16th July 1943. The New Jerusalem in Education.
The 1902 Balfour Education Act abolished School Boards which were replaced by Local Educational Authorities ( LEAs) and given power to provide Secondary Education.
Many new Grammar Schools arose which aped the Public Schools in their ethos. They were given grants with pupils entering as either fee-paying or on a scholarship. The teaching of the Classics and wearing of a school uniform became de rigeur, with teachers wearing academic dress.(1)
However most schools up to World War II continued with all-age pupils in Elementary Schools, with a leaving age at 13.
For the new Grammar Schools, exams now became important, originally a ‘privilege’ only for Endowed Schools.
These dated from the College of Preceptors (1853), and the Oxford and Cambridge ‘Locals’ of 1858.
By 1874 their ‘Joint Board Exams’ were instituted. Anyone who passed the Oxford Senior Local was granted an A.A. ‘degree’ (Associate in Arts).
In addition many of the then Endowed Schools entered pupils for the London University matriculation originally intended as a preliminary examination for a degree course.
By 1911 there were seven university examining boards and a Consultative Committee recommended some co-ordination. This resulted in the ‘School Certificate’ for those age 16, with a ‘Higher’ for those aged 18 year for the endowed Grammar Schools.
In 1917 the Board of Education set up a Secondary Schools’ Examination Council which also oversaw Grants. State Scholarships were made available for those wishing to enter university.
School leaving age was raised to 14 in 1918 and Sir Charles Trevelyan, Labour’s radical Minister of Education resigned in March 1931, when his bid to raise the school leaving age to fifteen was defeated by the Lords.
Looking forward with optimism, parliament introduced Today in 1943, a White Paper on post-war education, advocating free schooling for all up to the age of 16.
However there were many pressing issues in 1945, a huge building programme was needed at a time of acute shortages and 35,000 teachers were needed in a hurry to implement raising of leaving age even to age fifteen, along with a rising school population.
Luckily there were thousands of ex-servicemen looking to take the six months courses available.(2)
It wasn’t until April 1st 1947, that Ellen Wilkinson, Education Minister, managed to get a leaving age increase to 15 (postponed from 1939) and this after much opposition from the Labour benches.
It rose to sixteen in 1972, having been postponed in 1967, owing to the financial crisis which afflicted the Labour Administration at this time.
Post-war, the School Certificate of five subjects, was replaced by an exam which could be taken in single subjects, the GCE ‘O’ Level, (equivalent to a credit in the old Certificate), and ‘A’ level in 1951 mainly for the selective schools.
The 1960 Beloe Report recommended a Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) for the Secondary Modern Schools, later to become the GCSE to replace ‘O’ Level and CSE; ‘A’ Levels were retained, but later to be ‘dumbed down’ with course-work modules, to supply the growing universities.
(1) However The Grammar Schools were not successful with its Working Class pupils, with many leaving pre ‘O’ Level as the Report ‘Early Learning’ showed.
(2) Also required was an increase in university places from 50,246 pre-War, to 76,764 in 1947.