The 1944 Education Act was largely a compromise and over the course of this essay I will show how it was mostly born out of political expediency rather then of any deeply held educational philosophy. The second world war highlighted the social inequalities that were experienced across Britain and brought about an almost nationwide consensus that Britain had to change. The Conservative government was facing pressure to try to equalise social and educational opportunity whilst the Labour party was calling for radical changes that would have been unacceptable to the constituents of the Conservative party. Dent described the English education system as representing the very essence of inequality of opportunity. In order to satisfy popular aspirations any government would have to be seen to radically changing the education system (Lowe 1992).
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The radical demands of the public appeared to culminate and be represented in the Beveridge report which received widespread support from the public and the labour party in particular. The Beveridge report is the report by the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services chaired by William Beveridge, and identified education as one of the key areas for the establishment of a just society after the war (Lowe 1992). The Beveridge report had as one of its guiding principles that a revolutionary moment in world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching. The report called for a radical upheaval of education and society to be no longer organised by social class and would be a vastly different educational and social philosophy. The radical and revolutionary proposals that the report called for included:
Raising the leaving age to 15
Abolition of the dual system
Secondary education for all over the age of 11
Abolition of fees in all maintained secondary schools
Abolition or at least assimilation of public schools as a step towards the creation of a single national system of education.
This report had been welcomed with almost universal approval across society in particular by the labour party and it seemed to be a real attempt at putting into practice a new social world in England that wasn’t governed by a hierarchical class structure which is replicated through education. There was overwhelming public agreement that all the recommendations of the report should be implemented whilst the nationwide popularity of the report making it impossible for political parties to avoid. These proposals were well beyond what would be acceptable to conservative opinion if implemented (Lowe 1992) and thus there was a growing backing towards Baker’s attempt at changing education providing that it was acceptable to the Conservative ideology and didn’t implement all of the reforms suggested in the Beveridge report. In my personal view the Conservatives were open to change in principle as long as nothing significant actually changed. In addition the Conservatives realised that if they didn’t change education then the labour party would implement dramatic changes when they came to power. This left Butler with a dilemma with trying to change the educational philosophy of England but doing so in way that would be acceptable to Conservative MP’s.
The Beveridge Report added to the all ready widespread criticism of the restrictive class nature of the educational system with the working class receiving a low level education. Prior to the second world war the working class were in compulsory education until they were 14 in elementary schools. This was a basic education that prepared the working class for a life of manual labour often in the factories thus maintaining their position in society. There was very little opportunity for social mobility. This contrasted the fortunes of the upper middle class and the upper class who were able to pay for their children to go to secondary schools which would greatly effect their opportunities in later life. The call for a single code of secondary education and the raising of the school leaving age were two of the main demands placed upon Butler which it appeared the 1944 Education Act met. The school leaving age was raised to 15 in 1947 thou was defeated in its attempt to raise the leaving age to 16 and there was a single code for secondary education.
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However it was at this time that the Norwood Report was published which in effect was the essential ideological underpinning for what became known as the tripartite system. The report argued that through proven psychological intelligence testing it could be shown that there were three types of children who would be best suited to different types of schools. These schools were the grammar schools (academically focused), technical schools (vocationally focused) and the secondary modern schools (concerned with practical activities and the immediate environment). This report and its practical implementation was a master stroke as it appeared to lay down a clear and scientifically proven rationale for a divided system of secondary education albeit under a single code. The 1944 Education Act effectively resulted in the tripartite system which in practice appeared to change secondary education dramatically as through funded places theoretically every child irrespective of background had the chance to go to the best schools. Conveniently the 11 plus which was designed to find the school that children were best suited too found that the mass of children were best suited to the secondary modern schools. Although everyone in theory had the chance of going to a grammar school which was the best academically the reality was that the old elementary schools for the working class had just been re-branded and the elitist structure strengthened and in essence the new order in English education which it ushered in was as Simon 1986 concludes â€œthe old order in a new disguiseâ€ (p43).
One of the most contentious issues at this time was the issue of public schools which were receiving sharp and sustained criticism for their part in maintaining social inequalities and the class structure of England. An example of the powerful attack and criticism directed towards public schools was T.C. Worsley’s book Barbarians and Philistines where he said ‘we are where we are owing largely to the privileged education which the ruling classes have received. The main problem which faces democracy may be expresses as the problem of achieving social cohesion which could only be achieved democratically by a reorganisation of the education system’ (TES 1994). Thus there was a collective desire to see the abolition or at least assimilation of public schools as a step towards the creation of a single national system of education which would provide equality of opportunity for all children in the successive stages of education. However although the issue of public schools was controversial as they were clearly elitism and their continued existence was contrary to the spirit of the times (TES 1994). Butler had to bear in mind the massed ranks of die hard Tories who were all men of public school and Oxbridge background and thus would not pass a law that would see the abolishment of the public schools. Consequently a compromise was needed in order for the law to pass through parliament whilst appeasing the public desire for the ending of public schools.
Part of the solution or part of the compromise to the law passing through parliament and appeasing the public was the setting up of the Fleming committee. When the Fleming Committee was set up in July 1942 the press anticipated a democratization of the public schools (Lowe 1992). But as Simon (1986) explains the opposite was the case â€œWhen the education bill was finally published in December 1943… the Fleming committee was still sitting…Nothing of any significance appeared on the independent schools in the original lib And this could be justified on the grounds that the matter was under investigation. (p41). This contentious issue was thus ignored and the old MP’s would pass the act. The public schools also worked on a defence saying that they should be opened up with scholarships to those best qualified in intelligence and character standing at the apex of the education system (Simon 1991).
Another controversial area in which reform and change was needed and wanted was the dual system of education with the church of England and Catholic schools between them provided more then half of the elementary schools in the country (TES 1994). The church schools were often run down with the majority of 3000 black listed schools being labelled as unfit for further use (Simon 1991) in addition Butler provider William Temple, the newly appointed Archbishop Canterbury with statistics that showed that 399 of the 700 condemned school buildings in the country were Anglican schools (Chadwick 2001). Thus it was clear the church run schools needed help from the government in the form of funding yet the churches didn’t want to give up their influence in the education of people in the face of the secular movement (Simon 1991). The issue of state money paying for education in church schools had caused a stumbling block for previous acts (TES 1994). With the church schools needing public investment but not wanting to loose their influence a compromise was needed if this issue wasn’t to prove a stumbling block as it had for previous acts.
The government’s compromise was to offer the churches the option of voluntary controlled or aided status for their schools. The former meaning that the the school would be managed and funded entirely by the local education authority but with certain safeguards allowing for religious instruction. Aided status meant that churches would remain in control as the custodial trustee but would contribute 50% to capital building costs but have running costs met by the local authority (Chadwick 2001). In practice due to financial restraints the majority of Anglican schools adopted voluntary controlled status. The school day for all schools was to begin with a collective act of worship and, for the first time, every maintained school had to provide religious education according to a local authority agreed syllabus; the subject was to have equal status in the curriculum with other subjects (Chadwick 2001). The religious settlement proved both durable and effective which was a remarkable achievement for which Butler should be praised (TES 1994). The religious settlement was one area that was not born out of political expediency but the uniting of education under one code was a lasting legacy of the 1944 Education Act.
In conclusion the 1944 Education Act raised the school leaving age to 15; the dual system was modified and managed to achieve a single code of regulations for secondary education which meant that it was no longer possible to make a sharp and overt discrimination between the financing of the elite schools and the rest (Simon 1991). These changes and the abandonment of the elementary education seemed on the surface to represent a deeply held educational philosophy by Butler that would lead to social change. In reality the act contained nothing of any significance about the public schools which had important social implications (Simon 1991). The Norwood report allowed the educational system to be rebranded but in effect after all the discussion legislation the country still had a hierarchical educational structure. Butler circumvented the obstacles to reform but privately he acknowledged the degree of continuity in practice. The act he conceded was mainly codifying existing practice (Jefferys (1987).
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