Extension of education, 1914-39

By 1914 Britain had a basic educational system, though for most schoolchildren it did not take them beyond the elementary age limit of 12.

World War One

During the course of the First World War the system was closely investigated by H.A.L Fisher, the president of the board of education. Fisher travelled around the country inspecting schools in villages, towns and cities. He became aware of a critical problem of under-financing.

Fisher's far-sighted plans for change and improvement were embodied in the wide-ranging Education Act of 1918 which aimed to meet the growing demand for improvements in the availability of education, and improved standards. He favoured the principle that education was vital not only to the individual, but also to society.

After the war

The 1918 Act raised the school leaving age from 12 to 14 and made provision for a system of part-time 'continuation day' classes for those in work aged 14-18. It abolished all fees in state elementary schools and widened the provision of medical inspection, nursery schools, and special needs education.

The greater part of the financial burden of education - some 60 per cent - was transferred from the local authorities to central government. This was partly to foster a greater sense of professionalism among teachers by allowing them improved salaries and pensions.

However, many of these innovative changes could only be implemented in part, or not at all, due to cuts in public expenditure forced by the economic depression of the 1920s.

A series of reports commissioned by the board of education considered how secondary education should be shaped for the future. But a lack of resources prevented any significant change until after the Second World War.

Did you know?

Despite raising the leaving age to 14, the 1918 Act contained €˜exemptions€™ allowing schoolchildren to leave their education at the age of 13, or even 12, if suitable could be found for them. These exemptions were abolished in 1921.

Related information

Historic Hansard

The House of Commons debates the Second Reading of the Education Bill 1918