; nothing less will enable the community to make the best use of its human resources, the development of which is at once the goal of economic effort and the source of all wealth which is produced (Tawney 1922:77).
Tawney noted that education's share of national expenditure had declined from 7.28 per cent in 1913 to 4.90 per cent in 1921, and he calculated that Labour's five-year plan for education would cost an additional 8.7m - 'less than that of one battleship' (Tawney 1922:130).

Incidentally, Tawney's phrase 'the education of the adolescent' came to be used as the title of the 1926 Hadow Report, which followed Secondary Education for All in recommending two stages of education - primary and secondary, with the break at age eleven. The use of the term 'elementary' was not finally abandoned until 1944.

1921 Newbolt Report

In May 1919 Fisher appointed a departmental committee chaired by the barrister and poet Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938) (pictured) 'to inquire into the position occupied by English (Language and Literature) in the educational system of England'. The committee presented its report in 1921.

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: the standard of English required for admission to training colleges should be raised and more elementary school teachers should have a full university training.

In the universities, more readerships, fellowships, and lectureships in English were needed. The status of English as an examination subject should be raised, and local education authorities and universities should cooperate to promote adult education in English.

Every elementary school should possess its own library; in secondary schools the provision of a good library was 'at least as important as the provision of a good laboratory' (Newbolt 1921:360).

1921 Education Act

The 1921 Education Act (19 August) added nothing new to education legislation: it simply consolidated all previous laws relating to education and to the employment of children and young persons, including (as in the 1918 Act) the raising of the school leaving age to 14.

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 (ie Secondary) 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 (157-172) dealt with other technical matters.

Progressive education

As noted in the previous chapter, the beginnings of a progressive education movement had been seen towards the end of the nineteenth century in, for example:

  • the kindergarten movement, based on Froebel's theory and practice;
  • the work of Margaret and Rachel McMillan, who sought to provide an appropriate 'environment' for young children; and
  • the ideas of Maria Montessori, which 'reinvigorated kindergarten and infant education' (Lawson and Silver 1973:398).
The movement gained momentum in the early twentieth century:
In his 1965 book English primary education: a sociological description (Volume II: Background), WAL Blyth distinguishes five factors which gave impetus to the progressive tradition during this period:
  • the growth of developmental psychology;
  • the writings of the American philosopher and psychologist John Dewey;
  • 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 II:40);
  • the growth of what we now loosely think of as the 'welfare state';
  • the rapid growth of the concept of 'secondary education for all' (Blyth 1965 II:40-1).
There was some interest in the Dalton Plan, devised by American teacher Helen Parkhurst (1886-1973), which aimed to achieve a balance between the talents of the child and the needs of the community. The idea of 'community government' came to England and was tried in a variety of schools including some elementary schools, as Alice Woods noted in her 1920 book Educational Experiments.

At first, the progressive tradition was influential mainly in the independent sector. A handful of private schools had already opened on progressive lines - Bedales (Hampshire) in 1893, King Alfred (Hampstead) in 1898 and Abbotsholme (Staffordshire) in 1899, for example. They were now joined by others including AS Neill's Summerhill (Suffolk, 1921), Dartington Hall (Devon, 1926) and Bryanston (Dorset, 1928) (Lawson and Silver 1973:400).

For more on the progressive education movement, see these two invaluable articles:

John Howlett (2017) The Formation, Development and Contribution of the New Ideals in Education Conferences, 1914-1937; and

Michael Newman (2015) Children's Rights in our Schools - the movement to liberate the child, an introduction to the New Ideals in Education Conferences 1914-1937

Higher education

University expansion

The expansion of university provision which had begun in the last years of the nineteenth century gathered momentum in the early years of the twentieth. New universities, most of them based on existing university colleges, were granted charters: the University of Birmingham (1900) - the first of the new 'redbrick' civic universities - was followed by the Universities of Liverpool (1903), Manchester (1904), Leeds (1904), Sheffield (1905), Bristol (1909) and Reading (1926).

University College Swansea was granted its charter in 1920 as part of the University of Wales; and in Ireland, Queen's College Belfast became Queen's University, while the other colleges formed the National University of Ireland, replacing the Royal University.

University colleges were founded at Southampton (1902), Leicester (1921), Exeter (1922) and Hull (1927). The University College of Newcastle remained a division of Durham University.

London, which had become a teaching university in 1898, expanded dramatically in the early years of the new century. By 1914 it comprised, in addition to King's College and University College, thirty-one schools, including East London, Bedford, Westfield and Royal Holloway colleges, the London School of Economics, and Imperial College, which had been formed in 1907 by the amalgamation of the Royal College of Science, the Royal School of Mines and the City and Guilds College. There were a further twenty-five specialist institutions concerned with agriculture, medicine, theology and teacher training, and the university also had recognised teachers in thirty other institutions, including Goldsmiths and Birkbeck colleges (Stephens 1998:115).

In 1926, the University of London Act gave the university a new administrative structure, and a year later it acquired its Bloomsbury site.

State funding

The relationship between the universities and the state changed during this period.

The Advisory Committee on Grants to University Colleges, proposed in 1904 by a committee chaired by Lord Haldane, was established in 1906. It was superseded in 1919 by the University Grants Committee (UGC), set up in response to the financial crises of the First World War to oversee government grants. (Oxford and Cambridge were not included in the Committee's remit until 1922.)

The UGC came under the Treasury rather than the Board of Education, which gave the universities 'a direct but unique relationship with the state' (Lawson and Silver 1973:404). Treasury grants to British universities amounted to more than 1m in 1919-20.

In addition,

The state acquired a different economic interest in higher education through the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, set up under the pressures of wartime, among other things to finance university scientific research. The total number of postgraduate research students in science in England and Wales on the eve of the First World War was probably under 300 (Lawson and Silver 1973:404).

The teaching

There was a trend towards greater specialisation in university teaching and organisation. At University College London, for example,

in the period up to the First World War a separate chair in organic chemistry and a department of applied statistics were created, the chair in geology was made a full-time appointment and a number of departments were reorganized. The department of botany grew in size and became 'much more complex and highly specialized'. Engineering was separated from the faculty of science in 1908. After the war a chair of chemical engineering and a department of the history and method of science were created (Lawson and Silver 1973:402).
University provision of professional training increased - 'not without opposition' (Lawson and Silver 1973:402). Liverpool opened its School of Social Science in 1904 to train social workers. London's School of Sociology, opened in 1903, was amalgamated with the London School of Economics in 1912 to become the university's department of social science and administration.

The students

By 1910, the proportion of female students in British universities had risen to twenty per cent. Stephens argues that:

This revolution stemmed from women's urge to demonstrate intellectual parity with men, the work of female educationists and educational associations, support from male academics, liberal intellectuals and provincial business figures, as well as from the indulgence of middle-class parents (Stephens 1998:117).
There were also changes in the social composition of the student body. By 1914, the increasing number of scholarships and the expansion of teacher training had resulted in some of England's civic colleges having a sizeable proportion of working-class students. At Nottingham in 1911, for example, 73 per cent of student teachers and 24 per cent of other students were from the lower-middle and manual working classes (Stephens 1998:119).

In Scotland, fears that the entrance examination introduced in 1892 might disadvantage the less well-off proved unfounded. Better secondary schooling and a growing number of scholarships ensured that the universities 'remained basically meritocratic rather than elitist' (Stephens 1998:119). By 1914, around a third of students in Scotland were from the (mainly skilled) working class.

In Wales, too, better secondary education resulted in the proportion of students from mining and other manual working-class families rising from a quarter in the early 1870s to a third in 1910 (Stephens 1998:119).

Despite these positive changes, the proportion of the population able to attend university was still very small in the early years of the century: just 0.06 per cent in England, 0.14 per cent in Scotland and 0.07 per cent in Wales in 1911 (Stephens 1998:119).

As we have already seen, state scholarships to universities were introduced in 1919 but withdrawn two years later because of the economic situation.

Acts of Parliament

Four Acts of Parliament during this period extended the employment rights enjoyed by graduates of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Victoria University Manchester to other universities:

Meanwhile, the 1922 Universities (Scotland) Act (20 July) extended the powers of the Courts of Scottish universities.

Royal Commissions

In July 1907 Charles Gore (1853-1932), then Bishop of Birmingham, initiated a debate in the House of Lords calling for the appointment of a Royal Commission

to enquire into the endowment, government, administration, and teaching of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and their constituent Colleges, in order to secure the best use of their resources for the benefit of all classes of the community (quoted in Simon 1965:313).
In the event, it was not until 1923 that Gore's suggestion was taken up. The 1923 Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act (31 July) established Commissions for the two universities and set out their membership and duties.

Adult education

The provision of adult education expanded significantly during this period, with courses provided by the Workers' Educational Association (WEA), the universities, the trade unions and the local authorities.

The Workers' Educational Association

The WEA was founded in 1903 by Albert Mansbridge (1876-1952), a 'young co-operator with Christian socialist tendencies' (Simon 1965:305), with the support of the TUC's Parliamentary Committee. His 'Association to Promote the Higher Education of Working Men' - renamed the Workers' Educational Association in 1905 - was launched at a conference in Oxford presided over by the Bishop of Hereford and the Dean of Durham, and attended by members of Oxford and Cambridge universities and by manual workers and clerks. 'This mixture of social classes was, perhaps, one of the most striking features of the early Oxford meetings of the WEA' (Simon 1965:307). It aimed to encourage the working-class movement to take advantage of the increasing number of extramural courses which the universities were offering.

The Association expanded rapidly, establishing local branches and holding huge conferences - that of 1905 was attended by almost a thousand people, including William Temple, later Archbishop of Canterbury, who became a leading member of the WEA and its first President. Morant, representing the Board of Education, attended the 1907 conference; and at the Manchester conference in 1911 an audience of three thousand, in Mansbridge's words, 'evinced such enthusiasm for education as to give the meeting all the qualities of a spiritual revival' (quoted in Simon 1965:309).

The WEA had enthusiastic support; its branches often had local trade union and co-operative organizations, working men's clubs, university bodies and teachers' organizations affiliated to them (Lawson and Silver 1973:404).
The number of branches rose from 13 in 1906 to 179 in 1914 (Simon 1965:327), and the WEA began providing its own courses: by 1939 these were attracting more than 60,000 students a year (more than 100,000 by 1947-8). It was
generally more successful than the universities in attracting working people to its classes (usually of one term's or one year's duration), but worked successfully with the university extramural departments in launching classes for which the universities either supplied tutors or accepted responsibility (Lawson and Silver 1973:404).
Oxford, for example, ran a tutorial class at Longton in Staffordshire. Students from this class took adult education into isolated villages near the Potteries and, in 1911, established the North Staffordshire Miners' Higher Education Movement (Lawson and Silver 1973:405).

The membership of local WEA branches was often diverse and included manual workers, housewives and professional people. At first, the most popular courses were those on economics and social studies, but during the First World War there was a growing demand for modern history, geography and international politics.

Political science, economics and history remained the staple, but the movement was also concerned with wider cultural subjects - which brought the organization into competition with other agencies, including the local authorities (Lawson and Silver 1973:405).

The WEA accepted Board of Education grants on the understanding that the teaching in its classes was 'non-partisan'. On at least two occasions it was 'rapped sharply over the knuckles by the President of the Board for activities which aroused local Tory hackles' (Simon 1974:319).

Ruskin College Oxford

Ruskin College Oxford, a working men's college 'on the doorstep of the university but independent' (Simon 1965:311), was founded in 1899 by two American philanthropists, Walter Vrooman and Charles Beard. After they left in 1902, the college sought financial support from two sources: the trade union movement and wealthy individuals.

By 1906 there were fifty resident students, many of whom were supported by various labour organisations. Two years later, the student body was 'frankly socialist in colour, predominantly Marxist in outlook, and a thorn in the side of the university' (Simon 1965:311).

In December 1908, a joint committee of WEA and University representatives published Oxford and Working-class Education, a report which called for closer links between Ruskin and the University. The Oxford Report, along with Principles and Methods of University Reform, published the following year by George (Lord) Curzon (1859-1925), the Chancellor of the University, aroused deep hostility among the Ruskin students.

The Oxford Report described Oxford as 'in the main the University of the wealthier classes' (Oxford 1908:22). It noted the claim that poor, working-class scholars had been excluded from the university because the endowments originally intended to assist them had been appropriated by the wealthy. The University's annual net receipts from endowments were 265,000 (Oxford 1908:30), while the total cost to the University of extension work in 1907 was 535 (Oxford 1908:35).

The Report argued that the working class should have direct access to the university through a system of university tutorial classes. 'A very important part of the work of University Extension', it said, was 'to act, not as a substitute for study in Oxford, but to prepare men for it' (Oxford 1908:40).

Brian Simon argues that the intention was 'to change Ruskin from a Labour college into a college preparatory to university studies, involving a transformation of its whole ethos and purpose' (Simon 1965:318).

Ruskin was being pulled in two directions. On the one hand, most of the students were 'inclined to socialism, believed in the existence of the class struggle, and wanted an education that would prepare them for active service in the Labour cause' (Simon 1965:319). On the other hand, the dons on the governing body or lecturing at the college, together with several liberal-minded staff, shared the Oxford Report's view that the teaching should be non-partisan.

The fact that donations had been forthcoming from a number of aristocrats and from leading politicians, including Balfour and Walter Runciman, convinced the militant students that non-partisan education meant in practice 'simply an inculcation of governing-class ideas' (quoted in Simon 1965:319).

When the governors demanded that the Principal, the socialist Dennis Hird (1850-1920), should cease teaching sociology, the students protested angrily: they formed The Plebs League, and launched The 'Plebs' Magazine in February 1909. Suspecting that Hird was involved with the League - 'although apparently he was not' (Simon 1965:322) - the governors sacked him. The students went on strike for a week, after which the authorities closed the college for a fortnight.

The students then began planning the Central Labour College, which opened in Oxford in September 1909 with Dennis Hird as unpaid Principal and twenty students. It was followed by other Labour colleges - one of the first was in Rochdale.

The Labour College, however, struggled to survive. It moved to London in 1911 and by 1913-14 had just twelve students and mounting debts. After the First World War it was taken over by two unions. The provincial classes it had sponsored with The Plebs League continued to function, notably in South Wales, the north-east mining areas, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Scotland. By 1920 it was clear that national co-ordination was needed and the National Council of Labour Colleges was created in 1921 with an executive committee elected from the local organisations (Simon 1965:331).

Meanwhile, despite the problems at Ruskin, the model was copied elsewhere. George Cadbury opened Fircroft residential college in Birmingham in 1909; the Catholic Workers' College opened in 1921 and Coleg Harlech in Wales in 1927. Harlech's students were former 'shop-assistants, miners, steel-workers, quarrymen, lodging-house keepers, weavers, and clerks'; they studied 'history, philosophy, psychology, economics, political science, Welsh and English literature' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:407). The founder of Coleg Harlech, former Cabinet Secretary Tom Jones, wrote that these 'second chance' colleges were designed

to enable people to have a year's education that would not only enrich their lives but also deepen their social consciences and help them to bring their developed talents to the service of less fortunate citizens (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:407).

Other developments

A number of attempts were made to coordinate the provision of adult education. In Bradford, for example, a Federation of Educational Societies, established in 1913, included representatives of the local authority, the WEA, YMCA, YWCA (Young Men's/Women's Christian Associations), and local historical, geographical and musical societies. Such collaboration was particularly important in remote rural areas.

There was a significant growth in the number of publications by and for the Labour movement, including three national journals - Labour Leader, Justice and Clarion - supplemented by a wide variety of regional and local papers. In 1902 the Rationalist Press Association launched a series of sixpenny reprints, making such works as Darwin's The Origin of the Species (first published in 1859) available to a wide readership.

The Adult School movement extended its scope to provide, 'in place of the elementary teaching of an earlier age, a much broader education covering historical, political, literary as well as religious topics' (Simon 1965:304). By 1909-10 there were almost two thousand Adult Schools, often sponsored by the Quakers, catering for more than 100,000 students.

The trade unions also undertook educational work, sometimes through the Workers' Educational Trade Union Committee, founded after the First World War, which had thirteen affiliated trade unions by 1931 and thirty-one by 1942.

Summer schools, weekend and one-day schools, as well as correspondence courses in co-operation with Ruskin College, were the main features of this development, as of the rival, more radical National Council of Labour Colleges (Lawson and Silver 1973:405).
Some local authorities supported the work of organisations such as the WEA, but also provided their own evening classes and recreational activities.
The range of classes available through local authorities, the WEA and the universities included, by the 1920s and 1930s, the directly recreational, the elementary and the advanced, the short course and the three-year tutorial course, the course which led to an external degree of London University and vocational courses in technical and commercial subjects (Lawson and Silver 1973:406).
The technical colleges in England and Wales also provided evening classes, which were attended by more than 750,000 adults in 1911, and by more than a million in 1937 (Lawson and Silver 1973:406).

In the 1930s, Cambridgeshire began creating 'village colleges', which housed not only primary and secondary schools, but also libraries and recreational and evening-class facilities.

There was considerable discussion in the voluntary agencies about the extent to which they should provide the types of courses which were increasingly being offered by official agencies.

Part of the dilemma of such bodies as Co-operative Education Committees, for example, was the desire to stimulate education among their members in subjects which were often better provided elsewhere (Lawson and Silver 1973:406).

Special educational needs

Note: Much of 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.

As a result of the 1902 Education Act, the new LEAs assumed the functions previously exercised by school boards, including those relating to special education. They were thus empowered to provide secondary education for blind, deaf, defective and epileptic children. Manchester's LEA opened a residential school for epileptics in 1910 and by 1918 there were six such schools throughout the country.

Other organisations also opened facilities such as 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), London County Council's Open-Air School at Plumstead (1907) and the Lord Mayor Treloar Cripples' Hospital and College at Alton (1908).

Provision for mentally defective children

In 1908 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 1913 Mental Deficiency Act (15 August) 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.

The 1914 Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act (10 August) 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 (8 August) 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.

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's 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 two thousand 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

The first special school for partially deaf children was established by the Bristol LEA in 1906, and another by 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.

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


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 children with behaviour problems.

In 1913 the Central Association for Mental Welfare was founded, and London County Council appointed psychologist Cyril Burt

to investigate cases of individual children who present problems of special difficulty and who might be referred for examination by teachers, school medical officers, or care committee workers, magistrates or parents, and to carry out, or make recommendations for, suitable treatment or training of such children (quoted in Underwood 1955:8).


Acland (1908) School Attendance of Children Below the Age of Five Report of the Consultative Committee London: HMSO

Acland (1913) Practical Work in Secondary Schools Report of the Consultative Committee London: HMSO

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 (1965) English primary education: a sociological description (Vol. II: Background) London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

Board of Education (1905) Reports on children under five years of age in public elementary schools, by Women Inspectors London: HMSO

Board of Education (1918) Handbook of Suggestions for the Consideration of Teachers London: HMSO

Board of Education (1931) The Primary School London: HMSO

Chitty C (2007) Eugenics, race and intelligence in education London: Continuum

Dyke (1906) Questions Affecting Higher Elementary Schools Report of the Consultative Committee London: HMSO

Eaglesham EJR (1967) The Foundations of Twentieth-Century Education in England London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

Fitzroy (1904) Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration London: HMSO

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

Gates B (2005) 'Faith schools and colleges of education since 1800' in R Gardner, J Cairns and D Lawton (eds) (2005) Faith schools: consensus or conflict? Abingdon: RoutledgeFalmer 14-35

Green A (1990) Education and state formation: the rise of education systems in England, France and the USA London: Macmillan

Hadow (1923) The Differentiation of the Curriculum for Boys and Girls Respectively in Secondary Schools Report of the Consultative Committee London: HMSO

Hadow (1926) The Education of the Adolescent Report of the Consultative Committee London: HMSO

Hadow (1931) The Primary School Report of the Consultative Committee London: HMSO

Hadow (1933) Infant and Nursery Schools Report of the Consultative Committee London: HMSO

Lawson J and Silver H (1973) A Social History of Education in England London: Methuen & Co Ltd

Lewis (1917) Juvenile education in relation to employment after the war Report of the Departmental Committee London: HMSO

Lowndes G (1937) The Silent Social Revolution London: Oxford University Press

McCulloch G (2007) Cyril Norwood and the Ideal of Secondary Education Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Ministry of Education (1959) Primary Education: Suggestions for the consideration of teachers and others concerned with the work of Primary Schools Ministry of Education London: HMSO

Newbolt (1921) The Teaching of English in England Report of the Departmental Committee appointed by the President of the Board of Education London: HMSO

Oxford (1908) Oxford and Working-class Education Oxford: The Clarendon Press

Simon B (1965) Education and the Labour Movement 1870-1920 London: Lawrence & Wishart

Simon B (1974) The Politics of Educational Reform 1920-1940 London: Lawrence & Wishart

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

Stephens WB (1998) Education in Britain 1750-1914 Basingstoke: Macmillan

Tawney RH (ed) (1922) Secondary Education for All London: The Labour Party

Thomson (1918) The Position of Natural Science in the Educational System of Great Britain Report of the Committee of Enquiry London: HMSO

Underwood (1955) Report of the Committee on Maladjusted Children Ministry of Education London: HMSO

Young (1920) Report of the Departmental Committee on Scholarships and Free Places London: HMSO

Chapter 6 | Chapter 8