Education Acts

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Education Acts. Though Scotland had a system of parish schools as early as the 17th cent., the English and British Parliaments did not intervene until the 19th cent., leaving provision to private and voluntary enterprise. dame schools and the surviving grammar schools were augmented from 1808 by schools supported by the British and Foreign School Society (undenominational) and the National Schools Society (Anglican). In 1833 Parliament made a grant of £20,000 towards the work of the societies, and in 1839 a Committee of the Privy Council was established by orders in council, with Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth as first secretary, to superintend education.

Direct state provision began in 1870, when the Liberal W. E. Forster steered through an Act intended to establish a system of efficient elementary schools in England and Wales. Locally elected school boards were to provide schools where there was a deficiency by the denominational bodies. This was the beginning of the so-called ‘dual system’ which still exists. The 1880 Act, introduced by the Liberal A. J. Mundella, imposed universal compulsory schooling under the age of 10.

The 1902 Act, the work of the Conservative A. J. Balfour, set up a co-ordinated national system of education, administered by a central Board of Education. School boards were abolished and replaced by local education authorities, consisting of elected councils of counties, county boroughs, boroughs, and urban districts, responsible for secular and voluntary schools: county and borough councils were also responsible for secondary and technical education. Grammar schools were established and free places provided for pupils from elementary schools.

The 1944 Act, introduced by Conservative R. A. Butler, stipulated that education should be organized in three stages—primary, secondary, and further, and that children were to be educated according to their age, ability, and aptitude, in grammar, technical, or modern schools. The Board of Education was replaced by a Ministry of Education and provision was made for raising the school-leaving age from 14 to 15: it was raised to 16 in 1972. The Act remained in force for the next four decades, but selection for the different schools caused difficulty. Labour governments from 1964 encouraged comprehensive schooling and many grammar schools were converted, closed, or became independent. Concern in the 1990s about the quality of education in comprehensive schools provoked considerable discussion and a number of initiatives aimed at raising standards, but private education remained an attractive alternative to parents who could afford the fees.

Miss Charlotte M. Lythe