Last Updated 02 Apr 2020

The 1944 Education Act and Its Ramifications to Date

Category Acts, School
Essay type Research
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The 1944 Education Act and its ramifications to date The purpose of this essay is to identify the features of the 1944 Education Act and its ramifications. The state of education prior to the 1944 Act will be mentioned and how it mirrored society as a whole. A critical appraisal of justifications for selection and comprehensivisation, as a successor to the tripartite system, will be addressed. This paper will also provide an explanation of the selection process and the arguments and problems that relate to it.

I will be analysing the sociological ideas and will be discussing post war trends and events in Britain and education in particular and evaluating how issues of ability, IQ, class, gender and or/ethnicity have affected change. At an appropriate point, mention will also be made of the Nature/Nurture debate and how these factors affect academic achievement. Historically education was only available to affluent males. Grammar schools run by the church taught Latin, Greek and R. E. The fees to attend such schools were extremely high, therefore education and social class were very much linked together.

Education for women was only made available to extremely wealthy women of the upper class and only consisted of embroidery, music, singing, painting etc. Women were seen to be pure and virginal and their placement within society was in the home. The lower class members of society really struggled and were not offered many educational opportunities. Eventually education for women was offered but it was very limited. During the eighteenth century there were many developments to education, one being the introduction of charity schools (elementary schools), which were aimed at providing a very basic education for the poor.

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They were taught the basic 3 R’s which were reading, writing and arithmetic. This empowered them with sufficient literacy to function in society but not enough to challenge or change a society, therefore status quo is maintained. The schools were created for the 7 – 12 age groups, so with only 5 years of learning and limited resources, the children were not very rounded. This generation of ill-educated children were only educated to fit a certain role such as factory and shop workers. The 1870 Forster Act & the 1902 Balfour Act were beneficial to the working class in that they created expansion/extension of education.

Although they created expansion, it still led to greater numbers of children having a ‘limited education. ’ The 1944 Education Act (‘The Butler Act’) was introduced and aimed to remove the inequalities that remained in the system. Education was now mandatory, the school leaving age was raised from 12 to 15 years old and free secondary education was provided for all pupils. The tripartite system was created consisting of three different types of schools; grammar, technical and secondary modern.

Children would be allocated a place in one of these schools dependant on the results of a new examination taken at the age of eleven, known as the ‘11 plus. ’ This was intended to give children of all backgrounds equal opportunities to gain a better education, rather than one based on the ability of their parents to pay expensive fees for private education. It did provide the working class with the opportunity to gain entry to grammar schools but the assessment only focused on three subjects: English, Maths & Logic. If one of those subjects was not your strong point, then your whole life chances were determined of that one exam.

Also the 11 plus only focused on a child’s performance on that particular exam day, so if you were ill or were suffering from family or domestic problems that had a bearing on how you were thinking or feeling, it was not taken into consideration. In that respect I feel the 11 plus selective system was unfair. An individual’s opportunity to get the best possible education was all down to that one particular day. According to Rick Roger’s book ‘Education & Social Class: “In reality, the notion of ‘equal but different’ failed and parity of esteem between the three different schools was never created.

Few technical schools were established and the secondary modern became the cinderellas of the education service despite providing for the majority of the school population. ”(Roger 1986: 3) This extract shows that new system didn’t manage to reduce the social division it merely replaced it with a newer form of social division. The nature/nurture debate is neither unique nor particular to the 1944 Act, but it is something to be addressed. Nature, suggesting your intelligence is inherited from your parents and nurture, the belief that learning is affected by the home and the school environment.

Relating the debate to the 1944 Act, brings to our attention the difference in education between social classes. The upper and middle class children would have definitely had advantage over the working class children, in terms of cognitive development, as their parents would have been well educated and able to pass on far greater knowledge. They also would have had better living conditions and quieter homes to concentrate on homework. The working class tended to have many children, shared bedrooms would have been common, which was not the ideal learning environment.

The philanthropic aspects of the act were very much linked to the Second World War. The generally poor fitness standards of the working class recruits highlighted to the government that changes needed to be made. Free milk in schools, regular free dental and health checks were therefore introduced. After the Second World War, Butler was faced with societal problems such as rebuilding bomb damaged cities on an epic scale and re-fashioning an educational system. Six years of fighting in the Second World War led to a common bond between people in all walks of life who shared the same values and goals to rebuild their country.

Butler realised that there was a need for builders, carpenters and engineers to facilitate this. These skills were taught in the secondary modern schools, which 75% of students attended. When the 11 plus exam was introduced it created an element of elitism. Some pupil’s self-esteem would have been lowered due to achieving low grades, making them feel inferior intellectually and socially. Some pupils progress educationally at different rates and ages, this system did not take this into consideration. It was such criticisms that would eventually give rise to the comprehensive school.

The comprehensive system was introduced by the labour party in 1965 to replace the tripartite system and is still used today. Rather than having three different schools; grammar, technical and secondary modern it combined all three. From a governmental prospective this proved much more economical. The system offers a wide range of subjects across the academic spectrum and the selection process is removed. It gives a greater number of children a better chance of social mobility, teaching children how to get along with one another regardless of class differences.

Classes are streamed which means children can move between sets depending on academic ability and individual progress. The advantages are that children work alongside others of the same ability and that certain lessons can be taught in more depth. However streaming and setting does reinforce social division within a school, with an elitist grammar stream. Another disadvantage is that classes are large therefore students don’t always get the individual attention needed. In 1972 the minimum school leaving age was raised to 16. Students could sit GCE or CSE examinations depending on their abilities.

In 1988 these examinations were fused together to form the GCSE (General Certificate of secondary education). Over the last 70 years there have been significant changes made to the education system. Girls are now educated on par with boys. The 1948 welfare act, which introduced the NHS and benefits, instigated mass immigration which meant that British schools had to cater for ethnic minorities and different religious beliefs. The integration of different cultures meant that children began to have a better understanding of other countries ways of life but this did also lead to racial discrimination.

The 1944 Education Act has narrowed the gap between the social classes. It was unheard of for working class people to attend university but today it is quite common place. However the increase in fees due next year is likely to reverse this trend. It is still the children from the higher social classes that have the advantage of being able to attend public and independent private schools. It is these selective and expensive establishments that give students a greater opportunity to attend the top universities. Bibliography Rogers, R (1986) Education and Social Class. Great Britain: Taylor & Francis Ltd

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