British schools during World War II and the educational reconstruction

Term Paper, 2010
16 Pages, Grade: 1,0
Francesca Cavaliere (Author)



1 Introduction

2 Evacuation and its impact
2.1 The Three Phases of Evacuation
2.2 Transport and Billeting Problems

3 Realities of schooling during the War or the disruption of education
3.1 The shortage of school buildings
3.2 The shortage of staff
3.3 The shortage of instructional material

4 Rebuilding of the education system
4.1 Contesting the Curriculum - The Spens and Norwood Report
4.2 For equal educational opportunity - Tue 1944 Education Act
4.3 Critics to the 1944 Education Act

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography
6.1 Printed Publications
6.2 Electronic Publications

1 Introduction

It might count as a fact that facing the terrors of the Second World War, the British population must have been quite indifferent to mathematic formulas and a correct spelling. Naturally, one is tempted to conclude that for the duration of the war all schools were closed but the whole opposite was true. Schools were evacuated over and over again and despite bombed out classrooms, a short supply of teachers and material, lessons were continued both to maintain the illusion of normal life and to demonstrate resistance to Nazi- Germany.

It will be thus interesting to examine the educational, social and personal problems children were exposed to during the chaos of evacuation and to investigate how school life changed under the difficulties of World War II. Furthermore, it will be important to ask how the experience of war and evacuation shaped the hopes and expectations of British people for post-wartimes.

Responding to these questions there will be given evidence for the assumption that the experience of evacuation and schooling during the war had not only a traumatic effect on most children, but has also contributed to raise public awareness of the shortcomings of the socially divisive educational system and thereby served as a catalyst for the educational reforms of the 1940s that culminated in the 1944 Education Act.

The first part of this paper portrays the three major phases of evacuation and describes how the problems that occurred with the billeting of the evacuees at their host families' homes contributed to the growing awareness of social differences.

The second paragraph will deal with the realities of schooling during the War. A particular emphasis will be put on the problems that accrue from the shortages of school buildings, school personnel and instructional material. It will be equally important to investigate how these deficiencies changed school life in respect to the curriculum, the role of teachers and children's outlook on schooling. In the third part of the paper, I will go on to explain how the results of the educational reforms and discussions in the 1940s reflect the experience of war and evacuation. After having presented the main ideas of the Spens and Norwood Report, particular emphasis will be put on the 1944 Education Act and its revolutionary character at the time, followed by an overview of the most important criticisms of the Act. Finally, there will be given a conclusion to point out the most important results of the paper.

2 Evacuation and its impact

2.1 The Three Phases of Evacuation

The Government Evacuation Scheme was planned for by the Anderson Committee as early as the summer of 1938. For this purpose the country was divided into three zones. The densely populated industrial areas in the east that were considered to be a likely target for air bombing were classified as "evacuation" or "sending zones". Evacuees from these areas were sent to the rural "reception" areas in the west of the country that were believed to be less at risk. The rest of the country was declared neutral area neither sending nor receiving evacuees. People who lived in the reception zones were required by the government to take in evacuees, in recompense they were paid money to cover the expenses (cf. Oren, 8). The official evacuations in Great Britain occurred in three waves. The first and largest official phase started immediately after the outbreak of the war, between 1- 3 September, 1939. During this first phase of evacuation almost 1.5 million people (most of them children) were evacuated from the big Cities such as London, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle into the reception areas in the countryside (cf. Werner, 39). Priority evacuees were unaccompanied school-age children (800,000), younger children with their mothers (500,000), pregnant women (13, 000) and disabled persons (7, 000) as well as 100,000 teachers and other helpers (Oren, 6). As, however, for 9 months after the declaration of war, the expected German attack on England did not come, doubts about the necessity of all the air raid precautions arose and many of the evacuated children went home to their families. By January 1940 more than half of the evacuees had returned. Consequently, during the spring of 1940 many schools decided to return to their previous homes. This, however, proved to be a fatal decision as soon after teachers had settled back in sufficient numbers and school buildings had been finally adjusted to air raid precautions, the time of the Phoney war ended and Hitler' s attack on Western Europe began (Stanack, XIV).

After France had been overrun, everyone in Britain feared a cross- channel invasion of the German troops and a second official evacuation effort was started in September 1940. About 1.25 million individuals, mostly school children, were moved - many of them for the second time (Werner, 42). This time the schools in the south- east of the country seemed most in danger and even relatively rural counties like Kent and Sussex that during the Phoney War were considered a save place were now the first to be invaded (Stranack, XV). The schools near the commercial and industrial centres of the big cities were considered to be in particular danger and moved to the safer rural areas in the north. Hitler' s so-called "Blitz" attack started in the autumn of 1940 with heavy bombing raids, but already by June of the next year, when the intensity of the war diminished, this second time too, many evacuees returned to the cities (Werner, 42).

The last large wave of evacuation in Great Britain came rather unexpectedly in June 1944. After the successful D-Day landing on 6 June 1944 the enemy seemed already beaten. The German "Luftwaffe'', however, had not yet given up and on June 12, 1944, Hitler's flying bombs rained down on Great Britain, followed by three months of V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks on the capital of London and other Southern cities that blew apart many schools that had just returned from exile (Stranack, XV). During this final period of the war about 1,000,000 women, children, elderly and disabled people were evacuated from London. Although the German attacks on Britain carried on until the end of the war in Europe on 8 May 1945, many evacuated children drifted back to their homes as soon as possible ( often within weeks after their arrival in a "safe area"). By March 1945, there were only 400,000 evacuees left in the English countryside (Werner, 47). Evacuation, however, did not officially end until March 1946 when it was felt that Britain was no longer under threat from invasion. In April 1945, the Government began to make travel arrangements to return the evacuees to their homes. It is estimated that by the end of the Second World War around 4 million people, mainly children had experienced evacuation at one point or another during the war (Oren, 3). Among them there were also some 38,000 so-called "unclaimed" children who had no homes or parents to go back to (Werner, 47).

2.2 Transport and Billeting Problems

Despite the long planning phase, evacuation was far from running smoothly and transport arrangements were often chaotic. After having been separated from their families children were committed to long train journeys sometimes without access to toileting, food or water (Oren, 8). As no previous arrangements had been made for matching children with their hosts, most of the children did neither know their destination nor if they would be split from brothers and sisters (Oren, 8). A few children were lucky to live with relatives. Others had to be billeted at complete strangers. F or not being lost, all children had labels attached to them, as though they were parcels that were collected at the distribution points in the village halls. Accommodations for evacuees were usually settled in one of two ways: Either reception officers assigned billets at random or foster parents were allowed free choice. As a consequence children were often treated like products on an "auction sale". The well-dressed and well-fed children were usually the first to be selected while the sicklier and grubbier children were left until last. Told by their parents to take care of younger brothers and sisters, children sometimes refused to go with hosts who would not take their siblings as well. Others suffered the trauma of being separated against their will. One boy remembers his feelings of being chosen at last: "Being chosen was like being bided for in a slave market. It was distressing because my friend and I were left towards the end. Two boys together were not the favourite catch" (Werner, 47).

Needless to say that for the vast majority of these children the effect of evacuation was traumatic and many of the initial billetings did not work out very well. The children felt scared about being away from their families and had to adjust to new schools and make new friends (Lowe, 5). Side to homesickness, the great social and cultural contrasts between the hosted children and their host family were problematic as most of the evacuated children came from poor families whereas their host families were often more affluent (Oren, 2).

Children were quite sensitive to these different social standards as can be shown by the essay of a fourteen-year-old girl from London when writing about her new home in Cambridge as follows: "Cambridge people, in most cases, are snobs." (Werner, 42). The posh food served at the manor house where she was billeted, caused one girl to write to her parents: "I miss my proper English food" (Werner, 42). On the other hand, host families complained that the evacuee children "would not eat wholesome food but clamoured for fish and chips, sweets and biscuits" instead (Oren, 24). Apart from the eating habits, many host families complained about the bad physical conditions of their foster children that were described as "dirty, underfed and sickly". Some suffered from head lice or skin diseases (Oren, 24). Moreover, they were said to be: ''prone to bedwetting and in some cases completely unlearned in toilet training" (Lowe, 6). Taking into consideration that some children had never had water from a tap or used an indoor toilet before, this is hardly surprising. Others had never wear underwear or a set of pyjamas and had been used to sleep on the floor (Werner, 41).

The inevitable conflicts arising between the evacuated children and their host families drew public attention to the problems of urban poverty. Host families complained about the children in their charge to billeting officers, who then appealed to the Health Ministry. The news media published stories of billeting gone wrong. The shocking revelations of the poor living conditions of working class children aroused a heated political debate on how to confront medical problems and bad arrangements in homes. Answers lay in the expansion of the social services in the schoolslike free medical treatment, free school meals and milk (Oren, 14).

3 Realities of schooling during the War or the disruption of education

3.1 The shortage of school buildings

One major problem schools had to face during war was the insufficient supply of adequate school buildings. This was due to the closing of many schools in the evacuation areas which had been done on purpose to induce parents to send children away voluntarily. This plan, however, did not work out (Oren, 7). When many of the billets proved unsatisfactory and the expected German bomb attack did not occur by January 1940, many evacuees drifted back to London and other cities. Tue schools in the Cities could, however, not be reopened immediately, as about 2000 empty school buildings in England and Wales had been requisitioned for military and civil defense purposes (Tittmuss, 94).

According to a survey from January 1940 the chaos of evacuation led to the lamentable condition of one quarter of the school children in the evacuated areas who received no schooling at all whereas 25% were taught at home and only less than half of them frequented a school as usual (Calder, 50). As a result over a million children were left to run wild in the Cities. There were fears that juvenile delinquency was on the increase (Calder, 49). Another problem was the suspension of the social services which had come to be associated with schools, such as school meals, milk and medical services (Oren, 14).

Consequently, the government was under pressure to reopen schools in the evacuation area as soon as possible (Oren, 10). In order to do so, school buildings had to be adjusted to air raid precautions. The first measure was the introduction of a total blackout in order to make sure that the school buildings could not be easily identified by the German "Luftwaffe" (Stranack, 1). Consequently, windows were taped up and covered with thick curtains. At Bruton School in Somerset it was even considered to change the colour of the outer walls of the school into a greyish green shade for that the school building and the surrounding countryside would become more alike (Stranack, 8). Besides, schools were recommended by the government to construct subterranean shelters where lessons could continue in case of an air raid. In neutral areas where danger was not that imminent, shelter protection in the form of covered trenches and sandbags were provided (Stranack, 28). Besides, lessons were often disrupted by air raid alarms and weekly gas drills became part of the school routine (Stranack, 9).

Judging from the problems in the Cities, it would, however, be false to conclude that the situation in the reception areas was any better. Due to the rising number of pupils in the reception zones, many schools in the country had to share their premises with other schools (Calder, 49). Apparently this often caused a number of problems as attitudes, traditions and working practices were far from being compatible (Stranack, 11 ). Tue difficulties were intensified by differences in educational background between the local children and evacuated children who had been attending schools that had been reorganized under a newer system of education (Oren, 11). A specific form of problem arose at Caterham School in Surrey (Stranack, 9) where it became necessary to accommodate three girl pupils in a boys' boarding school, which as can be easily imagined caused some excitement among the boys. In order to prevent similar problems and to avoid above all too large classes of pupils an evacuated school would commonly use the school building in turns with its hosts. This has led to the introductions of "double shifts" in the reception areas. In some places even triple shifts had to be provided (Calder, 48).


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British schools during World War II and the educational reconstruction
University of Potsdam  (Anglistik)
Britain during World War II
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Francesca Cavaliere (Author), 2010, British schools during World War II and the educational reconstruction, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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