Pupil-teacher ratios and school participation
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At the start of the 20th century, most children received their education in elementary school.
Secondary education usually came at a charge, with demand for a limited number of free places far outstripping supply. The standard of staffing was variable: only half of the 164,000 teachers in England in 1908 were certificated, and of these only about half were trained.
Charges for secondary schools were abolished by the Education Acts of 1944-47, which introduced a common distinction between primary and secondary level at age 11. The school leaving age was raised to 15, having previously been set at 12 in 1899 and at 14 in 1918. In the early 1970s it would be raised again to 16.
Consequently, by 1950, just under a third of children in England and Wales aged 14 to 18 were in grant-aided schools, compared with 2% in 1901. About a third of secondary level pupils were in selective grammars. Most of the other two-thirds attended secondary modern schools, which came to be perceived as inferior, since they arguably denied pupils access to public examinations and the university system. A response to this dissatisfaction eventually came in the late 1960s with the expansion of comprehensive education. By 1980 just under 90% of secondary pupils in England and Wales were being educated in comprehensive schools, compared with 9% in 1965.
The population growth of the post-war years and the fact that children were staying in school for longer required a massive expansion in the teaching workforce. The education of the ‘baby boomers’ meant the number of pupils per teacher in primary schools across the UK briefly increased in the early 1950s. But despite a twofold increase in the number of secondary school pupils between 1950 and 1980, the pupil-teacher ratio fell from 21 to 16.
As of 2010, there are 20.7 pupils per teacher in UK primary schools, the lowest the ratio has ever been, and 15.3 pupils per teacher in secondary schools.
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This chart shows the ratio of pupils to teachers in UK schools.