The Education system of England and Wales underwent a number of important changes since 1944. This essay seeks to concentrate on these major changes describing the rationale and impact they had on the British education system.
The essay will commence by focusing on the1944 Education Act, as it was "the most important piece of educational legislation since 1902" (Gosden, 1983:3). There was a great need for this Act, because the Second World War caused considerable disruption to the educational system. As Dunford and Sharp point out, "evacuation, staff shortages and suspension of building programmes all created their own problems. War also brought important changes in social attitudes, and [...] there was a determination for a better future" (Dunford and Sharp, 1990:17). Therefore there was a need to remodel the current education system "in order to ensure that every child would go to a secondary school" (Gosden, 1983:1). Planning for reconstruction of education culminated in the Education Act of 1944, which is also known as the Butler Act.
The 1944 Act abolished the Board of Education replacing it with a central authority with its own Ministry of Education. The independence of Local Education Authorities (LEAs) was therefore under the control and direction of the Minister, as "the central government decided national policy while LEAs were to provide the schools" (Gosden, 1983:3). As a result of these changes, "there was more unity and standardisation in the national education service" (Dunford and Sharp, 1990:18). Changes in local administration were also made in the 1944 Act, and as a result, all secondary schools were required to have governing bodies and all primary schools to have managing bodies.
In order to provide education for every child, 1944 Act dropped the concept of elementary education, and LEAs had to organise their provisions into three successful stages. By using the eleven-plus examination (exam taken at around the age of 11) to test pupils' intelligence and abilities in English and arithmetic, three groups of children were identified. Firstly, there were academic pupils, who went to the secondary grammar schools. These schools provided the main route to university. Secondly, there was a group of practical pupils, who were interested in applied science or applied art. They went to the technical schools. Remaining pupils, mostly working class, went to the secondary modern schools where they received a more basic education. Thus, the secondary educational system set up as a result of the 1944 Act was a tripartite system - three types of schools, which, it was argued, were different but equal. As a result, the Act's aim of providing every child with an education was achieved, and the number of pupils in the schools began to rise rapidly. This can be clearly seen in Figure 1:
Pupils in maintained primary and secondary schools, 1947-79