Education in England:
a brief history

Introduction, Contents

Chapter 1 600-1800
Chapter 2 1800-1860
Towards a state system
Chapter 3 1860-1900
Class divisions
Chapter 4 1900-1944
Taking shape
Chapter 5 1944-1951
Post-war reconstruction
Chapter 6 1951-1970
The wind of change
Chapter 7 1970-1979
Recession and disenchantment
Chapter 8 1979-1990
Thatcherism: marketisation
Chapter 9 1990-1997
John Major: more of the same
Chapter 10 1997-2007
The Blair decade
Chapter 11 2007-2010
Brown and Balls: mixed messages
Chapter 12 2010
What future for education in England?

Chapter 13 2010-2015
Gove v The Blob
this is a draft of a chapter which will form part of the revised version currently in preparation


Education in England: a brief history
Derek Gillard

first published June 1998
revised and updated April 2001, May 2004, April 2007, January 2011

copyright Derek Gillard 2011
Education in England: a brief history is my copyright. You are welcome to download it and print it for your own personal use, or for use in a school or other educational establishment, provided my name as the author is attached. But you may not publish it, upload it onto any other website, or sell it, without my permission.

You are welcome to cite this piece. If you do so, please acknowledge it thus:
Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history

In references in the text, the number after the colon is always the page number (even where a document has numbered paragraphs or sections).

Where a document is shown as a link, the full text is available online.

Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.


The version of Education in England: a brief history presented here was last revised and updated in 2010.

In November 2014 I started work on a major revision, which I hope to have ready to upload next month - in May 2018.

You can find out more about the new version here.

Derek Gillard
14 April 2018.


Education in England: a brief history explores the development of education in England from the earliest schools in the sixth century, through the establishment of the state education system in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to current concerns about government policies. It aims to explain how we got where we are now.

As its name indicates, it covers England rather than the whole of the UK, though I have included occasional references, where relevant, to educational policy and provision in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Similarly, while it deals mainly with education in schools, some information about higher education is given where it is relevant to the development of education generally.

In addition to the twelve chapters there's also a timeline of major education acts, reports and other key events; a glossary of commonly used abbreviations and terms which I hope will be especially useful for non-UK readers; and a bibliography (which is a compilation of all the quoted sources listed at the end of each chapter).

Each web page includes chapter links (as in the left hand column on this page) and at the end of each page there are links to the previous and next chapters. The left hand column also displays the organisation of each chapter with links to the main headings, as shown in the Contents list below.

Finally, if you spot any errors - anything from factual inaccuracies to missing punctuation or broken links - I'd be very grateful if you'd let me know. Contact details are here.


Chapter 1 600-1800 Beginnings

600-1100 The earliest schools
St Augustine
Grammar schools, song schools
The Vikings and King Alfred
The Normans

1100-1500 Expansion and development
Church control of education
Independent schools
Growing public interest

1500-1600 Renaissance and Reformation
The English Reformation
The English Renaissance
Apprenticeships and chivalry
New types of school
Elizabethan England

1600-1800 The concept of universal education
Grammar schools
Dissenting Academies


Chapter 2 1800-1860 Towards a state system of education

Industrialisation: the need for mass education
The industrial revolution
New types of school
   Sunday schools
   Schools of industry
   Monitorial schools
   Infant schools
   Elementary schools
   Technical education
Hostility to mass education
Parliamentary grants for school buildings
The involvement of the churches

The education of the upper classes
Preparatory schools
Resistance to change
The beginnings of change
A broader curriculum
Girls' education

Special educational needs
Provision for
 - the blind
 - the deaf
 - the physically handicapped
 - the mentally defective

Higher education
1825 Universities Act


Chapter 3 1860-1900 Class divisions

Three classes - three commissions
1864 Clarendon Report
1868 Public Schools Act
1868 Taunton Report
1869 Endowed Schools Act
1861 Newcastle Report
1870 Elementary Education Act
   Summary of the Act
   Commentary on the Act
   The church problem

Further progress
1880 Elementary Education Act
1891 Elementary Education Act
1899 Board of Education Act

Content and structures
1862 Revised Code
Relaxing the Code
Infant schools
Higher Grade Schools
1881-4 Royal Commission on Technical Instruction
1888 Cross Commission on Elementary Education
1895 Bryce Commission on Secondary Education
Girls' education

Special educational needs
Provision for
- the deaf and blind
- the physically and mentally handicapped
- defective and epileptic children

Higher education
1862 Oxford University Act
1871 Universities Tests Act

Other legislation
1868 Endowed Schools Act
1873 Elementary Education Act
1873 Endowed Schools Act
1874 Endowed Schools Act
1876 Elementary Education Act
1879 Elementary Education (Industrial Schools) Act
1888 Local Government Act
1889 Welsh Intermediate Education Act
1889 Technical Instruction Act
1892 Technical and Industrial Institutions Act

The purposes of education
Social class
A common education for all


Chapter 4 1900-1944 Taking shape

1900-1914 Laying the foundations
The Cockerton Judgement
1902 Education Act (Balfour)
   Secondary education
   Teacher training
   Summary of the Act
Further developments
   1904 Secondary Regulations
   1906 and 1914 Education (Provision of Meals) Acts
   1907 Education (Administrative Provisions) Act
   1907 Free Place Regulations
A bewildering variety of schools
   Higher elementary schools
   Central schools
   Day trade schools
   Junior technical schools
   Infant schools

World War I
1918 Education Act (Fisher)
   Summary of the Act

1918-1939 Between the wars
1921 Education Act
   Summary of the Act
1936 Education Act
Other Acts
   1920 Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act
   1923 Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act
   1921 Newbolt Report
   The Hadow Reports
   1938 Spens Report
Primary education

World War II
More reports
   1943 Norwood Report
   1944 McNair and Fleming

Special educational needs
Provision for
- mentally defective children
- the blind
- the deaf
- maladjustment


Chapter 5 1944-1951 Post-war reconstruction


1944 Education Act
Summary of the Act
   I Central Administration
   II Statutory System
   III Independent Schools
   IV General
   V Supplemental
Commentary on the Act
   The government of education

After the war
Ellen Wilkinson
Selection: comprehensive failure
   The tripartite system
   General Certificate of Education
   Primary education
Special educational needs
Other matters
   The curriculum
   Teacher training


Chapter 6 1951-1970 The wind of change

Political background
1951-1964 Conservatives
   Wind of change
1964-1970 Labour
   Mixed picture

Selection: missed opportunity
Growing concerns
1963 Newsom Report
Labour U-turn
Circular 10/65
Independent schools

Primary education
1967 Plowden Report

Middle schools
Sir Alec Clegg
1964 Education Act
Educational justification
Rapid development

Special educational needs
Post-war progress
Further developments
   1954 NACTST Report
   1955 Underwood Report
   1956 Jameson Report
   1959 Mental Health Act
   1968 Summerfield Report
   1970 Education (Handicapped Children) Act

Other developments
London's local government
   Section 11



Chapter 7 1970-1979 Recession and disenchantment

Political background
End of the post-war consensus

Selection: broken promises
Circular 10/70
1976 Education Act
Lurch to the right

The Great Debate
The Black Papers
Teaching Styles & Pupil Progress
The William Tyndale Affair
Ruskin College Speech
Education in Schools

Special educational needs
Child guidance

1970 Education (Handicapped Children) Act
1971 Teaching Council (Scotland) Act
1972 Children Act
1973 Education Act
1973 Education (Work Experience) Act
1973 Employment of Children Act
1973 NHS Reorganisation Act
1973 Employment and Training Act
1976 Education (School-leaving Dates) Act

1972 James Report
1975 Bullock Report
1977 Taylor Report
1978 Warnock Report
1978 Waddell Report
1977-82 Matters for Discussion
1978-85 HMI surveys


Chapter 8 1979-1990 Thatcherism: the marketisation of education

Public services

Preparing the ground
The curriculum
The teachers
The local authorities
   Vocational education

1979 Education Act
1980 Education Act
1981 Education Act
1983 Education (Fees and Awards) Act
1984 Education (Grants and Awards) Act
1986 Education (Amendment) Act
1986 Education Act
1986 Education (No. 2) Act
1988 Local Government Act
1988 Education Reform Act
   Summary of the Act
   Commentary on the Act
1990 Education (Student Loans) Act

1977-82 Matters for Discussion
1978-85 HMI surveys
1981 Rampton - West Indians
1982 Cockcroft - maths
1985 Swann - ethnic minorities
1988 Kingman - English
1988 Higginson - A Levels
1989 Cox - English
1989 Elton - descipline
1990 Rumbold - early years



Chapter 9 1990-1997 John Major: more of the same

A miserable inheritance

New faces, same policies
School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1991
Further and Higher Education Act 1992
Education (Schools) Act 1992
The 'Three Wise Men' Report

Choice and diversity
'Selection' becomes 'specialisation'
Education Act 1993

National Curriculum
Dearing Review
Warwick Evaluation

Other legislation
Education Act 1994
Education (Student Loans) Act 1996
Education Act 1996
Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Act 1996
School Inspections Act 1996
Education Act 1997

Other developments
Vocational qualifications
Middle school closures
The Labour Party and selection



Chapter 10 1997-2007 The Blair decade

A new golden age?
The Adonis Problem

1997-2001 Destroying the comprehensive ideal
1997 White Paper Excellence in Schools
1998 School Standards and Framework Act
Specialist schools
   Education Action Zones
   Contracting out
   City academies
Curriculum and testing
   National Curriculum
   National Literacy Strategy
   Special needs
Other developments
   1998 Education (Student Loans) Act
   1998 Teaching and Higher Education Act
   Chris Woodhead
   2001 Green Paper Schools - building on success

2001-05 Diversity and faith
2001 White Paper Schools - achieving success
2002 Education Act
Faith schools
End of the comprehensive?
Five Year Strategy
The academies programme
Curriculum and testing
   National Literacy Strategy
   Foreign languages
   Tests, targets and league tables
   14-19 curriculum
2004 Children Act
Other developments
   Teachers' pay and conditions
   2004 Higher Education Act
   Building Schools for the Future
   2005 Education Act

2005-07 Third term extremism
2006 Education and Inspections Act
The academies programme
Faith schools
Curriculum and testing
   Tests and exams
   Cambridge Primary Review
   2005 Steer Report
Other developments
   Building Schools for the Future
   Middle schools
   Higher education
   Head teachers
   School leaving age
   Tim Brighouse

The Blair legacy


Chapter 11 2007-2010 Brown and Balls: mixed messages

The new administration
Brown and Balls
Cameron and Gove

The Children's Plan

2008 Education and Skills Act
2009 Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act
2009 White Paper
2009 Children, Schools and Families Bill
2010 Children, Schools and Families Act
Other Acts relating to children and young people
   2007 Further Education and Training Act
   2008 Children and Young Persons Act
   2010 Child Poverty Act

Curriculum reviews
IRPC interim report
CPR curriculum report
CSFC National Curriculum report
IRPC final report
CPR final report
Nuffield 14-19 Review

Testing and assessment
CSFC Report
SATs fiasco
SATs boycott

Exams and qualifications
A Levels
Election battleground

Building Schools for the Future
Academies and trust schools
Faith schools
   Covert selection by faith schools
Private schools
The National Challenge

Other developments
   The inspection regime
   2008 NUT Conference
   One-day strike
   Head teachers
   Steer Report
Social mobility
School meals
Budget cuts
School uniform
Steiner course
Higher education

The election campaign
Gove's view of education
Free schools
Primary education

Summary of the period


Chapter 12 2010 What future for education in England?

The new administration

Education policies
Expansion of academies
Free schools
Drastic budget cuts
   Pupil premium
Curriculum matters
   Primary curriculum
   School sports partnerships
   QCDA scrapped
Free school meals
Building Schools for the Future
Higher education
   Fewer places
   Browne Review
   Tuition fees
   Education maintenance allowance
Education White Paper

In conclusion



A chronological list of education acts, reports and other key developments.


Alphabetical lists of commonly used abbreviations and terms, especially useful for non-UK readers.


A compilation of all the quoted sources listed at the end of each chapter.
Chapter 1