This research will offer a chronological account and a
critical review of changes to the education system in Britain from the year
1944 until present day. British education has been under crucial series of
reforms since 1944.
This essay will start by delving into the 1944 Education Act
which was the most significant piece of the educational legislation since 1902″ (Gosden, 1983:3). There
was a need to remodel the current education system “in order to ensure
that every child would go to a secondary school” (Gosden, 1983:1).
The 1944 Act abolished the Board of Education replacing it
with a central authority with its own Ministry of Education. In order to
provide education for every child, 1944 Act dropped the concept of elementary
education, and local education authorities (LEAs) had to organise their
provisions into three successful stages.
With the use of 11-Plus to test pupils abilities on English
or applied art
secondary educational system set up because of the 1944 Act was a tripartite
system – three types of schools, which, it was argued, were different but
equal. As a result, the Act’s aim of providing every child with an education
was achieved, and the number of pupils in the schools began to rise rapidly.
In addition to this, other changes concerning fees and
school leaving-age were also made. Fees were abolished in all maintained
secondary schools, so that every senior pupil would need to go to a
post-primary school. The school-leaving age was raised to 15. Moreover,
religious education was set out at schools. This was regarded as an essential
change by Dunford and Sharp who stressed that “religious worship and
instruction were compulsory in all schools.” (Dunford and Sharp, 1990:19).
These important changes, brought about by the Act, created a
mood “of optimism, impatience and the widespread belief in the value to
the national economy of better schools”(Gosden, 1983:19). As a result of
this, the 1950s and most of the 1960s were described as `golden years for
educational investment’. Although these advantages were great and beneficial to
the British education system, the 1944 Act did present several disadvantages
too. Firstly, the Act indicated that children should go to a particular type of
school according to “their ages, abilities and aptitudes” (Dunford
and Sharp, 1990:19). However, no attempt was made to define `abilities and
aptitudes’, which resulted in confusion. Secondly, the tri-partite system
divided pupils at the age of eleven. Therefore for many `late developers’ there
was no way back into academic education until early adulthood. Thirdly,
although the types of schooling were supposed to be “different but
equal”, the reality was quite the opposite. Competition for gaining entry
into grammar schools was immense, primarily because these schools provided the
obvious and sometimes the only route to university and a professional career.
The other schools were seen second best, a place where pupils that weren’t good
enough for Grammar schools would attend, providing them with a basic education
and no opportunity for higher education. Fourthly, the tripartite system
reinforced the incorrect assumption that children of a lower social class had
The second major change that will now be focused on, took
place in the 1960s and 70s, and that was the reorganisation of secondary
education and the movement towards the comprehensive school system. It was
introduced to remove the faults of the tripartite system, i.e. to create more
equal access to educational opportunity and to break down the class divisions in
British society. Moreover, it was seeking to eliminate separatism in
post-primary education by gathering pupils of all ability ranges into one
school so that “by their association pupils may benefit each other”
(Richmond, 1978:99). By doing this, it was therefore hoped that a cross-section
of society in one school would achieve good academic and social standards. As
pointed out by Gosden, the idea of the comprehensive school system
“appeared to be the only full solution of the problem of the truly democratic
education” (Gosden, 1983:29).
The reorganisation of secondary education and the
introduction of comprehensive schools brought about the end of the pupil
selection process at eleven and instead transferred “all pupils from
primary school to a comprehensive middle school at eight or nine and later to a
senior comprehensive at twelve or thirteen where they completed their
schooling” (Evans, 1975:335). This created the two three-tier patterns,
that were 5-8, 8-12, 12-18 or 5-9, 9-13, 13-18.
Fig.1. Number of schools in 1960 and 1974 (Richmond,
The figure above is a good indicator of the transformation
that took place in the period of the 1960s and early 1970s, where the old types
of schools were disappearing and the vast majority of children of secondary age
attended comprehensive schools instead. Only about 10% of the brightest pupils
still went to the grammar schools and comprehensive schools had to struggle to
justify their existence in terms of exam results.
The school leaving age rose to 16 in 1972, in order to keep
more pupils in schools for longer. The main exam at the end of their schooling
was the Ordinary Level exam known as the `O’ level. There was one exam for each
subject studied and if 5 `O’ Levels were passed, then the pupil was able to go
on to the Advanced Level, or `A’ Levels, which meant studying three subjects
for two years, which would then lead to university entrance. As a result of the
comprehensive schooling system, 90% of all secondary school aged children were
being educated in some form of comprehensive school system by the 1980s.
The main advantage of the comprehensive school system was
economy and practicality in terms of utilising existing school premises.
Moreover, as Evans explains, this system “avoided sudden switch at 11 plus
from child-centred to subject-centred approach to learning” (Evans,
1975:335). In addition to this, it provided “a change of scene and new
stimulus when many pupils were normally losing interest” at schools
(Evans, 1975:335). Most importantly, it was hoped and believed that
comprehensive schools provided an opportunity for average and less able child
to develop, whilst it did not hinder the progress of more capable pupils.
However, the reality was different. The comprehensive school system showed that
ability differences cannot be ignored in education, as the talent of the really
able pupils was wasted mainly because the teacher had to pay greater attention
to the average child, rather than concentrate on the very talented one.
Because of these negative points, comprehensive education
was being attacked as “sacrificing standards to an egalitarian
levelling-down”(McKenzie, 2001:215). Therefore, the optimism of 1960s was
turning into an awareness of painful realities. Inequalities seemed more
visible and it generated “a sense of despair rather than progress”
(McKenzie, 2001:215). As McKenzie explains, the “gradually worsening
national and global economic crisis had a profound effect on attitudes during
the 1970s” (McKenzie, 2001:215), and this crisis was reflected in a new
emphasis on the role of education. This emphasis was associated with the start
of the `Great Debate’, which lasted for at least twenty years. It was begun by
the Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan, when he made a speech at Ruskin
College, Oxford in October 1976. It attracted wide publicity, because it
touched a sensitive spot among parents and teachers. The subjects raised in
this debate were: why children were `failing’ the nation; why the academic
standards were dropping; why some school leavers lacked the basic tools to do a
job when they left school; is the existing curriculum sufficiently demanding,
etc. In order to improve the education system James Callaghan suggested “a
basic curriculum with universal standards of performance to ensure basic literacy
and numeracy.” This became known as the National Curriculum, which was
introduced by the 1988 Education Reform Act and will be focused on further on
in the essay.
majority of the three million secondary school pupils in England attend
non-selective comprehensives, but there are a number of ongoing disputes
There are 163 grammar schools in England, taking pupils who have passed an
11-plus exam. But in response to calls for the abolition of these remaining
grammars, the government introduced regulations for local ballots of parents
that will determine whether schools remain selective.
So far there has been only one ballot, early in 2000 – when parents in Ripon
voted to keep their grammar school.
The focus will now be on the period of 1985-1988. Several
changes were made in the education system during this period. The General Certificate of
Secondary Education (GCSE) was created in 1986, which replaced the ‘O’ levels.
However, the most important change in this period was The Education Reform Act
(ERA) in 1988. It was the first major Education Act for over 40 years
and was set to have a huge impact on the whole of the education system. As
McClure stresses, “it altered the basic power structure of the education
system, restored to the central government powers over the curriculum and set
up mechanisms for exercising and enforcing these powers and
responsibilities” (McClure, 1988:3).
In addition to the changes in the school administration,
some other important changes were also made. Before the 1988 Education Act, the
education system was governed largely by the principles and the assumptions of
the 1944 Education Act. In the 1944 Act the word ‘curriculum’ did not appear
and there was no statutory requirement for the inclusion of any subject in the
school timetable, except that of Religious Education. The 1988 Education Reform
Act changed this.
The independent Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
is a non-ministerial government department headed by Her Majesty’s chief
inspector of schools. Ofsted’s job is regularly to inspect all maintained
schools and report on standards of achievement. All state schools are inspected
by teams of independent inspectors on contract to Ofsted. They report on good
practice in schools and other educational issues based on inspection evidence.
A new inspection regime introduced in 1997 will see schools inspected once
every six years, or more frequently if there is cause. A summary of the
inspection report must be sent to the parents of each pupil by the school,
followed by a copy of the governors’ plan on how they are going to act on the
report’s recommendations. Full reports are available on Ofsted’s Website. If
school inspectors decide that a school is ”failing to give its pupils an
acceptable standard of education”, the local education authority can appoint
new governors and withdraw delegated management from the school. As an
alternative, central government can put the school under new management until
its performance reaches a satisfactory level. After further visits from
inspectors, the edcuation secretary decides whether the school has made
sufficient progress. If it has not, the school could close. The process takes
about two years.
In conclusion, the British education system underwent a
number of fundamental changes since 1944. The major changes emphasised in this
essay had a great significance and impact on the schooling of pupils as well as
the running of schools. While there has been lots of arguments in this cuurent day on successive
attempts by different governments to reform the education system in britain
from 1944 until present day, the fact still stands that all the successive
attempts by different governments has indeed enhanced the quality and equality
of the education system.