Lade Inhalt...

The Genesis of the British Education System

Hausarbeit 2006 11 Seiten

Anglistik - Kultur und Landeskunde


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The beginnings of the British School System
2.1 School in medieval times up to the 19th Century
2.2 The Development of the curriculum in England and Wales

3. The modern education system
3.1 School in Britain after World War II
3.2 1976: A turning point
3.2.1 The Ruskin Speech
3.2.2 The Great Debate
3.3 The Genesis of the curriculum between 1977 and 1988
3.4 The National Curriculum

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

With this piece of work I want to explain the British School System. I will start with a brief overview on the history of British schools from the medieval times and then show the development of the modern education System from World War II until now.

Talking of the development of the British Education System terms like ‘pendulum of curricula control’ are often used as the state’s control on the school curriculum grew and shrunk over the period from 1862 until 1988. I will try to describe the course that this ‘pendulum’ took.

2. The beginnings of the British School System

With the following paragraphs I want to explain the development of School and Curriculum in Great Britain from the beginnings in medieval up to 1862, which was a kind of turning point for curricula as it was then that the state took power over education for the first time.

2.1 School in medieval times up to the 19th Century

Education in England and Wales started with “Grammar Schools”, that were usually linked to churches and that taught Latin and Religion to future monks in first place (Castle 1970, 54). Later on they also taught the ‘Seven Liberal Arts’.[1]

Besides there were Endowment Schools, that were paid for by rich patrons. In 1382 Winchester was founded by William of Wykeham (, Eton followed in 1440, founded by Henry the VI (

In the ratio of the population, there were almost no schools, e.g. five schools in London for 50.000 citizens in 1446 (Castle, 1970, 54).

During the late 18th Century the Industrial Revolution started in Britain and made children valuable workers as they were small enough to fulfil special tasks in coal mines and textile factories, and of course they were cheaper than grown up workers ( Due to this fact the chance for education for working class children was pretty low.

In 1833 a first try on a law to protect children was made and in 1843 another one followed. Those new laws banned Child Labour until the age of nine and limited it to 12 hours a day (

2.2 The Development of the curriculum in England and Wales

In 1861 the Royal Commission on the State of Popular Education made report on Elementary School Education. This was the first investigation on this topic and its result was quite unsatisfying: The key skills as reading, writing and calculating were neglected very much (Kohlhoff 1994, 41).

So in 1862 the Committee of Council on Education put the “Revised Code” into service. It defined conditions under which schools were supported by the state in details. Items were in first case how often the pupils were present at school and how they did in tests. The curriculum was reduced to the three key skills. For each there were six stages, in which every child could be tested only once. If they failed the supports were shortened. This procedure was called “payment by result”. By that time the point of the lowest teacher control on curricula was reached (Kotthoff 1994, 42).

In 1863 M. Arnold, Her Majesties Investigator wrote a report on the new curriculum and criticised it sharply, in his opinion it led to big stress for both, pupils and teachers. Besides the standards sank to a very low level because too much emphasis was laid on the key skills and especially the weaker pupils. The survival of the school and the teachers depended on their test results and their presence rate, so that many headmasters falsified their school reports. In the following years M. Arnold travelled through the country, visited schools and found his thesis proved. So in 1867 “payment by result” was removed and there were regular renewals of the “Revised Code” that e.g. promised special subsidies for schools that offered at least one additional subject (Kotthoff 1994, 42-44).

In 1900 the ‘Committee of Council on Education’ was renamed to the ‘Board of Education’. Until 1902 there was only Elementary School for the common people. Education took from the age of five up to the age of 14. The emphasis the Elementary Education laid was quite practical. Those with academic interests could attend Grammar Schools afterwards, but in most cases this was reserved to the upper classes (Kotthoff 1994, 39).

With the Education Act of 1902 ‘Local Education Authorities’ were invented and the Education was split up into Elementary School and Secondary School. In 1904 an ‘Elementary Code’ and ‘Regulations for Secondary Education’ followed (Kotthoff 1994, 44).

There were three kinds of Secondary Schools: ‘Grammar Schools’ for pupils with academic interests, ‘Technical Schools’ for intelligent but less theoretical pupils and the ‘Modern Secondary Schools’ for those who were ‘practical skilled’ (Kotthoff 1994, 50-51).

In 1927 the state’s control over the Elementary School Curricula was removed, but for the Secondary Education it lasted much longer. Only with the Education Act of 1944 the state stopped controlling the curricula for Secondary Schools (Kohlhoff 1994, 57).

3. The modern education system

With the following paragraph I will describe the further development of the British curriculum from the Education act of 1944 up to 1988 when the National Curriculum was put into service. As a last point I will explain shortly the main aspects of the National Curriculum.

3.1 School in Britain after World War II

With the Education Act of 1944 education was obligatory up to age of 15. Everybody attended Primary School from the age of five up top the age of eleven and then Secondary School until one was 15 years old. The kind of Secondary School children would attend was decided with their “Eleven Plus Exams”, which were put into service in 1947.

After passing these tests they went on to the 6thForm. There they chose three of their subjects to be Advanced Levels that they studied intensively. These A Levels could be chosen completely free without any obligatory. On these pupils took their final exams.

During the late 1940s and the early 1950s there was a reform of Comprehensive Schools and preliminary there were no further development of the curriculum (Kotthoff 1994, 54).

The years between 1947 and 1960 were known as the time of Liberal Education, as there were no recommendations for the curricula. But in 1960 the teachers’ autonomy was limited again. In 1962 the ‘Curriculum Study Group’ was formed, a small organisation meant to change the curriculum here and there, and in 1964 replaced by the ‘Schools Council for Curriculum and Examinations’. This was an independent organisation of the Education Department that could only be controlled by the ‘Department of Education and Science’ and the ‘Local Education Area’ in combination, not by only one of them alone. It subordinated the testing system to the curriculum (Kotthoff 1994, 60).

Due to the fact that the birth rate was growing but there were no new grammar schools the chances to enjoy grammar school education grew fewer (Kotthoff 1994, 66).

In 1972 the minimum age for school departure was put up from 15 to 16 years. This was done in order to decrease the juvenile delinquency and to prepare the young people better for the needs of industry. But as the ‘Local Education Area’ had not managed to develop a curriculum for that last year, the pupils would not see the point in spending another year in school, what led to even more juvenile delinquency. This and the still growing numbers of pupils were the reasons for much critics form the population and the so called Black Papers (Kotthoff 1994, 65-67).

In the following years the number of opponents of the teachers’ autonomy grew and was supported by the employers. They were of the opinion that the teachers had too less experience with industry and should therefore not decide about the curriculum (Kotthoff 1994, 69/70).

So the DES saw itself forced to enlarge its influence on the curriculum again.


[1] Those were grammar, dialectics, rhetoric (the trivium) and arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music (the quadrivium).


ISBN (eBook)
352 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Osnabrück
Genesis British Education System



Titel: The Genesis of the British Education System