Education: Grammar School and Government

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In this essay I am going to look at the changes to education legislation from 1944 to the present day. I will look at how these changes have reflected government educational policies and to what effect. Firstly I will look at the ‘Butler Act’, war time 1944. The education act 1944 was called the ‘Butler Act’ after the conservative politician, R.A.Butler. The 1944 ‘Butler Act’ was undoubtedly a significant milestone in terms of the history of education Britain. It became increasingly clear that education was of vital importance to the nation and to the individual. It planned to remove the inequalities which remained in the system. The proportion of ‘free places’ at grammar schools in England and Wales increased from almost a third to almost half between 1913 and 1937. However when poorer children were offered free places parents often had to turn them down, owing to the extra costs involved. The ‘Butler Act’ 1944 provided free education for all pupils. By 1946 the School Milk act was introduced. Previous investigations completed by John Boyd Orr revealed there was a link between low- income and malnutrition and under – achievement in schools. Ellen Wilkinson minister of education, (the first woman in British history to hold the post), was a long campaigner against poverty and in 1946 managed to persuade parliament to pass the school milk act. This act ordered the issue of one –third of a pint of milk free to all pupils. Local Education Authorities (LEAs), were required to submit proposals to the new department of education for reorganising secondary schools in the area, LEAs were required to assist children’s special needs. Most of the LEAs aimed to establish the three main ‘streams’ or categories at school this was known as the tripartite system. The three categories were grammar , secondary modern and technical , the children would be allocated on the basis of an examination at the age of 11, known as the ’11 plus’. The 11 plus had the intention to provide an equal opportunity for children of all backgrounds and walks of life. The implementation of this break by the ‘Butler Act’ seemed to offer an ideal opportunity to implement ‘streaming’ since all children would be changing school any way.

Was the ’11 plus’ a good idea or would it begin to emerge as a large historical accident? Many people related more to the wider education system rather than the academic selection. The proportions of school children gaining a place at a grammar school varied by location and gender, and due to the continuance of single sex schooling there were fewer places for girls than boys. Many critics claimed that there was a strong class bias in the exam. It seemed that children on the borderline of passing were more likely to get grammar school places if they came from middleclass families. It would appear that the ’11 plus’ was a system based on unfairness. For example, questions about the role of household servants or classical composers were easier for middle class children to answer but far less familiar to those from less wealthy and less educated backgrounds. The ’11 plus’ also led to divisions in schools (streaming), in the country (social class distinctions) and also led to irreconcilable political attitudes, (labour vs. conservatives) with the conservatives in favour of this selection and labour against it. In the 1950s, all the opposition against the 11 plus exam and the selection process had led to the idea of the modern comprehensive system. This idea was cherished by labour and rejected by the conservatives. In 1964 the labour government was elected, Harold Wilson is the new prime minister. Going into 1965 the circular 10/65 has stated for everyone to prepare for the introduction of the comprehensive schools. This was recognised as a fairer system better for working class people. Wilson was very anxious to increase opportunity within society, this meant change and expansion to the education...
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