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 12 : 1964-1970

The golden age?



In October 1964, after 13 years of Conservative government, Harold Wilson (1916-1995) (pictured) led the Labour Party to a general election victory with a Commons majority of just four seats. He called another election in March 1966 and was rewarded with a larger majority of 98.

In social policy terms Wilson was a liberal. Under his leadership, there were reforms in education, health, housing, gender equality, price controls, pensions, provisions for disabled people and child poverty.

His government abolished capital punishment (in 1965) and supported bills tabled by backbench MPs which

- a remarkable achievement by any standard.

Post-war reconstruction was now largely complete and the economy was growing, but the government inherited 'a concealed deficit of some 800 million in the balance of payments' (Middleton and Weitzman 1976:349) and Wilson was compelled to devalue the pound in 1967.

Internationally, the period was marked by the continuation of the 'cold war' between the USSR and the West, the disastrous US war in Vietnam, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and, as predicted by Macmillan, the decolonisation of Africa.

Labour lost the general election of June 1970 to the Conservatives, led by Edward (Ted) Heath, but returned to power in 1974.

There was one appalling human tragedy affecting schoolchildren during this period. At 9.15 on the morning of 21 October 1966, after three weeks of heavy rain, 110,000 cubic metres of colliery waste slid down a hillside and engulfed the junior school in the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil. 116 children and 28 adults died in the incident; many of the survivors suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (Wikipedia: Aberfan disaster).


Most households now had radio, television and a refrigerator; many had a car; some had freezers.

Significant developments in science and technology included the laser, the first computer video game, audio cassette tapes, touch-tone telephones, colour television, automatic teller machines, the computer mouse and the Arpanet (forerunner of the internet). In 1961 Yuri Gagarin was the first man to go into orbit round the earth; just eight years later - in 1969 - the US put a man on the moon.

In entertainment, some hugely successful films were produced, including The Sound of Music, Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey; British popular music flourished with groups such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones; and new fashions included Beatles haircuts, the bikini and the Mary Quant mini-skirt.

However, the period is probably best remembered for an explosion of fresh ideas and different lifestyles, and the rise of a youth culture which challenged authority. There were campaigns for women's rights and gay rights; new styles of clothing and popular music; and the use of psychedelic drugs (notably LSD). Many saw these developments as liberating and empowering; others regarded them with distaste and feared the collapse of the social order. In the universities, student protests led to conflict.

Brian Harrison argues that

Most people who lived through the 1960s did not feel that they were collectively experiencing an outlook special to a decade ... But once the decade could be viewed complete, the phrase 'the sixties' became identified with throwing off old inhibitions, conventions, and restraints (Harrison 2011:473).
Four themes, he says, characterised the decade: 'Youth in revolt', 'political radicalism', 'the challenge to the rigidities and formalities of the adult world', and 'the reaction against wartime austerity and puritanism' (Harrison 2011:473-9).


The school was increasingly seen as an instrument for tackling social problems and for countering the power of the new mass media - television - which was becoming 'a ubiquitous experience for schoolchildren, helping to mould their musical tastes, their heroes, their aspirations and their language' (Lawson and Silver 1973:450).

This daily window gazing on the wider world gave contact with vocal skills and the exploration of all manner of questions by knowledgeable commentators. The resulting sophistication and experience of the world provided a further stimulus for more demanding education (Middleton and Weitzman 1976:332).
The economics of education had been 'a relatively untilled field' (Simon 1991:291). But in the 1960s the development of 'human capital theory', in which economic growth was seen, at least in part, as a function of investment in education, and of sociological theories about 'wastage', now persuaded economists that comprehensive education was a means of maximising economic outcomes.

The leading exponents of this theory in the 1960s were John (later Lord) Vaizey (1929-1984), 'an extremely prolific writer and analyst, who fully supported the swing to comprehensive education' (Simon 1991:291) and Maurice (later Lord) Peston (1931-2016), who founded the economics department at Queen Mary College London, and advised various government departments and Labour Secretaries of State over four decades.

Education became an 'expanding industry' (Simon 1991:293) in the 1960s as the school population increased. By the end of the decade the number of pupils in primary and secondary schools had risen by 700,000 and 300,000 respectively and, for the first time ever, a British government spent more on education - 2.3bn in 1969-70 - than on defence (Simon 1991:261). The number of university places also rose, as more women undertook higher education courses.

There was a corresponding expansion in school building, with innovative designs 'embodying new conceptions of the nature and purpose of education' (Simon 1991:293). In 1964, the Education Department's architects' unit, which had hitherto been restricted to work on grammar schools, designed its first comprehensive school. It soon gained a reputation for modern, eye-catching buildings.

Though Wilson supported change and expansion in education, his record on secondary education was disappointing: while the proportion of children attending comprehensive schools rose to thirty per cent during this period, his government, like the post-war Labour government under Attlee, failed to establish a fully comprehensive system.

The raising of the school leaving age to sixteen, first acknowledged as inevitable by Spens in 1938, recommended as soon as practicable by the 1944 Act, and made a major priority in the 1963 Crowther Report, was finally agreed by Wilson's government for implementation in 1970-71 - and then postponed until 1972 by the same government for economic reasons.

The Secretaries of State for Education and Science in this period were:

18 October 1964Michael Stewart (1906-1990)
22 January 1965Anthony Crosland (1918-1977)
29 August 1967Patrick Gordon-Walker (1907-1980)
6 April 1968Edward Short (1912-2012)

The sociology of education

As noted in the previous chapter, there had been a number of reasons for the growing dissatisfaction with selective secondary education - not least, the discrediting of the theory of innate intelligence on which it was based. Psychologists such as Philip Vernon had argued that children should not be segregated in different types of school, and had underlined the need for more open and flexible school structures to meet their needs.

Those concerns were now fuelled by the increasing influence of sociologists, who argued that the divided secondary system discriminated against children of working-class origin and that, in many cases, 'differences in academic performance and access to higher education ... were attributable to social class and regional differences' (Lawson and Silver 1973:446). The Gurney-Dixon Report Early Leaving (1954) and the Crowther Report 15 to 18 (1959) had already condemned the immense wastage of ability resulting from the divided school system. Now, leading sociologists such as AH Halsey (1923-2014) and Jean Floud (1915-2013) argued for the comprehensive school on the basis that it enhanced social mobility and helped create a more egalitarian society.

Anthony Crosland, who was 'well versed in the literature of the sociologists - particularly their educational analyses' (Simon 1991:291) appointed Halsey as his personal adviser at the Department of Education and Science (DES) - the first of such 'political' appointments.

National Survey of Health and Development

Evidence to support the sociologists' view was provided by the National Survey of Health and Development, a longitudinal study involving 5,000 children who were born in the first week of March 1946. It was led by Dr JWB (James) Douglas (1914-1991) (pictured), Director of the Medical Research Council Unit at the London School of Economics, who originated and developed the large birth-cohort study research method.

Two reports on the cohort had already been published: Maternity in Great Britain in 1948 and Children Under Five in 1958. In the third report, The Home and the School, published in 1964, Douglas described the findings of the survey relating to ability and attainment in the primary school.

In his introduction to the book, Professor DV Glass, Chair of the Population Investigation Committee, warned of 'the absence of sufficient informed and persistent action to compensate for built-in inequalities of conditions, attitudes and behaviour' (Glass 1964:xix). He went on:

Beginning with handicaps, in the sense of having a poorer physical and cultural environment, the children suffer an intensification of disadvantages, relative to middle class children, during their primary school years. If they live in poor housing conditions, they may well attend schools with a low record of success at the 11+ examination. Those who are least well cared for may find themselves allocated to the lower streams at school and their school performance will tend to conform accordingly. In general they are less likely to receive encouragement from their parents. Between the ages of 8 and 11 years, the working class and middle class children will thus tend to grow further apart in operational ability (Glass 1964:xix).
In the report, Douglas argued that working-class children were disadvantaged not only by the eleven plus selection system but by streaming within schools:
streaming by ability reinforces the process of social selection ... Children who come from well-kept homes and who are themselves clean, well clothed and shod, stand a greater chance of being put in the upper streams than their measured ability would seem to justify. Once there they are likely to stay and to improve in succeeding years. This is in striking contrast to the deterioration noticed in those children of similar initial measured ability who were placed in the lower streams. In this way the validity of the initial selection appears to be confirmed by the subsequent performance of the children, and an element of rigidity is introduced early into the primary schools system (Douglas 1964:118).
Douglas was modest in his claims for the survey:
Taken as a whole, this study provides strong evidence that between the ages of eight and eleven the performance of children in tests of mental ability and school achievement is greatly influenced by their homes and schools, influenced moreover in a predictable way. No claim is made that these tests measure innate ability; on the contrary, three out of the four given at each age were designed to measure the level of achievement in school subjects. All that has been shown is that a child's capacity to do well in his work at school is to a certain degree dependent on the encouragement he gets from his parents, the sort of home he has and the academic record of his school. The full influence of these factors on performance cannot be measured because tests were not given until the children were eight years old. But even if their influence is no greater than that suggested by the changes in score noted between eight and eleven years, which is unlikely, this represents an avoidable loss of ability which no system of selective examinations at eleven can eliminate, and which is likely to continue to lead to further loss through early leaving and academic failure in the secondary schools (Douglas 1964:120).
The national survey went on to look at the same children when they reached secondary schools. Its findings were published in All Our Future, by JWB Douglas, JM Ross and HR Simpson, in 1968. It concluded that
the social class differences in educational opportunity which were considerable at the primary school stage have increased at the secondary and extend now to pupils of high ability. Thus nearly half the lower manual working class pupils of high ability have left school before they are sixteen and a half years (Douglas, Ross and Simpson 1986:186).
(The National Survey of Health and Development is still (2017) in operation, the members of the cohort - who regard themselves as 'the Douglas children' - now aged 71. Further details can be found

Education and the Working Class

Another survey reached similar conclusions. Under the auspices of the Institute of Community Studies, it was conducted by the educationist Brian Jackson and the sociologist Dennis Marsden.

Brian Jackson (1932-1983) (pictured) grew up in a working-class home in Huddersfield. He attended a local grammar school, went on to gain a First in English at Cambridge, and then taught in primary schools for four years. He and Michael Young (of whom more below) founded the Advisory Centre for Education in 1960, and the National Extension College at Cambridge in 1963.

Dennis Marsden (1933-2009) also studied at Cambridge, after which he did supply teaching in a secondary modern school. In 1965 he became a Joseph Rowntree Research Fellow at the University of Essex, where he conducted a three-year study of poverty.

Their findings were published in Education and the Working Class in 1962, with a revised edition following in 1966. This was not, as the authors pointed out, a large-scale survey like that of Douglas. It followed the progress through grammar schools of 88 working-class children in Huddersfield:

This report is based on very small samples. They are not large enough for sophisticated numerical analysis. What we have done is try to go behind the numbers and feel a way into the various human situations they represent. But this intimacy with the living being carries certain risks. No one can present people speaking of education and social class in this way, without finding himself reflecting many kinds of personal controversy ... But it would be sad if, for that reason, the attempt were not made (Jackson and Marsden 1966:26).
The study sought to discover why it was that 'so many middle-class children successfully complete the total grammar school course' but that 'relatively few working-class children do so' (Jackson and Marsden 1966:28).

They found that

The children who lasted the full grammar school course came largely from the upper strata of the working class. They came too from small families and lived in favourable, socially-mixed districts. A certain economic 'line' was obviously still at work. Furthermore, the majority had home backgrounds of no mean calibre and either one or both parents were strongly supporting the child. Many of these parents were both aspiring yet deferential - and it is perhaps not surprising to find these children to be educationally ambitious and also highly accommodating to the new worlds they meet (Jackson and Marsden 1966:171).
The authors noted that most of the 88 children developed into 'stable, often rigidly orthodox citizens, who wish to preserve a hierarchical society and all its institutions as they now stand' (Jackson and Marsden 1966:213).

The 1962 edition of Education and the Working Class concluded:

We have written, candidly, from out of Huddersfield itself, and out of a large debt to grammar school education, and to those before us who made that schooling possible. And yet we hope our voice is the voice of the last grammar school generations: for something better can be done. State education is a very wonderful, but still very young experiment. These are only the first stages, and it would be hard if we were to rigidify here; and the most enormous waste if that intelligent openness which properly belongs to 'culture' were to recoil beneath the inevitable academic and social pressures, turning softly back to enclose the chosen - but reflecting to most people no more than a hard, excluding shell (Jackson and Marsden 1966:247).
In the revised edition in 1966, they noted that their findings had been endorsed by the Robbins Report, which had demonstrated, 'beyond any doubt', that
vast numbers of very talented working-class children fail to come through our system. One sad statistic is worth recalling: despite all the recent expansion and feeling of opportunity, the proportion of working-class boys at university is no greater now than it was before the 1939-45 war (Jackson and Marsden 1966:248-9).
and by the National Survey led by JWB Douglas:
The statistics, at last, tell the story of how working-class and middle-class children enter primary school, with the second already having the advantage. The schools start the search for the gifted child, and use the device of A and B classes to help them. In the A classes the children's test scores improve, in the B classes they deteriorate. A working-class child in a B stream was - in these terms - duller when the school had finished with him at eleven years than he was when his parents handed him over at five years (Jackson and Marsden 1966:249).
They concluded that
Our chief theme is still with us, and will be so for a long time - even if comprehensives take over from grammar schools, and public schools associate with the state system. If we decide to send a percentage of state children to public schools, then most will come, of course, from middle-class homes, but a smaller number will come from the vast working class. It will take us right back to square one of the 'scholarship boy' problem. And no one looking at comprehensive schools will think that the battle is over. Progress is certainly made, but often the surface signs - Latin mottoes, gowned prefects, first boat on the river, the race for Oxbridge awards - remind us that even here a training in middle-class deportment is still hopelessly mixed up with the transmission of that culture which matters. Comprehensive schools don't abolish grammar schools - they enclose them. And it is now clearer to see that the old purpose of education - the training of a ruling elite - has not collapsed under the new purpose - the training of enough able people to man our technological society. More and more - as Eton builds its science blocks - the two are allies, putting the same people into the same places at the same price (Jackson and Marsden 1966:249-50).
Meanwhile, other sociologists - notably Basil Bernstein (1924-2000) - sought 'not just to describe but to explain the difficulties of working-class children' by analysing these difficulties 'in terms of the social determinants of forms of language available to children in different social contexts' (Lawson and Silver 1973:446).

There were concerns, too, about the disparity in educational provision:

In very many schools the developments of the 1950s and 1960s made little or no impression. Newly trained teachers had to trim enthusiasms to established situations. There were still primary schools without indoor lavatories, teachers without equipment, and schools of all kinds in old and unsuitable buildings (Lawson and Silver 1973:447).
The 1967 Plowden Report drew attention to wide regional variations, with some areas - particularly in the north of England - remaining disadvantaged in terms of school provision. An increasing interest in the nature of regional deprivation led to the creation of Educational Priority Areas.

Addressing the North of England Education Conference in 1972, five years after the publication of her Committee's report, Lady Plowden said 'The solution to the problem of the inner city child eludes us and his failure to benefit from what is provided by our educational system still remains' (The Guardian 5 January 1972, quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:465).

The problems, she said, were social as well as educational: in educational priority areas (EPAs - of which more below) the problems were 'outstripping our knowledge of how to deal with them'. She went on:

It is not the fault of the children that they fail to profit from their education. It is their family background and history, the environment in which that family lives, and the schools which often fail to give them a setting, and an education within that setting, in which they can succeed ... The EPA parents are, like many of their children, frightened, angry, bewildered, and bored. They move in, to them, uncharted seas of officialdom, not understanding how the system works, what they can get if only they know how, not understanding what goes on in school, buffeted by forces completely outside their control: unemployment, slum clearance, housing policy, the economic condition of the country, regional inequality ... It is not only a problem of education. It is an economic problem, a town planning and housing and social problem ... The contribution which the schools can make, and which must be made by the secondary as well as the primary schools, is to see that, in the name of education, they do not unjustly make failures of their pupils. To do this, they must be given the necessary resources, leadership, and vision. We still have a long way to go (The Guardian 5 January 1972, quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:466).

Concerns about these aspects of educational and social deprivation increased in the 1960s and were accompanied by a rise in militancy among the young, and greater political awareness among students. (For more on this, see the section on Further and higher education below.)

Labour and comprehensive education

By 1964:

All that was now needed was a government prepared to make a fully comprehensive education system a reality, and in 1964 it looked as though an incoming Labour government would do just that. The party had become convinced that comprehensivisation would be a vote winner and it went into the general election promising to abolish the eleven plus and develop the secondary school system on comprehensive lines - 'without any clear idea of what this really meant' (Benn and Chitty 1996:8).

Labour's 1964 manifesto

Labour's manifesto for the 1964 general election promised 'a revolution in our educational system'. But its commitment to abolish selection was obscure:

Labour will get rid of the segregation of children into separate schools caused by 11-plus selection: secondary education will be reorganised on comprehensive lines. Within the new system, grammar school education will be extended: in future no child will be denied the opportunity of benefiting from it through arbitrary selection at the age of 11. This reform will make it possible to provide a worthwhile extra year of education by raising the school-leaving age to 16.
The manifesto also promised to

The new government

Labour won the general election, held on 15 October 1964, but with an overall Commons majority of just four seats.

The new government inherited a secondary education system in England and Wales consisting of:

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

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

In November 1964, a survey conducted by The Sunday Times showed that 120 of the 149 authorities in England were either undertaking some form of reorganisation or were considering doing so: 65 already had some comprehensive schools.

The new Secretary of State, Michael Stewart, announced that 'It is the government's policy to reorganise secondary education on comprehensive lines. The method and timing of reorganisation must vary from one area to another'. Referring to the manifesto promise that 'grammar school education will be extended', he said the government would preserve 'what we all value in grammar school education' and would 'make it available to more children' (The Times Educational Supplement 20 November 1964 quoted in Simon 1991:276).

A few days later, in a debate on a Tory motion deploring 'the wholesale abolition of direct grant and maintained grammar schools' (quoted in Simon 1991:277), Stewart said 'We ought now to accept that reorganisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines should be national policy' (report in The Times quoted in Simon 1991:277).

Circular 10/65

In January 1965 the Cabinet agreed to Stewart's proposal 'to issue a Circular to local education authorities' calling on them 'to submit plans ... for the reorganisation of their secondary schools on comprehensive lines' (quoted in Simon 1991:278).

Stewart, however, was then moved to the Foreign Office, and Anthony Crosland became Education Secretary. Crosland had made his name as 'an ideologist promoting a revisionist, social democratic perspective' and had 'made his support for the comprehensive solution (and his conviction that the public schools were a chief bastion of class society) abundantly clear in earlier writings' (Simon 1991:279). He had, however, 'no understanding of the pedestrian depths of provincial administration and the problems of the lower levels of the schools', and he sought the advice of academics who, for the most part, were 'similarly handicapped' (Middleton and Weitzman 1976:351).

During a heated debate in the Lords three weeks later, David (now Lord) Eccles 'raised the temperature ... by asserting that the doctrine of uniformity expressed in the demand for a complete system of comprehensive schools affronted both Christian and human ideals'. The individual 'was sacrificed to society' and the parent 'silenced by the politician' (report in The Times Educational Supplement 12 February 1965 quoted in Simon 1991:278).

Other Tory peers - including Florence (now Baroness) Horsbrugh - were equally critical.

But Lord Gardiner, the Labour Lord Chancellor, said he had recently been in Leicester at a meeting attended by 'thousands of people':

the vast majority were parents and they were hopping mad because in the city they had secondary and grammar schools whereas the county had comprehensive schools. Some of them had sold their homes in Leicester in order to get away from the city education system and the 11-plus and give their children the advantages of a comprehensive school education. ... What struck me as, I confess, a complete amateur in this field was that all the members of the National Union of Teachers, whether from the city or the county, said exactly the same. ... Of course, I had always known that the 11-plus was not very popular, but I had never known before to what extent it was both hated and feared. It seemed to me that where you had both parents and teachers alike with experience of both systems feeling so strongly the superior advantages of the comprehensive school, it was at least possible that they were right (Hansard House of Lords 10 February 1965 Vol 263 Cols 245-6)
While all this was going on in Parliament, several more local authorities - including Wakefield, Middlesbrough, Southend and Birmingham - announced their intention to undertake comprehensive reorganisation.

At York, a working party of sixteen teachers worked on a plan for the city which, The Times reported, 'could mean the abolition of York's four grammar schools in favour of a comprehensive system' (quoted in Simon 1991:280). Interestingly, the scheme was supported by Harry Rée, now head of York University's Education Department and a co-opted member of the city's education committee. Ten years earlier, as head of Watford Grammar School, he had been a leading opponent of comprehensive schools.

In Liverpool and Bristol, however, the authorities faced hostile 'parents' action committees', mostly comprised of the alumni of particular local grammar schools. It was a form of action that was to become 'general, if largely ineffective' in the years to come (Simon 1991:280).

Crosland gave a series of speeches in the spring of 1965 in which he made clear that plans for the issue of a Circular to local authorities were under way. He stressed, however, that the government would not 'seek to impose destructive or precipitate changes on existing schools', nor approve 'any old makeshift scheme'. The object was 'to give impetus and direction' to the process of change and to ensure that 'the objective of a non-selective pattern of secondary education should be firmly declared' (reported in Education 12 February 1965 quoted in Simon 1991:280).

In a speech at the end of May 1965, he said:

The fact is that there has been a growing movement against the 11-plus examination and all that it implies. This movement has not been politically inspired or imposed from the centre. It has been a spontaneous growth at the grassroots of education, leading to a widespread conviction that separation is an offence against the child as well as a brake on social and economic progress ... The whole notion of a selection test at this age belongs to the era when secondary education was a privilege of the few (quoted in Chitty and Dunford 1999:21).
For two months, there was 'a fierce debate within the DES' (Chitty 2009a::29) over whether the Circular should require or request local authorities to submit schemes for comprehensivisation. Crosland opted for request. He later told Maurice Kogan:
First, there was a lot of argument inside the Department about whether we should 'request' or 'require' local authorities to produce comprehensive plans. Reg Prentice [the junior minister responsible for schools] wanted 'require', the Department wanted 'request'. My decision to go for 'request' was strongly influenced by my meetings with the AEC [Association of Education Committees] and my judgement of the general mood of the local authority world (Kogan 1971:189).
Asked by Kogan if he regretted not taking statutory power, Crosland replied:
No. You must remember that at that time most local authorities were Labour-controlled and sympathetic to what we were doing - as indeed were some Tory authorities. So plans were coming in at least as fast as we could cope with them. For the whole time I was at Curzon Street [the DES headquarters] the thing was going as fast as it could possibly go. The limitation was one of human and physical resources and not one of statutory powers. But of course the situation changed later when the disastrous local election results of 1968 and 1969 put the Tories into power almost everywhere (Kogan 1971:191).
After all the in-fighting, Circular 10/65 The organisation of secondary education was finally issued on 12 July 1965. It began with the bold declaration that the government intended 'to end selection at eleven plus and to eliminate separatism in secondary education' (DES 1965: para.1).

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

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

So, in the end, the government eschewed compulsion - a decision that was to lead to difficulties later; further, in requesting the submission of plans, the Circular outlined the different methods that would be acceptable, though expressing a preference for the all-through eleven-to-eighteen school. Authorities were given one year to make their submissions. In this sense the procedure used was that originally proposed at the 1953 Labour Party conference, and not that accepted at the 1963 conference which proposed a statutory measure involving compulsion. The Circular also stated that no extra money would be available to assist reorganisation before 1967 - a decision hardly reflecting a serious determination to bring about a fundamental change in the structure and direction of secondary education (Simon 1991:281).
In The Guardian (14 July 1965) Peter Preston described the Circular as an 'amiably toothless tiger'; for The Times Educational Supplement (31 December 1965) it was a 'vague and permissive document'; unsurprisingly the Daily Telegraph (22 May 1965) found it 'regrettably dictatorial in tone' (quoted in Simon 1991:281).

For all its weaknesses, argues Brian Simon, the Circular was 'epoch-making' in that comprehensive secondary education was now national policy. Nevertheless, 'it was already clear that further battles lay ahead' (Simon 1991:281).

On 24 September 1965 a group of reformers - including Rhodes Boyson, Peter Townsend, Margaret Miles, Brian Simon and Caroline Benn - launched the Comprehensive Schools Committee to monitor developments and press for radical change. In the first number of its bulletin, the editorial argued that the future pattern of comprehensive education would be determined 'not by the Circular, nor by the initial plans submitted by the LEAs' but by the Secretary of State's decision as to 'which plans he accepts and which he rejects' (quoted in Simon 1991:282). The Committee noted that Crosland had accepted the plans of four authorities which involved a common school for eleven- to thirteen-year-olds followed by separate provision thereafter, but had rejected genuinely comprehensive schemes from three others.

Initial responses were mixed. Of the 163 local authorities, fifty already had, or were planning for, fully comprehensive schemes; around forty had set up working parties to produce plans (some more enthusiastically than others); and about twenty were unwilling to consider comprehensive reorganisation (Simon 1991:283). All the options in Circular 10/65 were being considered.

In DES Circular 10/66 School building programmes (10 March 1966), the government set out its proposals for 1967-70. With respect to comprehensivisation, it said:

the Secretary of State will not approve any new secondary projects (i.e. any projects not already included in an approved programme) which would be incompatible with the introduction of a non-selective system of secondary education. In cases where the Department does not yet have the necessary information about reorganisation schemes, authorities are asked to describe for each secondary proposal how it will, or could, fit into a comprehensive pattern (DES 1966:2).

General election 1966

Wilson's government had grown in popularity during its seventeen months in office, but its small Commons majority had proved restrictive. Wilson therefore decided to call a general election in the hope of gaining a larger majority.

Labour's manifesto

In a section headed Educational Opportunities for All Labour's 1966 manifesto declared:

Our educational aims are two-fold: to give the highest possible standard of education to all children, and to ensure that those with special abilities have the opportunity to develop them to the full.

These aims have to be achieved against an inheritance of acute teacher shortage, oversized classes, old and inadequate school buildings, and a chronically overstrained system of higher education (Labour Manifesto 1966).

The sub-section on schools set out the following policies:
Our first priority is to reduce the size of classes. We shall intensify our efforts to increase the recruitment of teachers, and improve their status in society.

We must also make the most effective use of teachers, by encouraging the use of audio-visual aids and programmed learning; and by providing the teacher with the ancillary help which he increasingly needs.

We shall carry out the largest school building programme in our history. The National Plan shows that the programme will be increased from 84 million in the last year of Tory rule to 138 million in 1969/70.

Equally important, we shall press ahead with our plans to abolish the 11-plus - that barrier to educational opportunity - and re-organise secondary education on comprehensive lines. We have appointed the Public Schools Commission, to recommend the best ways of integrating the Public Schools into the State sector (Labour Manifesto 1966).

The manifesto went on to describe a 'New Deal for the School Leaver', proposing the raising of the school leaving age to 16, Industrial Training Boards to increase the range of training opportunities for school leavers, more day-release and block-release courses at local colleges of further education, a better Youth Employment Service, and regional sports councils to provide a new approach to the provision of facilities for sport.

There would be more places in universities, colleges of education and leading technical colleges; and the Open University would be created to offer everyone the opportunity of studying for a full degree. Expenditure on the arts would rise by 2.5m in 1967.

A clear mandate

Wilson's decision to call the election was justified: held on 31 March 1966, it resulted in a Labour majority of 98 seats.

Many hoped - and believed - that the new government, with its larger majority and its clear mandate for comprehensivisation, would now require all LEAs to go fully comprehensive.

This, in fact, was a moment when the government could have introduced legislation to speed the transition, having wide popular support and a powerful Parliamentary majority. The inevitability of change was becoming generally recognised (Simon 1991:283-4).
In fact, nothing was done until Edward Short became Education Secretary in 1968. He saw the need for a new education act 'to introduce social justice into the administration of the service' (Middleton and Weitzman 1976:356) and he therefore set up a wide-ranging review with the aim of tabling a bill by 1970.

Despite resistance from permanent officials,

he went doggedly ahead sketching out the ground plan of a truly national education system to be embodied in the first major Education Act of the Labour Party (Middleton and Weitzman 1976:356)
He was not helped by the economic situation. Teachers took strike action in protest at their low salaries and a government-imposed wages freeze. On top of this, it was pointed out that there was a shortage of 4,000 teachers and that 700,000 children were still being taught in classes of over 40 (Middleton and Weitzman 1976:357). Short managed to meet the teachers' claims but did so belatedly and gained little credit for it.

Nonetheless, he set about 'rebuilding the machinery for salary negotiations and re-establishing trust between the central department and the profession'. His proposals for a self-governing profession were, however, 'viewed with some suspicion' (Middleton and Weitzman 1976:357).

Short's Green Paper setting out his proposals was ready for publication in the spring of 1970, but he was unhappy with the preface written by department officials and insisted on considerable revision. 'It was a fatal delay' (Middleton and Weitzman 1976:358): Wilson called an election in June, the Conservatives were returned to power, and Short's bill was lost.



Historically, the attitude of teachers had been mixed. Many had enthusiastically campaigned for comprehensivisation, but others - particularly in the grammar schools - had seen reorganisation as a threat to salaries and career prospects.

Support had grown during the 1950s and early 60s. Inside the Comprehensive School (1958) published by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), and Teaching in Comprehensive Schools (1960), published by the Assistant Masters' Association, had marked a growing interest in the issues involved.

At its annual conference in 1966, the NUT affirmed its support 'for the reorganisation of secondary education under a system of comprehensive schools' and specifically declared the union's opposition to systems of 'so-called comprehensive education' which involved 'a measure of selection of pupils at 13-plus and 14-plus for entry into different schools' (Simon 1991:286) - a specific attack on several schemes which Crosland had recently accepted.

Three years later, in April 1969, the NUT Conference called on the government to abolish selection for secondary education 'by incorporating the grammar schools and other selective secondary schools into the comprehensive system, thereby creating a unified system for all children'. The continued existence of the grammar schools, argued the motion, 'completely nullifies all attempts to create a fully comprehensive system' (quoted in Simon 1991:287).

It was certainly true that comprehensivisation in England had been implemented incoherently. Comprehensive schools 'lived in the shadow of selective education and in many cases perpetuated selective arrangements' (Jones 2003:78). Little wonder then, that radicals lost heart. Fife head teacher RF McKenzie spoke for many when he declared:

those of us who imagined that the Labour Party would make fundamental changes in our society, and particularly in our education system, now see their efforts overborne like an irrelevant eddy in a stream (McKenzie 1970:67).

While parents in some areas had organised local campaigns to protect individual grammar schools, others had formed associations to argue for better primary education and comprehensive reorganisation. Among the first of these was the Association for the Advancement of State Education, established in Cambridge in 1960. Its members were 'well-informed about educational issues and articulate in expressing their views' (Chitty 1989:35) and soon gained considerable influence. In 1962, 26 such groups united to form the Confederation for the Advancement of State Education (CASE).

Pressure on local officials and councillors, on politicians and other public figures, was applied steadily and with growing effect. At last parents were demanding and getting a real say in the kind of education provided for their children (Chitty 1989:35).
Initially, CASE campaigned for greater resources to improve the quality of local, particularly primary, schools. Edward Boyle appointed a CASE representative to the Plowden Committee in 1963, together with Michael Young, representing the Advisory Centre for Education (ACE).

From 1966, both CASE and ACE began campaigning, not only for state (as opposed to private) education, but for a fully comprehensive system.

CASE was a well organised, serious, largely middle-class, parental pressure group which threw its weight behind comprehensive reorganisation at a crucial moment. It represented that section of the 'new middle class' that rejected private education and instead was determined to shape the national system to its own wishes. This, in its view, involved rejecting selection - and this is what was particularly significant in the stand they took. No doubt this support eased the transition. The main swing of parental opinion had, however, developed earlier - well before CASE espoused the cause (Simon 1991:288-9).
Public opinion polls showed that during the 1960s opposition to comprehensivisation remained constant at around twenty per cent, which corresponded with the overall proportion of children selected for grammar schools. But support for comprehensivisation rose to 85 per cent in areas where parents already had children in comprehensive schools (Simon 1991:289).

(The Confederation for the Advancement of State Education later became the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education, and is now known as the Campaign for State Education.)

The Tories

In the early 1960s, the Conservative Party, argues Christopher Knight, was

not only bereft of policy and purpose but divided between those who believed in tradition and those who wanted to modernise Britain (Knight 1990:23).
In education policy, this division was clear in the opposing views of Angus Maude (1912-1993) and Edward Boyle.

Maude, MP for Stratford-on-Avon, represented 'the voice of English history, English traditions and experience'; Boyle 'adhered to the liberal Conservative tradition with its tendency to seek radical alterations in existing social welfare systems' (Knight 1990:23).

Both regarded selection as an essential part of the education system but they disagreed over comprehensivisation. Boyle 'defended the movement by local authorities towards more informal methods of selection, and to a less rigid conception of the role of the grammar school' (Knight 1990:23).

From 1964 Maude and others began formulating proposals for a change in Conservative Party policy.

Meanwhile, local groups continued their campaigns to save particular grammar schools. The National Education Association was formed in the autumn of 1965 to coordinate these groups. However, public support for such campaigns tended to dissipate once reorganisation had taken place, and the Association 'made no effective impact on the national scene' (Simon 1991:294).

By the end of 1966 six authorities were reported to be defying the government, but the real problems began in 1967, when municipal elections resulted in a Tory landslide: in addition to taking cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol, the Conservatives also gained control of the Greater London Council, and with it, the Inner London Education Authority. This was 'the really shattering result ... Winning these exceeded the wildest Conservative hopes' (Education 21 April 1967 quoted in Simon 1991:294).

The Comprehensive Schools Committee argued that these results were not a verdict on reorganisation. 'There is no evidence', they said, 'that this issue contributed to the anti-government swing: rather the reverse.' In London, for example, the Tories had deliberately played down the issue 'because their own poll provided powerful evidence of the popularity of the comprehensive idea' (Simon 1991:294-5).

In Manchester, the new Conservative council decided that comprehensive reorganisation would go ahead as planned; and the new council in Bristol contented itself with a token gesture - restoring free places at local direct-grant grammar schools.

In London, Christopher Chataway, the new Conservative leader of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), was horrified to discover that some newly-elected Tory councillors were intent on breaking up comprehensive schools and replacing them with secondary modern and grammar schools. He made it clear that he had no intention of presiding over such destruction and eventually managed to persuade his colleagues to take a more moderate line.

In June 1967, aware that a substantial minority of Conservative Party members were still hostile to comprehensive schools, Ted Heath, who had replaced Douglas-Home as party leader in July 1965, made a major policy statement to the Conservative National Advisory Committee on Education. Supporting the line that Boyle, as official opposition spokesman, had been taking, Heath said:

I want to make it clear that we accept the trend of educational opinion against selection at 11-plus. If the transfer from primary to secondary education is now to be made without selection, this is bound to entail some reorganisation of the structure of education (report in The Sunday Times 18 June 1967 quoted in Simon 1991:295-6).
At the party's conference in October 1967, this was described as an 'ill-defined and ambiguous' policy (quoted in Simon 1991:296), and a substantial minority supported a motion calling on the conference to demand the preservation of the grammar schools.

At the following year's conference, Angus Maude made a powerful 'save-the-grammar-schools' speech in which he said that local education authorities were being 'bullied, bewildered and blackmailed' into implementing reorganisation schemes 'calculated to destroy established grammar schools and to lower academic standards'. He was given a standing ovation. Boyle replied that he would willingly fight against socialist dogmatism, but 'do not ask me to oppose it with an equal and opposite conservative dogmatism' (quoted in Simon 1991:296).

A mixed picture

Meanwhile, many local authorities - including Conservative-controlled Manchester and London - continued to reorganise; Leicestershire completed the task and abolished the eleven plus in 1969, the first English county to do so. Writing in The Times (23 July 1970), David Donnison (who succeeded Newsom as Chair of the Public Schools Commission, of which more below) summed up the position that summer:

Reorganisation is difficult, resources are scarce, and the whole process will take at least twenty years to complete. But nothing can reverse the drive to give young people a more equal start in life, and to enable more and more of them to take their education further. First pioneered by the local education authorities, reorganisation is now supported by steadily growing majorities - particularly among younger parents and particularly in places that have comprehensive schools (quoted in Simon 1991:297).
Comprehensive reform, however, was still patchy - half a dozen authorities were refusing to reorganise at all and others were doing so slowly and half-heartedly - and it suffered a serious setback in January 1968 when a sudden financial crisis persuaded the Cabinet to postpone the raising of the school leaving age to sixteen for two years - from 1970 to 1972. The decision resulted in substantial delays in the provision of buildings needed for reorganisation.

DES figures showed that the total number of comprehensive schools of all types had increased from 262 in 1965 to 748 in 1968 and would rise to more than 1,100 in 1970, by which time thirty per cent of secondary pupils in the maintained sector would be in comprehensive schools. Of the comprehensive schools open in 1970, more than a third would be 'all-through' schools catering for pupils up to the age of eighteen, a third would cater for pupils up to sixteen, a quarter would be two-tier schemes with a break at thirteen or fourteen (as in Leicestershire), the remainder being interim schemes such as Doncaster's (Simon 1991:298-9).

Brian Simon points out, however, that only 43 per cent of these schools were genuinely comprehensive, the rest having to co-exist with local grammar schools. This figure was not publicised by the DES, which classed all 'reorganised' schools as comprehensive. 'Ministers also tended to exaggerate success rates in their public statements' (Simon 1991:299).

Reformers were far from happy with the situation. In the Comprehensive Reorganisation Survey, published by the Comprehensive Schools' Committee in the autumn of 1968, Caroline Benn asked:

Is it good enough that only one quarter of secondary school pupils should be in comprehensive schools almost five years after the government was elected with a clear mandate for national reorganisation, almost four years after that policy was implemented by Circular 10/65, and a full quarter of a century after the introduction of comprehensive schools into Britain by local education authorities? (quoted in Simon 1991:299)
The Committee noted that Birmingham, Kent, Brighton, Gloucester, Bolton and Halifax had all failed to produce acceptable plans - or any plans at all. It was unsatisfactory, argued Caroline Benn, to have 'some authorities with the bi-partite system and the 11-plus, while others had fully comprehensive systems' (quoted in Simon 1991:301); and it was even more unsatisfactory to expect comprehensive schools to 'develop and flourish' in areas where grammar schools were also being maintained.

Dissatisfaction with the rate of progress was also forcibly expressed at Labour's 1968 conference. To loud applause, the party's Deputy Leader George Brown (1914-1985) declared that the government must 'make the comprehensive educational system really valid and really universal' (report in The Teacher 4 October 1968 quoted in Simon 1991:298).

Delegates called for a new education act to make the provision of comprehensive secondary education a statutory duty, and DES Minister Alice Bacon (1909-1993) assured them that the government intended to do so - but not before the publication of the Redcliffe-Maud Report on local government reform.

In the event, Edward Short's (short) bill requiring all local authorities in England and Wales to develop non-selective school systems was laid before Parliament early in 1970. But even here, the prevarication continued: the bill would, in some cases, have permitted schemes for partial comprehensivisation. No one bothered to explain how you could logically run comprehensive and grammar schools side by side. It received its second reading in February, but was lost when Wilson called a general election in June.

Nonetheless, as the election approached, 'there seemed every prospect that, soon after the assembly of the next parliament, comprehensive education would become a statutory duty' (Simon 1991:301). But it was not to be: the Tories were returned to power and, although the process of comprehensivisation continued - indeed, accelerated - the opportunity to create a fully comprehensive system had been missed.



The exam system increased the pressure on comprehensive schools to stream their pupils.

The General Certificate of Education (GCE), which had been introduced in 1951, was the only officially accredited exam leading to higher education and the professions. It was 'clearly and specifically designed as a grammar school examination' (Simon 1991:303): Attlee's post-war Labour government had actually banned secondary modern pupils from taking it. As a result, the grammar school curriculum and its pedagogy were 'transferred wholesale, and without serious modification' (Simon 1991:303) into the new comprehensive schools.

As noted in the previous chapter, the 1960 Beloe Report had recommended the creation of a new Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE). This was introduced in 1965 and made the position even worse. There were now two distinct exams running in parallel - GCE for the top twenty per cent of the ability range and CSE for the next twenty per cent, resulting in even greater pressure on schools to divide students between 'academic' and 'non-academic' streams:

Within comprehensives, GCE students were placed in different teaching groups from CSE students, while in the secondary modern school ... students who were deemed capable of CSE entry were separated from those who were not (Jones 2003:84-5).
The timing of the introduction of the CSE was particularly unfortunate:
Just at the point when the drive towards comprehensive education became almost a nationwide consensus, with government support, a new examination was established which, while embodying certain progressive features, imposed a threefold division within comprehensive schools. Students, at least between the ages of thirteen or fourteen and sixteen had to be categorised and taught in three main groupings comprising those aiming at GCE, at CSE, or at nothing (in terms of an examination) (Simon 1991:304).
The CSE did have one progressive feature, however: it encouraged school-based curriculum development through its localised teacher-designed 'Mode 3' syllabuses.

In October 1967 the Schools Council (of which more below) began working on ideas for a single examination system - something most comprehensive heads wanted, according to a survey in 1968. The Council published its recommendations in July 1970 but the elitist views of the civil service, the universities and successive education secretaries ensured that no reform of the exam system was undertaken for almost twenty years. In the meantime, some schools effectively abolished the GCE by entering pupils only for the CSE.


Comprehensivisation in England and Wales, argues Brian Simon, had been undertaken in a half-hearted manner, with 'no overall planning, ... no serious thinking through of its implications on a national basis', and with no 'official thought, enquiry or study made as to what should comprise an appropriate curriculum for the new comprehensive schools' (Simon 1991:305).

The effect had been to impose a differentiated structure on comprehensive schools which was precisely what they were supposed - and expected - to overcome.

The concept of the unstreamed comprehensive school had been around for a long time, but the idea that all 'normal' children should follow a common curriculum was 'new and, in a sense, revolutionary' (Simon 1991:308). The Organisation of Comprehensive Secondary Schools, published by London County Council in 1953, had recommended that pupils of different levels and abilities should be taught together in some subjects, though it accepted that streams or sets might be needed for more academic subjects.

By the mid-1960s it was clear from research undertaken by sociologists that streaming predetermined a child's development, and many primary schools were abandoning the practice. Teachers in comprehensive schools (and also in secondary modern and grammar schools) began to debate whether streaming was appropriate for 11- to 13-year-olds.

In the summer 1965 issue of Forum, which focused on Non-Streaming and the Comprehensive School, Dr Donald Thompson, head of the Woodlands School in Coventry, described 'the relaxation of streaming that has taken place in the school over the past two and a half years' (Thompson 1965:82).

He argued that 'Streaming should not be accepted uncritically'. It was probably beneficial to 'some bright children and the very weak', but there was 'little to commend it for the large majority of children' (Thompson 1965:88).

There was also evidence, he said,

that streaming produces or at least perpetuates undesirable social attitudes, and that a relaxation of streaming produces a better attitude towards school on the part of many children who in a streamed situation would have been badly behaved (Thompson 1965:88).
And he concluded:
The concept of 'innate ability' is not a valid one. That there are hierarchical boundaries between groups of pupils of different abilities is an epistemological concept which we define as an 'a priori' element in our thinking about education. We then set up various criteria in order to 'discover' who those different groups of pupils are and the groups we form reflect not so much natural differences in ability as the nature of the methods we have adopted in choosing the groups. From then on the pupils are conditioned to a level of response which we set for them and which we and they come to believe is a measure of their 'innate ability'. - such is the true nature of streaming (Thompson 1965:89).
Thompson's article, published two months before the issue of Circular 10/65, aroused considerable interest among comprehensive school heads and teachers.
Here was a well-established, all-through eleven-to-eighteen comprehensive school in an urban area deliberately breaking new ground and pioneering a new approach to comprehensive education. Nor could anyone accuse this school of embracing a sloppy, ill-thought-out progressivism. On the contrary, the head saw himself, in a sense, as a latter day Thomas Arnold. Gowns were worn, discipline stressed, hard work, class teaching and homework were the rule. The breakthrough was specifically related to a new assessment of educability and consequent questioning and transformation of inner school structures (Simon 1991:309).
Other schools were also experimenting. In June 1966, in what Brian Simon describes as 'the high point in the movement towards non-streaming in the comprehensive school' (Simon 1991:309), four hundred teachers attended a conference organised jointly by Forum and the Comprehensive Schools Committee to discuss their experiences of unstreaming. The atmosphere at the conference was 'exceptionally positive - almost electric': it now seemed that 'a basic transformation of the whole system of secondary education was a real possibility' (Simon 1991:309).

Further conferences on the issue, organised by universities and local authorities, followed in Nottingham, Gloucestershire, Bedfordshire, Exeter, Reading and York.

In 1967 David Hargreaves published Social Relations in a Secondary School, 'the first ethnographic analysis of the actual impact of streaming on pupils' attitudes, particularly in the alienation of those relegated to low streams' (Simon 1991:310).

Surveys conducted in 1968 and 1971 showed that the number of comprehensive schools experimenting with more flexible forms of grouping was growing. The proportion of schools using some form of mixed ability grouping for first-year pupils rose from 22 per cent in 1968 to almost 35 per cent in 1971; while the proportion using traditional streaming fell from 20 per cent to 5 per cent. The most popular system was banding - a 'transitional mode between strict streaming on the one hand, and full non-streaming on the other' (Simon 1991:310).

The sociologist Dennis Marsden argued that there were now two opposing concepts of the comprehensive school - the 'egalitarian' and the 'meritocratic':

While what may be called the 'meritocratic school' seeks primarily to maximise the academic attainments of children from all social backgrounds, the 'egalitarian school' also lays stress on broader educational aims and is intended to become a solvent for inequalities and social tensions in society (Comprehensive Education No. 13 Autumn 1969, quoted in Simon 1991:310).
He warned against the power and influence of the meritocrats. Legislation could not in itself represent 'the achievement of the comprehensive principle in education', he concluded. 'We are just coming to realise how hard the fight will be' (Comprehensive Education No. 13 Autumn 1969, quoted in Simon 1991:311).

Primary education


The number of children in primary schools in England and Wales rose from 4,132,542 in 1961 to 4,919,382 in 1970; the number of full-time teachers from 141,160 to 172,434. Both the pupil-teacher ratio and the number of oversize classes fell slightly during the decade. Teacher supply was a constant challenge: recruitment to the colleges of education rose from 15,000 in 1960 to more than 37,000 in 1970 (Simon 1991:344).


Progressive teaching methods had grown in popularity since the war. In her book An Experiment in Education (1963), for example, Sybil Marshall (1913-2005) wrote about her experiences as a teacher at Kingston Primary School in Cambridgeshire between 1942 and 1948 where, with a class of 26 pupils aged 4 to 11, she had developed methods for integrating the curriculum and encouraging children's creativity. She had found it immensely rewarding but certainly not easy:

To control a class in freedom, to learn with each child instead of instructing a passive class, to be a well of clear water into which the children can dip all the time, instead of a hose pipe dousing them with facts, is the most exhausting way of all of doing a teacher's job (Marshall 1963:42).
In the 1950s, some imaginative new primary schools had been built, and some authorities - notably Hampshire and Oxfordshire - had experimented with open-plan designs. There were new approaches to primary school timetables and changes in the organisation of classrooms. Innovative methods were developed for the teaching of reading, mathematics, creative writing, movement and modern languages. Not all were successful - the Initial Teaching Alphabet, for example, launched at the end of the 1950s by Sir James Pitman and others, was tried by many infant teachers but soon abandoned. Class sizes began to come down: a maximum of forty was widely achieved and the National Union of Teachers started campaigning for a maximum class size of thirty.

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

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

With the rapid expansion of the colleges, young teachers flooded into the schools. They had been 'fed with a mix of intelligence test theory (though now less dogmatically than earlier) and the theories of the Swiss philosopher Piaget' (Simon 1991:352).

There was 'an explosion of curriculum reform' (Simon 1991:352), notably in the teaching of maths. The driving force behind the extraordinary success of the 'new maths' was the HMI, Edith Biggs (1911-2002). The Schools Council's Curriculum Bulletin No. 1 Mathematics in Primary Schools, published in 1965, had sold 165,000 copies by its third edition in 1969. Biggs, a teacher of 'immense energy and skill' (Simon 1991:353), toured the country, leading workshops for young teachers.

Another pioneer in this field was the Hungarian mathematician Zoltán Dienes (1916-2014). Based at Leicester University, he developed new ideas on the teaching of concepts in mathematics which were taken up around the world. These approaches were 'a far cry from the type of computational drill that had predominated in the primary schools almost since their inception' (Simon 1991:353).

Meanwhile, the Nuffield Foundation developed primary curriculum projects in maths (based on Biggs' work), science and French. Participation in these projects

not only carried with it a certain prestige - it also implied involvement at the edge of knowledge, in terms of a breakthrough in the understanding of children's learning, concept development and intellectual growth generally (Simon 1991:353).
These projects were just one aspect of curriculum reform. There were also more active approaches to learning generally and a greater focus on creativity, growing out of a tradition which derived from the work of teachers such as Sybil Marshall and Marion Richardson (1892-1946), best known for her 1935 book Writing and Writing Patterns, which was still in use in primary schools in the 1980s.

The five areas which led the movement for change were Oxfordshire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, Leicestershire, London and, in the case of nursery schools, Bristol (Simon 1991:354). It is notable that these were the authorities which also espoused the cause of comprehensive secondary education.

Leicestershire and the West Riding benefited from the leadership of two able Directors of Education - Stewart Mason and Alec Clegg. Both were 'unusual characters' who were 'profoundly interested in the processes of education' and wielded 'very considerable power' (Simon 1991:355).

In Oxfordshire, the Plowden Committee found a sense of purpose, with 'groups of excited young heads all working together', as Lady Plowden later told The Times Educational Supplement (15 November 1985 quoted in Simon 1991:357). This was the result of 'years of creative activity' by the HMI Edith Moorhouse, the county's primary school adviser from 1948 to 1964. Moorhouse later wrote: 'People call it a golden age. It wasn't. There were great pressures. They were golden days because we made them golden days' (The Times Educational Supplement 15 November 1985 quoted in Simon 1991:357).

In London, one of the prime movers in the reform movement was Christian Schiller (1895-1976), a primary HMI until 1955 and then Senior Lecturer in Primary Education at the London Institute of Education. He was 'an inspired teacher' and 'something of an evangelist' (Simon 1991:357).

Alongside curriculum reform there were also experiments with new forms of school organisation, including 'family grouping' (in which classes contained two or more year groups); the 'integrated day' (a basic restructuring of the curriculum as a whole); and 'open plan' buildings (allowing more flexible use of space).

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

It was in these areas, also, that the system of streaming, which reinforced the methodology of class teaching, was most rapidly discarded. The swing from streaming in the junior schools in these and other areas, which started very slowly in the mid 1950s, meeting strong opposition, suddenly took off with extraordinary rapidity in the mid to late 1960s, gaining influential support from the Plowden Report of 1967. (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:39)
A number of factors provided the context for these educational developments in the 1960s: How far this 'revolution in the primary schools' actually penetrated the schools has been much debated, but Maurice Kogan was in no doubt as to the extent of the changes:
There had been perhaps twenty or thirty years of triumphant progress by the primary schools in which it seemed that all that was good was happening through them. A powerful humanitarianism seemed to suffuse the best of the primary schools. To the visitor they seemed unbelievably good in their relationships between adults and children, able to elicit powerful interest on the part of the pupils, and yet still be highly productive in work that was both creative and skilful (Kogan 1978:55).
The Plowden Report, he argued, 'celebrated the achievements of the primary schools in several hundred pages' (Kogan 1978:56).

1967 Plowden Report

(Note references in this section are to Volume I of the Plowden Report).


It was, then, a period of great excitement and creativity in education: the eleven plus was being abolished, freeing primary schools from the constraints imposed by the need to 'get good results'; streaming was being abandoned; comprehensive schools and middle schools were being established; and teacher-led curriculum innovation was being actively encouraged.

It was against this background that, in August 1963, Edward Boyle reconstituted the Central Advisory Councils for England (chaired by Bridget Plowden) and Wales (chaired by CE Gittins, Professor of Education at University College Swansea and formerly Chief Education Officer for Monmouthshire) and gave them a new brief - 'to consider primary education in all its aspects, and the transition to secondary education' (Plowden 1967:iv).

The Plowden Report Children and their Primary Schools was presented to to Anthony Crosland, now Secretary of State, in November 1966, and published on 10 January 1967 in two volumes, Volume I containing the report and Volume II the research and surveys. The Gittins Report was published a year later: the translation of this into Welsh occupied four professors for nine months and sold 26 copies.

The Committee

Bridget Plowden (1910-2000) (pictured), whose father was Master of Downing College Cambridge, became a juvenile magistrate and enjoyed charitable work, but first came to public attention when Boyle asked her to chair the enquiry into primary schools. She went on to become vice-chair of the BBC governors and then chair of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. In her eighties she was still involved with several charities, including the Council for Gypsy and Travellers' Children and the volunteer reading help programme in schools.

The membership of her committee and its terms of reference were 'a product of the optimism and belief in social engineering of its time' (Kogan 1987:13) In addition to Bridget Plowden and Professor Gittins, the 25-member Committee included Sir John Newsom as Deputy Chair; Mollie Brearley, Principal of the Froebel Institute at Roehampton; Miss EM Parry, an inspector from Bristol with a reputation for progressive and innovative ideas; Conservative MP Timothy Raison, who had just launched New Society; and Michael Young (of whom more below). There were also several teachers, including four from primary schools.

The Secretary to the Council was Maurice Kogan (1930-2007), a young civil servant who later became Professor of Government at Brunel University and wrote many books on the politics of education, including The Politics of Education (1971), The Politics of Educational Change (1978), and Education Accountability (1986).

The Council was supported by a team of HMIs and DES officials, of whom the best known was probably JEH Blackie, the chief HMI for primary education and a strong advocate of progressive methods.

The Committee was extremely thorough: a mass of research data was collated; the views of more than a hundred organisations and two hundred individuals (many of them teachers) were received, some in writing, some orally; and Committee members visited many schools in England and Scotland (as the Welsh Committee did in Wales) and also primary schools in Denmark, France, Sweden, Poland, the USA and USSR.

Though there was unanimity on all the central issues, there were 'Notes of reservation' on nursery education, religious education, corporal punishment and the supply and training of teachers.


After a lengthy theoretical chapter on children's growth and development, the report dealt with the home, school and neighbourhood (proposing the creation of 'educational priority areas'), the education of immigrants, and the role of the health and social services.

With regard to the structure of primary education, which comprised the bulk of the report, the committee considered age ranges, the effects of eleven plus selection, the curriculum and internal organisation of the schools, teacher training, staffing, school buildings and equipment, and the status and government of primary education. The Committee's recommendations were costed and prioritised in relation to the Labour government's National Plan, in which expenditure on primary education in England and Wales was predicted to rise by around 25 per cent between 1964 and 1969.

The essence of the report is summed up at the start of Chapter 2: 'At the heart of the educational process lies the child' (Plowden 1967:7). And not just the child, but the individual child:

Individual differences between children of the same age are so great that any class, however homogeneous it seems, must always be treated as a body of children needing individual and different attention (Plowden 1967:25).
In relation to the curriculum, the committee was clear. 'One of the main educational tasks of the primary school is to build on and strengthen children's intrinsic interest in learning and lead them to learn for themselves rather than from fear of disapproval or desire for praise' (Plowden 1967:196).

The committee's focus on the importance of understanding the individual child's intellectual, emotional and physical development - based largely on the work of Piaget - led it to argue for the abolition of streaming and a reduction in the amount of whole-class teaching, though it acknowledged that this would not be easy: 'the problem in the unstreamed class will be to translate into practice the principle of individual learning' (Plowden 1967:292).

Galton, Simpson and Croll later described the 'ideal Plowden-type teacher and her class' in these terms:

The children are active, engaged in exploration or discovery, interacting both with the teacher and with each other. Each child operates as an individual, though groups are formed and re-formed related to those activities which are not normally subject differentiated. The teacher moves around the classroom, consulting, guiding, stimulating individual children or occasionally, for convenience, the groups of children which are brought together for some specific activity, or are 'at the same stage'. She knows each child individually, and how best to stimulate or intervene with each. In this activity she bears in mind the child's intellectual, social and physical levels of development and monitors these. On occasions the whole class is brought together, for instance for a story or music, or to spark off or finalise a class project; otherwise class teaching is seldom used, the pupils' work and the teacher's attention being individualised or 'grouped' (Galton, Simpson and Croll 1980:49).
The report's recurring themes were individual learning, flexibility in the curriculum, the use of the environment, learning by discovery, and the importance of the evaluation of children's progress - teachers should 'not assume that only what is measurable is valuable' (Plowden 1967:202).
The basic philosophy of the report was one of controlled progressivism, and was influenced by research into child development, including that of Piaget. It favoured a balance of individual and class work, and preferred a transfer age of twelve or thirteen to that of eleven, thus encouraging the growth of interest in middle schools. The committee's most far-reaching contribution was in connection with the relationship between the primary school and the home and social background (Lawson and Silver 1973:453).
One of the Committee's priorities was the designation of 'educational priority areas' (EPAs) - those areas which 'have for generations been starved of new schools, new houses and new investment of every kind' (Plowden 1967:50). What was needed to solve this problem was 'a new distribution of educational resources' (Plowden 1967:55), with extra money for buildings, books and equipment. Classes should be small, the teachers should be paid more and qualified teacher assistants should be provided. Nursery education should be expanded, links with colleges and teacher centres improved, and community schools should be developed.

Reception and reaction

Plowden, the first thorough review of primary education since the Hadow Report of 1931, was written at a time of economic growth, full employment and enhanced affluence, in which many looked forward to the realisation of a more egalitarian society based on human potential 'which the committee saw as unlimited' (Simon 1991:365). It accelerated the progressive movement by giving 'enormous encouragement to all that was most advanced in the primary scene' (Simon 1991:365), as Maurice Kogan noted in 1987:

The Plowden Committee took on the exemplary function adopted by all previous Consultative Committees and Central Advisory Councils. It laid out the best practices that could be found in primary schools with a view to encouraging others to follow them (Kogan 1987:14).
The report was very much a product of its time, full of enthusiasm and optimism. It
clearly and definitely espoused child-centred approaches in general, the concept of 'informal' education, flexibility of internal organisation and non-streaming in a general humanist approach - stressing particularly the uniqueness of each individual and the paramount need for individualisation of the teaching and learning process (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:40).
The report 'reflected and reinforced the ferment of activity now developing within the field of primary education' and was 'warmly welcomed across the widest spectrum of public opinion' (Simon 1991:342). In the DES annual report for 1967, Education Secretary Gordon Walker noted that the report had received 'an immediate and general welcome for its general tenor and philosophy' (quoted in Simon 1991:373).

Interest in Britain's 'primary school revolution' was felt not only at home (70,000 copies of the Plowden Report were sold in a year) but around the world - particularly in the USA, where Joseph Featherstone's articles in the journal New Republic in 1967 were followed by the publication of many books on the subject.

A number of Plowden's main recommendations were acted on immediately, notably the creation of Educational Priority Areas, in which the government allocated 16m over two years for school building. (For more on EPAs, see George Smith's 1987 article Whatever Happened to Educational Priority Areas?).

In November 1967 Walker announced further action on teacher supply and the school building programme; and in the following two years plans for greater expenditure on urban areas and nursery education were published.

The expansion of nursery education had been held back by economic difficulties during the inter-war years and the percentage of children under five in schools and nurseries had remained almost static between the 1930s and 1960s. In the early 1960s local authorities had been 'officially discouraged from increasing their expenditure on nursery education' (Lawson and Silver 1973:459). From 1968, as part of the urban aid programme, grants were made for nursery classes in underprivileged areas, but 'Although nursery-school provision was improved, it remained fragmentary' (Lawson and Silver 1973:459).

The abandonment of streaming in primary schools, endorsed by Plowden, gathered pace. A survey of two midlands local authorities in the 1970 found that the vast majority of primary schools were now unstreamed; five years later, a study of all primary schools in Lancashire and Cumbria found only 13 per cent were still streamed; and by the time HMI conducted its major national survey Primary education in England in 1978, only 4 per cent of nine-year-olds were in streamed classes.

Within a mere fifteen years, then, the position Jackson ... found in 1963 was totally reversed. It seems clear enough that the swing to unstreaming (or 'mixed ability grouping') as a principle of school organisation was the one chief characteristic of the so-called 'primary school revolution' which cannot be gainsaid (Simon 1991:370).
There were, inevitably, some who objected to Plowden. A backlash against progressive teaching methods (and against comprehensive schools and egalitarianism in general) began with the publication in 1969 of the first of five 'Black Papers', written by right-wing educationists and politicians who were convinced that the progressive style of education being developed in primary schools was 'a main cause not only of student unrest in the universities but of other unwelcome tendencies or phenomena' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:41). (For more on the Black Papers see the end of this chapter.)

Plowden and Gittins were the last reports to be produced by the Central Advisory Councils. They were never reconstituted and the clause in the 1944 Education Act establishing them was finally repealed in 1986.

(In 1987 the Oxford Review of Education published a special issue: Plowden Twenty Years On. Nine of the articles - by AH Halsey and Kathy Sylva, Maurice Kogan, George Smith, David Winkley, Neville Bennett, Maurice Galton, Philip Gammage, Andrew M Wilkinson and Bridget Plowden - can be found here.)

Middle schools

Rapid development

Circular 10/65, which requested that LEAs should submit proposals for comprehensivisation, listed six possible forms of school organisation. The last of these was:

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

From then on, the development of middle schools was extraordinarily rapid. In 1967 there were none. In 1968 the first opened in Bradford and the West Riding. By 1980 there were more than 1400. Blyth has described this development as 'one of the strangest stories in the history of English education' (Blyth 1980:20 quoted in Crook 2008:122), perhaps because no one had done any academic research into the effectiveness of middle schools. They were created largely for economic reasons, and any educational justification for them was very much an afterthought. 'The middle school was an innovation that cried out for legitimation' (Hargreaves and Tickle 1980:5).

In 1970 the DES published Towards the Middle School (Education Pamphlet No. 57), which noted the views of psychologists and experts in child development that middle schools could provide good pastoral support, especially for girls and early-maturing boys; that they could stimulate children's creativity in language and the arts; and that they shielded children from the undesirable pressures of exams.

It identified four key features of children between the ages of 8 and 13:

the range and relative unpredictability of their individual abilities; the powerful effect of the expectations of parents, teachers and the children's own contemporaries; the general trend for all save the exceptionally able or mature to learn most effectively from the concrete, whether directly experienced, or described or evoked in words; and their tendency to congregate and work in groups (DES 1970a:10).
It recommended experimentation in the organisation of the curriculum. A possible arrangement for an 8-12 school, for example,
would provide three broad blocks of work, the first emphasising investigation and discovery and including science, mathematics and such language and art as are vehicles of communication: in the second block the arts would be central, using experience and materials as a stimulus: the third would include more specific elements such as gymnastics, games and swimming (DES 1970a:17).
In a consideration of pupil grouping policies it noted that 'most middle school working parties have expressed a strong preference for classes of mixed ability' (DES 1970a:25).

With regard to the training of teachers and deployment of staff, it argued that

one particular objective of initial training, in-service training and of heads in their deployment of staff should be to guard against a stratification of staff which would make the middle school two schools within one, and perpetuate the present break between primary and secondary schools (DES 1970a:37).
(For more on middle schools see chapters 11, 15, 16 and 17 of this history and the website of the National Middle Schools Forum.)

The teachers

Teacher training

Pupil numbers

In April 1965, following a report by the National Advisory Council on the Training and Supply of Teachers, Antony Crosland launched another ambitious emergency programme to expand the teacher training system. The aim was to reduce class sizes to 30 in secondary schools and 40 in primary schools: two million children, said Crosland, were in oversize classes. The context for this was difficult: the school population was set to rise by a million in the next five years, and a further million between 1970 and 1975 - an overall increase of 200,000 a year for the next ten years. Most of the increase was due to the rising birth rate, but a quarter was the result of the decision to raise the leaving age to sixteen. It was, said Crosland, 'a daunting prospect' (Simon 1991:255).


The 1963 Newsom Report had argued in favour of the long-standing demand for an all-trained teaching profession: 'a training requirement for graduates should be introduced at the earliest practicable moment' (Newsom 1963:105). This was implemented in January 1970: from then on, graduates were accepted as teachers in maintained primary schools only after a course of professional training; the same applied to secondary schools from January 1974.

The four-year Bachelor of Education (BEd) course, proposed by the 1963 Robbins Report, was introduced in 1965. The first BEd degrees were awarded in 1968 and the number of students taking the degree increased from 1,500 in 1969 to 3,000 two years later. Several universities introduced four-year courses which included both a degree and a teaching qualification.

Course content

Middleton and Weitzman argue that Crosland failed 'to make the most of opportunities to reorganise teacher education, which was in the end cobbled in the worst tradition of British gradualism' (Middleton and Weitzman 1976:351).

The training colleges had been repeatedly condemned as indifferent ... they were too small, geographically and intellectually isolated with mediocre staff. In some hundred years of development they had produced no educational research, developed no applications of psychology and sociology to the work in the schools, there was no body of theory or knowledge about education based on field work, and no scholars of standing had emerged from the colleges. Every investigation showed them to be generally reactionary and indifferent in quality (Middleton and Weitzman 1976:351-2).
At a conference organised jointly by the Ministry of Education and the universities and colleges in March 1964, CJ Gill, Chief Inspector at the DES, argued that 'The whole educational system of this country seems to have reached a state of fluidity which makes far reaching changes possible ... Traditional ways of organising education, of teaching children and of training teachers are being challenged' (quoted in Simon 1991:375-6).

The educational philosopher Richard Peters argued that the study of education should consist of three 'foundation disciplines' - philosophy, psychology and sociology; other speakers suggested a fourth discipline - history.

Following this conference, the colleges of education and the university education departments began appointing specialist philosophers, sociologists and historians and providing courses based on the 'disciplines' approach. As each discipline became established, societies were set up, journals were published, conferences organised. 'The study of education was coming into its own' (Simon 1991:376).

This movement marked an important advance: the study of education was 'perceptibly moved on to a higher level' (Simon 1991:377). But there was also a negative effect:

These studies did not and could not directly contribute to the practice of teaching. Their focus was remote from the classroom. They were unconcerned with pedagogy - with the production of highly skilled classroom practitioners. In this they followed a long-standing tradition in English educational studies (Simon 1991:377).
The result was that the pedagogic guidance needed by trainee teachers was sometimes neglected, and responsibility for students on teaching practice was shared between subject specialists (whose experience was mostly secondary), though most colleges did have curriculum specialists with primary-school experience. The practice of teaching was 'not illuminated by theoretical insights - nor by a body of knowledge easily available to the students' (Simon 1991:377).

This was perhaps hardly surprising: the colleges of education faced 'logistical problems on a massive scale' as a result of rapidly increasing student numbers, and the introduction of the three-year course and then the BEd degree. Overall, argues Brian Simon, they rose to the occasion 'with remarkable success' (Simon 1991:378).

But it was perhaps unsurprising that criticisms of teacher training were increasingly expressed in the late 1960s, and it was this 'widespread anxiety about the structure and content of courses of teacher education' (Lawson and Silver 1973:458) which led Ted Heath's government to set up the James Committee in 1971.

The Schools Council

The 1964 Lockwood Report Schools' Curricula and Examinations (5 March) 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, came into being on 1 October 1964. Its 75 members included 37 from teachers' organisations, ten representatives of local education authorities, and three from the DES (Simon 1991:338-9). It was thus dominated by teachers. 'It was teachers - through their organisations and as individuals - who had a leading influence on curriculum change' (Jones 2003:52-3).

Its constitution - drafted by Derek Morrell, an 'energetic, idealistic and unusual ministry official' (Simon 1991:313) - declared that:

We reaffirm the importance of the principle that the schools should have the fullest measure of responsibility for their own work, including responsibility for their own curricula and teaching methods, which should be evolved by their own staff to meet the needs of their own pupils. We believe, however, that positive action is needed to uphold this principle (quoted in Simon 1991:313).
Lawson and Silver argue that the creation of the Council was 'an outstanding event in English education in the 1960s' (Lawson and Silver 1973:444), and Sir William Alexander, Secretary of the Association of Education Committees, regarded it as the most important development in education in his lifetime.

In Change and Response, published in 1965, the Council reported on its first year of operation. Its aim, it said, was to

secure a happier marriage than in the past between the actual work of the schools - which must constantly develop in response to new needs and new insights into the learning process - and the examinations which, in the process of assessing that work, can all too easily stand in the way of necessary innovation (Schools Council 1965:21).
The Schools Council was 'born on the wave of the curriculum reform movement' (Simon 1991:314), which began in the late 1950s when the independently-funded Nuffield Foundation worked on projects in the sciences and (later) in mathematics and modern languages. Teams of teachers, selected for their innovative capacity, were assisted by university and other experts to produce curriculum guidelines, syllabuses, activities and apparatus representing the best of prevailing practice. These projects, however, were aimed largely at the grammar schools and public schools.

In July 1966, as part of its work in preparation for the raising of the school leaving age to sixteen, the Schools Council held a conference at the University of Nottingham. In 1967 the Council published the papers read at the conference as Working Paper No. 12: The Educational Implications of Social and Economic Change (1967).

Nuffield's approach to curriculum reform, adopted at first by the Schools Council, was criticised - notably by John White, Professor of the Philosophy of Education at the London Institute of Education - for seeming to imply that low-grade activities were suitable for the 'less able' child. White was particularly critical of Society and the Young School Leaver (Schools Council Working Paper No. 11, 1967), also produced in preparation for the raising of the school leaving age. 'It would not be at all fanciful', wrote White, 'to see the major aim of the new curriculum as getting the ordinary child to accept his lot in life as inevitable and try to make the best of things' (quoted in Simon 1991:315).

In addition to producing schemes of work connected with the raising of the school leaving age, the Council worked with the Nuffield Foundation to promote curriculum development projects such as that in humanities, begun in 1967. In 1971 it argued the case for replacing the GCE and CSE with a common exam system.

Meanwhile, in Scotland the 1965 Teaching Council (Scotland) Act (2 June) provided for the establishment of a General Teaching Council for Scotland, for the registration of teachers, for regulating their professional training, and for cancelling registration in cases of misconduct. (For more on the history of the General Teaching Council for Scotland see Ian Matheson's 2015 book Milestones and Minefields.)

As a result of the work of the Schools Council and the introduction of the CSE exam, new teachers' centres were established (there were almost 500 by 1971) where teachers could - often for the first time - meet locally to discuss developments in the teaching of their subjects; and 'a new pattern of professional relationships was inaugurated' (Lawson and Silver 1973:444).

The extent to which Schools Council curriculum reform projects were taken up by schools has been much debated, but it is certainly true that the curriculum reform movement developed rapidly in the late 1960s and gathered momentum in the 1970s. There was genuine excitement - even 'effervescence' - in the schools (Simon 1991:317).


The 1960s saw the introduction of a number of new teaching techniques including teaching machines and programmed learning. By the end of the decade there were 1,500 language laboratories in British schools and greater use was being made of projectors, record players, tape recorders and radio and television. Some secondary schools acquired computer terminals. 'The importance of the new techniques, as of the new curriculum developments, lay in the challenge they presented to teachers, either to justify existing practices or to adopt or modify new ones' (Lawson and Silver 1973:445).

Educational innovation had 'taken on a new shape' (Lawson and Silver 1973:445). It had become 'an institutionalised process with established procedures' (Lawson and Silver 1973:445), offering teachers in state schools the opportunity to take part in national, local or individual innovatory schemes. Previously seen only in a few independent schools, 'the traditions of the progressive educators were being taken up in some parts of the state system more extensively in the sixties than ever before' (Lawson and Silver 1973:445).

Industrial relations

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

Special educational needs


Immigration became a major educational issue in the 1960s: there were 46,000 immigrant children in primary schools in 1961; more than 100,000 in 1966. (The respective numbers for secondary schools were 33,000 and 49,000.)

Great efforts were made to cater for non-English-speaking immigrants so that, while the total number of immigrant children in all schools of England and Wales doubled between 1966 and 1970 (to more than 250,000), the proportion with 'serious inadequacies of English' fell from 25 to 16 per cent (Lawson and Silver 1973:454).

Section 11

Section 11 of the 1966 Local Government Act (13 December) provided for additional funding for teachers of immigrant pupils.

It authorised the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, to make grants for the employment of staff in those local authorities which were 'required to make special provision in the exercise of any of their functions in consequence of the presence within their areas of substantial numbers of immigrants from the Commonwealth whose language or customs differ from those of the community' (Section 11(1)).

Within four years, more than 3,000 additional 'section 11 teachers' had been appointed.

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

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

1968 Summerfield Report

Arthur Summerfield (1923-2005) had joined the British Psychological Society as a student in 1947 and had become its President in 1963. From 1961 until he retired in 1988, he held the Chair in Psychology at Birkbeck College London.

In February 1965 he was appointed by education secretary Anthony Crosland to chair a committee

to consider the field of work of educational psychologists employed by local education authorities and the qualifications and training necessary; to estimate the number of psychologists required; and to make recommendations (Summerfield 1968:iii).
The eleven members of the Committee submitted their unanimous report, Psychologists in Education Services, to Crosland's successor, Patrick Gordon Walker, in February 1968. They made a wide range of recommendations regarding the duties, training and supply of educational psychologists.

1970 Education (Handicapped Children) Act

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

The public schools

It had been a long-held ambition of the Labour Party to integrate the independent ('public') schools into the state system. There was certainly no doubt about the social privilege that attendance at a public school bestowed, as a list compiled in 1964 by Howard Glennerster and Richard Pryke showed:

Percentage of posts occupied by people with a public-school education

Conservative cabinet (1964)87
judges (1956)76
Conservative MPs (1964)76
ambassadors (1953)70
lieutenants general and above (1953)70
bishops (1953)66
chief executives in 100 largest firms (1963)64
civil servants above assistant secretary (1950)59
all city directors (1958)47
Labour cabinet (1964)35

(Glennerster and Pryke 1964:17 quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:456)

The Public Schools Commission

Twenty years after the publication of the 1944 Fleming Report, The Public Schools and the General Educational System, most of whose recommendations had been ignored, Harold Wilson's Labour administration decided to revisit the issue.

In December 1965 Education Secretary Anthony Crosland, who had told a Labour Party conference in March that he was 'an unrepentant egalitarian' (quoted in Simon 1991:323), announced the setting up of the Public Schools Commission. 'We must either have a proper reform or none at all', he declared (The Times Educational Supplement 1 March 1965 quoted in Simon 1991:321).

The Commission was asked 'to advise on the best way of integrating the public schools with the state system of education' (Newsom 1968:vii). It decided to produce two separate reports, the first (Newsom, 1968) dealing with private boarding schools, the second (Donnison, 1970) with private day schools, direct-grant and maintained grammar schools.

1968 Newsom Report

For this first report, the 15-member Commission was chaired by John Newsom, a managing director of the publishing firm Longmans Green and Co and a former County Education Officer for Hertfordshire. He had chaired the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) to produce the 1963 report Half our Future.

The Vice-chair was David Donnison (1926- ), Professor of Social Administration at the London School of Economics, 'a serious social analyst and a strong supporter of comprehensive reorganisation' (Simon 1991:322), and there were two comprehensive heads - WF Hill of Myers Grove in Sheffield and Harry Judge of Banbury School in Oxfordshire.

The public schools were at first cooperative - if only on their own terms - but their attitude soon hardened, and at the annual meeting of the Head Master's Conference in October 1966 the head of Rugby declared:

Never before have we found ourselves in the situation in which schools of high academic standard, whether independent, direct grant or maintained, are regarded as socially undesirable because of that very excellence (The Times Educational Supplement 7 October 1966 quoted in Simon 1991:323).
The 1968 Newsom Report was a 'costly and prolonged exercise' (Benn and Chitty 1996:10). It noted the objections to private education, but then spent two hundred pages pointlessly arguing for more boarding provision.

In recent years, said the Commission,

public schools have been changing their assumptions and aims, diversifying and opening up their culture. The change of emphasis to academic achievement, a decline in the importance of team games, a greater concern for the arts, and some dismantling of the complex disciplinary machine, are all, in many schools, conspicuous. Nevertheless, it remains true - and it could not but remain true - that their activities are based on the assumptions and aspirations of the British middle class, from which their pupils come and upon which their fees depend (Newsom 1968:30).
Like the earlier Fleming Committee, the Public Schools Commission argued that the public schools should be integrated into the state system, but went considerably further. It aimed to end the 'divisive influence' of the independent schools by making more than half of their places available not just to pupils from maintained schools, but to those who were either socially and educationally deprived or from difficult home backgrounds:
With very few exceptions, they should cater for pupils including those of an ability level corresponding with that required for courses leading to the Certificate of Secondary Education. They should be encouraged where possible also to admit children below this level of ability. Very few children with boarding need should be excluded from the opportunity of a place at an integrated school on grounds of low academic ability (Newsom 1968:8).
It also expanded the definition of 'boarding need' to include social or academic needs - for example, children from 'adverse home or family conditions' (Newsom 1968:11).

In a chapter headed Divisiveness - Boys' Schools, the commission made 'an acute and wide ranging analysis of the public school phenomenon and of its profound effect in terms of life chances' (Simon 1991:324). The public schools, it concluded,

are not divisive simply because they are exclusive. An exclusive institution becomes divisive when it arbitrarily confers upon its members advantages and powers over the rest of society. The public schools confer such advantages on an arbitrarily selected membership, which already starts with an advantageous position in life. There is no sign that these divisions will disappear if the schools are left alone. They themselves deplore this. It is time we helped them to change a situation which was not of their making (Newsom 1968:62).

The Commission considered whether local education authorities should be given control of the independent schools but dismissed the idea for four reasons:

In a Note of Reservation, John Vaizey commented:
The main objection to private schools is that they are socially divisive. Some of them happen to have beds. It therefore seems less revolutionary to change the bodies in the beds than to eliminate the beds. It is as though Henry VIII had not dismantled the monasteries, but filled them with social need cases, after an exhaustive social survey of the number of people in the population who felt the urge for a life of contemplation in a cell. There is a degree of confusion in attempting to 'solve' a social question by throwing out the middle class and replacing it by a different social group (Newsom 1968:221).
The report was greeted with howls of protest from all sides. 'Has any educational report ever been so unanimously damned or derided as the Public Schools Commission's?' asked The Times Educational Supplement (26 July 1968). 'The press, right, left and centre, has said it is unworkable and hypocritical. The politicians say it will be shelved' (quoted in Simon 1991:325).

The NUT said it would be totally irresponsible to spend millions on the public schools when money was urgently needed to replace sub-standard primary schools; the Comprehensive Schools Committee urged the government to reject the report out of hand; and the Confederation for the Advancement of State Education (CASE) claimed that the report's main recommendation was 'neither practicable nor desirable'. On the right, Tory MP Angus Maude called the report 'a very considerable waste of time'; and the Headmasters' Conference criticised its 'doctrinaire rigidity' (Simon 1991:326).

The sociologist AH Halsey, who had been a research adviser to Crosland, also rejected the report. In 'The Public Schools Debacle' (New Society 25 July 1968) he argued that the Commissioners had 'produced overwhelming evidence of the grotesquely unjust consequences of the existence of the public schools in their present form', yet they had rejected the only possible - abolition of the public schools 'by taking them over' (quoted in Simon 1991:327).

At the 1968 Labour Party conference a few weeks after publication of the report, delegates - backed by the party's National Executive Committee - agreed a motion totally rejecting the findings of the Newsom Committee.

In fact, the report had already been discussed - and effectively dismissed - at the Cabinet meeting on 18 July. In her Diaries, Barbara Castle wrote that 'None of us have a good word for it ... It is pretty clear that in the end we shall decide not to proceed with it' (quoted in Simon 1991:326).

Which was, indeed, exactly what happened.

1970 Donnison Report

Circular 10/65 (paragraph 39) had, somewhat naively, expressed the hope that the governors of direct-grant schools would be willing to cooperate in the policy of comprehensive reform. Within a couple of years it was clear that this was not going to happen. 'The contradiction between support for comprehensive reorganisation, and the direct financing by government of a highly selective group of schools had become acute' (Simon 1991:328).

The Commission's second report, the 1970 Donnison Report, sought to tackle this problem. Under the chairmanship of David Donnison, who was now Director of the Centre for Environmental Studies, the Commission had eleven new members, including some heads or ex-heads of direct-grant schools.

The Commission was clear in its support for comprehensive reform:

Britain allows larger proportions of her young people to drop out of school at the ages of fifteen and sixteen than her neighbours and major competitors, and is already severely handicapped by this waste of talent. An educational system which enables a minority of the most fortunate children to take their education a long way while turning the rest out into the labour market as soon as it is socially tolerable for them to start work is as obsolete as the early industrial era from which it originated (Donnison 1970:109).
It reached three main conclusions: Direct grant grammar schools, argued the report, should either become comprehensive or go fully private. A school which chose to go comprehensive might become:
(a) An all-through comprehensive school (providing for the age range from 11 or 12 to 18);

(b) one component of a tiered system, within which some schools will provide for the lower secondary stage (to the age of 13 or 14) and others for the upper secondary stage;

(c) a 'mushroom' type of school, receiving pupils at the lower secondary stage (i.e. at the age 11, 12, 13 or 14) on a non-selective basis, and further pupils at the age of about 16;

(d) a junior or sixth form college, receiving pupils at the age of about 16;

(e) a comprehensive school for the age range 11 or 12 to 16;

(f) a school providing for special needs; for example, a choir school or a music school;

(g) a school meeting boarding needs (Donnison 1970:114-115).

In fact, in the six years following the publication of the report, a third of the direct-grant schools (around fifty) went comprehensive, the rest (more than a hundred) joined the private sector.

The Commission's 19 members were hopelessly divided on many issues. Most of them were convinced that

children with exceptional gifts of a more general academic kind should be educated along with their less able contemporaries within a comprehensive system - both for their own sake, and for the sake of other children (Donnison 1970:172).
Others, however, wished
to preserve and develop a small number of highly selective schools, covering the normal secondary age range and taking children from about the top two per cent of the ability range (Donnison 1970:172).
The Report, published on 24 March 1970, received a mixed reception in the press. The Times (25 March 1970) dismissed it as a 'candidate for limbo'; but The Guardian (25 March 1970) found it 'Fresh and incisive' - 'one of the best, most practical educational documents for years' (quoted in Simon 1991:330).

The government welcomed the report and said it would act on its recommendations, but Margaret Thatcher, now shadow education secretary, urged the direct-grant schools to 'hang on' until the Conservatives were returned to power: they would set aside the Commission's findings and seek to extend the direct-grant system.

In the event, most of Donnison's recommendations were ignored. Wilson's Labour government reduced the grants to direct-grant schools; Ted Heath's Tory government (with Thatcher as Education Secretary) increased them in 1971.

When Thatcher later became Prime Minister (in 1979), her government's 1980 Education Act created the 'assisted places scheme', which provided public money for children to go to private schools.

Further and higher education

The binary system

The Robbins conception of a unitary system of higher education received a 'sledgehammer blow' (Simon 1991:247) on 27 April 1965, when the new Education Secretary, Anthony Crosland, gave a speech at Woolwich Polytechnic. He announced that the government fully supported the binary system, based on 'the twin traditions which have created our present institutions':

On the one hand we have what has come to be called the autonomous sector, represented by the universities, in whose ranks, of course, I now include the colleges of advanced technology. On the other hand we have the public sector, represented by the leading technical colleges and the colleges of education (quoted in Simon 1991:247).
Crosland's speech, in which he said there would be no new universities (apart from the Open University) 'for about ten years', was 'highly and presumably purposely provocative' (Simon 1991:248). It was widely criticised, not only by the universities but by many within the Labour Party who were shocked by what they saw as 'the imposition of a brutal, divisive policy in higher education' (Simon 1991:248-9).

Lord Robbins made his own 'dignified, and weighty protest' (Simon 1991:251), telling the House of Lords that the government's decision about colleges of education was 'profoundly unfortunate':

It is now clear that it is all part and parcel of a much wider policy which is deliberately intended to take us in a direction completely different from - and indeed completely opposed to - the conceptions underlying the Report of the Committee on Higher Education (Hansard House of Lords 1 December 1965 Vol 270 Col 1257).
Robbins ended his speech by pointing to the 'supreme paradox' that
a Government which is pledged to abolish artificial hierarchy and invidious distinctions in the schools should, at the same time and under the same Secretary of State, be actively engaged in preventing the elimination of artificial hierarchies and invidious distinctions in higher education (Hansard House of Lords 1 December 1965 Vol 270 Col 1266).
Crosland later claimed that he had been pressured by DES officials into making his Woolwich speech and that, while he remained 'convinced that the policy was right', the speech 'put people's backs up quite unnecessarily' (Kogan 1971:193). Brian Simon (1991:249) suggests that the prime mover was probably DES Deputy Secretary Toby Weaver.

In a speech at the new University of Lancaster, Crosland tried to calm the row by arguing that 'binary' was 'possibly not the best word to describe the system of higher education that we have in this country, and you will notice that I have tried to avoid it'. The system, he said, was better described as 'strikingly varied, plural and diverse' (quoted in Simon 1991:252).

New universities

Following the establishment of the eight 'plate-glass universities' listed in the previous chapter, Royal Charters were now granted to the following universities:


In May 1966 Crosland published his White Paper, A Plan for Polytechnics and Other Colleges. The government, it said, was now promoting 'an even greater expansion of higher education' than recommended by Robbins, and was seeking to develop 'a distinctive sector of higher education within the further education system to complement the universities and colleges of education'. This would be achieved by the creation of polytechnics which would concentrate expensive resources to provide for both full-time and part-time students at all levels: they would be 'comprehensive academic communities' (quoted in Simon 1991:252).

A year later, in April 1967, Crosland confirmed the White Paper's provisional list of 28 polytechnics, with the possibility of two more.

Meanwhile, the binary system was rigidly enforced. A proposal that the University of Warwick and Lanchester College of Technology (in Coventry) might merge was firmly rejected by Crosland: Lanchester had already been earmarked by DES officials as a future polytechnic, and was included on the White Paper's provisional list.

The first three colleges to be designated polytechnics - Hatfield, Sheffield and Sunderland - became operational in January 1969; all thirty had been designated by 1973 (Simon 1991:254).

Science in schools

In the late 1960s concerns were expressed about the position of science in schools and the inability of industry to recruit science and technology students in the same proportion as competing countries. Robbins had proposed that two-thirds of new university places should be in science, but only half this number had been achieved.

The structure of school science courses was a major concern of the Dainton Committee, which published its Enquiry into the Flow of Candidates in Science and Technology into Higher Education in 1968. It proposed broadening the sixth-form curriculum and argued that 'irreversible decisions for or against science, engineering and technology' should be made 'as late as possible'. It stressed the 'urgent need more rapidly to infuse breadth, humanity, and up-to-dateness into the science curriculum and its teaching' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:457).

With support and encouragement from the Schools Council, the Royal Society and research foundations, the status of science in schools and universities increased towards the end of the decade and this was reflected in larger numbers of candidates for science at O and A Level GCE.

The Open University

The Open University was based on the ideas of the politician and social reformer Michael Young (1915-2002).

Young had drafted Labour's 1945 election manifesto and published The Rise Of The Meritocracy in 1958. In addition to founding, with Brian Jackson, the Advisory Centre for Education in 1960 and the National Extension College at Cambridge in 1963, he was actively engaged in the establishment of a number of other organisations including the Consumers' Association, Which? magazine, and the National Consumer Council. He became a Fellow of Churchill College Cambridge in 1961 and President of Birkbeck College in 1989. Despite his egalitarian views, he accepted a life peerage in March 1978, taking the title Baron Young of Dartington.

Planning for the Open University began in 1965. Jennie Lee (1904-1988) (pictured), Minister of State for Education, produced a White Paper outlining the government's proposals and appointed Sir Peter Venables as chair of a planning committee whose members included university vice-chancellors, educationalists and broadcasters.

Lee faced widespread scepticism and opposition from senior officials in the DES and the Treasury, from ministerial colleagues including Richard Crossman, and from commercial broadcasters.

Nonetheless, with the strong support of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, the Open University was established, and its first students - 19,581 of them, selected from over 40,000 applicants (Simon 1991:265) - began their studies in 1971.

Further education

The number of full-time teachers in the further education sector in England and Wales rose from just over 15,000 in 1958 to around 50,000 in 1970, and the number of full-time students rose from 71,000 in 1967-68 to 96,000 three years later. There was also an increase in the number of part-time students - from 77,490 in 1960-61 to 109,470 in 1970-71.

The student revolt

The student protest movement had its origins in the United States in 1964, when students at Berkeley in California protested about issues of free speech and the use of university land. Over the next four years, protests spread through Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia, Japan and France. In the summer of 1968 the Sorbonne was taken over and 'mass demonstrations through the centre of Paris became a daily occurrence' (Simon 1991:391).

A new generation of student leaders - militant and anarchistic in outlook - gained mass support: Daniel Cohn-Bendit in Paris, Rudi Dutschke in West Germany, Bill Hayden in the US.

Many have sought explanations of this phenomenon, which appears to have been 'very specific to this particular generation of students' (Simon 1991:391). Brian Simon suggests that one of the main causes was

the feeling of helplessness, indeed alienation, of the young in a world then seemingly inexorably divided into two opposing parts, both armed with nuclear weapons threatening mass destruction - a tension sharpened in the growing intensity of the Vietnam War (Simon 1991:391-2).
This was accompanied by concerns about the increasing power of governments and the mass media.

In Britain, despite the fact that the rapid expansion in higher and further education had benefited mainly the middle and professional classes, it was university and college students who 'most dramatically expressed their alienation from existing social norms and government policies' (Simon 1991:390).

Protest and conflict, from the London School of Economics to the new universities, from the polytechnics to the schools of art, were concerned in the late 1960s with such questions as student representation on the organs of government, the nature of courses and examinations, library facilities and the appointment of principals. The strike, the sit-in and the demonstration reached a crescendo in 1967-8 as students, and in some cases schoolchildren, publicly 'asked the reason why' (Lawson and Silver 1973:449).
The London School of Economics (LSE) experienced its first student 'sit-in' in March 1967 and the protest movement reached its peak in 1968-9 when Essex, Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester, Oxford, Bristol, Sussex, Warwick universities were all affected. The immediate causes were various: students took over the new University of Essex for two days in protest at a visit by a lecturer from Porton Down chemical warfare research centre; a further protest at the LSE concerned the appointment as Director of Dr Walter Adams, who was regarded as a racist; and at Bristol, students protested when the authorities refused their demand that the union building should be made available to non-students.

But the overriding student demand was for 'some degree of control over their own lives and especially of their education, both in terms of content and method' (Simon 1991:394). Before 1968 students were totally excluded from any role in the government of universities and most colleges. 'It was to bring about a change here that the great bulk of the students took action, whatever the spark that ignited the conflagration' (Simon 1991:394).

In the first Granada Guildhall lecture, in October 1969, the newly-elected President of the National Union of Students, Jack Straw (1946- ), expressed the view of 'moderate' students:

I am here tonight to attack the last great unreformed institutions of our time - the universities and colleges of higher education. I am here to accuse them of failure: of failure themselves to institute the necessary reform of their own structures; of failure to apply their own professed ideals and methodology to themselves (quoted in Simon 1991:395).
Democratic involvement, he argued, was
not just a nice idea; it is now a necessity. For the educated man of the future must be able to dominate and control the constant change which technology will force upon us (quoted in Simon 1991:395).
Following negotiations covering many of the students' demands, the Vice Chancellors' Committee and the National Union of Students issued a statement on 7 October 1968. This was 'of historical importance', argue Ashby and Anderson, because it affirmed that senior and junior members of universities were 'partners in the educational system under a voluntary discipline of scholarship'. Students were not 'customers purchasing degrees, nor wards under guardianship, and certainly not enemies' (Ashby and Anderson 1970:116 quoted in Simon 1991:395).

The protests diminished as universities and colleges began to reform themselves and develop 'a new sensitivity - to the nature and outlook of students' (Simon 1991:395). Student representatives were admitted to senates, faculty boards and other key committees. 'Far from disrupting things, generally their contribution was found to be constructive' (Simon 1991:395).

Other Acts of Parliament

1967 Education Act

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

1968 Education Act

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

1969 Children and Young Persons Act

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



It is, of course, easy to look back through the proverbial rose-tinted spectacles, but it seems fair to suggest that the word which best sums up education in the UK in the 1960s is optimism.

There were important developments in each of the three levels of education - primary, secondary, and higher.

In many (though not all) primary schools, streaming was replaced by the creation of mixed-ability classes, there were experiments with new forms of curriculum organisation, and new ways of teaching were developed.

In areas where the eleven plus was abolished, primary teachers felt that a great weight had been lifted from their shoulders. They suddenly found, not only that they had enormous freedom to experiment with progressive styles of teaching, child-centred learning, open plan schools, discovery methods, creativity and spontaneity, but they were actively encouraged to do so. It was a heady mix.

At the secondary level, despite the government's refusal to require local authorities to reorganise their schools, comprehensivisation was gathering pace, and with it, the real possibility of a leaving age of sixteen and a single examination for all.

In the new comprehensive schools - especially the purpose-built ones - there was a pioneering spirit, and many of the teachers were 'of a rather special and unusual breed' (Simon 1991:292), as David Rubinstein, who had been appointed head of history at the new Abbey Wood School in London, noted in a letter to Brian Simon:

At 29 I was one of the older staff. Most of the staff were straight out of college or university and most were committed to comprehensive education. The intellectual level was very high, not perhaps in terms of class of degree, but in terms of intellectual curiosity ... it was all a very exciting period - there was certainly something about Abbey Wood which we all felt and which engraved itself on our consciences (quoted in Simon 1991:292).
No doubt the success of the early comprehensives was due, at least in part, to this enthusiasm and commitment among their teachers.

In higher education, enormous expansion was taking place, though there was some disappointment at the government's commitment to the binary system of provision. Inspired by events abroad, students suddenly realised that they had the power to demand a voice in decisions about their own education.

And in addition to all this, official acceptance of the concept of positive discrimination meant that more resources were available for children in areas of the greatest need.

It seemed that 1960s Britain was, at last, emerging from the twin dark shadows of the second world war and the old ideas about children and their education. There was a sudden outpouring of 'humanist, basically liberal, far-sighted ideas', with a 'ferment of ideas and activity' (Simon 1991:318) particularly among young teachers and students. Writing, for example, of the Humanities Curriculum Project, Lawrence Stenhouse commented:

We need to establish a new climate of relationships with adolescents which takes account of their responsibility and is not authoritarian, Education must be founded on this co-operation, not on coercion. We must find a way of expressing our common humanity with our pupils, and we must be sensitive to the need to justify the decisions of authority to those affected by them. At the same time we need gradually to develop the capacity for independent study and enquiry with the flexibility of mind which this implies. In short, we need to transform our adolescent pupils into students (quoted in Simon 1991:318).

The 1960s, says Brian Simon, was 'a period of decisive change in terms of teacher professionalism, control, self-image, and even autonomy' (Simon 1991:319):

Above all, teachers were now seen as responsible for the curriculum - for what went on in schools. A response to this freedom - and responsibility - was the energy, sheer hard work, and creative thinking that was voluntarily given by thousands of teachers to curriculum reform and pedagogical change. In spite of all the crises and conflicts - over constantly eroding salaries, over reorganisation, over the continuing teacher shortage and the high turn-over rate in the schools, the 1960s can be seen, in a real sense, as the heroic period in English (and Welsh) secondary education (Simon 1991:319).
The enthusiasm for and interest in radical ideas was stimulated by many books, notably those published by Penguin Education (of which the former Tory education minister Edward Boyle was a director). Among the most influential were Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner (1969), Education and Liberation by Paulo Freire (1971), and School is Dead by Everett Reimer (1971). The books of AS Neill, 'symbol of liberationist education' (Simon 1991:318), sold in huge quantities.

Writing in Education (3 August 1990), the educationist Maurice Plaskow observed:

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

The Black Papers

Regrettably, our optimism was not to survive long in the following decade. Indeed, some of the early drive and idealism had already been lost by the end of the 1960s, when the gains that had been made began to be seen by some as a threat - 'to be brought under control and curbed, whatever the cost' (Simon 1991:319).

The first manifestation of this was the publication of a series of 'Black Papers'.

According to Brian Simon, it was during a stroll on Hampstead Heath that university lecturers CB (Brian) Cox (1928-2008) and AE Dyson (1928-2002) conceived the idea of a Black Paper to express 'the sense of outrage felt by those who had, in a very real sense, seen their world turned upside down' (Simon 1991:396) by the student uprisings of the previous two years.

They were convinced that the universities were not to blame, so they sought scapegoats in the form of comprehensive schools and the 'progressive' methods being adopted in primary schools, which they saw as 'a main cause not only of student unrest in the universities but of other unwelcome tendencies or phenomena' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:41).

In fact, only a tiny proportion of university students had attended comprehensive schools, and the suggestion that the student unrest of 1968-9 was the product of progressive primary education was chronologically impossible, as Brian Simon points out:

If the student unrest, or revolt, of 1968-69 was partly due to the primary school 'revolution', that revolution must be dated back at least ten or fifteen years; that is, to 1958 and earlier, when the students at the London School of Economics, Hornsey College of Art and elsewhere would have been in primary schools being inducted into their anarchistic attitudes. But, as we have seen, in 1958 the 11-plus examination was still the rule throughout the country, Leicestershire's reorganisation was only just beginning in two isolated areas of the county, only 150 comprehensive schools were in existence; the move to abolish streaming in primary schools was in its very first stage. The students of 1968 were, in fact, the products of the streamed, divided, hierarchic system which only began to be transformed in a significant way in the mid-1960s. They were, in fact, products of the very system the Black Paper writers looked back to with such cloying nostalgia (Simon 1991:380).
Furthermore, the Black Paper writers overestimated the extent to which progressive ideas were being put into practice in the schools. Plowden, for example, had judged that just one per cent of primary schools were 'excellent' in the sense of being 'outstanding in their work, personal relationships and awareness of current thinking on children's educational needs' (Plowden 1967:101).

1: Fight for Education

The first Black Paper, Fight for Education, was published in March 1969. Of the nineteen articles by right-wing educationists and politicians, thirteen concerned the universities (and students in particular), three were about secondary education, one dealt with primary schools.

Pride of place was given to a hysterical piece by Tory MP Angus Maude entitled The Egalitarian Threat. The egalitarians, argued Maude, 'must be prevented from having any control over the education of the young'. Dons and school teachers must 'do battle against the enemies within their own gates' because 'The Trojan horse of egalitarianism has already been dragged deep into their citadel' (Maude 1969:8-9).

The tone of some of the other contributions was even more bizarre. William Walsh, Professor of English Literature at Leeds University, saw the students' demand for 'dialogue' in sexual terms. It was 'the product of naked confrontation (or mutual stimulation) ... a stark mutual invasion, a simultaneous rape' (Walsh 1969:68); while Dyson described the student upsurge as 'bankrupt and dangerous romanticism' with its roots in the work of Blake, Keats and Wordsworth (Dyson 1969:78).

2: The Crisis in Education

There was a change in emphasis in the second Black Paper, published in October 1969 just before the Conservative party's annual conference. Of the 23 articles, only six related to the universities; eight focused on the supposed disasters and difficulties caused by comprehensive education; four dealt with 'progressive' primary schools. The paper attempted

to resuscitate the discredited ideology of intelligence testing, and to press its implications in terms of enhanced selective processes both within and between schools (Simon 1991:399).
In the leading article, The Mental Differences Between Children, Cyril Burt claimed that 'the average attainments in reading, spelling, mechanical and problem arithmetic are now appreciably lower than they were 55 years ago' (Burt 1969:23). This was untrue, but Burt had not yet been exposed as a fraud, so his prestige 'ensured massive media coverage for these charges against the nation's schools, their teachers and administrators' (Simon 1991:399).

In The Rise of the Mediocracy, HJ Eysenck was equally disingenuous in arguing that

Without the help of I.Q. tests, advancement into the higher paid, better educated groups of society will be barred to many able working-class children, thus bringing to the top a large number of people of mediocre ability, while keeping submerged many people of superior ability. This rise of a new mediocracy is socially unjust, nationally disastrous, and ethically unacceptable (Eysenck 1969:40).
Richard Lynn claimed that 'progressives' were lying when they asserted that it was the fault of society that slum dwellers were impoverished and that their children did badly at school:
To the young red guards [ie the students], it follows that society is unjust and must be overthrown. They do not realise that slum dwellers are caused principally by low innate intelligence and poor family upbringing, and that the real social challenge is posed by this (Lynn 1969:30).
There were three more Black Papers. The third was published in 1970 following Labour's election defeat (details in the next chapter); the last two in 1975 and 1977 (details in chapter 14).


The importance of the Black Papers should not be overemphasised. Many of the claims they made were simply untrue, and most of the views expressed - such as those of Richard Lynn quoted above - were contemptible. They were an early manifestation of the so-called 'post-truth' society, in which a 'fact' is what the writer would like to be true rather than what is actually true.

However, there is no doubt that their overt defence of elitism appealed to a right-wing audience. They

reflected the disturbance, and indeed rage, of the authors at the new trends in education that characterised the 1960s. The attack was essentially destructive, reflecting also a nostalgia for the past - and past practices (Simon 1991:400).
The editors claimed that 80,000 copies of the first three Black Papers had been sold by 1971, mainly to teachers. Their views, however, did not - at least for the moment - carry much weight.

In a critique of the Black Papers in Tribune (November 1969), Chitty and Rein argued that

The authors of the Black Papers are scared men and women - scared of the future, scared of change. The principles enunciated in their dismal essays amount to nothing more nor less than a blue-print for a stagnant, unthinking society, perpetuating itself through a rigid hierarchy of educational establishments (quoted in Chitty 1989:51).
A year later, the local authority journalEducation (27 November 1970) commented:
The trouble is that the Black Paper authors are so excessive in their 'anti-egalitarian' zeal and are now emerging as so politically motivated that they lose all credibility and their targets go wholly unscathed (quoted in Simon 1991:401).
In spite of the massive publicity the Black Papers received, then, they 'hardly caused a ripple against the movement for change' which was now enveloping the schools in the form of a 'powerful new swing towards comprehensive secondary education' (Simon 1991:401).

However, with the benefit of hindsight it is clear that reformers were unwise to be complacent. Although the Right was on the defensive, 'fighting a rearguard action against an educational consensus of which it heartily disapproved', this was not to be a lasting phenomenon: 'the optimism of the reformers was ill-judged' (Chitty 1989:51).


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