The English Education System - A Historical Perspective

Hausarbeit, 2004
15 Seiten, Note: 1,3








1 Introduction

Innovation and knowledge have become the motivating forces for growing economies, therefore a country needs to provide an effective education system, which offers equal opportunities for all people and ensures that employees have the right skills to make their businesses be successful. In England lies the responsibility for the education service with the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) headed by the Secretary of State, Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP. In the foreword of this year’s departmental report he makes the following statement:

The practical challenge for all of us is to ensure that children’s services [...] provide the very best for children throughout the system. It is a window of opportunity, which we must take full advantage of.1

This is one example showing that nowadays education plays an important role for and in the English society. During the last year record sums of money have been invested in education2 and Mr. Clarke proudly presented the fulfilment of ambitious targets in the annual report of the DfES. The performance of schools and pupils have been increased throughout the country. Early education is accessible for nearly all 3- year-olds. By implementing new key strategies like “21st Century Skills - Releasing our Potential” and “Every Child Matters” standards shall continue to improve and new opportunities shall be created.3

But are these “one size fits all” measures really tackling the problems of today’s education system in England? Or is it rather an (anachronistic) approach to solving complex social problems (such as the education system) by standardised testing and targets? Can these “key strategies” and more money truly help to improve educational structures, which have evolved over the last two centuries? It is a fact that the education system in England is still far from perfect. Although more money is spent by the government, many schools seem to face financial difficulty.4 There exist differing opinions if the freedom of selecting schools supports or prevents the ideal of equal education for everybody. And it is certainly not clear, what type of school (comprehensive, secondary modern, private, church school or the diversity of all together) serves best to make everyone reach his or her full potential, as well as prepares young people in the best way for the future labour market.

In order to understand the (problems of the) present education system, it is absolutely necessary to take a look at its historical development. Although some features of today’s system are of recent nature, basic characteristics have its roots in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. This is why this term paper concentrates on the historical development of the education service in England. It shall give an overview of key events and summarise major education acts, in order to be able to evaluate some currently discussed problems of today’s education service.

2 The development of the education service in England

2.1 The nineteenth century

In the beginning of the nineteenth century influential people were in power, who believed that educating the poor would stir them up and make them discontent. Therefore education for poor people was seen as a threat to societies stability.5 At that time only rich people were able to educate their children in non-funded private schools. Nevertheless churches of different denominations started to offer more educational work to poorer people. They founded new church schools and promoted their ideas by forming national societies. These voluntary bodies raised their own money, built their own schools and employed teachers long before the Government spent any money on education.6 Therefore the Churches were first in charge of educating a large part of England’s population. Only by the 1830s the parliament started to spend money indirectly on education by subsidising the building of elementary schools. During the 1840s and 1850s grants were extended and more schools were able to get money from the central government. In the time between

1839 and 1859 grants increased from £30,000 to £800,0007, which shows that the government started to play a stronger role by that time. Because more money was spent on education, MPs became eager to have more control over the schools. In 1856 an Act was passed, which defined the responsibilities of the Education Department more clearly. Furthermore government inspectors were appointed (at first under the influence of the Churches), who had administrative and educational control over the schools. Still today Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI) of Schools remains an influential component of the education system.8 In order to simplify the grant system, from 1862 elementary schools were able to earn a specific amount of money for every pupil with regular attendance. However, some of the money was based on the results of annual examinations, which solely contained the “3 Rs”. This had the effect that enormous pressure was put on children and teachers and that the pupils were drilled for these examinations neglecting the rest of the curriculum.9 Although in the 1860s more children were educated and the number of illiterates decreased, many children still didn’t get any or hardly any education at all. Especially in poor industrial areas the situation maintained insufficient and the voluntary school system got under pressure. Therefore in 1870 the Liberals got the first major education act on its way. Its objective was to fill up gaps in the existing voluntary school system, so for every child would be a place in an elementary school available. In those areas, where voluntary bodies were not able to provide enough places, School Boards were set up. These School Boards were actually the first Local Education Authorities (LEAs) of the country.10

Although the Act of 1870 put new life into the work of voluntary organisations and in many places the situation improved, it wasn’t until 1880 that attendance at school was made compulsory for five to ten year-olds. During the following years school leaving age was raised to eleven (1893) and twelve (1899), but only the 1918 Education Act provided an accepted national school-leaving age of fourteen years.

Towards the close of the century the state also became interested in post-elementary education in order to promote Britain’s industry. At that time secondary-type of education was rather inadequate and unsatisfactory.11 Although grants were made available to promote technical education and some ambitious School Boards started to offer more than just elementary education12, secondary education remained accessible only for the upper-class and England still lacked the existence of a national secondary education system.

2.2 The beginning of the twentieth century

Around the turn of the century many different bodies were responsible for education in some way. The Education Department, the Science and Art Department and the Charity Commission shared responsibilities on national level. At the same time there were about 2,500 School Boards over 100 technical instruction committees and 14,000 separate managing bodies for voluntary elementary schools.13 A lack of co- ordination between these bodies made a reform absolutely urgent. The aim was to establish a single responsible central department and one type of local authority. In 1899 the Board of Education Act was passed, which transferred the powers of the central departments to the new Board of Education. But the 1902 Education Act had an even greater impact on the English education system. The School Boards were abolished and their powers were handed to 318 new LEAs, which covered the whole country. Some of these LEAs had the overall responsibility of education in their areas (Part II LEAs), others were only responsible for elementary education (Part III LEAs).14 But all in all the power of the LEAs grew rapidly after 1902. They administered voluntary schools, which were now known as “non-provided schools”, and they owned, maintained and operated “provided schools”. More schools offering post-elementary education were established. Although secondary education remained fee-paying, this sector improved considerably. In 1907 the Liberal Government introduced free-place regulations for secondary schools, so outstanding elementary school pupils were able to get scholarships. The scholarships were awarded on the basis of highly competitive exams, which had to be taken at the at the age of eleven years. This was the first step towards free secondary schools for all, although this wasn’t achieved before the Second World War. But already in the 1920s attempts were made by the Liberals and the new Labour Party to give everyone the opportunity to visit secondary schools. It was argued that the division of social classes regarding education (elementary schools for the working class, secondary schools for the middle and upper class) was unjust and no longer met the needs of the nation.15 Proposals were made that every child should visit an elementary school up to the age of eleven and afterwards be transferred to post- elementary schools. These ideas were also supported by the Hadow Report published in 1926.16 However, the report wasn’t without effect. LEAs were to reorganise the elementary schools in two departments and by the end of the 1930s about 50% of over eleven year-olds went to reorganised senior schools. Also the number of pupils attending secondary schools increased three-fold between 1902 and 1939.17

2.3 The Education Act of 1944 and the post-war period

During the Second World War the attitude towards the education system fundamentally changed. People were now determined to establish a new socially just system, which would provide for a better future. The ideas for the educational reconstruction were brought together in the Education Act of 1944.


1 DfES, Departmental Report (2004): 5

2 Cf. DfES, Departmental Report (2004): 8

3 Cf. DfES, Departmental Report (2004): 5-6

4 Cf. Audit Commission, Education funding (2004): 18, 20

5 Cf. Keith Evans, The Development and Structure of the English School System (1985): 24

6 Cf. Paul Sharp/John Dunford, The Education System in England and Wales (1990): 2-3

7 Cf. Paul Sharp/John Dunford, The Education System in England and Wales (1990): 4 and Keith Evans, The Development and Structure of the English School System (1985): 30

8 Cf. Paul Sharp/John Dunford, The Education System in England and Wales (1990): 5

9 For more detailed information see: Keith Evans, The Development and Structure of the English School System (1985): 35-36

10 Cf. Paul Sharp/John Dunford, The Education System in England and Wales (1990): 8-9

11 Cf. Keith Evans, The Development and Structure of the English School System (1985): 53

12 For more details see: John Roach, Secondary Education in England 1870-1902 (1991): 92-93

13 Cf. Paul Sharp/John Dunford, The Education System in England and Wales (1990): 11

14 For more information on Part II and Part III LEAs cf. Keith Evans, The Development and Structure of the English School System (1985): 75-76

15 Cf. i.e. R. H. Tawney, Secondary Education for All (1922)

16 Board of Education, The Education of the Adolescent (Report of Consultative Committee on Education, Chairman Sir W. H. Hadow) (1926)

17 Cf. Paul Sharp/John Dunford, The Education System in England and Wales (1990): 15

Ende der Leseprobe aus 15 Seiten


The English Education System - A Historical Perspective
Universität Paderborn  (Fakultät für Kulturwissenschaften - Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Topics in Current British Affairs
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
468 KB
Es handelt sich um eine Seminararbeit, welche aus geschichtlicher Perspektive die Probleme des heutigen englischen Bildungssystems beleuchtet.
English, Education, System, Historical, Perspective, Topics, Current, British, Affairs
Arbeit zitieren
Sven Meyer (Autor), 2004, The English Education System - A Historical Perspective, München, GRIN Verlag,


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