Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Our Education System Was Born in 1945 - Has It Grown Up Yet?

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Our Education System Was Born in 1945 - Has It Grown Up Yet?

Article excerpt


LAST week was my 70th birthday. I was born on June 8, 1945. Three days before my birth, on June 5, the Allied Control Council, the military occupation governing body of Germany, formally took power.

My birth was 'smack bang' between the suicide of Adolf Hitler on April 30 and August 9 when a United States B-29 bomber, the 'Bockscar' dropped an atomic bomb, codenamed 'Fat Man' on Nagasaki, Japan. The 1944 Education Act also came into force on April 1, 1945.

The victory in Europe, the dawn of the nuclear age and the 1944 Education Act all had a great impact on my life. The legacy of the 1944 Act was to provide a fertile battleground for the educational arguments, which would pursue me throughout the rest of my life.

At God's Departure Lounge in the pub, we continue to discuss school structures, curriculum and testing. I hear colleagues say.

"Ukip's preferred model the Grammar School was set up by the Labour Party."

"We have never managed to spread technical education in the UK."

"We used to love teaching more than testing."

"Our curriculum design is still based on the idea there are academic and practical children "Primary children should specialise as well as focus on the basics." "The South East's reaction to education change is always very different from the North East."

"Academies are comprehensive schools."

Of course, we grumpy old men say these things to create discussion - honestly. The scary thing is our arguments have their genesis in an Education Act introduced 70 years ago.

After the war, the incoming Labour education ministers, Ellen Wilkinson, and after her death, George Tomlinson, together with the civil servants, were adamant about establishing a tripartite system, recommending that 70-75% of places "should be of the modern type" and 25-20% being allocated to grammar and technical places.

Whilst the possibility of other systems was available by 1951 only 0.7% of state secondary school pupils were in comprehensive schools.

The system was actually 'bipartite' with grammar schools taking, on average, the 'top 20% of the children and secondary modern schools taking most of the rest. Selection for grammar schools was made largely on the basis of the 'eleven plus' examination, consisting of tests of intelligence and tests of attainment in English and arithmetic. In the eyes of the public children either passed or failed.

Technical Schools in the middle of the last century intended to have an intake of 10-15% of all pupils. They never catered for much more than about 3% - mainly boys. It will be interesting to observe the development of University Technology Colleges today and how many young people will be attending them over the next few years.

In the late 1940s there were even arguments over whether there should be examinations for 15 and 16-year-olds. …

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