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The history of education in England can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxons settlement of England, or even back to the Roman occupation. During the Middle Ages, schools were established to teach Latin grammar, while apprenticeship was the main way to enter practical occupations. Two universities were established: the University of Oxford, followed by the University of Cambridge. A reformed system of "free grammar schools" was established in the reign of Edward VI of England.
In the 19th century the Church of England was responsible for most educations until the establishment of free, compulsory education towards the end of that century. University College London was established, followed by King's College London; the two colleges forming the University of London. Durham University was also established in the early 19th century. Towards the end of the century the "redbrick" universities were founded.
Independent schools have a long history in England; some were set up before the 10th century. The oldest is King's School, Canterbury founded in 597. Many independent schools were charitable foundations. A group of these charity schools, much later, invoked the name, public schools to indicate they were open to all the public regardless of their religion.
In England the Tudor King Edward VI reorganised grammar schools or instituted new ones so that there was a national system of "free grammar schools" that were in theory open to all and offered free tuition to those who could not afford to pay fees. The vast majority of poor children did not attend these schools since their labour was economically valuable to their families.
In 1562 the Statute of Artificers and Apprentices was passed to regulate and protect the apprenticeship system, forbidding anyone from practising a trade or craft without first serving a 7-year period as an apprentice to a master (though in practice Freemen's sons could negotiate shorter terms).
Following the Act of Uniformity in 1662, religious dissenters set up academies to cater for students who did not wish to subscribe to the articles of the Church of England. Some of these 'dissenting academies' still survive, the oldest being Bristol Baptist College. Several Oxford Colleges (Harris Manchester, Mansfield, and Regent's Park) are also descendents of this movement.
From 1692, 'parish' apprenticeships under the Elizabethan Poor Law came to be used as a way of providing for poor, illegitimate and orphaned children of both sexes alongside the regular system of skilled apprenticeships, which tended to provide for boys from slightly more affluent backgrounds. These parish apprenticeships, which could be created with the assent of two Justices of the Peace, supplied apprentices for occupations of lower status such as farm labouring, brickmaking and menial household service.
Until as late as the nineteenth century, all university fellows and many schoolmasters were expected or required to be in holy orders. Schoolmistresses typically taught the three Rs (reading, writing and 'rithmetic) in dame schools, charity schools, or informal village schools.
In the early years of the Industrial Revolution entrepreneurs began to resist the restrictions of the apprenticeship system, and a legal ruling established that the Statute of Apprentices did not apply to trades that were not in existence when it was passed in 1563, thus excluding many new 18th century industries.
Robert Raikes initiated the Sunday School Movement, having inherited a publishing business from his father and become proprietor of the Gloucester Journal in 1757. The movement started with a school for boys in the slums. Raikes had been involved with those incarcerated at the county Poor Law (part of the jail at that time) and saw that vice would be better prevented than cured. He saw schooling as the best intervention. The best available time was Sunday as the boys were often working in the factories the other six days. The best available teachers, were lay people. The textbook was the Bible, and the originally intended curriculum started with learning to read and then moved on to the catechism.
Raikes used the paper to publicize the schools and bore most of the cost in the early years. The movement began in July 1780 in the home of a Mrs. Meredith. Only boys attended, and she heard the lessons of the older boys who coached the younger. Later, girls also attended. Within two years, several schools opened in and around Gloucester. He published an account on November 3, 1783 of Sunday School in his paper, and later word of the work spread through the Gentleman's Magazine, and in 1784, a letter to the Arminian Magazine.
The original schedule for the schools, as written by Raikes was "The children were to come after ten in the morning, and stay till twelve; they were then to go home and return at one; and after reading a lesson, they were to be conducted to Church. After Church, they were to be employed in repeating the catechism till after five, and then dismissed, with an injunction to go home without making a noise."
There were disputes about the movement in the early years. The schools were derisively called "Raikes' Ragged School". Criticisms raised included that it would weaken home based religious education, that it might be a desecration of the Sabbath, and that Christians should not be employed on the Sabbath. "Sabbatarian disputes" in the 1790s led many Sunday schools to cease their teaching of writing.
Most schools at this time focused on grammar instruction, which at that time was centered on the instruction of Latin and Greek. Many schools taught Latin and Greek to the exclusion of all other subjects.
Prior to the 19th century, there were very few schools. Most of those that existed were run by the church, for the church, stressing religious education. The Church of England resisted early attempts for the state to provide secular education, and church schools are still an integral part of the state school system.
In 1814, compulsory apprenticeship by indenture was abolished. By 1831, Sunday School in Great Britain was ministering weekly to 1 child, approximately 2% of the population. As these schools preceded the first state funding of schools for the common public, they are sometimes seen as a forerunner to the current English school system.
In August 1833, Parliament voted sums of money each year for the construction of schools for poor children, the first time the state had become involved with education in England and Wales, whereas the programme of universal education in Scotland began in 1561.
A meeting in Manchester in 1837, chaired by Mark Philips, led to the creation of the Lancashire Public Schools' Association. The association proposed that non-denominational schools should be funded from local taxes.
In 1839 government grants for the construction and maintenance of schools were switched to voluntary bodies, and became conditional on a satisfactory inspection.
After John Pounds' death in 1839 Thomas Guthrie wrote Plea for Ragged Schools and started a ragged school in Edinburgh, another one was started in Aberdeen. In 1844 Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury formed the 'Ragged School Union' dedicated to the free education of destitute children and over the next eight years over 200 free schools for poor children were established in Britain. with some 300,000 children passing through the London Ragged Schools alone between 1844 and 1881.
Over 95% of children of elementary school age were already enrolled in schools well before it was made compulsory and free. In 1861 the Royal Commission on the state of popular education in England, chaired by the Duke of Newcastle, reported "The number of children whose names ought [in summer 1858 in England and Wales] to have been on the school books, in order that all might receive some education, was 2,655,767. The number we found to be actually on the books was 2,535,462, thus leaving 120,305 children without any school instruction whatever."
The Forster Elementary Education Act 1870 required partially state-funded board schools to be set up to provide primary (elementary) education in areas where existing provision was inadequate. Board schools were managed by elected school boards. The schools remained fee-charging, but poor parents could be exempted. The previous government grant scheme established in 1833 ended on December 31, 1870.
The Act meant that compulsory attendance at school ceased to be a matter for local option, as children had to attend between the ages of 5 and 10, with exceptions such as illness, if children worked, or lived too far from a school. The Act empowered school boards to make byelaws for educating children between the ages of 5 and 13 but exempted any child aged over 10 who had reached the expected standard (which varied by board). [Section 74 of the Act].
The Elementary Education Act 1880 insisted on compulsory attendance from 5–10 years. For poorer families, ensuring their children attended school proved difficult, as it was more tempting to send them working if the opportunity to earn an extra income was available. Attendance Officers often visited the homes of children who failed to attend school, which often proved to be ineffective. Children under the age of 13 who were employed were required to have a certificate to show they had reached the educational standard. Employers of these children who weren't able to show this were penalised. An act brought into force thirteen years later went under the name of the "Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act 1893", which stated a raised minimum leaving age to 11. Later the same year, the act was also extended for blind and deaf children, who previously had no means of an official education. This act was later amended in 1899 to raise the school leaving age up to 12 years of age.
The 1891 Elementary Education Act provided for the state payment of school fees up to ten shillings per head.
The Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act 1893 raised the school leaving age to 11 and later to 13. The Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act of the same year extended compulsory education to blind and deaf children, and made provision for the creation of special schools.
The Voluntary Schools Act 1897 provided grants to public elementary schools not funded by school boards (typically Church schools).
In the late Victorian period grammar schools were reorganised and their curriculum was modernised, although Latin was still taught.
In 1889, the "Technical Institutes Act" was passed. According to D. Evans, "It gave powers to the County Councils and the Urban Sanitary Authorities to levy a penny tax to support technical and manual instruction. The curricula in technical institutions also had to be approved by the Science and Art Department. In the following year the Local Taxation Act introduced the 'whiskey tax', which made extra money available for technical instruction."
From April 1900 higher elementary schools were recognised, providing education from the age of 10 to 15.
The controversial Conservative Education Act 1902 (also 'Balfour's Act') made radical changes to the entire educational systems of England and Wales. It ended the divide between schools run by the 2568 school boards and the 14,000 church schools, largely administered primarily by the Church of England, which educated about a third of the students. Local Education Authorities were established, which were able to set local tax rates, were created and the school boards were disbanded. Funds were provided for denominational religious instruction in voluntary elementary schools, owned primarily by the Church of England and Roman Catholics. The law was extended in 1903 to cover London.
G.R. Searle, like nearly all historians, argues the Act was a short-term political disaster for the Conservative Party because it outraged Methodists, Baptists and other nonconformists. It subsidized religions they rejected. However Searle argues it was long-term success. The Church schools now had solid financing from local ratepayers and had to meet uniform standards. It led to a rapid growth of secondary schools, with over 1000 opening by 1914, including 349 for girls. Eventually, the Anglican schools were nationalized. Grammar schools also became funded by the LEA. The act was of particular significance as it allowed for all schools, including denominational schools, to be funded through rates (local taxation), and ended the role of locally elected school boards that often attracted women, non-conformists and labour union men. The Liberals came to power in 1906 on the school issue but their attempt to repeal it was blocked by the House of Lords, setting up a major constitutional confrontation.
The Fisher Education Act 1918 made secondary education compulsory up to age 14 and gave responsibility for secondary schools to the state. Under the Act, many higher elementary schools and endowed grammar school sought to become state funded central schools or secondary schools. However, most children attended primary (elementary) school until age 14, rather than going to a separate school for secondary education.
The year 1918 saw the introduction of the Education Act 1918, commonly also known as the "Fisher Act" as it was devised by Herbert Fisher. The act enforced compulsory education from 5–14 years, but also included provision for compulsory part-time education for all 14 to 18-year-olds. There were also plans for expansion in tertiary education, by raising the participation age to 18. This was dropped because of the cuts in public spending after World War I. This is the first act which starting planning provisions for young people to remain in education until the age of 18. The 1918 act was not immediately implemented, instead waiting until an act in 1921 before coming into effect.
A report of 1938 of a committee chaired by Will Spens, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, recommended that entry to grammar and technical schools be based on intelligence testing. This was followed by the Norwood Report of 1943 which advocated the "tripartite" division of secondary education that was embodied in the 1944 Education Act.
The Education Act 1944, relating to England and Wales, authored by Rab Butler and sometimes known as "the Butler Act", defined the modern split between primary education and secondary education at age 11; it also established the Tripartite System, consisting of grammar schools, secondary modern schools and secondary technical schools. Academically gifted students who passed the "Scholarship" exam (later replaced by a "Grading Test" and the 11+ examination) were able to attend a grammar school. Children who did not pass the selection test attended secondary modern schools or technical schools. The school leaving age was raised to 15.
Changes in government approaches towards education meant that it was no longer regarded adequate for a child to leave education aged 14, as that is the age when they were seen to really understand and appreciate the value of education, as well as being the period when adolescence was at its height. It was beginning to be seen as the worst age for a sudden switch from education to employment, with the additional year in schooling to only provide benefits for the children when they leave. Although there were concerns about the effects of having less labour from these children, it was hoped that the outcome of a larger quantity of more qualified, skilled workers would eliminate the deficit problem from the loss of unskilled labour.
Education was made compulsory to age 15 in 1947. The 1944 Act had also recommended compulsory part-time education for all young people until the age of 18, but this provision was dropped so as not to overburden the post-war spending budget (as had happened similarly with the Act of 1918).
The Tripartite System became controversial in the post-war years. Critics condemned it as being elitist and defenders claimed that grammar schools allow pupils to obtain a good education through merit rather than through family income. In some areas, notably that of the London County Council, comprehensive schools had been introduced. They had no entrance test and were open to all children living in the school catchment area. However, despite tentative support for 'multilateralism' in secondaries, and a desire to raise the standard of secondary moderns to that of private institutions, from Minister for Education Ellen Wilkinson, the majority of Labour MPs were more concerned with implementing the 1944 Act; her successor George Tomlinson saw this through, although the secondary technicals remained underdeveloped.
In 1965 the Labour government required all local education authorities to formulate proposals to move away from selection at eleven, replacing the tripartite system with comprehensive schools. This was done by the minister Tony Crosland by means of Circular 10/65 and withholding funding from any school that sought to retain selection. This circular was vehemently opposed by the grammar school lobby. Some counties procrastinated and retained the Tripartite System in all but a few experimental areas. Those authorities have locally administered selection tests.
The Circular also requested consultation between LEAs and the partially state-funded direct grant grammar schools on their participation in a comprehensive system, but little movement occurred. The 1970 report of the Public Schools Commission chaired by David Donnison recommended that the schools choose between becoming voluntary aided comprehensives and full independence. This was finally put into effect by the Direct Grant Grammar Schools (Cessation of Grant) Regulations 1975. Some schools (almost all Catholic) became fully state-funded, while the majority became independent fee-paying schools.
In 1964, preparations had begun to raise the school leaving age to 16 to be enforced from 1 September 1973 onwards. As well as raising the school leaving age in 1973, the year also saw the introduction of the Education (Work Experience) Act, allowing LEAs to organise work experience for the additional final year school students. In some counties around the country, these changes also led to the introduction of Middle schools in 1968, where students were kept at primary or junior school for an additional year, meaning that the number of students in secondary schools within these areas remained virtually constant through the change. As of 2007[update], there are now fewer than 400 Middle Schools across England, situated in just 22 Local Education Authorities.
This increased the legal leaving age from 15 to 16, leaving a gap year of school leavers who, by law, had to complete an additional year of education from 1973 onwards.
Many secondary schools in areas without a Middle School were unable to accommodate the new 5th year students. The solution to the problem was to construct a new building for these schools (often referred to as "ROSLA Buildings" or "ROSLA Blocks") that needed to extend their capacity, providing them with the capacity to cope with the new generation of ROSLA students. The "ROSLA Buildings" were delivered to schools in self assembly packs and were not intended to stand long-term, though some have proven to have stood much longer than was initially planned. Some are still standing now.
High technology industry (Aerospace, Nuclear, Oil & Gas, Automotive, Power Generation and Distribution etc.) trained its professional engineers via the advanced apprenticeship system of learning - usually a 5 year process. The higher Apprenticeship framework in the 1950s, 60s and 70s was designed to allow young people (16 years) an alternative path to A Levels to achieve an academic qualification at level 4 or 5 NVQ. The Higher Apprenticeship Framework was open to young people who had a minimum of 4 GCE "O" Levels to enroll in an Ordinary National Certificate or Diploma or a City & Guilds technician course. For advanced engineering apprenticeships "O" Levels had to include Mathematics, Physics, and English language. The advanced apprenticeship framework's purpose was to provide a supply of young people seeking to enter work-based learning via apprenticeships by offering structured high value learning and transferable skills and knowledge. These apprenticeships were enabled by linking industry with local technical colleges and professional Engineering Institutions.
The Advanced Apprenticeship Framework offered clear pathways and outcomes that addressed the issues facing the industry. This system was in place since the 1950s. The system provided young people with an alternative to staying in full-time education post- 16/18 to gain pure academic qualifications without work-based learning. The Advanced Apprenticeship's of the 1950s 60s and 70s provided the necessary preparation towards Engineering Technician. Technician Engineer or Chartered Engineer registration. Apprentices undertook a variety of job roles in numerous technical functions to assist the work of engineers, in the design, development, manufacture and maintenance of production system.
In modern times, apprenticeship became less important, especially as employment in heavy industry and artisan trades has declined since the 1980s. Traditional apprenticeships reached their lowest point in the 1980s: by that time, training programmes were rare and people who were apprentices learned mainly by example.
In 1986, National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) were introduced, in an attempt to revitalise vocational training. Still, by 1990, apprenticeship took up only two-thirds of one percent of total employment.
The 1988 Education Reform Act made considerable changes to the education system. These changes were aimed at creating a 'market' in education with schools competing with each other for 'customers' (pupils). The theory was that "bad" schools would lose pupils to the "good" schools and either have to improve, reduce in capacity or close.
The reforms included the following:
In 1994, the government introduced Modern Apprenticeships (since renamed 'Apprenticeships'), based on frameworks devised by Sector Skills Councils. These frameworks contain a number of separately certified elements:
Between 1976 and 1997, the minimum school leaving arrangements were:
Under section 8(4) of the Education Act 1996, a new single school leaving date was set for 1998 and all subsequent years thereafter. This was set as the last Friday in June in the school year which the child reaches the age of 16.
During the 1997 General Election, the Labour party mantra was "Education, Education, Education", a reference to their conference slogan. Winning the election returned them to power, but New Labour's political ideology meant that many of the changes introduced by the Conservatives during their time in power remained intact.
They began changing the structure of the school and higher education systems. The following changes took place:
The Government run 11 plus selection exam has now been abolished in the UK, and no longer do all children sit for it as used to be the case. However, voluntary selection tests are still conducted in certain areas of the UK, where some of the original grammar schools have been retained. These areas include: Northern Ireland and some English counties and districts including Devon, Dorset, Kent, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Birmingham, Trafford, Wiltshire, North Yorkshire, Calderdale, Kirklees, Wirral, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire and some London boroughs such as Bexley, Kingston-upon-Thames and Redbridge. There have been various so far unsuccessful attempts by campaigners to accomplish the abolition of all remaining grammar schools. The remaining grammar schools are now thus still selective, typically taking the top 10-25% of those from the local catchment area. Some of the still-existing grammar schools in the United Kingdom can trace their history back to earlier than the 16th century.
Reports were published in November 2006 to suggest that England's Education Secretary Alan Johnson was exploring ways to raise the school leaving age in England and Wales to 18, pointing to the decline in unskilled jobs and the need for young people to be equipped for modern day employment. Such proposals are expected to become effective from 2013 onwards.
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The Academies Act 2010, one of the first government bills introduced in the Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition government, allowed publicly funded schools in England to become academies, still publicly funded but with a vastly increased degree of autonomy in issues such as setting teachers' wages and diverging from the National Curriculum.
The Education Act 2011 makes changed to many areas of educational policy, including the power of school staff to discipline students, the manner in which newly trained teachers are supervised, the regulation of qualifications, the administration of local authority maintained schools, academies, the provision of post-16 education, including vocational apprenticeships, and student finance for higher education. It abolished the General Teaching Council for England, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and the Training and Development Agency for Schools and other bodies.