In pre 19th century Great Britain formal education was very much restricted and class based. Public and grammar fee paying schools offered education for the wealthy middle and upper classes whilst charity and church schools provided a very basic, low standard of education for only one third of children. (Haralambos, 2004).
Taylor et al (2004) proposes that the ideological underpinning of W.E. Forster’s 1870 Elementary Education Act was due to global industrialisation. It was felt by many that in order to perpetuate economic expansion and remain competitive with rival countries, namely Germany and USA, a literate and numerate labour force was needed. However, the idea of educating “the great unwashed” was by no means universally accepted. Those in power were concerned about the consequences of having a literate but largely oppressed mass of people.
When the 1870 Elementary Education Act was instated it was the first government legislative act that made elementary education available and, in successive years, compulsory for all children. Elementary education consisted of the three R’s ‘reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic’, Biblical knowledge and ‘morality’. (Haralambos 2004). Renowned author HG Wells argued that this was “an act to educate the lower class for employment on lower class lines.” (Cited in Taylor et al 1997). An evolutionary act, not revolutionary, that made no effort to break down the barriers of class based education as but instead provided appropriate schooling for labour class children whilst providing a much needed ‘babysitting’ service as the Factory Acts prohibited children under 10 from working.
The development of Britain’s education system was antiquated and lagging behind rival competitors in industry. Broadly up until World War Two, the three types of schooling; public schools for the upper classes, grammar schools for the middle classes and elementary schools for the working class, remained largely unchanged until World War Two. (Haralambos 2004)
Towards the end of and especially after World War Two the idea of meritocracy arose and with it the desire to rebuild society on meritocratic foundations, starting with education. Rad Butler (conservative MP and president of the board of education education) piloted the 1944 Education Act, often referred to as the Butler act, through parliament. (Derek Gillard 2011).
Stephen Moore (2001) proposes that the 1944 Education Act was a part of a large welfare state provision roll out that was put into effect in successive years in the post war period influenced by the 1942 Beveridge Report.
Haralambos (2004) highlights the philosophical and ideological underpinning of the 1944 Act as an idea of educational meritocracy and a realisation that the nation wasn’t making use of the talents of its people. “The nature of a child's education should be based on his capacity and promise and not by the circumstances of his parent.” (Cited in Derek Gillard 2011). The state reorganised the structure of education into three stages; primary education up until the age of eleven, secondary from the age of eleven to fifteen (from 1973, 16) and further or higher education beyond this new leaving age. (Taylor et al 1997).
Derek Gillard 2011 states that Cyril Norwood publishing the Norwood...