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

Political background
   Education and society

Budget cuts
Tory education policy
Budget battles

Tory hostility
   Eccles (again)
Concerns about the tripartite system
   Parental dissatisfaction
   Intelligence testing
   Effects on primary schools
   Streaming in comprehensive schools
   The grammar school lobby
Two campaigners
   Robin Pedley
   Brian Simon
The position in 1960
   Turning point

Four reports
Gurney-Dixon (1954)
Crowther (1957)
Beloe (1960)
Newsom (1963)

Middle schools
Sir Alec Clegg
1964 Education Act
Educational justification

The teachers
Teacher training
The Schools Council
Industrial relations

Special educational needs
Post-war progress
Further developments
   NACTST Report (1954)
   Underwood Report (1955)
   1959 Mental Health Act
   1962 Health Visiting and Social Work (Training) Act

Further and higher education
Science and technology
Expansion of higher education
   Labour's study group
   Robbins Report (1963)
Further education
Adult education

Other matters
Local government in London
More Acts of Parliament



Education in the UK: a history
Derek Gillard

first published June 1998
this version published May 2018

copyright Derek Gillard 2018
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Chapter 11 : 1951-1964

The wind of change


Political background

Winston Churchill's return to power following the election on 25 October 1951 (with a Commons majority of 17) marked the start of thirteen consecutive years of Conservative rule.

Now aged 76, he had little interest in state education and led a government of business interests: controls on land, commodities and trade were abolished, while welfare provision - only recently introduced - was slashed. 'The result was an uncontrolled boom with the start of a spiral of inflation of prices and wages which has never since been checked' (Middleton and Weitzman 1976:133).

When King George VI died on 6 February 1952 his daughter became Queen Elizabeth II. Her coronation, on 2 June 1953, was the first to be televised. It was watched by millions in Britain on black-and-white TV sets, many of which were bought for the occasion, while the colour film of it was seen around the world.

Three weeks after the coronation, Churchill suffered a serious stroke but continued as Prime Minister for a further two years, retiring in 1955 (he remained an MP until 1964).

Under his successor, Anthony Eden (1897-1977), the Tories increased their Commons majority to 60 in the election of May 1955. But in the following year, Eden led Britain into the disastrous Suez crisis and was forced to resign in January 1957 after being widely suspected of having misled the Commons over collusion with France and Israel.

Harold Macmillan (1894-1986) (pictured), who served as Prime Minister from January 1957 until October 1963, was a 'One Nation' Tory in the Disraelian tradition. His early years in office were marked by increasing prosperity and low unemployment: in a speech in Bedford on 20 July 1957 he said 'most of our people have never had it so good'.

At the general election in October 1959 the Conservatives further increased their Commons majority (to 100). The following year, Macmillan toured Africa, famously declaring in an address to the South African Parliament in Cape Town that 'the wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.' The speech has been seen as a turning point in the process of decolonisation.

By 1961, the domestic economy had become fragile and balance of payment problems led to a wage freeze. Macmillan's downfall, however, was not the result of economic difficulties but of the Vassall and Profumo scandals, which turned the press against him and damaged the credibility of his government. He became ill and resigned in October 1963.

Macmillan's successor, Alec Douglas-Home (pronounced 'Hume') (1903-1995), renounced his earldom to become Prime Minister. His appointment was controversial: he was very much an aristocrat with little understanding of economics and an aloofness which endeared him neither to the public nor to some of his colleagues. He held office for just one year, losing the general election in October 1964 to Labour, led by Harold Wilson.



The population of England and Wales rose by 2.5 million during the 1950s, reaching 46 million in 1961. The post-war 'bulge' in the birth rate and the raising of the school leaving age to fifteen in 1947 increased the number of children in maintained schools from just over 5 million in 1946 to 7 million in the early 1960s - 4 million in primary schools, 3 million in secondary schools, over 50,000 in special schools, and around 100,000 in the direct-grant grammar schools. In the independent sector there were over 300,000 pupils in schools 'recognised as efficient' and 200,000 in other schools (Lawson and Silver 1973:428, 431).

The number of teachers rose from 196,000 before the war to 216,000 in 1950 and to 269,000 in 1961. Local authority training colleges increased in number from 29 in 1944 to 63 in 1954 and 77 in 1962, while the number of voluntary colleges fell slightly, to 47 (Lawson and Silver 1973:428). The decision to lengthen teacher-training courses from two to three years was taken in 1960.

Higher education expanded rapidly: the number of students doubled between 1945 and the end of the 1950s, and had doubled again - to 217,000 - by 1962.

Public expenditure on education rose dramatically - from 400m in 1952 to more than 900m a decade later.

The government of education

Between 1951 and 1964 the Ministers of Education were:

2 November 1951Florence Horsbrugh (1889-1969)
18 October 1954Sir David Eccles (1904-1999)
13 January 1957Viscount Hailsham (1907-2001)
17 September 1957Geoffrey Lloyd (1902-1984)
14 October 1959Sir David Eccles
13 July 1962Sir Edward Boyle (1923-1981)

On 1 April 1964 the Ministry of Education was reorganised as the Department of Education and Science (DES), and Quintin Hogg (formerly Viscount Hailsham) became the first Secretary of State for Education and Science, holding the post for just six months until the general election of October 1964.

Education and society

The 1950s saw the development of 'the affluent society', with full employment, social security and economic growth. Britain was increasingly a consumer society in which people wanted more and better education in order to obtain well-paid jobs. As a result, more children began staying on at school after the leaving age.

However, while 'the overall trend was unmistakable', there were 'important differences by geographical region, social class and type of school' (Lawson and Silver 1973:427). It soon became clear that not everyone was enjoying the new-found affluence, and growing awareness of the extent of underprivilege was reflected in several major reports which showed concern, not only with national economic needs, but with 'the rights and requirements of the individual, the distribution of resources and acceptable philosophies for educational processes' (Lawson and Silver 1973:432).

Two of the reports in particular - Newsom and Robbins, both published in 1963 - were to be 'of profound importance for educational development' because they 'accepted and reinforced the premise that social factors had deprived poor children of adequate educational opportunities' (Lawson and Silver 1973:432).

As a result of these reports, the role of the state in education was strengthened:

the Ministry of Education was reconstituted, a national Schools Council was created, a government scheme for a system of higher education to run parallel with the universities was implemented, educational priority areas were designated, and ministers played a more intimate part in decisions on comprehensive-school schemes and the pay of university and school teachers (Lawson and Silver 1973:432).
By the early 1960s, then, education was seen as 'the most crucial instrument of social policy' (Lawson and Silver 1973:431) and central government began to take a more proactive role.

When Macmillan talked about 'the wind of change', he was referring to the desire of African nations for their independence. But he might just as easily have been talking about education in England, where many concerns - about the extent of underprivilege, the need for a more child-centred style of education in primary schools, the unfairness of the selective tripartite system of secondary schools, and wider access to higher education - were now reaching a climax.

Budget cuts

Tory education policy

In his book The Making of Tory Education Policy in Post-War Britain 1950-1986, Christopher Knight argues that 'in the period between 1950 and 1974 the Conservative Party failed to fashion an educational policy in line with Conservative philosophy' (Knight 1990:3).

However, the beginnings of a Tory education policy can be seen, Knight suggests, in One Nation - A Tory Approach to Social Problems, published by the Conservative Political Centre in 1950. It was written by nine members of what became known as the 'One Nation' group of Tory MPs, including Edward Heath, lain Macleod, Angus Maude and Enoch Powell, who were committed to preserving the church schools and the private sector, to defending the tripartite system, and to opposing what they saw as the enforced uniformity of comprehensive education.

In his contribution to One Nation, Maude wrote:

The modern insistence on 'humanising' teaching methods ... must not be made an excuse for abandoning the traditional disciplines of learning ... We deplore the present tendency to drag down the brighter children to the level of the dull ones (quoted in Knight 1990:12-13).
It was perhaps unsurprising that the Tories should have spent little effort in developing a coherent education policy in the early 1950s because, when they regained power in 1951, the overwhelming need was for more school places to cope with the rapidly rising birth rate. 'Oversize classes (forty or more pupils) and inadequate buildings were the dominant issues for politicians, civil servants and parents alike ... A wider vision of schooling was not yet developed' (Knight 1990:10).

These problems were, inevitably, exacerbated by the Tories' propensity for cutting the education budget.

Budget battles


Churchill appointed sixty-year-old Florence Horsbrugh (pictured) Minister of Education in November 1951, but denied her a seat in the Cabinet - 'an ominous move, implying, as it did, a serious demotion of education' (Simon 1991:162). Maurice Kogan has described her as 'a dreary and disliked minister who was brought only late into the Cabinet, who never fought for and never received an adequate educational budget' (Kogan 1978:34).

She was, however, under 'consistent, ruthless and unremitting pressure' (Simon 1991:163) from RAB Butler, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, to cut education spending to a minimum. One of Butler's first acts as Chancellor was to declare a three-month moratorium on school building - because the steel was needed for armaments.

In December 1951 Horsbrugh issued Circular 242, which called for a five per cent reduction in local authority estimates for 1952. The aim, she said, was to maintain 'the essential fabric' but to 'cut out the frills' (quoted in Simon 1991:164). Further cuts were made to the building programme in Circular 245 in February 1952.

From then on, Horsbrugh faced a three-year battle to maintain spending on education. In a letter to her, dated 7 October 1953, Butler wrote:

I need not conceal from you that I am most disturbed about the paucity of the economies we have been able to make in the last two years. We can't get healthy tax remissions, nor a healthy economy without these. There is no time to lose - we must think in terms of major changes in policy as well as constant pruning (quoted in Simon 1991:165).
Drastic measures were considered, including the possibility of lowering the school leaving age to fourteen (it had only been raised to fifteen in 1947), raising the school starting age to six, introducing fees in maintained schools, and reducing the Exchequer grant to local authorities. Meanwhile, the government tried to claw back money from teachers and local authorities through the Teachers Superannuation Bill. Horsbrugh now resisted all attempts to impose further drastic cuts.

The government's proposals were widely criticised. In a leader in the Manchester Guardian (12 December 1951), RH Tawney declared that lowering the leaving age would be a breach of faith - it was 'economising at the expense of the children' (quoted in Simon 1991:167). There were protests from the Association of Education Committees; from WO Lester Smith, formerly Manchester's distinguished Director of Education and now Professor at the London University Institute of Education; from the former Labour Minister of Education George Tomlinson; and from the Trades Union Congress. Local trades councils held public meetings and conferences. The Economist (21 March 1953) commented that 'No part of the government's economy drive has incurred so much criticism as the cuts in educational expenditure' (quoted in Simon 1991:166).

In the event, the government was forced to abandon its most damaging proposals.

But the fact that so much time and energy was spent on these issues indicates the atmosphere of the time. In the end the government had to be content with scrimping and saving in all directions, and in allowing no development, apart from the necessary one of providing roofs and teachers for the extra million children who crowded into the schools between 1950 and 1960 as a result of the post-war birth rate increase (Simon 1991:163-4).
In an exceptionally outspoken report in June 1952, the Commons Select Committee on the Estimates, with a majority of Tory MPs, reported that they were confronted with 'overcrowding, lack of schools, heavy transport costs, a shortage of teachers and often deteriorating and even dangerous school buildings' (quoted in Simon 1991:168-9).

Meanwhile, Kathleen Ollerenhaw, a Conservative councillor in Manchester, warned that almost half the city's schools had been built before 1903 and were in a 'truly terrible' state (quoted in Simon 1991:169). Yet the government had cut back on school building:

in 1953 there were 177 fewer schools under construction than two years earlier. Nine nursery schools had been opened in that year but fourteen closed. Junior and infant classes with over forty pupils had increased substantially (to a total of nearly 5,000) while the same for senior classes had only marginally decreased. It was not only school building that was suffering. In 1953 there were 2,000 fewer university students than two years earlier (Simon 1991:169).
Between 1938 and 1951 the proportion of national income spent on education had increased from 2 to 2.2 per cent - but the number of children in the schools had also increased by a tenth. WP Alexander (1905-1993), Secretary of the Association of Education Committees, argued that, in terms of purchasing power, expenditure per child was now actually less than it had been in 1938.

By 1953-54 the government was budgeting to spend seven times more on arms (1.6bn) than on education (231m) (Simon 1991:168). The economy was beginning to improve and Horsbrugh was hopeful that expenditure on education - especially on the school building programme - might be increased. She had 'borne the heat of the fray' (Simon 1991:180) but was now suddenly and unexpectedly removed from office - presumably because she was too closely associated with austerity and the government wanted a more positive image.


She was replaced by Sir David Eccles (pictured), a wealthy businessman who, suggests Maurice Kogan, 'was perhaps the minister who best typified the optimism and opportunism of the time' (Kogan 1978:34).

At a Cabinet meeting chaired by Churchill on 29 November 1954, Eccles warned that the Teachers' Superannuation Bill was causing the government irreparable damage and should be dropped immediately, and he set out a modest development programme. Inaction, he warned, would be 'used to great effect by our opponents' (quoted in Simon 1991:181).

The Chancellor, RAB Butler, pointed out that expenditure on education had risen from 224m to 303m since the war, but he acknowledged that most of this increase was due to the larger number of pupils. Earlier proposals to shorten the period of schooling and increase charges for school meals were abandoned and a programme of capital investment was approved, though the Cabinet stressed that there should be 'no unnecessary extravagance' (quoted in Simon 1991:182).

In gaining Cabinet approval for his programme, Eccles 'made his mark as a competent, and determined Minister, whose antennae were sensitively directed to political advantage' (Simon 1991:182-3).

Following the general election in May 1955 (which the Tories won with an increased majority), relations between Butler and Eccles became even more strained. Butler demanded cuts in social service expenditure, including education; Eccles argued that this was impossible because of the rise in the number of children and increased expenditure on further education, which was government policy.

In October 1955 Butler by-passed Eccles and sent a 'Message' direct to local authorities asking them to curb expenditure. Eccles responded by taking the highly unusual step of issuing a press statement, headed 'No Cuts in Educational Building'. The planned programme was being maintained, he declared, and local authorities would therefore be 'expected to carry out all the projects in the approved programme for 1955-56 and 1956-57.' He did, however, ask for 'every possible economy to be made' (Simon 1991:190).

Butler immediately wrote to Eccles complaining that the press statement was 'not in accordance with the Message which I had sent to Local Authorities with your concurrence and that of the other ministers concerned' (Simon 1991:190). Eccles replied that he was trying to reconcile Butler's 'Message' with 'our statement on education'. Butler wrote again, claiming that he supported implementation of the full education programme but wanted it 'spaced out'.

At this point hostilities apparently ceased and Eccles turned his attention to the expansion of scientific and technological education, producing a five-year plan with the support of the Prime Minister.


Tory hostility

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

Yet the Conservatives - some of whom still had lingering doubts about the benefits of any sort of mass education - seemed determined not to notice what was going on elsewhere, and remained committed to the tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools established in 1945. They were supported by various right-wing commentators, including the poet and literary critic TS Eliot, who wrote:

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

In 1951, while still in opposition, Horsbrugh had accused Labour of promoting comprehensive schools as part of a programme to create a socialist state - a bizarre accusation, given the Attlee government's rigid adherence to the tripartite system - and in the following two years Tory Party conferences voted almost unanimously for motions expressing complete opposition to the concept of comprehensive education.

In all but a handful of cases, most notably in London, the Tory government refused to allow local authorities in England to establish comprehensive schools. London County Council (LCC) had been planning a comprehensive system since the 1930s, and had opened eight 'interim' schools by 1948, formed by amalgamating selective 'central' schools with nearby secondary moderns. These experimental schools had enthusiastic staff and were working well, but faced hostility from Tory councillors, as Margaret Cole, a leading member of the LCC's Education Committee noted in What is a Comprehensive School? The London Plan in Practice, published in 1953:

They stage debate after debate in Committee and in Council; they fill the press with angry cries; they endeavour ... by means of engineered propaganda among teachers, parents and even children ... to ensure that each new school shall start life in an atmosphere of strife and prejudice ... they want them to be failures (quoted in Simon 1991:170).

The Tories were able to delay developments in London, thanks partly to George Tomlinson, Minister of Education in the Attlee government. He had approved The London School Plan in February 1950 - but with the crucial proviso that proposals relating to individual schools would be 'subject to further consideration' (Simon 1991:131).

Horsbrugh used this power when she intervened to prevent the LCC from closing Eltham Hill Girls' Grammar School, two technical and two secondary modern schools, and transferring their pupils to the new Kidbrooke School, which had been approved by Tomlinson in September 1949 and was due to open in September 1954.

In June 1953, she 'suddenly and unexpectedly required the LCC to issue public notices of its intention to cease maintaining the five separate schools concerned' (Simon 1991:171). WP Alexander described her action as 'unsound procedure', but the LCC was forced to comply.

Horsbrugh then treated the matter as a political issue (for which she was criticised in the Commons, notably by Herbert Morrison), urging London Conservatives to support her by organising local protests against the closing of the existing schools. They did so, raising a petition demanding that Eltham Hill School be kept open, and in March 1954 Horsbrugh announced that she would not approve the closure of the school.

As a result, 'London's first purpose-built comprehensive school was not as "comprehensive" as it might have been' (Chitty and Dunford 1999:20).

Horsbrugh went on to reject every proposal for a comprehensive school in London which involved the absorption of a grammar school. 'From now on the defence of the grammar school became a major issue of policy for succeeding Tory governments' (Simon 1991:172).

Meanwhile, Coventry, where schools had been severely damaged during the war, was also planning to go comprehensive. The Coventry Plan (which could not include the city's two direct grant boys' grammar schools because they were outside local authority control) was provisionally accepted by Horsbrugh towards the end of 1953, though she insisted that schools should, where possible, be split into separate units. Despite this ruling, 'Coventry's first purpose-built eleven-to-eighteen comprehensive schools marked a definite stage in the evolution of the comprehensive movement' (Simon 1991:174).

Horsbrugh did do one useful thing with regard to comprehensive schools: in a Commons Written Answer in March 1954, she supplied the government's official definition of them in the following terms:

The term 'comprehensive school' is used in a number of different senses. For the purposes of the Ministry's statistical returns, secondary schools are classified as comprehensive where they are intended to provide all the secondary education facilities needed by the children of a given area, but without being organised in clearly defined sides (Hansard House of Commons 4 March 1954 Vol 524 Col 104W).

Horsbrugh's successor, Sir David Eccles, was equally hostile to comprehensive reorganisation. In a speech to grammar-school teachers shortly after his appointment in October 1954, he said that, with regard to the pattern of secondary education,

one has to choose between justice and equality, for it is impossible to apply both principles at once. Those who support comprehensive schools prefer equality. Her Majesty's present government prefer justice. My colleagues and I will never allow local authorities to assassinate the grammar schools (quoted in The Schoolmaster 7 January 1955).
At the annual Conference of the National Union of Teachers three months later he announced his new slogan: 'Selection for everybody' (as opposed to 'Selection for nobody' - his description of the comprehensive school). He attacked comprehensive schools as an 'untried and very costly experiment'. In his speech, which was 'an odd mixture of progressive (modernising) ideas and a reactionary traditionalism' (Simon 1991:184), he outlined five policy guidelines:
  • local authorities should aim to provide 15-25 per cent of places in grammar and technical schools;
  • new technical schools would be approved only where there was a very strong case;
  • secondary modern schools would be encouraged to develop extended courses and to strengthen their links with grammar and technical schools and with further education;
  • transfer between secondary schools should be made as early as possible (to put right 'glaring mistakes' in the selection process) and there should be opportunities for transfer at 15 and 16; and
  • comprehensive schools would only be approved 'as an experiment', when 'all the conditions are favourable', and where no grammar school would be 'damaged' (Simon 1991:184).
With Anthony Eden now Prime Minister, Eccles circulated a memorandum on Secondary Education (20 April 1955) outlining the 'counter-measures' he was taking to preserve the tripartite system. He wrote:
the feelings aroused by the 11-plus exam, both justified and unjustified, force a move towards selection for nobody or towards selection for everybody. Selection for nobody means comprehensive schools with grammar schools abolished and parents' choice practically ruled out. The Socialists support this policy on the principle of fair shares for all. Selection for everybody means developing in each secondary modern school some special attraction and giving parents the widest possible scope (quoted in Simon 1991:186).
He would encourage secondary modern schools to offer 'special courses with a clear vocational interest', thus ensuring that 'each school will be able to offer something special that cannot be had elsewhere in the area'. This, he argued, would reduce parental complaints about selection. In conclusion, he claimed that most teachers were now 'against comprehensive schools and in favour of helping the secondary moderns' (quoted in Simon 1991:186).

The Conservatives' commitment to the tripartite system was made clear in their 1955 election manifesto:

What matters in education is the development of the child's talents and personality, not the forwarding of a political theory. To prepare for the increasing opportunities of the modern world we need all three kinds of secondary school, grammar, modern and technical, and we must see that each provides a full and distinctive education. We shall not permit the grammar schools to be swallowed up in comprehensive schools (Conservative election manifesto 1955).
The Tories won the election and Eccles continued to block the comprehensivisation schemes of local authorities, notably those of Oldham, Bradford, Manchester, Swansea, Carlisle and Walsall.

In Manchester, plans involving five schools had gone ahead and the reorganised schools were due to open in September 1955. Eccles intervened just four days before the school term began, and a selection test had to be hurriedly arranged so that the children could be 'unscrambled and classified to fit the three types of school available' (Simon 1991:187).

In Swansea, Eccles prevented four secondary schools becoming 'multilateral' schools. He told the authority he would not agree 'to the extinction of the existing grammar schools, whose traditions were too good and too precious to be endangered' (quoted in Simon 1991:187).

Carlisle finally withdrew its proposals under pressure from Eccles, though Walsall 'carried on a continuous battle, especially against ministerial procrastination' (Simon 1991:187).


The Tory policy of obstructing comprehensivisation continued under Lord Hailsham, who was Minister for just eight months, and then under Geoffrey Lloyd, who succeeded him in September 1957.

Lloyd apparently believed that class was no longer an issue in education. In his first major speech - at the opening of Brunel College of Technology at Acton - he declared that

Few people now remember the extreme class bitterness between the aristocracy and the rising middle class in the nineteenth century, because almost in a generation the public schools merged the two contestants to form what became known as the governing class. ... As I see it, the old class issues are dying and we should help them to die quickly (quoted in Middleton and Weitzman 1976:337-8).
In December 1958, Lloyd published a White Paper which borrowed RH Tawney's phrase for its title. Secondary Education for All: A New Drive announced a 300m school building programme consisting mostly of new secondary modern schools. As under Eccles, comprehensive schools would be allowed only in country districts with sparse populations or on new housing estates where there were no existing schools, and local authorities would not be allowed to close grammar schools
simply in order that a new comprehensive school may enjoy a monopoly of the abler children within its area. It cannot be right that good existing schools should be forcibly brought to an end, or that parents' freedom of choice should be so completely abolished (quoted in Simon 1991:204).
In their manifesto for the October 1959 election, the Tories promised 'a massive enlargement of educational opportunity at every level' and declared:
We shall defend the grammar schools against doctrinaire Socialist attack, and see that they are further developed. We shall bring the modern schools up to the same high standard. Then the choice of schooling for children can be more flexible and less worrying for parents. This is the right way to deal with the problem of the 'eleven-plus' (Conservative election manifesto 1959).
Meanwhile, a raft of reports published in the space of just four years all endorsed the findings of the 1954 report Early Leaving in warning of inadequacies in various aspects of education:
  • the Jackson Report The Supply and Training of Teachers for Technical Colleges (1957);
  • the Carr Report Recruitment and Training of Young Workers in Industry (1958);
  • the McMeeking Report Report by the Advisory Committee on Further Education and Commerce (1959);
  • the Coldstream Report National Advisory Council on Art and Education (1960);
  • the Albermarle Report The Youth Service in England and Wales (1960);
  • the Wolfenden Report Sport and the Community (1960); and
  • Andrew Shonfield's Apprenticeship and Training Conditions in The Observer (4 June 1961).
Eccles (again)

Eccles, who became Minister for a second time in October 1959, was criticised for his complacency in the face of these reports. In response, he introduced a new theme into Conservative thinking on education - a concern about standards of work and behaviour in schools.

In October 1961 he sent a personal memorandum to the principals of all training colleges, in which he suggested that 'the juvenile delinquency, which so disfigures our affluent society' was partly caused by parents being too indulgent with their children and failing to provide moral guidance. Schools, he argued, had 'a special responsibility in shaping and upholding the ends which society should pursue' and should be places 'where good citizens are formed and where discipline is maintained' (quoted in Knight 1990:15-16).


Sir Edward Boyle was 'one of few leading Conservatives with an informed interest in the State system of education' (Middleton and Weitzman 1976:337). When he replaced Eccles as Minister in July 1962, Eccles warned him: 'You will find it difficult to get the Cabinet to understand education because so few of them have been involved in the maintained schools' (quoted in Kogan 1971:90).

Boyle was more progressive in outlook than his predecessors: it is worth remembering, for example, that it was he who commissioned the Plowden Report on primary education (of which more in the next chapter).

By now, more than half of LEAs were beginning to plan for comprehensive reorganisation and, while the Conservative government offered little support for such moves, it was 'tolerating comprehensive school experiments and was prepared to acknowledge that some comprehensive schools were doing well' (Knight 1990:17). Nonetheless, the Tories continued to support the divided system and the eleven-plus, arguing that 'Britain's grammar schools and public schools were the envy of the world' (Benn and Chitty 1996:8).

Concerns about the tripartite system

Parental dissatisfaction

The Tories, however, were out of touch with what was happening in schools around the country: parental dissatisfaction with the tripartite system was growing, especially among the middle classes. As Benn and Chitty put it: 'The middle class was expanding and grammar schools were not' (Benn and Chitty (1996:8).

A survey in Hertfordshire in 1952, for example, showed that more than fifty per cent of all parents wanted their children to go to grammar schools, twenty per cent to technical schools, and only sixteen per cent to secondary modern schools (Simon 1991:150). In Nottingham in 1954, of the 2,716 children who competed for 447 grammar school places, 2,269 'failed'. 'What this meant in terms of human frustration to both parents and children is easy to imagine, less easy to express' (Simon 1991:151).

It was clear, then, that

Reforming and improving the secondary modern schools was no longer the answer. A significant number of 'middle income' parents now realised that they could clearly become the chief 'beneficiaries' of reorganisation provided the new comprehensives could be organised along lines which suited the perceived requirements of their children (Chitty 1989:35).

The selective system was perceived as failing because:

  • research cast doubt on theories of inherited intelligence;
  • there were many errors in school placements owing to the fallibility of the selection mechanism;
  • there was a high level of inequality: provision of grammar school places ranged from 64 per cent in Merionethshire to just 8 per cent in Gateshead (Simon 1991:177);
  • it was unfair to girls because many LEAs had single-sex grammar schools with far more places for boys;
  • talent was being wasted as many children left school early - a view reinforced by the 1963 Newsom Report (see below); and
  • the eleven-plus had damaging effects on primary schools in terms of their organisation, curriculum and pedagogy.
Intelligence testing

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) had been established in 1946, its funding shared equally by the local authorities and the Ministry. In the 1950s it began to focus almost exclusively on mental testing, becoming 'a large scale test agency - especially in the production of intelligence (and very similar English and arithmetic) tests required by local authorities for their selection examinations' (Simon 1991:158).

These tests depended for their validity on the notion of fixed or 'innate' intelligence, which had been promoted by Cyril Burt during the inter-war years. But it was becoming clear that intelligence quotients could be affected by coaching and were related to previous social and educational experience, as the eminent psychologist Philip Vernon (1905-1987) pointed out. Writing in The Times Educational Supplement (2 January, 1 February 1952), he declared that a limited amount of coaching could increase the supposedly unchangeable intelligence quotient by around 14 points - a finding of profound significance for the legitimacy of the eleven-plus exam.

Furthermore, by 1953 GCE results indicated that children who failed the eleven-plus sometimes achieved remarkably good results five years later, while many of those who had been selected for grammar schools performed less well. 'All this quite naturally cast increasing doubt on the viability of selection, and on the validity of intelligence test theory on which it was based' (Simon 1991:176).

In Intelligence Testing and the Comprehensive School (1953), Brian Simon argued that the intelligence tests used in the selection system were flawed because the questions favoured the middle-class child, and so defined the kind of 'intelligence' being measured:

It may be concluded, on these grounds alone, that the 'intelligence' measured by tests is anything but a pure intellectual power; it evidently comprehends what can only be described as a class element (Simon 1953:45).
He noted the findings of a detailed investigation undertaken by AH Halsey and L Gardner and published in 'Selection for Secondary Education' (British Journal of Sociology Vol. IV, No. 1, March 1953). Based on a sample of 700 13- to 14-year-old boys in four grammar and five secondary modern schools in Greater London, Halsey and Gardner found that
The difference in social composition between the two types of school is striking. The secondary modern schools cater very largely for the sons of manual workers, especially the semi-skilled and unskilled (quoted in Simon 1953:65).
In the grammar schools, on the other hand, this class constituted less than a quarter of the pupils - in one school just 6.9 per cent. Conversely, very few middle-class children were found in secondary modern schools. Halsey and Gardner concluded:
despite the changes introduced into secondary education by the Education Act of 1944, it remains the case that a boy has a greater chance of entering a grammar school if he comes from a middle-class rather than a working-class home (quoted in Simon 1953:65).
In seeking to explain why this should be, they pointed to 'the crucial role played by intelligence tests in the present selection procedure' (quoted in Simon 1953:65).

Simon noted that

In spite of the failure of mental testing, those interested in preserving the present system of secondary education still cling to the conception of 'intelligence', refusing to recognise that the practical failure implies also a theoretical failure (Simon 1953:89).
With this failure, he argued, 'the whole selective system of education stands condemned' (Simon 1953:89):
The conclusion must be that the fruitless and sterile search for a perfect selection technique should be abandoned, the divided or subdivided system of education be ended, and that, in its place, we begin to make secondary education for all a reality, and provide the opportunity for the systematic and purposeful teaching of all children alike (Simon 1953:89).
In 1954, the psychologist Alice Heim published The Appraisal of Intelligence, which was equally critical of the methodology and theoretical assumptions underlying testing; and, in Social Mobility in Britain, edited by the eminent sociologist David Glass (1911-1978), the German social psychologist Hildegard Himmelweit (1918-1989) wrote that
there is suggestive evidence that working-class children do relatively less well on the tests of attainment which comprise 66 per cent of the selection examination (Himmelweit 1954:158)
A wave of criticism now engulfed Cyril Burt, who turned to 'fraud and deception in a desperate attempt to shore up the pure "classic" theory of which he was by now the major proponent' (Simon 1991:177).

But the criticism continued. Robin Pedley summed up the view of many:

The evidence points to one overwhelming conclusion: that despite all the infinite care and painstaking research which has gone into this problem, we are attempting the impossible. We cannot continue, in fairness not only to odd individuals but to a multitude of them, to sort out children like sheep and goats, and send them willy-nilly to the special kinds of school that we, in an ignorance masquerading as wisdom, consider them best fitted for. All the manœuvring in the world before the age of 11, all the patching that can be contrived by late transfers afterwards, will not remedy the basic objection to the system. Nor can the community afford the heavy wastage of talent imposed by premature assessment of ability and aptitude, and limited selection for a superior type of school (Pedley 1956:56-7).
And in a contribution to Brian Simon's book New Trends in English Education (1957), the author and broadcaster Edward Blishen (1920-1996) wrote:
There are many ways of damaging a child; one of the worst, I think, is to imprison him in a definition. He is a secondary modern school child; he is capable of this or that limited amount of mental effort; this or that term must be placed on his schooling. It seems to me that at the back of all his everyday practical educating a teacher ought to sense the need to defy such of these definitions as he can, or at least to be profoundly sceptical of them. The best of schools probably is at its most excellent when it forgets for a while to be strictly and formally itself; when the definitions are blurred; when the child is seen to be more important than all the apparatus of lessons and assessments, and in the final analysis much too mysterious to be contained by them (Blishen 1957:74).
Two further publications - Secondary School Selection (1957) and Admission to Grammar Schools (1958) - also had a profound impact, particularly on education professionals and administrators.

Secondary School Selection was the report of a British Psychological Society inquiry led by Philip Vernon. Concerned about the way in which particular theories were being used to legitimate a school system increasingly seen as unfair, it 'explicitly rejected the theory of total genetic determination - and so distanced itself from the classic theories of Cyril Burt' (Simon 1991:209). It argued that intelligence could certainly be influenced by environment and upbringing and that therefore early selection for different types of secondary school was best avoided:

We have seen that any policy involving irreversible segregation at 11 years or earlier is psychologically unsound, and therefore that - in so far as public opinion allows - the common or comprehensive school would be preferable, at least up to the age of 13. And that failing this, or failing the diversification of schools which might lead to greater parity of esteem, the selection system should be supplemented by greater freedom of transfer, despite its admitted difficulties (Vernon 1957:53).
Admission to Grammar Schools, published by the NFER, was 'the first serious, large-scale and well-designed research report on the actual practice of selection and its results' (Simon 1991:209-10). Written by DA Pidgeon and Alfred Yates, it concluded that at least ten per cent of children - around 60,000 a year in the 1950s - were being allocated to the wrong type of school, and that since there was no serious possibility of further improving 'techniques of allocation', comprehensive or multilateral schools were desirable.

Writing in 1961, Raymond Williams argued that:

Differences in learning ability obviously exist, but there is great danger in making these into separate and absolute categories. It is right that a child should be taught in a way appropriate to his learning ability, but because this itself depends on his whole development, including not only questions of personal character growth but also questions of his real social environment and the stimulation received from it, too early a division into intellectual grades in part creates the situation which it is offering to meet (Williams 1961:146).
And in 1963 the Robbins Report Higher Education (of which more below) questioned whether any sort of selection test could be fair, given that the claim that testing could measure intelligence divorced from social determinants had now been discredited:
It is, of course, unquestionable that human beings vary considerably in native capacity for all sorts of tasks. No one who has taught young people will be disposed to urge that it is only the difference in educational opportunity that makes the difference between a Newton or a Leonardo and Poor Tom the Fool. But while it would be wrong to deny fundamental differences of nature, it is equally wrong to deny that performance in examinations or tests - or indeed any measurable ability - is affected by nurture in the widest sense of that word. Moreover, the belief that there exists some easy method of ascertaining an intelligence factor unaffected by education or background is outmoded. Years ago, performance in 'general intelligence tests' was thought to be relatively independent of earlier experience. It is now known that in fact it is dependent upon previous experience to a degree sufficiently large to be of great relevance. And once one passes beyond tests of this kind and examines for specific knowledge or aptitudes, the influence of education and environment becomes more and more important (Robbins 1963:49).
Effects on primary schools

Primary schools were still relatively new: they had become official government policy in 1928, and by 1939 almost half of the old all-age elementary schools had been reorganised into primary and post-primary (or junior and senior) departments or schools. Reorganisation had continued after the war but had been a slow process (in fact, it was only finally completed in 1972). Primary education was now provided either in two stages (infants from five to seven years and juniors from seven to eleven) or in a single primary school (five to eleven).

By the early 1950s it was already clear that the tripartite system - and particularly its associated testing regime - was having a damaging effect on primary schools in terms of their curriculum, as Dr Terry Wrigley points out:

The 11 Plus exams, on the basis of which grammar school places were awarded, also restricted the upper primary curriculum. Ironically, given that its 'general intelligence' paper was supposed to measure something fixed and innate, most final year classes spent a lot of time practising test papers to improve scores. Thus the majority of curriculum time was consumed by rapid and accurate processing in English and arithmetic and the artificial logic of 'intelligence' tests (Wrigley 2014:9).
As a result, schools felt obliged to operate the rigid system of streaming which had been promoted by Burt in the inter-war years, with pupils divided into A, B and C classes (and sometimes more). This, Brian Simon argued, had three negative effects on the children: it practically determined their future at the age of six or seven; it led to 'a mechanical and distorted form of education'; and it isolated the children from each other, and so broke up the unity of the school (Simon 1953:18).

A survey by Brian Jackson in 1962-3 (published in 1964) found that 96 per cent of the sampled schools streamed their pupils; only 4 per cent did not. Three-quarters of children were in streamed classes by the age of seven.

Grouping all the more 'advanced' children together in one class, and all the more 'backward' in another also provided the conditions whereby the differences between both groups were inevitably exacerbated in the process of schooling - thus transfers between streams were rare (Simon 1991:152).
Jackson confirmed what many had long suspected - that children from middle-class families tended to be allocated to A streams; those from manual working-class homes to C or D streams. As to the teachers, 85 per cent of those responding favoured streaming: 'support for streaming was overwhelming from every type of teacher and school' (Jackson 1964:31 quoted in Simon 1991:346).

Meanwhile, the teaching became dominated by the requirements of the eleven-plus examination which, in most areas, comprised 'objective' tests in 'intelligence', plus English and arithmetic. Children in the 'A' streams were intensively coached to pass these tests and the resulting narrowness of the primary school curriculum was widely criticised.

A few schools began experimenting with unstreamed classes in the 1950s. George Freeland, the head of one of three Leicester primary schools which did so from 1953 onwards, argued that standards had been raised and the school had functioned more effectively as a social unit:

As a result of the experience of the last three years, there are now no doubts in my mind as to the desirability of non-streaming. I would not dream of returning to the traditional system in which I spent so many years as a class teacher, years which convinced me of its deleterious effect on both children and teachers. I am firmly convinced that only where the school is unstreamed can the greatest opportunities be offered to the children. What remains to be done is to improve our methods of teaching, modify the syllabus in the light of our own experience and that of other unstreamed schools, and continue to replace the system of individual competition by collective effort. The aim must be to build up a positive educational and social spirit in the unified school, and so make our contribution to the raising of educational standards and the widening of opportunity (Freeland 1957:32-33).
Another head - E Harvey, of Weston Lane Junior School, Otley in Yorkshire - wrote in Forum that
After four years without streaming I have a happy and enthusiastic staff, all of whom prefer the present organisation, the standard of work has improved, and relations with the parents are excellent (Harvey 1960:47).
He concluded that 'the inherent flexibility of the unstreamed school is of great help when putting ... new ideas to the test in practice' (Harvey 1960:49).

As Freeland had noted, the decision whether or not to stream had implications for the teaching-learning process itself. The three schools in Leicester mentioned above adopted different approaches, one using whole-class teaching, another focusing on the individual child, and the third using group work with some class teaching and individualisation (Simon 1991:349).

The case against streaming 'lay primarily in a growing realisation that the original stream placement, at whatever level, determined children's life chances - often from the age of seven or even earlier' (Simon 1991:347). Research showed that transfer between streams was minimal (about 2 per cent) so that the great majority of children remained in their original stream throughout their school life. The result was that streaming became a self-fulfilling prophecy:

Children who are relegated to a low stream, to suit their present level of ability, are likely to be taught at a slower pace; whereas the brighter streams, often under the better teachers, are encouraged to proceed more rapidly. Thus initial differences become exacerbated, and those duller children who happen to improve later fall too far behind the higher streams in attainments to be able to catch up, and lose the chance to show their true merits (Vernon 1957:43).
While psychologists accepted that some differentiation of curriculum and teaching methods was needed, they warned against rigid streaming in the junior school:
Psychologists should frankly acknowledge that completely accurate classification of children, either by level or type of ability, is not possible at 11 years, still less on entry to the junior school at 7, and should therefore encourage any more flexible form of organisation and grouping which gives scope for the gradual unfolding and the variability of children's abilities and interests. But they should also recognise the strong case for providing the brighter children with more advanced, and the duller ones with a simpler, kind of schooling; and should uphold their claim to be able to diagnose the most suitable form of schooling, for, not all, but a great majority of children (Vernon 1957:169).
As their primary years came to an end, children then faced the eleven-plus exam, which acted
as a great sorting machine, separating the children into two or sometimes three groups. The children have arrived at the point of 'all change'. Friends in the same form, brothers and sisters from the same family, may be sent off to different types of schools, some to wear the caps and blazers of the grammar school, others to the modern school. From now on each of these groups will receive a different type of education, and their opportunity to make the most of their lives will vary accordingly (Simon 1953:21).
The link between non-streaming in the junior school and comprehensive secondary education was now clear:
Both movements were founded on a more positive educational premiss (in terms of children's potentialities) than was conceivable within the theory and practice of the divided system (Simon 1991:348).

There was much discussion of these issues in the early 1960s: a conference organised by Forum in November 1962 attracted more than two hundred teachers; under Edward Boyle, the Ministry's annual reports began to 'reflect a new enthusiasm, almost a new romanticism, especially in the general introduction signed by the minister' (Simon 1991:350); and the NFER was commissioned to conduct an enquiry into the question of streaming, though it did not publish its findings until after the publication of the Plowden Report (1967), by which time, 'life had moved well beyond their original concerns' (Simon 1991:350).

Streaming in comprehensive schools

Reformers such as Harold Dent and GTC Giles (see chapter 9) had sought not only the end of selection for different types of school but also the end of streaming within individual schools, at least up to the age of thirteen and preferably up to fifteen. Only in this way, they argued, would genuine comprehensive reform - offering all pupils a common educational experience - be achieved. There should be new forms of pupil grouping so that each class would 'reflect the make up of the whole of the local community - intellectually, socially, and in terms of gender and ethnic origin' (Simon 1991:302).

Given the slow progress towards comprehensivisation and the demands made on schools by a socially divided society, implementation of this objective was, inevitably, to prove difficult.

The earliest comprehensive schools had been established in what Brian Simon calls 'a sea of tripartism' (Simon 1991:302). At Holyhead School in Anglesey, for example, which in 1949 was the first fully comprehensive school in terms of its intake, the organisation was based on the Hadow principle of 'progressive differentiation', as its head, Trevor Lovett, explained in an article in The Times Educational Supplement (27 January1956). First-year pupils were divided into streams on the basis of tests given at the beginning of the school year. Thereafter, the segregation became more rigorous in order to separate the more advanced pupils from the average, and the average from the more 'backward' who left at fifteen.

Holyhead school appeared as a beacon to comprehensive supporters in the late 1940s. It showed beyond a doubt that such schools were viable. But it did so at the cost of accepting the ideology of the divided system from which it emerged (Simon 1991:302).
As more comprehensives were established in the 1950s and early 1960s, they were forced to demonstrate their effectiveness by achieving exam results which were at least as good as - and preferably better than - those of the schools they replaced. 'This target was, in general, achieved', but at the cost of importing 'values and practices characteristic of the divided system that comprehensive education was intended to overcome' (Simon 1991:303).

The grammar school lobby

As the arguments for the selective system crumbled, its supporters - who became known as the 'grammar school lobby' - fought back. In 1956 Harry Rée, head of Watford Grammar School, published The Essential Grammar School, in which he argued the importance of educating 'gifted' children in separate schools; and in 1958 the Incorporated Association of Head Masters (representing heads of maintained and direct-grant grammar schools and some public schools) issued The Grammar School: A Reply to the Labour Party's Educational Proposals, which demanded that grammar schools should be retained.

In 1959 CB (Brian) Cox (1928-2008) and AE (Anthony) Dyson (1928-2002), who had first met as undergraduates at Pembroke College Cambridge in 1949, founded the Critical Quarterly 'to advance the view that high standards of lucid English and a wide appreciation of great literature remained powerful elements of the nation's common culture' (Knight 1990:18).

As 'advocates of the traditional school, where children were instructed in real subjects and disciplines by teachers claiming authority' (Knight 1990:18), they were determined that the Critical Quarterly should be at the forefront of right-wing campaigning on education. They organised their first teachers' conference in 1961, and in 1963 they formed the Critical Quarterly Society and held their first conference for sixth-form students. They went on to publish a series of 'Black Papers' on education (see the next chapter) in which they - and other right-wing commentators - bemoaned the behaviour of university students, comprehensivisation, progressive teaching methods, and egalitarianism in general.



For the Conservatives, argues Maurice Kogan, education was 'a component of the Opportunity State'. They focused on those social objectives of education which aimed to produce 'an efficient workforce and a strong social fabric' - hence their 'strong support for the expansion of higher education in the 1960s' (Kogan 1978:21).

The Labour Party, on the other hand, saw education as 'an equalising force' (Kogan 1978:21), though there was at first some confusion between greater opportunity and greater equality. Increasingly, however, the party moved towards a 'strong' version of egalitarianism involving the creation of comprehensive schools. 'They hoped that the schools could heal the divisions of a class-ridden society' (Kogan 1978:21).

The party confirmed its commitment to comprehensive education at its annual conferences in 1952 and 1953 and in a policy document, Challenge to Britain, which was modified after the 1953 conference to include the statement that

Labour will abolish the practice of selection at 11-plus for different types of school because it is convinced that all children would benefit if during the whole of their secondary education they shared the facilities both social and educational of one comprehensive secondary school (quoted in Simon 1991:178).
With impassioned speeches in favour of comprehensive schools from grassroots delegates and party leaders, the 1953 conference marked a turning point for the party:
If it can be argued that earlier resolutions (from 1942) on this issue, though carried unanimously, never gained the full and passionate support of delegates, this could now no longer be said to be the case. The opposition of the Political Quarterly Fabians apparently made no impact on the party as a whole. From 1953 and the acceptance of the new programme, Challenge to Britain, the Labour Party nationally was clearly committed to non-selective schooling as a major plank in its platform. The issue was now firmly on the agenda for action by a Labour government (Simon 1991:179).
Nonetheless, a sizeable minority of Labour Party members remained committed to the grammar schools, and party leaders were 'anxious to play down the suggestion that comprehensive reorganisation entailed one type of school being abolished in order to create another' (Chitty 1989:35). Thus, in a letter to The Times (5 July 1958), Hugh Gaitskell (1906-1963), who had replaced Attlee as leader of the party in December 1955, argued that
It would be nearer the truth to describe our proposals as 'a grammar-school education for all' ... Our aim is greatly to widen the opportunities to receive what is now called a grammar-school education, and we also want to see grammar-school standards in the sense of higher quality education extended far more generally (quoted in Chitty 1989:36).

Around the country, despite the obstructiveness of successive Tory ministers, comprehensivisation was under way. Following the establishment of Kidbrooke School, London opened five more comprehensives in 1955, three of them in new buildings; Birmingham's first comprehensive school - Sheldon Heath - pioneered new forms of social organisation; and Essex began planning for 23 bilateral schools (combining grammar and secondary-modern streams). 'The pressure for structural change within the field of secondary education now sharply increased' (Simon 1991:188).

Writing in Forum (Summer 1959), BF Hobby noted an interesting development in West Bromwich in relation to parental choice:

This is the scheme which has worked most successfully since Churchfields High School was opened in 1956. Parents of children in the last year of junior schools in the Churchfields district are interviewed and asked to choose in principle between selective and non-selective education. The children of parents who prefer the former take the usual tests and are allocated accordingly to grammar, technical or modern schools. Where the parents prefer non-selective education the children do not take the 11 plus examination, but go automatically to the local comprehensive school.

So far, year by year, West Bromwich finds that about 90% choose the comprehensive school (Hobby 1959:91).

In another Forum report (Autumn 1959), this time from Yorkshire, Robin Pedley noted that Bradford planned to build nine comprehensives over a period of twenty years; in Leeds, Foxwood and Allerton Grange had opened in 1956 and 1958, and approval had been received for two more comprehensives - Holbeck and Cross Green - on new housing estates; Sheffield was seeking permission to transform a secondary modern into a comprehensive school; the East Riding had developed its first comprehensive for 900 pupils at Withernsea; Hull's five-year building programme included three new comprehensives; and the North Riding was creating bilateral schools such as that at Easingwold.

Summing up the position, Pedley commented:

Yorkshire as a whole has been slow to react to the challenge of new evidence and events in the field of secondary education; and one of the most curious features of this local apathy is the contrast between the avowed policy of the Labour Party and the inaction of local education authorities which are under Labour control. Labour controls ten of the sixteen LEAs in Yorkshire; but very few of these are as yet showing the kind of initiative in planning a comprehensive system that a Labour Minister will presumably expect if he finds himself in office later this year. His main preoccupation will presumably be with authorities which firmly believe in the tripartite system; he will not expect to have to dragoon those which, nominally at least, are already on his side (Pedley 1959:27).

In Scotland, comprehensivisation was widely supported. Indeed, it had been awaited since 1947, when the Fyfe Report Secondary Education, produced by the Advisory Council on Education in Scotland, had recommended a comprehensive system for all secondary pupils aged 12 to 16 with a common core curriculum and a common leaving exam. This, the Council said, was 'the natural way for a democracy to order the post-primary schooling of a given area' (Fyfe 1947:36).

Glasgow opened its first two purpose-built comprehensives in 1954 and by 1962 Scotland had 22 such schools. Judith Hart, elected MP for Glasgow in 1959, reported that Duncarig school at East Kilbride - designed by Basil Spence - was already severely overcrowded.

Country-wide reorganisation began in 1965 following the publication of Circular 600, the Scottish equivalent of Circular 10/65 (of which more in the next chapter).


In Wales, where there was also widespread support for the comprehensive ideal, local authorities began opening comprehensive and 'bilateral' schools (the latter containing both grammar and secondary-modern streams). Anglesey was completely comprehensive by 1953 and other Welsh counties were 'looking forward to completely bilateral systems' (Jones-Davies 1962:9).

At Newport, where all the schools needed replacing, the decision was made in 1958 to move to a fully comprehensive system by 1960. The Tories opposed this in local elections and lost four seats to Labour. Boyle rejected the full plan, stating that the 'destruction' of a grammar school was inadmissible, but two comprehensives (Duffryn and Hartridge High Schools) were allowed to go ahead.

In 1958, Swansea planned to convert its existing 'multilateral' schools into full comprehensives; Pembrokeshire opened bilateral schools; Carmarthenshire, Breconshire and other authorities in predominantly rural areas established a mixture of comprehensive and bilateral schools (Simon 1991:205).

Glamorgan, a long-standing Labour authority whose earlier proposals had been rejected by Tomlinson, now obtained approval for some comprehensive schools and planned to abolish the eleven-plus in July 1959. Reporting on her visit to the area in the second issue of Forum (Spring 1959), Joan Simon noted that

In the excepted district of the Rhondda ... the absorption of a grammar school into a 10-form entry comprehensive school has, for once, been approved; this at Treorchy, which offers the only large site in the Rhondda Fawr valley (Simon 1959:46).
David Jones-Davies, Director of Education for Anglesey, observed that in a number of bilateral schools children who were 'low down in the selection test list when admitted' later performed well at O Level GCE, 'entering the sixth form, and going on to university and training colleges' (Jones-Davies 1962:9).

He concluded that

the question of the common school is less complicated by political and class considerations in Wales than in the rest of the country; and if political arguments are not deliberately stimulated and the educational situation is allowed to develop under its own impetus, it is likely that Welsh authorities will, during the next decade or so, make quite a considerable contribution to educational thought and experiment in terms of 'one Secondary School for all' (Jones-Davies 1962:11).

Two campaigners

Among the most determined advocates of comprehensive education during the 1950s and 60s were Robin Pedley and Brian Simon. In 1958 they founded - and jointly edited - the campaigning journal Forum.

Robin Pedley

Robin Pedley (1914-1988) (pictured) worked in Leicester University's Department of Education from 1947 until 1963, going on to become Director of the Institute of Education at Exeter University.

In 1954 the Councils and Education Press published Comprehensive Schools Today, containing three articles by Pedley which had recently appeared in the local authority journal Education.

In these articles, Pedley presented a factual description and an interpretation of what he had found in his survey of the fourteen schools in England, Wales and the Isle of Man which then called themselves comprehensive. There was 'abundant evidence', he said, of 'pupils who would have failed to qualify for a grammar school place ... yet who subsequently made remarkable strides and did well in G.C.E. - in some cases at Advanced level' (Pedley 1954:4). There was certainly no question of 'levelling down'.

Comprehensive Schools Today also included four commentaries by leading educationalists and local authority leaders: those by Harold Dent (a long-time opponent of the tripartite system - see chapter 9), Harold Shearman (who later became Chair of the Inner London Education Authority) and WP Alexander (Secretary of the Association of Education Committees) were supportive; Eric James (High Master of Manchester Grammar School) provided An Opposition View.

Two years later, in Comprehensive Education: a New Approach (1956), Pedley set out to show how the change to a comprehensive system could be achieved in practical terms. He noted that there were several different types of comprehensive school (some more comprehensive than others), and that they varied hugely in size - from 230 boys at Windermere to 1,800 girls at Kidbrooke. Birmingham was planning two schools - Great Barr and Sheldon Heath - which would each cater for 2,300 girls and boys (Pedley 1956:110).

The two greatest advantages of comprehensive schools, he argued, were that they removed the need for early selection, and that they encouraged a sense of community: they provided a 'positive influence towards building an integrated society, in which home and school are closely linked through their common roots in the life of the neighbourhood community' (Pedley 1956:116).

He called for the creation of neighbourhood centres and county schools, a review of the stages of schooling and the age ranges of schools, the introduction of a school-leaving certificate, and a new role for county colleges.

But the most urgent task was 'the abolition of selection at 11' (Pedley 1956:195). If this could be achieved, he argued, there would be no need to worry about the public schools:

The wise course must surely be not to abolish or annex the public schools, arousing passions and starting feuds which would offset any possible immediate gain; nor, on the other hand, to come to any arrangement such as the Fleming report proposed ... but to provide a national system of education not merely equal but superior to that of any independent venture. Although this is essential, it cannot be done so long as we cling to a form of organisation which, by combining voluntary advanced education for the minority with compulsory general education for all, renders both far less efficient and productive than they need be (Pedley 1956:133-4).
Pedley's most influential book was The Comprehensive School, first published in 1963 and reprinted many times.

He began by considering the philosophy underpinning comprehensive education, including the notion of equality:

The concept of equality in education, therefore, is in fact entirely opposite to the notion of sameness and uniformity, of turning out all children to one pattern. It is rather the concept of equal worth, that is, all equally deserving and needing such aids to personal growth as we can give.

In gradually replacing birth and wealth by the ability to pass examinations, we are doing no more than replace one rule for the queueing order by another. Our philosophy is still dominated by the belief that life is a race for a few limited prizes. It is fundamentally a philosophy of limitation and restriction. Its doctrines are that the weakest must go to the wall, that the race is always to the swift and the battle to the strong. It is the bitter, cynical conclusion of the materialist (Pedley 1963:25-26).

He went on to outline the history of secondary education in England and regretted that the post-war Labour government had not espoused the comprehensive ideal:
One might have supposed that an avowedly socialist party would look askance at plans for separate types of secondary school which offered courses of different length and scope to children judged superior or inferior in mental ability: schools which were, therefore, likely to vary greatly in social prestige (Pedley 1963:38).
But Labour, he said, was 'not an egalitarian party' and its thinking was 'a generation out of date' (Pedley 1963:38). However, he says,
the Labour Party as a whole has come to a much more enlightened position since 1951. Its policy is now clearly stated. When it resumes office, there is little doubt that reorganization of secondary schools on comprehensive lines will begin to move forward (Pedley 1963:46).
He then surveyed the position in 1962, describing progress towards comprehensivisation in rural areas and in towns and cities. He was particularly complimentary about London's record:
No observer of London's educational scene can fail to be impressed by the size and complexity of the task which faced the county's education committee in 1944 and afterwards, by the zeal with which it has been tackled, and by the degree of success already achieved. Whatever detailed criticisms are made, London's achievement is still a magnificent one. In 1962 there were sixty-eight comprehensive schools, of which forty were in new or substantially new buildings, twenty-eight in old buildings. They provided for nearly two thirds of all the pupils in county secondary schools. Half of London's fifteen-year-olds were deciding to stay at school beyond the minimum leaving age. Since 1958 the Council has been able to guarantee a five-year course to any pupil who desires it. This is a great record by a great administrative service (Pedley 1963:80).
In his chapter on the internal organisation of comprehensive schools, he noted the trend to abandon streaming in primary schools and asked 'if non-streaming works up to the age of eleven, need it be cut short there?' (Pedley 1963:92). He concluded that 'What we need ... is flexibility in our grouping of children and in our teaching of them' (Pedley 1963:94). He gave numerous examples of pupils 'who fail to get to a grammar school at eleven and later make good' (Pedley 1963:100)

He reviewed various forms of comprehensive education; wondered whether there was a case for doing away altogether with the division of schooling into primary and secondary phases; suggested that the grammar schools' future role might be as sixth-form colleges; and argued in favour of comprehensive county colleges for 16- to 18-year-olds.

He called for a university education for all teachers, and training for all graduates who wished to teach:

I have suggested earlier that the comprehensive school should be deeply concerned to help to shape and transmit a communal culture ... whose essentials all members of a liberal, democratic society can recognize and share. This task is impossible so long as our teachers are themselves sharply divided into what are in effect two classes, graduate and non-graduate, with their different backgrounds and correspondingly different social status and public esteem. The ending of this cleavage is one of the major reforms necessary for the effective development of a system of comprehensive education (Pedley 1963:197).
And he ended with a warning:
It is very important that our comprehensive schools shall not content themselves with merely achieving equal opportunity for the competitive success of individual pupils. In the years ahead, now that the folly of eleven-plus segregation is everywhere being recognized, they will be tempted of the devil. They will be shown and offered all the scholastic kingdoms, including Oxford and Cambridge, York and Canterbury. Tempting though such prizes are, they must not be allowed to divert the new schools from their larger purpose: the forging of a communal culture by the pursuit of quality with equality, by the education of their pupils in and for democracy, and by the creation of happy vigorous, local communities in which the school is the focus of social and educational life (Pedley 1963:199-200).
Brian Simon

Brian Simon (1915-2002) (pictured) grew up in Manchester, where his father was head of the family engineering firm and his mother was a member of the city's education committee. As a schoolboy in the early 1930s he was sent to Kurt Hahn's progressive school at Salem, which was already being attacked by the Nazis. Horrified by fascism, he turned to communism while at Trinity College Cambridge.

He was appointed to the Labour Party's newly-formed Education Advisory Committee in 1938. After the war he taught in an elementary school, a secondary modern school, and Salford Grammar School. He joined Pedley as a lecturer in education at Leicester in 1950, becoming a reader in 1964, professor in 1966, and emeritus professor in 1980.

Brian Simon's many books are quoted extensively throughout this history. They include:

  • Intelligence Testing and the Comprehensive School (1953);
  • New Trends in English Education (1957);
  • Half Way There (with Caroline Benn) (1970);
  • Intelligence Psychology & Education: A Marxist Critique (1971);
  • Bending the Rules: the Baker 'reform' of education (1988);
  • The State and Educational Change (1994)
and his major series Studies in the History of Education:
  • The Two Nations & the Educational Structure 1780-1870 (first published under a different title in 1960),
  • Education and the Labour Movement 1870-1920 (1965);
  • The Politics of Educational Reform 1920-40 (1974); and
  • Education and the Social Order 1940-1990 (1991).

The position in 1960

By the start of the 1960s, there were three million pupils in maintained secondary schools in England and Wales as a whole. Just a quarter of a million - about 8 per cent of the total - were in non-selective schools. The only local authorities which had completely comprehensive systems were Anglesey and the Isle of Man; London had 58 comprehensive schools, taking 53.4 per cent of its secondary pupils; and a further twenty authorities each had a handful of comprehensive schools.

In an article for Forum, Pedley summarised the position as revealed by Ministry of Education figures relating to January 1961. They showed that there were

only 106 secondary schools in England which are officially regarded as comprehensive ... together with 32 comprehensive schools in Wales. Of the 106 in England, more than half (58) are in London; 27 are scattered among twelve counties, and 21 among ten county boroughs.

These 106 comprehensive secondary schools are a very small part of the total provision of 5,400 maintained secondary schools in England. Only 23 local education authorities, out of 129, are represented (Pedley 1962:4).


Despite its commitment to comprehensive education, London still had grammar schools which, said Pedley, were 'creaming the intake of the nominally comprehensive schools of a considerable proportion of their most able pupils' (Pedley 1962:5). He also criticised the building of new single-sex schools in London: segregation of the sexes, he argued, was 'no more defensible than segregation for reasons of class or intellectual ability' (Pedley 1962:5).

These mistakes, however, did not 'seriously detract ... from the splendour of its [London's] achievement' (Pedley 1962:5).


The London School Plan of 1947 had made provision for a purpose-built, coeducational comprehensive school in Islington for up to 2,000 pupils.

Risinghill School, opened on 3 May 1960 under its charismatic head, Michael Duane (1915-1997), was an amalgamation of two secondary modern schools (Ritchie Girls School and Gifford Mixed School) and two technical schools (Northampton Technical School for Boys and Bloomsbury Technical School for Girls).

The school's progressive educational methods became the subject of acrimonious disputes with London County Council and HMI and led ultimately to its closure, against the wishes of staff, pupils and parents, just five years later, in 1965.

The controversy continued, however, with the publication in 1968 - after two years of legal wrangling - of Risinghill: Death of a Comprehensive School by the author and children's rights campaigner Leila Berg (1917-2012).

Fifty years on, in 2019, the Risinghill Research Group, including former pupils Isabel Sheridan and Philip Lord, published two books: Risinghill Revisited: The Killing of a Comprehensive School and Risinghill Revisited: The Waste Clay.


Meanwhile, another pioneering authority - Leicestershire - was developing its own comprehensive system, involving junior high schools for all 11- to 14-year-olds. Pupils then either stayed in these schools until the leaving age or transferred to a senior grammar school, according to their parents' wishes. The Leicestershire Experiment, published in 1957 and based on some of Robin Pedley's ideas, attracted attention 'as a relatively simple way of adapting existing schools to a new comprehensive pattern' (Lawson and Silver 1973:438).

It was decided - by Lord Hailsham, now the Minister - that Leicestershire's reorganisation could go ahead without the need for Ministry approval or disapproval, on the basis that no existing schools were being closed.

Leicestershire's Director of Education, Stewart C Mason (1906-1983), explained the county's scheme in The Leicestershire Experiment and Plan, published in 1964. There were now, he wrote,

three links in a continuous chain of education - Primary School, High School, Grammar School ... boys and girls move naturally on from one to the next. At no point is the next step forward dependent on an examination (Mason 1964:15).
Turning point

Brian Simon describes 1963 as 'the crucial moment of change' (Simon 1991:271). The education committees in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Bradford passed motions confirming their determination to go ahead with comprehensivisation by September 1965. Liverpool's resolution declared:

believing that comprehensive schools afford the greatest possible opportunities to boys and girls of all degrees of ability, affirms that it is its intention that a comprehensive system of secondary education shall be established in Liverpool, and that the county secondary schools shall be reorganised accordingly at the earliest possible date, and as a consequence the 11-plus shall be abolished, and instruct the secondary education sub-committee, as a matter of urgency, to prepare a scheme directed towards these ends after consultation with the teachers (quoted in Simon 1991:272).
Lancashire Education Committee - responsible for 29 districts with a total population of over 2.2m - followed suit in 1964, the Chief Education Officer for the county describing the 11-plus as an 'archaic monstrosity' (quoted in Simon 1991:273); while the West Riding of Yorkshire was planning a comprehensive system involving middle schools for 9- to 13-year-olds.

Edward Boyle, who had become Minister in July 1962, 'reacted warily but sympathetically' (Simon 1991:274). He recognised the strength of the reform movement and was 'increasingly sympathetic to its objectives' (Simon 1991:274). At the Conservative Party's conferences in 1962 and 1963 he sought to persuade delegates to accept change; and he told the 1963 annual conference of the Association of Education Committees that he believed the time had come to abandon the idea of the bipartite system as the norm, and that in future any proposals under Section 13 of the 1944 Act submitted for approval would be considered 'strictly on educational grounds' (quoted in Simon 1991:274).

He then persuaded Prime Minister Douglas Home to find parliamentary time for a bill - already in preparation - to make the establishment of middle schools (of which more below) legally possible. It was his last act as Minister: he later told Maurice Kogan: 'I suppose you might call the 1964 Act my parting gift to the ministry' (Kogan 1971:78).

Meanwhile, delegates at Labour's 1963 annual conference reaffirmed the party's commitment to comprehensive reorganisation. But, as Brian Simon points out:

Commitment of the party by conference decision, however, did not necessarily mean full commitment to such a reform by a future Labour government. This had already been evident, precisely in this sphere, during the 1945-51 Labour government's terms of office ... This difference in intentions, between party and government, was to dog the whole comprehensive movement in the years ahead (Simon 1991:275).
Nonetheless, the conference decision was taken to mean that when Labour returned to power - which was looking increasingly likely - it would pursue comprehensive reform.

Support for reform was provided by two reports - Newsom and Robbins (of which more below), both published in 1963. In his Foreword to the Newsom Report, Boyle wrote

I agree with the Council that there is above all a need for new modes of thought; and a change of heart, on the part of the community as a whole. ...

The essential point is that all children should have an equal opportunity of acquiring intelligence, and of developing their talents and abilities to the full (Newsom 1963:iv).

Those two words - 'acquiring intelligence' - were of immense significance: they acknowledged that the whole basis of eleven-plus testing - the notion of fixed or innate intelligence - was now officially discredited.

Four reports

Three major reports (Gurney-Dixon, Crowther and Newsom) gave added weight to the growing concern that the country's divided system was failing many of the nation's children, while a fourth (Beloe) exacerbated the divisions.

Gurney-Dixon Report (1954)

In April 1952 Sir Samuel Gurney-Dixon (1878-1970) was appointed one of the first two pro-Chancellors of the new University of Southampton, which had previously been Hartley University College. Later that year, he was asked by Minister of Education Florence Horsburgh to chair the Central Advisory Council for Education:

To consider what factors influence the age at which boys and girls leave secondary schools which provide courses beyond the minimum school-leaving age; to what extent it is desirable to increase the proportion of those who remain at school, in particular the proportion of those who remain at school roughly to the age of 18; and what steps should be taken to secure such an increase (Gurney-Dixon 1954:1).
The twenty members of the Council submitted their report,
Early Leaving, to Horsburgh in August 1954, but before it was published (in November) she was replaced by David Eccles.

In his Foreword to the report, Eccles was less than wholeheartedly supportive of its recommendations. He noted that it 'comes down in favour of putting a higher proportion of our most gifted children into grammar schools' (Gurney-Dixon 1954:v) and he commented:

Certainly there are areas where the grammar school provision is too low, and the ablest children are not getting a proper chance. But I am not so sure that there should be an all-round increase in the proportion of grammar school places (Gurney-Dixon 1954:v).

Early Leaving demonstrated the relationship between 'previous experience' and the distribution of educational opportunity. It showed that

The number of children from unskilled workers' families who might have been found in our grammar school sample if the proportion were the same as in the population as a whole is about 927; the actual number was 436. This suggests that some 5,000 children from unskilled workers' homes who might have been expected, if the yield from unskilled workers' homes were the same from other homes, to enter grammar schools in England in 1946 did not qualify for admission (Gurney-Dixon 1954:34).
The Council commented that 'it is probable that many economic, social and perhaps biological factors have escaped us' (Gurney-Dixon 1954:35).

Gurney-Dixon recommended that:

  • family allowances should be paid in respect of children of any age who are still at school;
  • the number of grammar school places should be increased;
  • the selection process should allow for a small number of grammar school places to be filled by alternative methods;
  • there should be more opportunities for transferring from modern to grammar schools;
  • local education authorities should offer boarding facilities where 'talent would otherwise be wasted for reasons of home background';
  • there should be immediate increases in maintenance allowances;
  • LEAs and schools should periodically review the circumstances in which pupils leave school early for financial reasons and adjust their schemes of aid accordingly;
  • sixth form courses should be expanded, with more science facilities for girls;
  • employers, trade unions and professional bodies should review their policies in respect of young workers and apprentices;
  • further research should be undertaken into the effect of home background on a child's education; and
  • a statistical assessment of the cost of maintaining children should be made for the assistance of local education authorities.

Crowther Report (1959)

In March 1956 the Minister of Education, David Eccles, asked the Central Advisory Council

to consider, in relation to the changing social and industrial needs of our society, and the needs of its individual citizens, the education of boys and girls between 15 and 18, and in particular to consider the balance at various levels of general and specialised studies between these ages and to examine the inter-relationship of the various stages of education (Crowther 1959:xxvii).
The Council was chaired by Sir Geoffrey Crowther (1907-1972), who had held various governmental posts and was editor of The Economist from 1938 to 1956. Among the 43 members were Alec Clegg (1909-1986), Chief Education Officer of the West Riding; MH Cadbury, Director of Cadbury's chocolate; Eric James (Lord James of Rusholme) (1909-1992), High Master of Manchester Grammar School; and BWM Young, Head Master of Charterhouse School.

Whereas the Council's previous report Early Leaving had asked mainly sociological questions, 15 to 18 was 'the first to look for systematic sociological answers' (Lawson and Silver 1973:426).

Crowther was not directly concerned with the problems of selection for secondary education: its main recommendations were the raising of the school leaving age to sixteen and implementation of the agreed policy on county colleges. However, it contained, as the educational sociologist Jean Floud (1915-2013) pointed out, 'the most up-to-date account available of the social distribution of educational opportunity for boys in Britain, and a valuable analysis of some of the major social influences of educability' (Floud 1961:66).

Crowther recommended that:

  • extended courses should be made available for all modern school pupils: local authorities should aim at providing such courses for half of 15 year olds by 1965 and, wherever possible, these extended courses should be in the schools that the pupils have attended since they were 11;
  • attention to the needs of the minority of abler pupils should not be allowed to lead to neglect of the interests of the many boys and girls for whom preparation for external exams would be inappropriate;
  • all pupils who had the ability to attempt some subjects at GCE Ordinary level should have the opportunity to do so, and about a third of pupils in modern schools should be given the chance to take external examinations below the level of the GCE, developed on a regional or local basis;
  • school assessment should be given greater weight and a new system of leaving certificates should be developed;
  • teachers who worked with below-average pupils should receive a fair share of responsibility allowances;
  • authorities and governing bodies should not judge their modern schools by public examination results;
  • in districts where sparse population limits the size of schools, staff must be provided on a more generous scale than normal;
  • the raising of the school leaving age to 16, and the creation of county colleges for compulsory part-time day education to 18 should be re-affirmed as objectives of national policy;
  • the curriculum of the sixth form - and the years leading up to it - needed revision so that it could better cater for the increasing numbers of pupils who would stay on at school after 16;
  • more needed to be done to attract men and women of the highest intellectual calibre into sixth form teaching;
  • there should be more places in higher education, selection methods should be reviewed, and members of university staffs should spend more time getting to know the schools;
  • there should be a greater degree of integration between schools and further education;
  • the long-term aim for vocational training should be to create a coherent national system of practical education;
  • there should be more secondary technical schools; and
  • many more teachers would be needed if these recommendations were to be implemented.
In presenting the report to the House of Commons, Eccles said:
the analysis made by the Crowther Council is thorough and without sentimentality or favour, the presentation is vigorous and logical, the cost is counted of the programme proposed, and that programme would stretch our education service to the full (Hansard House of Commons 21 March 1960 Vol 620 Col 40).
He rejoiced that the report had 'aroused such great interest and well-deserved praise', and said that the government agreed in principle with the report's recommendation that the school leaving age should be raised to 16 as a matter of urgency. But he went on:
It is one thing for the Government to stand by this reform in principle. It is another to commit the next Parliament, here and now, to a definite date for carrying it out. I know what the enthusiasts for education will say - and long may they flourish, because no Minister can get on without them. They will say, 'For fifteen years we have had on the Statute Book a school-leaving age of 16. How much longer have we got to wait? Why does not the Government have faith and take the plunge now?'

I would salute the courage behind such a call, but I must ask the House to consider whether fixing a date seven or eight years hence would be the best way to reach this desired objective. I think that we owe it to the parents and to the children, to the teachers and to the local authorities, to bring our schools, primary as well as secondary, to a point much nearer complete readiness for the reform before the actual date is decided (Hansard House of Commons 21 March 1960 Vol 620 Col 43).

Beloe Report (1960)

The educational apartheid between grammar and secondary modern schools was further exacerbated in 1960, when the Beloe Report recommended that there should be a new exam system for pupils considered incapable of coping with the demands of the GCE, which had been introduced in 1951 to cater for the top twenty per cent of the ability range.

The report, Secondary School Examinations other than the GCE, was produced by an eight-member committee of the Secondary School Examinations Council (SSEC), appointed in July 1958 and chaired by Robert Beloe, Surrey's Chief Education Officer from 1940 to 1959. It was published in July 1960 by Minister of Education David Eccles at the suggestion of the SSEC.

It recommended that the new exam should cater for the twenty per cent of pupils below the GCE cohort:

The examinations should be designed to suit candidates of a reasonably high competence and ability at a level somewhat below that of GCE O level; and it should be clearly recognised that there is a level of ability below which it would be unprofitable as a rule to attempt to examine. Even within the ability group we have in mind there may be marked divergences; and for this reason we shall propose examinations with credit as well as pass standards (Beloe 1960:31).
A key element in Beloe's proposals was that 'The teachers in the schools using the examinations must have a major role in operating them and shaping their policy' (Beloe 1960:31).

As a result of Beloe's recommendations, the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) was introduced in 1965. It offered schools three different 'modes' of examining:

  • an examination based on a syllabus prepared by the subject panel of the regional board;
  • an external examination based on a school's own syllabus; or
  • an internal examination (externally moderated) based on a school's own syllabus (Lawson and Silver 1973:443).
While mode three gave the teachers greatest control over the examination, they had a new role to play in all three: serving teachers controlled the fourteen regional boards, their examination committees and subject panels.

There were calls for this type of examining to be extended - and even for the abolition of the GCE. The Times Educational Supplement, however, argued that:

The whole tradition of the grammar school is towards a formal examination, academic in content and arranged on established lines. This is in keeping with the functions of the grammar school ... the grammar schools have no great reputation for reform. They are essentially conservative institutions ... We need therefore to reaffirm at this time that the Certificate of Secondary Education is meant essentially for the secondary modern schools and is to be planned for them alone (The Times Educational Supplement 19 July 1963 quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:444).

Newsom Report (1963)

In March 1961 David Eccles asked the Central Advisory Council

To consider the education between the ages of 13 and 16 of pupils of average or less than average ability who are or will be following full-time courses either at schools or in establishments of further education. The term education shall be understood to include extra-curricular activities (Newsom 1963:xv).
For this report, the Council was chaired by John Newsom (1910-1971), Managing Director of the publishing firm Longmans Green & Co and formerly Hertfordshire's County Education Officer. Among its 27 members were Alec Clegg and Dame Mary Green (1913-2004), headmistress of London's Kidbrooke School, along with representatives of industry and the unions.

Eccles was replaced as Minister of Education by Edward Boyle in July 1962, so it was he who received the Council's report, Half Our Future, in August 1963.

Recent investigations, said the report,

increasingly indicate that the kind of intelligence which is measured by the tests so far applied is largely an acquired characteristic. This is not to deny the existence of a basic genetic endowment; but whereas that endowment, so far, has proved impossible to isolate, other factors can be identified. Particularly significant among them are the influences of social and physical environment; and, since these are susceptible to modification, they may well prove educationally more important (Newsom 1963:6).
It went on:
There is very little doubt that among our children there are reserves of ability which can be tapped, if the country wills the means (Newsom 1963:6).
And it argued that
The discovery of unexpected reserves of talent among the abler pupils in the modern schools, which has been a very notable feature of those schools in recent years, would lead us to believe that a much higher proportion of school leavers than at present do so could undertake skilled work were the opportunities for apprenticeship or training available (Newsom 1963:34).
A central message of the Newsom report was that children of average or less than average ability had largely missed out on the progress which had been made since the end of the war. Although Churchill had cut spending on education in 1951, in the ensuing years the Tories had accepted the notion that increased investment in education led to national economic growth, and public expenditure on education had risen from 3 per cent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in 1953-4 to 4.3 per cent in 1964-5. As a result, there had been huge improvements in educational provision: 1,800 new secondary schools had been built in England and Wales; there was more variety in the curriculum; equipment and materials had improved; and there were more out-of-school activities.

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

The committee voiced 'humane and principled arguments for the extension of educational opportunity' (Lawson and Silver 1973:433). It was well aware that its recommendations would involve greater expenditure, but it argued that this would be in the national economic interest: 'We cannot afford to go on waiting' (Newsom 1963:7).

Newsom recommended that:

  • the school leaving age should be raised to sixteen for all pupils entering the secondary schools from September 1965 (the school leaving age was raised to 16 in 1973 - two years later than Newsom recommended);
  • teaching techniques to help pupils whose abilities were artificially depressed by environmental and linguistic handicaps should be researched;
  • a working party should be set up to deal with the general social problems, including education, in slum areas;
  • all schools should provide a range of courses, with attention paid to the arts and to the personal and social development of the pupils;
  • excessive use of ability grouping should be avoided, and efforts should be made to emphasise the status of older pupils;
  • extension of the school day should be encouraged;
  • the Ministry and local education authorities should jointly consider the provision of some residential experience for all pupils;
  • local education authorities should review the relevance of their Agreed Syllabuses for religious instruction for older pupils;
  • sex education was essential for adolescents;
  • the school programme in the final year ought to be an initiation into the adult world of work and leisure;
  • links with the youth employment service, further education, the youth service and adult organisations needed strengthening;
  • all sixteen-year-old leavers should receive some form of internal leaving certificate, whether or not they took external examinations;
  • schools should resist external pressures to extend public examinations to pupils for whom they were inappropriate;
  • no pupils should be entered for any external examination before the fifth year (now year 10);
  • the Ministry and local education authorities should begin an experimental building programme, and action should be accelerated to remedy the existing functional deficiencies of schools;
  • provision for all practical subjects should be reappraised and extended workshop and technical facilities provided;
  • all secondary schools should be adequately provided with modern audio-visual aids including television;
  • student teachers should, where possible, receive training of the 'concurrent' type (combining personal higher education with pedagogical studies);
  • training colleges should be staffed and equipped to enable students to teach one main subject and at least one other subject; and
  • graduates should receive teacher training.

Middle schools

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


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

Following the introduction of the tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools in 1945, many relatively small schools had been built. This was to prove a problem when comprehensivisation began to take hold in the late 1950s and early 60s, because many of these schools were too small to become comprehensives. The Ministry, however, insisted that those buildings which were in good condition must continue to be used.

Some LEAs solved the problem by creating split-site schools. Others chose to divide their secondary schools on the basis of age - the most notable example being Leicestershire, which created 11-14 and 14-18 schools. Two main concerns were expressed about this arrangement: the 11-14 'junior high schools' were thought to be too small and would have difficulty attracting well-qualified staff; the 14-18 'upper schools' would have insufficient time to prepare students for examinations.

Sir Alec Clegg

To avoid these problems, Sir Alec Clegg (pictured), Chief Education Officer of the West Riding of Yorkshire, proposed in 1963 that, rather than being organised in two tiers - primary and secondary - schools should be organised in three tiers, with age ranges 5-9 (lower or first schools), 9-13 (middle schools) and 13-18 (upper schools).

For the upper schools, this scheme had two advantages: it removed the bottom two year groups of the traditional secondary school, making the schools more manageable in size; but it allowed them sufficient time to prepare pupils for exams at 16.

His proposal required a change in the law and he set about trying to persuade Minister of Education Edward Boyle of the need for such a change.

1964 Education Act

Boyle agreed, and shortly before the 1964 general election he gave the Ministry what he called his 'parting gift' - the 1964 Education Act (31 July), which permitted transfer at ages other than 11 and granted limited experimental status to the middle school. (Although Boyle was responsible for the formulation of the bill, he resigned on 1 April 1964 when the Ministry was reorganised as the Department of Education and Science (DES) and Quintin Hogg became the first Secretary of State for Education and Science. So it was Hogg who saw the bill through Parliament.)

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

Educational justification

Middle schools, then, were created largely for organisational and financial reasons. But educational arguments for them were also put forward. It was felt that they would 'extend the best practices of primary education' and would provide better support for pupils 'during a critical transitional stage of their personal development and educational career' (Hargreaves and Tickle 1980:3).

Clegg summed up his vision of the middle school thus:

Middle schools as we envisage them in the West Riding are a new departure. It would be unfortunate if they came to be regarded simply as the last two years of what we now know as primary education joined to the first two years of the secondary school. The main educational justification for this kind of school is a belief, shared by many primary and secondary school teachers, that there is a similarity in the kinds of interests and needs and ways of learning of children within this age group which could be better catered for if they could be brought into the same school, where forms of organisation and ways of working might be developed which would enable these needs to be satisfied more effectively than is at present possible in a system which has a break of school at about the age of eleven (Clegg 1967:2-3 quoted in Crook 2008:121).
The first middle schools opened in 1968: by 1980 there were more than 1400 of them.

(For more on middle schools see chapters 12, 15, 16 and 17 of this history and the website of the National Middle Schools Forum.)

The teachers

Teacher training

The rising birth rate in the 1950s forced the government to increase provision for student teachers: a crash programme of expansion was introduced in 1959, when the colleges were 'suddenly told to expand by 50 per cent' (Simon 1991:202). The number of students increased from 33,000 in 1957-58 to 55,000 in 1962-63 (Simon 1991:202).

There were important changes in the 1960s: the teacher-training course was extended from two years to three in 1960; the number of single-sex colleges of education declined; efforts were made to encourage married women to return to teaching; and the four-year Bachelor of Education (BEd) course, proposed by the 1963 Robbins Report (of which more below), was introduced in 1965.

The Schools Council

Before the 1960s the curriculum was seen - both popularly and officially - as the specific responsibility of the teachers, not of the local authorities and certainly not of central government. This was one aspect of the 'tradition of partnership' which Lester Smith described as 'the outstanding feature of our educational administration' (Lester Smith 1966:139).

However, in the Commons debate on the Crowther Report in March 1960, David Eccles said he regretted that 'so many of our education debates have had to be devoted almost entirely to bricks and mortar and to the organisation of the system'. He went on:

We hardly ever discuss what is taught to the 7 million boys and girls in the maintained schools. We treat the curriculum as though it were a subject, like the other place [the House of Lords], about which it is 'not done' for us to make remarks. I should like the House to say that this reticence has been overdone. Of course, Parliament would never attempt to dictate the curriculum, but, from time to time, we could with advantage express views on what is taught in schools and in training colleges.

As for the Ministry of Education itself, my Department has the unique advantage of the countrywide experience of Her Majesty's inspectors. Nowhere in the Kingdom is there such a rich source of information or such a constant exchange of ideas on all that goes on in the schools. I shall, therefore, try in the future to make the Ministry's own voice heard rather more often, more positively, and, no doubt, sometimes more controversially.

For this purpose we shall need to undertake inside the Department more educational research and to strengthen our statistical services. Crowther, in paragraph 697 of the Report, prodded us to do this and action is now in hand. In the meantime, the section in the Report on the sixth form is an irresistible invitation for a sally into the secret garden of the curriculum (Hansard House of Commons, 21 March 1960 Vol 420 Cols 51-52).

Disagreements within the Ministry prevented action for two years, but in February 1962 it was announced that a Curriculum Study Group had been formed, comprising a small group of officials and HMIs and one professor of education - Jack Wrigley. Its creation - in secret and with no consultation - immediately caused dissent.

Concerned for the survival of the partnership model, both WP Alexander (representing the local authorities) and Ronald Gould (1904-1986) (General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers) were 'totally determined to defend their constituents and what they saw as their rights' (Simon 1991:312). Alexander saw the Study Group as an attempt to alter existing power relationships; Gould objected to the Ministry involving itself in an area which was recognised as the teachers' professional concern. The result was stalemate.

In July 1963 Edward Boyle appointed a working party, chaired by Sir John Lockwood, to find a solution to the problem. A year later, the Lockwood Report recommended the establishment of the 'Schools Council for the Curriculum and Examinations', to disseminate ideas about curricular reform in England and Wales and to take over the functions of the Secondary School Examinations Council.

The Schools Council, as it became known, was established on 1 October 1964.

Industrial relations

The growth of 'the affluent society' caused some concern for teachers (and other professionals) as their salaries increased more slowly than manual workers' wages. A 'prolonged series of salary negotiations and struggles' in the mid-1950s marked the start of 'a new level of teachers' militancy' (Lawson and Silver 1973:427).

Special educational needs

Note: Much of the information in this section is taken from chapter 2 (pages 22-32) of the 1978 Warnock Report Special Educational Needs, which itself was largely based on DG Pritchard's 1963 book Education and the Handicapped 1760-1960.

Post-war progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The British Nationality Act of 1948 had given Commonwealth citizens recognition as British subjects, entitled to work and live in Britain. Immigration from these countries had been encouraged and the children of the new immigrants were now passing through the schools. The question which had to be answered was: should they be assimilated into the 'host' society and lose their own language and culture, or should they be integrated but retain their distinctiveness?

Until the mid 1960s central government had no policy on the education of immigrant children. The main concerns were to teach English to non-English speakers and to disperse immigrant pupils, partly to prevent individual schools having to cope with large numbers of them and partly to facilitate their assimilation into British society.

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

Further developments

NACTST Report (1954)

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

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

Underwood Report (1955)

Though provision for maladjusted pupils had expanded and improved, it was still seen as being 'relatively undeveloped' (Warnock 1978:24).

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

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

1959 Mental Health Act

Increasing concern about the exclusion of many mentally handicapped children from school was addressed by the 1959 Mental Health Act (29 July). Criticism of the system continued to grow, however, partly because the concept of special education was 'broadening to encompass needs hitherto regarded as beyond its reach' (Warnock 1978:28).

1962 Health Visiting and Social Work (Training) Act

The 1956 Jameson Report An Inquiry into Health Visiting and the 1959 Younghusband Report on Social Workers in the Local Authority Health and Welfare Services recommended the creation of a national scheme for the training of health visitors and social workers. This was enacted in the 1962 Health Visiting and Social Work (Training) Act (3 July) (see Warnock 1978:25-26).

Further and higher education

Science and technology

The launching of the Soviet Sputnik in 1957

seemed dramatically to underline how far science and its application had gone in the Soviet Union. By this time there was a growing (if tardy) realisation that action was urgently necessary (Simon 1991:190).
It was now clear that the Percy (1945) and Barlow (1946) Reports (see the previous chapter) had underestimated the country's need for scientists and technologists. In 1956 the Scientific Manpower Committee recommended doubling the output of scientists and technologists from universities and technical colleges from 10,000 in 1955 to 20,000 by the late 1960s. The government acted on this advice, and the number of full-time students in both pure and applied science rose from 28,000 in 1954-55 to 40,000 in 1959-60.

A Diploma in Technology - intended to be equivalent to a degree - was introduced in 1955 and overseen by the National Council for Technological Awards. It was this area which saw the greatest expansion, with the number of full-time students more than doubling from 13,000 in 1957-58 to 31,000 in 1962-63 (Simon 1991:202).

The 1956 White Paper Technical Education painted a gloomy picture of the state of technical education and proposed the concentration of advanced technological courses in a number of 'Colleges of Advanced Technology'.

Ten such colleges, with advanced-level courses including post-graduate work and research, were designated, but at first they suffered staffing problems, partly because of their relatively low status as local authority institutions, and partly because lecturers' salaries were linked to those of teachers. In 1961 the Ministry of Education and the local authorities agreed that the colleges would be funded directly by government grants, and in 1966 they were upgraded to university status, as recommended by Robbins, after which they were funded through the University Grants Committee (UGC).

The 1956 White Paper was also keen to stress the importance of a liberal education: 'We cannot afford either to fall behind in technical accomplishments or to neglect spiritual and human values' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:430); and from then on there was a 'rapid expansion of liberal studies departments in the colleges, and the broadening of courses to include such studies' (Lawson and Silver 1973:430).

Expansion of higher education

The 1950s saw 'important beginnings to the process of university change and expansion' (Lawson and Silver 1973:430). Between 1945 and the end of the 1950s the number of university students in Great Britain doubled to over 100,000. The 1959 Crowther Report, however, noted that the number of pupils staying on at school and qualifying for university entrance was increasing at a faster rate than the number of available places:

The disparity between the increase in the size of the field and the number of available places is so great that an intensification of the fierceness of the competition to get into the universities seems virtually certain (Crowther 1959:287).
It went on:
The hard fact remains that the competition to get into the universities - which is what chiefly affects the schools - is going to get more severe, and perhaps much more severe, than it is today, when it is already having a serious effect (Crowther 1959:295).
Crowther's argument was very influential, partly because the main beneficiaries of university expansion - the middle classes - carried 'a good deal of political weight' (Simon 1991:201), and it was at this point that the expansion of higher education began in earnest.

In just six years, the eight 'plate-glass universities' (a term coined by the barrister Michael Beloff) were established:

  • Sussex (1961)
  • East Anglia (1963)
  • York (1963)
  • Essex (1964)
  • Lancaster (1964)
  • Kent (1965)
  • Warwick (1965)
  • Aston (1966).
In addition, all the university colleges (other than those of the University of London) achieved independent university status; Newcastle became an independent university in 1963 by Act of Parliament; and Royal Charters were granted to Keele (1962) and Strathclyde (1964).

The new universities offered innovative and often unconventional courses of study, a policy supported by the UGC. As a result, Oxford and Cambridge - and the older provincial universities - now faced competition from 'the new architecture, the new styles of life, the innovatory atmosphere and the rapidly established academic reputations of some of the new universities' (Lawson and Silver 1973:434).

In the summer of 1959 the UGC recommended a target of 175,000 students by the late 1960s: in fact, the number of students in full-time higher education in Great Britain as a whole increased rapidly from 148,000 in 1957-58 to 217,000 in 1962-63 (Simon 1991:203).

The proportion of working-class students, however, had remained unaltered - at around 25 per cent - since the 1920s. An analysis by the Robbins Committee (of which more below) showed that in 1962, 45 per cent of those from higher professional families entered full-time higher education; 10 per cent of those whose fathers were in clerical jobs; 4 per cent of children of skilled workers, and only 2 per cent of children of semi-skilled or unskilled workers - who comprised 22 per cent of the total population (Robbins 1963:50).

Social class was not the only factor, as data gathered for Robbins showed: inequalities were also due to differences in gender and in geographical location. Where these three factors reinforced each other, the differences became enormous, as Brian Simon pointed out:

These figures quantify the extent of differences in opportunity at their extremest points; they show that the Cardiganshire middle class boy has roughly 160 times as much chance of reaching full-time higher education than the West Ham working-class girl; and this when the country has, in a formal sense, committed itself to a policy of equality of opportunity (Simon 1971:166).
1962 Education Act (29 March) required local authorities to provide grants for living costs and tuition fees to students resident in their area for full-time first-degree courses, for teacher training, and for courses leading to the Diploma in Higher Education (Dip HE) and the Higher National Diploma (HND). These mandatory local authority maintenance grants were sufficient to support students away from home if necessary. Over 25s could receive a higher rate of grant, as could under 25s who had been employed or had lived away from home for a substantial period.

Labour's higher education study group

In March 1962, Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell appointed a study group to consider higher education. Chaired by Lord Taylor, its members included Anthony Crosland, John Vaizey and other Labour educationists and MPs.

Gaitskell died in January 1963 so it was his successor, Harold Wilson, who launched The Years of Crisis: Report of the Labour Party's Study Group on Higher Education in the summer of 1963. Higher education, declared Wilson, was

facing a crisis of unprecedented severity, and, if disaster is to be averted, vigorous action will be essential the moment a Labour government is returned to power (quoted in Simon 1991:229).
The report argued that the process of expansion needed to go much further: within twenty years, it said, England and Wales would need about seventy universities, Scotland ten. It also recommended experimenting with a 'University of the Air' which later became the Open University.

The Years of Crisis was published a few weeks before the party's annual conference in Scarborough, at which a policy statement Labour and the Scientific Revolution was unanimously approved. Opening the debate, Wilson famously spoke of 'the Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution'.

Three weeks later, the Robbins Report was published.

Robbins Report (1963)

During the 1950s the number of pupils staying on at school until the age of seventeen almost doubled - from around 24,000 to 46,000 - and it was partly because of this, and Crowther's warning about the increasing competition for university places, that in February 1961 Conservative Prime Minister Harold MacMillan announced his intention to appoint a committee chaired by Lord Robbins:

to review the pattern of full-time higher education in Great Britain and in the light of national needs and resources to advise Her Majesty's Government on what principles its long-term development should be based. In particular, to advise, in the light of these principles, whether there should be any changes in that pattern, whether any new types of institution are desirable and whether any modifications should be made in the present arrangements for planning and co-ordinating the development of the various types of institution (Robbins 1963:iii).
Lord (Lionel) Robbins (1898-1984) was head of the economics department at the London School of Economics, where a building named after him was opened in 1978. He was an advocate of government support for the arts, as well as for universities.

The eleven other members of his committee included six from the university world; Harold Shearman, chair of London County Council's education committee and a staunch supporter of comprehensive schools; and two teacher representatives who were both from public schools. There were no representatives from state schools, nor from the technical colleges.

The committee held 111 meetings and received over 400 written submissions of evidence from individuals or organisations. They visited universities and colleges in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, and made longer visits to the United States and the Soviet Union. Their report, Higher Education, was published in October 1963.

The psychologist Philip Vernon was asked to submit evidence on the distribution of intelligence; the sociologist Jean Floud on the issue of wastage of ability and its sociological determinants.

In his memorandum, Vernon contested the widely-held view that there was a fixed distribution or 'pool' of intelligence. He wrote:

I wish to state categorically that this reasoning is unsound, and that no calculations of the numbers of eligible students can be based on tests of intelligence or other aptitudes (quoted in Simon 1991:234-5).
Jean Floud was equally outspoken. The notion of 'intelligence' as a factor determining future attainment, she said, was 'scientifically virtually valueless' (quoted in Simon 1991:234-5).

The committee accepted their advice and argued that

there is no risk that within the next twenty years the growth in the proportion of young people with qualifications and aptitudes suitable for entry to higher education will be restrained by a shortage of potential ability (Robbins 1963:54).
Critics, however, claimed that the committee's proposals would result in the lowering of university standards. Lord Robbins denied this, telling the House of Lords that while 45 per cent of children from higher professional families were entering higher education, only 4 per cent did so from skilled manual families. His report, he insisted, showed inescapably that 'the reserves of untapped ability are extensive' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:433).

In Great Britain as a whole, said the report, the number of places in higher education (including the universities, training colleges and advanced courses in further education colleges) would need to rise from 216,000 in 1962 to more than 390,000 in 1973 and nearly 560,000 in 1980 (Robbins 1963:277).

Robbins made 178 recommendations, including:

  • schools, local authorities and universities needed to cooperate to ensure much wider access to higher education;
  • first degree courses in England should be reviewed to avoid overloading and should offer a broader education;
  • postgraduate work should normally include an element of systematic teaching;
  • the three-year course for trainee teachers should continue, but four-year courses leading to a BEd degree should be provided for suitable students;
  • teacher-training colleges should be renamed Colleges of Education;
  • the volume of postgraduate work in science and technology should be considerably increased;
  • Colleges of Advanced Technology should be designated as technological universities, with power to award both first and higher degrees;
  • the National Council for Technological Awards should be replaced by a Council for National Academic Awards, covering the whole of Great Britain;
  • in future, detailed planning for higher education should be made for a period extending ten years ahead;
  • universities should provide about 350,000 of the total of 560,000 places needed in 1980/1;
  • six new universities should be established at once, at least one of them in Scotland;
  • adult education should be encouraged;
  • student/staff ratios in higher education as a whole should not be allowed to deteriorate;
  • conditions of service for teachers in higher education should be such as to attract recruits of the necessary calibre, and any disparity between the incomes and prospects of teachers doing similar work in different universities should be removed;
  • research should not be removed from universities and concentrated in research institutes;
  • teaching methods and arrangements should be reviewed;
  • residential accommodation should be provided for two thirds of the additional students coming into all sectors of higher education;
  • the introduction of loans to students instead of grants would not be appropriate, at least for the immediate future;
  • membership of the governing bodies of higher education institutions should be reviewed;
  • problems relating to the federal structure of the Universities of Wales and London, and to the collegiate structure of Oxford and Cambridge, should be resolved;
  • there should be a Minister of Arts and Science responsible for a single Grants Commission, which would advise the government on the needs of all autonomous institutions of higher education in Great Britain and distribute grants to them;
  • responsibility for the other institutions of higher education in England and Wales should remain with the Minister of Education and the local education authorities;
  • to deal with the immediate emergency, the government should provide sufficient resources to enable the universities to offer in 1966/1 about ten per cent more places than previously planned;
  • the universities' capital building programme for 1964 and succeeding years should be substantially increased.
In a White Paper outlining a ten-year programme with an estimated cost of 3.5bn, the government 'immediately announced its total support for the main recommendations of the Robbins committee' (Simon 1991:241). Courses in higher education should be available for all who were qualified and wished to follow them; the colleges of advanced technology (and certain Scottish institutions) should have university status; and a council for national academic awards would be established.

The government did not, however, accept Robbins' suggestion that there should be two separate ministries - one for schools and one for higher education and science. Instead, in 1964 it created the Department of Education and Science, with a Secretary of State assisted by two Ministers.

Harold Wilson's Labour government, which came to power in October 1964, rejected another major Robbins recommendation - that administrative control of colleges of education should be transferred to universities within the proposed 'schools of education' in order to create a unitary system of higher education. Instead, the government left the colleges in the hands of the local authorities. In a letter to The Times in December 1964, Lord Robbins permitted himself a dignified protest:

It must be a matter of profound regret that a government which claims to be progressive, aided and abetted by the University Grants Committee which has certainly not yet risen to the level of the new opportunities with which it is confronted, should have chosen this poor-spirited solution to this very important educational problem (quoted in Simon 1991:245).
It soon became clear that Robbins' estimates of the future need for places in higher education had been conservative. They had been based on the assumption that the universities would cater for 60 per cent of all students in advanced higher education, but the faster rate of expansion in the colleges of education and further education colleges resulted a decline in the proportion of students at universities from 59 per cent in 1963-64 to 53 per cent in 1967-68. 'By this latter date, then, nearly half of all students in higher education were outside the universities proper' (Simon 1991:259).

Further education

Although the county colleges provided for in the 1944 Education Act never materialised, there was a significant expansion of all types of further education.

There were more opportunities for part-time education for employees up to the age of eighteen, including the development of 'sandwich' courses involving alternating periods in industry and college; and Industrial Training Boards were established as a result of the 1964 Industrial Training Act (12 March).

Between 1954 and 1962 the number of full-time day students in further education colleges in England and Wales (including technical and art colleges and colleges of commerce) rose from 36,000 to 114,000, and the number of part-time students from 251,000 to 454,000 (Lawson and Silver 1973:430).

Considerable differences remained in the numbers of men and women undertaking further, higher and professional training. Between 1947 and 1958 the percentage of 17-year-old boys still at school rose from 6.2 to 11.1 per cent; girls from 4.8 to 8.8 per cent. In the early 1960s the percentage of boys going to university (5.6 per cent) was more than double that of girls (2.5 per cent) (Lawson and Silver 1973:436-7). Boys also far outstripped girls in full-time and part-time further education. Only in the colleges of education was the percentage of women higher than that of men.

Adult education

The demand for adult education had continued to rise since the war. Pressure for places in residential adult colleges increased as more students received local authority grants and went on to full-time higher education. Correspondence courses and university extramural courses became popular, especially among women, and more books were published, many now in paperback.

Other matters

Local government in London

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

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

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

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

More Acts of Parliament

The 1952 Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Act (1 August) made amendments to the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and the Criminal Justice Act 1948.

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

The 1953 University of St Andrews Act (31 July) provided for the reorganisation of university education in St Andrews and Dundee in Scotland.

The 1953 School Crossing Patrols Act (31 July) allowed school crossing patrols to control traffic.

The 1955 Children And Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act (6 May) banned the publication and sale of 'horror comics'.

The 1956 Children and Young Persons Act (15 March) dealt with escapes from approved schools and remand homes.

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

The 1956 Education (Scotland) Act (5 November) made various amendments to the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946.

The 1958 Matrimonial Proceedings (Children) Act (7 July) sought to protect the interests of children in divorce cases.

The 1958 Local Government Act (23 July) was a wide-ranging Act including provisions relating to education.

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

The Education (Scotland) Act (1 August 1962) was a major Act consolidating previous legislation relating to education in Scotland.

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

The 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act (31 July) sought to improve and coordinate the provision of libraries.


During this period, concerns about inadequacies and inequalities in each of the three levels of education - primary, secondary and higher - became widespread among parents, teachers and administrators. By the end of the Tories' thirteen years in office, calls for change were reaching a climax.

In primary education, the malign effects of the eleven-plus selection process on the schools' organisation and curriculum had become all too obvious. The policy of rigid streaming began to be abandoned because Burt's theory of innate intelligence, on which it was based, was discredited by psychologists, and because sociologists warned that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy which often consigned children to types of education on the basis of the social class of their parents.

At secondary level, the selective system of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools was seen for what it actually was - a bipartite system of grammar and secondary modern schools - which, like streaming, largely divided children according to their social class. The movement towards comprehensive education now seemed unstoppable.

In higher education, the notion that there was a fixed 'pool of intelligence' was similarly discredited, with the result that a huge increase in provision was needed.

Between 1964 and 1971 the pressure for reform would become irresistible and there would be significant developments at all three levels in what Brian Simon has called the 'break-out'. Or, as Macmillan might have put it, the wind of change would become something of a hurricane.


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