History resources, stories and news. Author: Dan Moorhouse

St. Peter's College, Cambridge

A Brief History of UK education Through the Ages

Education in the UK has changed a great deal over the centuries. In ancient times, teaching was mainly carried out by priests and prophets who generally only taught the children of rich people. They would show them how to become leaders and businessmen, to take over this role when their turn came. Eventually, the Roman Catholic Church took charge of teaching the children of nobles and some of their centers of learning still exist today, such as Cambridge University whose first college was St. Peters that was established in 1284.

However, before this, in Saxon times religious institutions had set up schools for children that were not of noble birth, although it was mainly a matter of choice who attended them. It was not until 1880 that education became compulsory for 5 to 10-year olds, and then gradually the leaving age was raised until it reached 18 in 2015.

The Evolution of Further Education

It was 1836 when the government gave permission for the first school of design to be created, and this was the start of further education in the UK. By 1856, the Science and Art Department of the Board of Trade has become responsible for giving grant-aid to schools of a technical or design nature. Progress in further education continued slowly until the end of the 19 th century by which time it had become available at day schools, night schools, various institutes, polytechnics, universities and working men’s clubs and colleges. It was 1902 before the responsibility for further education was passed to the Local Education Authorities, but it was after the second world war before commercials schools of further education were fully integrated into the UK education system.

The University Years

As the years have passed, the importance of further education has become much more apparent. For several years, anyone that wanted to qualify in a profession such as medicine or law would attend university to get their degree. This did restrict the number of students that studied because of the room that each university had to accommodate students, and the places were generally taken by younger people.

The Advent of Online Learning

Online courses have become so popular that there is some debate as to whether they will eventually mean the end of traditional colleges and universities. When you consider that Aston University, for instance, offers a business analytics masters online that has flexible study options, six different start dates and helps you to build connections with peers and future business leaders, it is clear this is a great option.

Studying online does away with the need to commute, means you can save cash by eating at home and fit the work in with your lifestyle whether you have a full-time job or are a stay-at-home parent. You are taught to the same standard as if you attended a class-based course and only get your certification if you pass the same exam. There are online tutorials and any help you need when you need it, and when you consider all these things it is easy to see why more people are opting to get their degrees online and university numbers are falling.

Education has continued to evolve in schools too, and no doubt technology has also played a large part in that too.

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A short history of education in England

Schoolsmith · Published: Nov 9, 2017 · Updated: Feb 5, 2019

While writing the Broad Curriculum set of articles I became pre-occupied by two questions. The first was “What is the point of education?” which I address here . If we know what the point of education is everything else should fall into place; the curriculum, the structures, the sponsorship, and so on. But it seems we don’t. Which led to the second question; “Why is education such a mess?” Nothing in the media makes me feel positive about our education system. I hear plenty of sneering, claims and counter claims, and reports of system failure and disenchantment. I don’t see long term consensus, strategy or momentum. So, I started to read some history of education books to understand, at least at a superficial level, how we got here. Because history has a habit of repeating itself.

What follows below is the briefest summary of Acts of Parliament or periods of history that have shaped the education landscape. It seems to me that the history of education in England is a 1,500 year evolutionary quest to answer five major questions;

  • What is school for?
  • Who is school for?
  • What should the curriculum be?
  • Who should control and manage schools?
  • Who pays for schools?

The history of education for priests started in 597

St Augustine gets the credit for starting the history of education in England. In 597 he founded King’s School, Canterbury and 604 King’s School, Rochester. He established two types of school; grammar schools for teaching Latin to priests and song schools for training “sons of gentlefolk” to sing in cathedral choirs. The curriculum of grammar (Latin), with occasional rhetoric and logic was to last for at least 1000 years. The model was rolled out to all cathedrals and large churches by 1100.

Education was limited to male nobles and gentry who wanted to enter the priesthood. The age range was typically 11-14. For nobles who didn’t want to be priests there was home tuition followed by placement at a noble house for chivalric training.

As well as the language of the Bible and religious service, Latin was also the language of law, diplomacy and trade. As towns prospered through trade so the demand for grammar schools increased. But trade also led to more secular requirements such as philosophy, medicine, law which were outside the church’s supervision. Some “free grammar schools”, free from church control, and free to teach other subjects, started to appear from 1150 onwards.

In 1391 Richard II outlawed education for serfs unless permitted by the lord of the manor. Serfs were a valuable economic commodity, so unlikely to receive educational encouragement from their masters. This attitude was to persist for another 500 years.

The history of education for the elite started in 1382

Following the decimation of the priesthood as a result of the Black Death, Winchester College was established in 1382. It was to replenish the ranks by educating scholars (poor) and commoners (gentry). The education of scholars was without charge. The commoners paid. Winchester was the feeder school to New College, Oxford. Universities were new independent learning institutions, independent from church control.

Winchester changed the grammar school model in several ways. Firstly, it was free (independent from the Church). Secondly, it was linked to an institution pursuing academic excellence (a university). Thirdly, its pupils were boarders so came from far beyond the immediate. Fourthly, it used a prefectorial system of control (power vested in senior pupils). And fifthly, it was wealthy due to its endowments. As a result it became popular with the wealthy and the ruling class. The boarding and prefectorial aspects prepared pupils for posts at Court, diplomacy and the army. The model was adopted in 1440 by Eton College, endowed by King Edward VI. Seven others followed.

The history of education from Henry VIII to the Industrial Revolution

Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries meant the refoundation of their associated grammar schools as free or joint Church/State enterprises. The compromise suited Henry as head of both State and the Church and enabled him to retain teaching clergy. But even though Church influence reduced dramatically, the curriculum did not change.

William Tyndale’s English Bible, the first in English, was distributed widely through churches. Albeit for only three years during Henry’s reign. Some sources suggest that Tyndale’s Bible contributed to the history of education because it was the first incentive to encourage the poor to read.

There were about 400 grammar schools in 1519, when Henry came to the throne. In the 16 th and 17 th centuries the number of grammar and schools grew to nearly 2000 with sponsorship (endowments) from philanthropic merchants. In the majority of cases, the size of the endowments paid for little more than the schoolmaster’s salary. The terms of the endowment also restricted the curriculum to Latin and Greek, though some may have ventured into the Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric). However, for most, the curriculum stayed narrow and failed to adapt to the evolving needs of science, maths and languages teaching.

The narrow curriculum also blighted the fee-paying charity grammar schools (public schools). Twinned with corruption, they fell into disrepute in the decades leading up to the early 1800s.

Grammar school pupils were still predominantly male. Girls education, if any, was little more than Bible reading and homecraft.

The history of education for the masses started around 1750

The Industrial Revolution brought a profound change to British society. The population doubled from 1750 to 1820, and then doubled again to 1870. Many moved to the industrial cities and cheap child labour was prevalent. Laws passed in 1802 required apprentices and children to receive some form of basic numeracy and literacy schooling. However, only the most enlightened factory owners observed them.

For children aged 7 to 11 schooling expanded through this period. But it was random and informal. It consisted of a mixture of “petties” (small schools linked to the grammar schools), writing schools, private schools, Dames Schools, Charity Schools, Sunday Schools and Ragged Schools. The curriculum rarely ventured from reading the Scriptures.

The quality of education and the curriculum certainly didn’t promote the Industrial Revolution and British Empire. But sustaining them would make demands of the curriculum.

National Schools (from 1811) and British Schools (from 1808)

The National Society was established in 1811 with the ambition of establishing a National School in every English and Welsh parish. The Society built schools next to parish churches. Charitable in purpose, affiliated to the Church of England, the curriculum majored on religious education. The established Church had returned to the history of education. Charitable and missionary.

The Royal Lancastrian Society (later the British and Foreign School Society) had a similar mission but was non-denominational, and less extensive.

Both sought to provide elementary education for the poor, and on a very limited budget. Similarly, they both used a monitorial teaching style. Older and more able pupils were taught with standardized repetitive exercises. And they in turn taught the younger and less able pupils. As a result one teacher could teach a class of hundreds of pupils.

The curriculum was basic but it was the first attempt at universal education. Access to elementary education rose from 58% in 1816 to 83% in 1835. But average attendance was for one year only. Their legacy is as faith schools within the state system.

Grammar Schools Act 1840

This Act represents the beginning of active State intervention in the history of education. Up until now education had been the preserve of the Church, religious charities, and philanthropic individuals.

Grammar schools were in crisis with too narrow a curriculum to cater for the needs of a growing manufacturing economy and Empire. The 1840 Act made it lawful to apply the income of grammar schools to purposes other than the teaching of classical languages, with the schoolmaster’s consent.

Now that grammar schools could teach new subjects, they could charge a growing and wealthy middle class for schooling in subjects of value such as English reading and writing, maths, science and languages.

It led to a new breed of fee charging grammar school. Sometimes founded by non-conformist religions (Methodist, Quakers), they had headmasters with high Victorian moral purpose. Academic exams were introduced. And, this being the age of railways, and Empire, they were boarding schools, preparing pupils for careers in administration and the Services.

Boarding and, especially, sport became the most important element of education at these schools. H.H. Almond, the headmaster at Loretto, famously listed the educational priorities at his school as “First character, second physique, third intelligence, fourth manners, fifth information”.

Public Schools Act 1868

The decline in standards and competitiveness of the nine leading independent Charity Schools (Eton, Charterhouse, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Westminster and Winchester, St Paul’s and Merchant Taylors’) led to the Clarendon Commission report into their conditions and finances. The Act led to the reconstitution of the first seven of those schools. They were to have independent governing boards, independent of the Crown, clergy or government.

The Taunton Report 1868

The report published by the Taunton Commission which stratified educational need according to social class. It was to influence educational policy for nearly 100 years.

It divided parents into three “grades”, in effect, gentry, middle and working classes;

  • The “first grade” who wished for their children to be educated up to and beyond the age of 18, and who had “no wish to displace the Classics from their present position in the forefront of English education”.
  • The “second grade” who wished their children to be educated to the age of 16. These parents would “approve of a curriculum which included not only Latin, but also a thorough knowledge of those subjects which can be turned to practical use in business”. Meaning English, maths, science, and a modern language.
  • The “third grade” who wished for their children to be educated to the age of 14. These parents belonged to “a class distinctly lower in the scale”, and who wanted a curriculum with no Classics but only reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The Endowed Schools Act 1869

Acting on the Taunton report of 1868 the Act established the Endowed Schools Commission. The Commission had the legal authority to change the terms of the endowments of individual schools to address the uneven distribution of (endowed) grammar schools throughout the country, and the paucity of education for girls.

It formalised the stratification of education into public schools (mostly boarding with a classical education, preparation for university), grammar schools (day schools to age 16), third grade schools sending children into employment at 14.

It also established the fee paying academic grammar school for middle classes. Which led to a growth in grammar schools under the auspices of Victorian principles of self-improvement.

Elementary Education Act 1870 (The Forster Act)

For the first time, the government mandated the provision of elementary education for children aged 5-13. Attendance was compulsory for boys and girls, aged 5-10, thereafter until attainment of the “educational standard”.

As stipulated by Taunton (1868) the curriculum was limited to the 3Rs (reading, writing, ‘rithmetic). The schools were all fee paying, with exceptions for qualifying “poor”.

Board Schools were to be built where current provision by Church and private schools was inadequate. Board schools were funded by the state, secular, and managed by locally elected school boards. By 1900 Board Schools accounted for half of all elementary schools. An unexpected consequence of this new school building initiative was that Church schools doubled in number (to 12,756) by 1895, capitalizing on the 50% maintenance grant. But they overstretched and ran out of money.

There were attendance exemptions for illness, children in employment, and those living too far from the school. But exemptions were revoked in 1880 and enforced by School Attendance Officers.

There was a prevailing sentiment that universal education was probably a good thing to keep Britain competitive in manufacturing. But this is still a time when the idea of education for the masses was controversial. If working classes could think, then they might consider their lives unsatisfactory and revolt.

Some Board Schools established higher age range classes; “higher tops” and “higher grade” schools. This was beyond their remit.

Education Act 1902 (The Balfour Act)

By the turn of the century, Church schools taught one third of elementary age children. The schools lacked cash, were “appallingly old and out of date” and “pigsty schools”. Trading cash for influence, control and “efficiency” the Balfour Act was highly controversial.

The Act established the Local Education Authorities (LEAs), with the ability to raise local taxes to fund schools and disbanded school boards. Church, board and endowed grammar schools now came under the supervision of one of 328 LEAs.

LEAs paid for the teachers, maintenance of all schools, but if the Church schools wanted a denominational curriculum, they had to pay for their own new buildings. The Act didn’t include non-conformist schools, only Catholic and Church of England.

The Act also led to the establishment of over 1000 new “municipal” or “county” secondary schools, including 349 girls’ schools.

The LEA was responsible for secular curriculum in all schools. The curriculum for the county and municipal schools now included science and languages. In 1904 the Board of Education mandated a four year subject-based course of English, geography, history, foreign language, mathematics, science, drawing, manual work, physical training, and, for girls, housewifery. For the first time in the history of education the broad curriculum was available to all.

The school leaving age had been raised to 11 in 1893, 12 in 1899 and then to 14 in 1921.

Education Act 1944 (The Butler Act)

In the spirit of post war consensus and the desire for social reform the Butler Act created an educational landscape that is recognizable today. State education was now free for all children.

The Act created separate primary schools (5-11) and secondary schools (11-15). LEAs also had to ensure nursery provision, disability provision and boarding. The compulsory school age was raised to 15, then 16 in 1973.

Secondary education, stratified in the Taunton Report (1868) became formalized in the Tripartite system consisting of grammar schools, secondary modern schools and secondary technical schools. Selective entry to grammar schools was to be based on the Scholarship Exam (later 11+). 1951 saw the introduction of national exams, the General Certificate of Education “O” and “A” Levels.

Another Church school compromise traded funding for control of admissions and the RE syllabus to give rise to Voluntary Controlled and Voluntary Aided Schools.

Some independent schools, particularly in the North of England, became Direct Grant schools, funded directly by central government to provide free places for many but still charge others. They became the most academically successful grammar schools.

The School Health Service was established, requiring the provision of school meals, free milk, medical and dental care. Now schools were responsible for more than just teaching.

Circular 10/65 (Comprehensive schools)

The Tripartite system was deeply unpopular and socially divisive. Some LEAs abandoned it in favour of comprehensive education in mixed ability schools. A 1965 government circular encouraged others (rather than compelled them) to do likewise. The result was a mixed implementation. Some LEAs retained the 11+ and grammar schools, most went fully comprehensive abandoning the 11+ and streaming.

By 1975 Direct Grant funding ended. Of those grammar schools, 100 schools became fully independent, 50 became comprehensive schools.

1967 Central Advisory Council For Education Report, Children and their Primary Schools (The Plowden Report)

The Plowden Report was important because it was a state of the nation report on education in England. It was optimistic and did much to promote new ways of teaching; Progressivism. It espoused humanism and child-centred approaches; “at the heart of the educational process lies the child”. In other words, individualized teaching and learning with teachers responsible for the curriculum.

If the 60s represents a high water mark for post war educational experimentation and idealism the 70s were a turning point in the history of education. Education policy starts to convulse from one political leaning to another with no clear direction or momentum. It started through the 70s and 80s when a popular consensus of declining standards and school discipline led to a new measurement and results oriented culture at the Department for Education.

Education Reform Act 1988 (The Baker Act)

The Act introduced a compulsory National Curriculum consisting of 14 subjects. Teachers were no longer in charge of the curriculum. But they were accountable for it through the introduction of compulsory assessments (SATS) at ages 7, 11, 14 and 16 (GCSE). League tables became the evidence of excellent teaching or otherwise. Independent schools and grammar schools came to dominate these tables raising questions and feelings of resentment.

The Baker Act marks the beginning of a long process to wrest control of schools away from LEAs and teachers to an alliance of parents and central government. The aim was to boost standards by creating a market in education of competing schools. Parents could choose which school to send their children. Schools with declining headcounts would have to improve or shut down. Market forces were to determine the history of education.

Schools were now to receive funding relating to the number of pupils at the school. Grant Maintained status gave a school more generous funding from central government if the school’s parent body voted to opt out of LEA control. The Act also saw the introduction of City Academies. These were state schools outside LEA control with autonomy in budget control and curriculum. They became prominent as academies and “academisation” in the subsequent Blair, Brown and Cameron administrations.

And so did “Specialist schools”, which were first established by the 1988 Act. With the aim of improving achievement, specialist status allowed state secondaries to specialise in an area of the curriculum. Though they still had to observe the National Curriculum. 88% of schools participated. Specialisms were one of; the arts, maths and computing, business and enterprise, music, engineering, science, humanities, sports, languages, or technology.

1992 Education (Schools) Act

The 1992 Act established Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education). Ofsted was to ensure compliance by inspecting schools on a six yearly cycle. It would publish its reports and it had the power to name and shame underperforming schools.

Together with the imposition of the National Curriculum, testing and league tables, the bureaucratic burden of Inspections starts the steady demise of morale in the teaching profession.

History repeats itself. The history of education repeats itself.

Today we find ourselves in a funding crisis. Who will pay for our schools? Central government? LEAs? The Church? Other religious denominations? Charities? Businesses? Wealthy individuals?

We find ourselves in a curriculum crisis. Child-centred or teacher-led? Fact-based or skills-based learning? Exams or course work? SATs or a broader curriculum?

We argue about who should be controlling our schools. Central Government? LEAs? Academy Trusts? Charities? Businesses? Teachers? Parents?

We hear daily and weekly reports about skills gaps, falling standards, grade inflation, declining social mobility, overstretched, understaffed, plummeting morale.

The education debate seems to focus on knocking independent schools, educational fads, silver bullet “one size fits all” solutions, and the whims of a here-today-gone-tomorrow education minister with a vanity project for their CV.

We’ve been here before. Many times.

The history of education shows that up to 50 years ago, education was principally geared towards getting a job. That’s no longer the case, it seems. If we could agree the purpose of education (and I return to the opening sentence of this article), then we can agree the curriculum to fulfill that purpose. Everything else follows. And there may be more than one purpose and there may be more than one curriculum. One size doesn’t fit all.

I’m sure there should be a call to arms here, a manifesto. For the moment, rather than admit to not being smart enough, I’ll sleep on it, let the dust settle, get on with being a parent.

History of Education; Further reading

I have skated over a great deal of detail. If I have piqued your interest in the history of education I can recommend three sources in particular;

  • Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history
  • David Turner (2015) The Old Boys: the decline and rise of the public school
  • Leach AF (1915) The Schools of Medieval England

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The National Archives

Boys’ Home Industrial School – Boxing Class 1910 (MH 102/2692 f79) View in our catalogue

How we were taught

Lesson at a glance, what was school like 100 years ago, teachers' notes, external links, connections to curriculum.

Only in the 20th century were young children no longer regularly expected to work alongside adults. By 1918 school attendance was not only compulsory but the school leaving age was raised from 12 to 14 years old. A generation earlier, in the 1860s, one third of children in England and Wales did not attend school at all and right up until 1881 children were not required to go.

Edwardian schools in the period 1901-1910 were similar in some ways to those of today.

Use the photographs in this lesson to discover how children were taught at the beginning of this century.

1. Look at Source 1. This is a photograph taken at Boys’ Home Industrial School in 1910. Can you find :

  • the master’s desk
  • a framed photograph
  • any evidence of heating and lighting

2. Look at Source 2. This is a photograph of boys from the Boys’ Home Industrial School studying and playing dominoes. Can you explain :

  • what the classroom might have been like in the winter
  • how what is on the wall is different from your classroom
  • why the windows are so large

3. Look at Source 3. This is a photograph of a physical exercise display. It was taken on Founders Day at the Boys’ Home Industrial School in about 1910. Can you describe :

  • the uniform the boys are wearing
  • the equipment they are using

4. How different is this school to the school you are at today? Make a list of the things that are different and the things that are the same:

Do you think that school teachers in Edwardian times would normally sit with the children, or do you think these teachers posed for the photographs?

The Boys’ Home Industrial School, which is featured in these photographs, was based in Regents Park Road, Primrose Hill, London. The school was founded to provide ‘for the maintenance and training of destitute boys not convicted of crime’. Boys who attended the school were trained in a number of disciplines, including baking, printing and shoemaking, and some boys went on to work for the William Morris Company once they had left the school.

Industrial Schools were different in a number of ways from local board or church schools. Children were likely to board at the school because the intention was for them to be separated from bad influences at home. You can see in Sources 1 and 2 that the children wore uniforms, unusual in British schools of the period.

One thing that the school would have shared with others of the period would have been the use of corporal punishment, usually the cane (although Scottish schools used a thick leather strap called a ‘tawse’). Corporal punishment in state schools was outlawed in 1987.

The early 20th century saw the true start of mass education in Britain in the way we would recognise it today. In 1902, the Conservative government of Arthur Balfour passed an Education Act which brought state primary schools and local secondary schools under the control of local councils for the first time.

The Act was needed because the provision of some schools for older children had actually been challenged in court. However Balfour also considered an educated workforce vital to maintaining Britain’s position at the forefront of world trade and technical achievement.

In 1906 the election of the new Liberal government led to considerable social reform. With the growth of the new Labour Party, Liberals were keen to show that they were the real party of working people. The Education (Provision of Meals) Act of 1906 introduced ‘school dinners’ and was followed by a further Act in 1907 which gave local authorities powers to authorise medical examinations in schools. It was hoped these would help diagnose childhood diseases early.

In this lesson, students examine a series of photographs from the Edwardian period. The photographs show an industrial school for boys at Regent’s Park Road, Primrose Hill in London. For more detail about the history of the school see our External Links below. Industrial schools were set up to educate children, boys in this case, to keep them from poverty and crime and provide them with training for the future-in printing, shoemaking or baking for example.

In Edwardian schools, children had lessons in the ‘three R’s.’ reading, writing and arithmetic and physical education or ‘drill’. Girls were generally taught sewing and needlework. In addition to their daily lessons, young people usually attended Sunday school for their religious education.

It is useful to discuss with students the following questions:

  • How different does Edwardian education appear from today?
  • Why have these photographs been taken?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of using photographs as evidence?
  • What other sources could we use to find out about the history of a school?

Further activities:

  • Students could investigate the history of their own school.
  • Interview their parents/guardians or an older generation to find out if schooling has changed from when they were younger.

Illustration : Boys’ Home Industrial School – Boxing Class 1910, MH 102/2692 f79

Source 1 : Boys’ Home Industrial School Classroom 1910, MH 102/2691

Source 2 : Boys’ Home Industrial School – Boys at work and play, MH 102/2691 f12

Source 3 : Physical exercise display on Founders Day at the Boys’ Home Industrial School c1910, MH 102/2692 f26

Fernhurst Edwardian School Days Documents and photographs from one Devon school at the turn of the century.

Ragged Schools, Industrial Schools and Reformatories A very informative article from the Hidden Lives Revealed archive. A full history of the school which appears in this lesson.

Key stage 2 Changes in an aspect of social history, such as crime and punishment from the Anglo-Saxons to the present or leisure and entertainment in the 20th Century

Key stage 3 Ideas, political power, industry and empire: Britain, 1745-1901

Related resources

School dinners.

Why were school dinners brought in?

Britain 1906-1918

Timeline: A history of education


  • 1910 - The Times Educational Supplement begins publication on September 6 as a free monthly with The Times.
  • 1911 - Consultative Committee on Examinations in Secondary Schools report recommends that children take public exams at 16. More than 80 per cent of 14 to 18-year-olds receive no education at all.
  • 1912 - Maria Montessori publishes The Montessori Method.
  • 1913 - The National Union of Teachers campaigns for a national salary scale.
  • 1914 - The TES becomes a separate paper, priced 1d. The First World War begins in the summer.
  • 1915 - John and Evelyn Dewey publish Schools of Tomorrow.
  • 1916 - The TES becomes a weekly paper.
  • The Lewis committee examining plans for post-war education of adolescents recommends leaving age of 14.
  • 1917 - Exam council set up for secondaries: School Certificate examinations begin. Conscription causes teacher shortages.
  • 1918 - Fisher Education Act raises school leaving age from 12 to 14 and ends all fees for elementary education.
  • 1919 - The Burnham Committee introduces national pay scales for elementary teachers.
  • Bradford uses intelligence tests in secondary selection.
  • 1920 - State scholarships to universities introduced: 200 initially, 360 by 1936.
  • 1921 - Free milk provided for all children in need.
  • Geddes report on national expenditure leads to 6.5 million cuts in education.
  • 1922 - Crisis hits economy. Teachers forced to accept 5 per cent pay cut and to contribute 5 per cent of salary towards superannuation. Times newspapers, including The TES, are sold to the Astor family.
  • 1923 - Pay for certificated teachers in England and Wales averaged 310 for men and 254 for women.
  • The first photographs appear in The TES.
  • Jean Piaget publishes The Language and Thought of the Child. A S Neill founds Summerhill School.
  • 1924 - “Black list” of worst buildings in urban areas is produced. More than 16,000 classrooms in England and Wales still accommodate two or more classes.
  • 1925 - Educational broadcasting begins on the radio (John Logie Baird does not begin demonstrating television until the following year).
  • 1926 - Hadow Report on the Education of the Adolescent recommends separation of primary and secondary education at 11. “Modern” as well as grammar schools to be established. Direct grant schools begin.
  • 1927 - Bertrand Russell founds Beacon Hill School with his wife Dora. Cyril Burt publishes The Measurement of Mental Capacities.
  • 1928 - The Board of Education reports 21 LEAs are using IQ tests for secondary selection, and notes that this is premature.
  • 1929 - Open-air schools prove popular; 170 classes are held in London parks all-year round - these were thought to combat tuberculosis and other childhood infections.
  • 1930 - Undergraduate population reaches 30,000 as more state university scholarships provided.
  • 1931 - House of Lords defeats bill raising leaving age to 15.
  • Teacher pay slashed by 10 per cent.
  • 1932 - Grammar schools open to all according to ability, rather than giving a proportion of places to the brightest elementary pupils.
  • 1933 - Hadow Report on nursery and infant education emphasises need for new open air schools.
  • 1934 - Cyril Burt’s interpretation of intelligence tests refuted by research at the London School of Economics.
  • 1935 - Marion Richardson publishes Writing and Writing Patterns.
  • 1936 - Education Act calls for raising of leaving age to 15 in September 1939 (postponed by the outbreak of war).
  • 1937 - Handbook of Suggestions for Teachers emphasises the need for child- centred primary education.
  • 1938 - The Spens Report on secondary education recommends: expansion of technical and vocational courses; a leaving age of 16; and tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools.
  • 1939 - Evacuation after the outbreak of the Second World War in September means that, by the end of the year, a million children have had no schooling for four months.
  • 1940 - A ship evacuating 90 London children to Canada is sunk by a torpedo. Herwald Ramsbotham, president of the Board of Education, refuses to ban conscientious objectors from teaching. H C Dent, a former headteacher, becomes acting editor of The TES.
  • 1941 - Gas mask practice is held for children every week or fortnight. 425,000 London children now evacuated.
  • 1942 - A call to schools to keep rabbits for food. Plus Labour proposes leaving age of 15, multilateral schools, free lunches, and nurseries for under-fives. Paper shortages force The TES to discontinue publication of School Certificate results.
  • 1943 - The Norwood Report supports tripartite division of secondary education into grammar, technical and modern schools.
  • 1944 - The Butler Education Act creates a Ministry of Education; ends fee- paying in maintained schools; organises public education into primary, secondary and further; and introduces the tripartite system.
  • 1945 - The Minister of Agriculture calls for 100,000 older schoolboys and girls to help in the fields.
  • 1946 - Free school milk is introduced, and free school dinners postponed. 90 per cent of university places reserved for men of HM Forces.
  • 1947 - The leaving age raised to 15 in England and Scotland. Secondary Schools Examination Council recommends General Certificate of Education at O, A and S-level.
  • 1948 - A five-year plan is launched to train 96,000 teachers, 60,000 of them women, to reduce secondary classes to 30 and primary to 40 by 1951.
  • 1949 - The Conservative Teachers’ Association asks the government to act on teachers alleged to be spreading communist propaganda.
  • 1950 - A Schools Code (for Scotland) reduces maximum primary class to 45 from 50.
  • 1951 - O and A-levels are introduced.
  • The TES goes up to 4d, its first price increase since 1923.
  • 1952 - The BBC launches pilot schools television scheme.
  • 1953 - The Labour manifesto, “Challenges to Britain”, proposes abolition of selection at 11. Middlesex education committee bans known communists and fascists from headship.
  • 1954 - The 11-plus is said to be wrongly allocating one in three pupils.
  • 1955 - The last gas lamps are removed from London schools by the London County Council.
  • 1956 - Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme for boys launched (girls begin in 1958).
  • 1957 - Britain’s first school TV programmes are broadcast by Associated Rediffusion in May, with the BBC following in September.
  • 1958 - The first aided comprehensive for Jewish pupils opens in London. Brighton probation officers blame coffee bars for an “unprecedented rise” in juvenile delinquency.
  • 1959 - The Crowther Report on 15-18s recommends leaving age of 16 by 1968, and a target of half of children in full-time education to 18 by 1980 (by 1980/81, 29 per cent were).
  • 1960 - The Beloe Report proposes Certificate of Secondary Education.
  • Berkshire primary survey reveals 46 schools still with earth closets; 35 without mains water; six lit by gas; eight lit by oil; 22 with open fires.
  • 1961 - A campaign to persuade 50,000 married women back into teaching is launched. The TES publishes a complete Billy Bunter story. In Latin.
  • 1962 - Leeds experiments with primary French.
  • A S Neill’s Summerhill published.
  • 1963 - London and Manchester end 11-plus.
  • 1964 - The Ministry of Education becomes the Department of Education and Science (DES).
  • TES Scotland launches.
  • 1965 - Circular 10/65 requires LEAs to propose schemes for comprehensive reorganisation on lines laid down by the DES. The General Teaching Council for Scotland is established.
  • 1966 - The Schools Council calls for 16-plus exam to replace CSE and GCE. A disaster in British education: landslide engulfs Aberfan schools, killing 144. The TES and sister papers are taken over by Lord Thomson.
  • 1967 - The Plowden Report advocates expansion of nursery schooling and introduction of educational priority areas.
  • 1968 - The Newsom Report on public schools calls for integration with state schools and an assisted places system.
  • 1969 - The first of the “Black Papers” published, which criticises what the authors believed was excessive progressivism in education.
  • 1970 - Margaret Thatcher is appointed education secretary.
  • The Conservative government replaces Circular 10/65 with Circular 10/70, leaving LEAs to decide future of secondary education in their areas.
  • 1971 - The Times Higher Education Supplement launches, a spin-off of The TES.
  • Controversy over the sex education film Growing Up and The Little Red School Book. Mrs Thatcher abolishes milk for the over-sevens.
  • 1972 - The school-leaving age is raised to 16. Pupil governors are appointed in Hounslow, Brighton and Wolverhampton. UK schools have 570 video recorders.
  • 1973 - The NUT strikes for a better London allowance.
  • Roy Hattersley reveals Labour plans to abolish public schools.
  • 1974 - Coronation Street’s Ken Barlow quits teaching for a better-paid job as a warehouse administrator. The Houghton Report increases teachers’ pay by 30 per cent.
  • 1975 - A black paper proposes exams at seven, 11 and 14.
  • William Tyndale School in north London taken over by inspectors. Chancellor Denis Healey cuts 76 million from the education budget.
  • The TES sponsors the first Schools Prom.
  • 1976 - Prime minister James Callaghan’s Ruskin College speech launches the “Great Debate” on education.
  • 1977 - HMI criticises teaching of maths, science and languages and calls for political education for all 11 to 16-year-olds. A TES poll finds most teachers in favour of caning, tests at eight, 11 and 15, and grammar schools.
  • 1978 - The Warnock Report on special education gives rise to the 1981 Education Act requiring local authorities to assess pupils and identify the provision they require.
  • The TES and other Times newspapers suspend publication during strike action.
  • 1979 - Strikes during the “winter of discontent” cause some school closures and 280 million is cut from education.
  • The TES resumes publication in November.
  • 1980 - Assisted places at independent schools are introduced.
  • Anti-corporal punishment group STOPP criticises The Beano for its preoccupation with caning. Rupert Murdoch buys Times newspapers, including The TES.
  • 1981 - The Government launches a programme to put a computer in every school. The Rampton Report blames teachers for ethnic underachievement and calls for more black teachers.
  • 1982 - Sir Keith Joseph, education secretary under Margaret Thatcher, demands that “ineffective” teachers are sacked.
  • 1983 - The Schools Council is replaced by the Secondary Examinations Council and School Curriculum Development Committee.
  • 1984 - A race row breaks over the views of Bradford headmaster Ray Honeyford, who outlined concerns about multiculturalism in The TES and the Salisbury Review. He is sacked and reinstated.
  • 1985 - Schools are disrupted by a teachers’ pay dispute.
  • 1986 - The GCSE is introduced for teaching, replacing O-levels and CSEs.
  • Education Act (2) sets down rules on sex education, admissions and political indoctrination. It also abolishes corporal punishment and requires governors to publish annual reports and schools to hold parents’ meetings.
  • 1987 - The Teacher Pay and Conditions Act marks the end of the Burnham committee, which negotiated teachers’ pay.
  • 1988 - The Education Reform Act ushers in the national curriculum; national testing at seven, 11 and 14; Ofsted; local management of school budgets; grant maintained schools and city technology colleges.
  • 1989 - The first teacher supply agency, Time Plan, is launched. Education secretary Kenneth Baker sets out plans for articled teachers who would train on the job after university rather than taking a PGCE.
  • 1990 - The Inner London Education Authority is replaced by 13 new education authorities.
  • 1991 - The New Schools Bill proposes privatisation of the local school inspection service.
  • 1992 - General National Vocational qualifications are introduced.
  • 1993 - The NASUWT teaching union achieves a landmark victory when the Appeal Court rules its boycott of national curriculum tests is a legitimate trade dispute. Education secretary John Patten announces that tests will be slimmed down.
  • 1994 - Tony Blair is elected leader of the Labour Party and faces controversy over his and his wife Cherie’s decision to send their son Euan to the London Oratory School, a high-performing faith school a long way from Downing Street.
  • 1995 - A mini-riot breaks out at the NUT conference, with shadow education secretary David Blunkett forced to retreat into a cupboard.
  • 1996 - The Dunblane massacre: Thomas Hamilton shoots dead 16 pupils and their teacher at a Scottish primary school before turning the gun on himself. The BBC broadcasts controversial Panorama programme on the Ridings School in Halifax.
  • 1997 - The New Labour government scraps assisted places. Education minister Stephen Byers “names and shames” 18 failing schools.
  • 1998 - Introduction of Literacy Hour and the National Year of Reading. The first serving heads are knighted.
  • 1999 - Former IRA leader Martin McGuinness appointed education minister for Ulster. First state-funded Sikh school opens in Hayes, north-west London.
  • 2000 - The death of Victoria Climbie leads to an inquiry and changes to the running of schools and local authorities. The General Teaching Councils in England and Wales begin registering teachers.
  • 2001 - New AS levels are introduced as a result of Curriculum 2000. Alastair Campbell, the prime minister’s press secretary, announces that the days of “the bog standard comprehensive” are over.
  • 2002 - A row over grading of the A2 and AS levels leads to changes in results for 10,000 students. The first academies open their doors.
  • 2003 - A teacher workload agreement is signed by employers, the government and teacher unions (except for NUT). Teach First teachers start to work in schools.
  • 2004 - The Children Act - the legislative part of Every Child Matters - is designed to get education and social services working more closely together. In Wales, pupils take key stage 2 and 3 tests for the last time after the Assembly votes to scrap them - and TES Cymru is launched.
  • 2005 - The Tomlinson proposals for overarching diplomas are rejected by Ruth Kelly, then education secretary, who proposes a separate work-based diploma instead. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver campaigns for better school dinners.
  • The TES is sold by Rupert Murdoch’s News International to Exponent, a private equity group.
  • 2006 - Des Smith, a former headteacher and member of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, is caught promising an undercover reporter that businessmen could gain a peerage by sponsoring an academy. A row over whether Muslim teachers should wear the veil is sparked by the sacking of a part-time teaching assistant, Aishah Azmi.
  • 2007 - The Department for Education and Skills is split, with schools moved into the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The TES is sold to Charterhouse, another private equity company.
  • 2008 - The TES reveals major problems with the marking of key stage 2 and 3 tests. Ed Balls, then schools secretary, later announces he is scrapping KS3 tests.
  • 2009 - The Charity Commission issues first reports on independent schools, examining how well they meet tests for public benefit. City workers who have lost their jobs as result of the global financial downturn are targeted to become teachers.
  • 2010 - The new Coalition government’s education secretary Michael Gove announces he is scrapping a range of educational schemes and quangos to save money, including the GTC for England, QCDA, Becta, and Building Schools for the Future.
  • 2011 - The Academies Act becomes law signalling the way for the transformation of the landscape of English education.
  • The TES is relaunched as a magazine
  • 2012 - Michael Gove’s DfE reveals plans to rethink GCSEs, originally planning to rebrand them O-levels.
  • 2013 - The new National Curriculim is published.
  • 2014 - Michael Gove is reshuffled out of the DfE and replaced by Nicky Morgan.
  • 2015 - The Education and Adoption Bill is published, signalling the introduction of the “coasting” category of school.

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  • 15 Crucial Events in the History of English Schools

history of education system in uk

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But the journey our education system has taken to get to where it is today has been a long and interesting one, starting with the educational provisions of monastic establishments and growing into the world-class system we know today. In this article, we highlight some of the most important events in the history of English schools, from the opening of the country’s oldest and longest-running school in 597, to the establishment of the National Curriculum in 1988.

1. 597 – England’s oldest school established

Image shows the King's School, Canterbury.

In AD 597 a school opened that many claim is England’s oldest surviving school: The King’s School in Canterbury, founded by St Augustine. In its earliest days it was a cathedral school, of the sort that could be found across Europe during this period, when schools were closely associated with monastic establishments and often focused on the teaching of Latin. At this time, many schools were charitable foundations, which, much later, would adopt the term ‘public schools’ to indicate their openness to the public, whatever their religion.

2. 1440 – The opening of Eton College

England’s most famous school opened its doors in 1440, having been founded by Henry VI as a charity school designed to prepare poor boys for university education at King’s College, Cambridge (founded by the same monarch a year later). The King modelled his new school on Winchester College, which he visited many times; he even pinched its headmaster and some of its top pupils to start Eton.

3. 1536-1541 – The Dissolution of the Monasteries

Image shows Netley Abbey.

Because schools during the Middle Ages had been established as part of monasteries, Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries spelled disaster for English schools. With monasteries, friaries, convents and priories across the country being forcibly disbanded – stripped of their assets and income – a vast source of education, particularly for younger scholars, was gone. However, the monasteries had also established grammar schools – originally for the purpose of teaching Latin – for older students, and many of these did survive the Dissolution by being refounded, some privately and some at the order of the King.

4. Edward VI – Free grammar schools

Only a few years after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, his son became King Edward VI. This king reorganised the aforementioned grammar schools, as well as setting up new ones, and made them free, meaning that anybody could attend them, even if they couldn’t afford school fees. However, although the tuition was free, the overwhelming majority of children did not go to school; they were of more use to their parents if they were sent out to work to supplement the family income.

5. 1780: The Sunday School Movement

Image shows a gloomy-looking churchyard, chapel and Sunday school.

Instigated by a man named Robert Raikes in the 1780s, the Sunday School Movement started off as a means of teaching very poor boys, who worked 13-hour days in factories six days a week, meaning that Sunday was the only time they had available for learning. Initially, Raikes focused his attention on poor boys who were imprisoned in workhouses, seeing education as a cure for vice. Most were focused on teaching children to read, as well as studying the Bible and the catechism , though the teachers were non-religious, teaching older boys who would coach younger ones (girls didn’t attend until later). Raikes described the teaching schedule as follows: “The children were to come after ten in the morning, and stay till twelve; they were then to go home and return at one; and after reading a lesson, they were to be conducted to Church. After Church, they were to be employed in repeating the catechism till after five, and then dismissed, with an injunction to go home without making a noise.” What started as a small-scale initiative grew rapidly, and within four years 250,000 children across the country were being educated in this way. By 1831, that figure had grown to 1.2 million. This is astonishing in view of the fact that education at the time was not compulsory, and was mostly reserved for the wealthy (who could afford to send their boys to boarding school and educate younger children and girls at home with governesses or tutors).

6. 1833 – Parliament designates money for schools

Image shows a sketch of the interior of Westminster Hall in the early 19th century.

1833 saw the first state involvement with education (at least in England and Wales; it had begun much earlier in Scotland), with the voting in Parliament of sums of money to be designated for the building of schools catering for poor children. This was the beginning of decades of change that would see the state become increasingly concerned with education, widening access to education for even the country’s poorest people.

7. 1840 – The Grammar Schools Act

In 1840, the curriculum at the country’s grammar schools was expanded from the Latin and Greek that had been its exclusive focus, to include a wider range of subjects, with the introduction of science and literature. Though the Act had made it lawful to teach these subjects alongside the classical languages, it was still up to the school’s headmaster to condone the teaching of science and literature in his school.

8. 1844 – The Ragged School Union

Image shows a caricature of the Earl of Shaftesbury; he looks grim and austere, with a sizeable nose.

Alongside the grammar school, another feature of education in 19th-century Britain was the ragged school. These were charitable schools for destitute children and catered mainly for the urban poor of the nation’s industrial cities. 1844 was a significant year for these schools, as the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, established the Ragged School Union, which allowed such schools to pool their resources and offer not just free education, but also free clothing and lodging for the poorest children. 200 such schools were established in Britain over the next few years.

9. Victorian public school reforms

The Victorian period also saw the reform of education at the opposite end of the social spectrum. Public schools underwent a period of change during this period that saw them evolve into the institutions we would recognise today. Forward-thinking headmasters started realising that education went beyond academia, and began encouraging participation in sport, music and drama to provide a well-rounded education that focused on the individual. Competition and physical activity were introduced alongside education, though the classical languages were still a heavy focus of the academic curriculum.

10. 1880 – The introduction of compulsory education

Image shows a child labourer in a mill, dwarfed by the size of the machinery.

In 1880, a law was enacted that made it compulsory for children aged between five and ten to attend school. This was the Elementary Education Act 1880, and it saw the introduction of so-called Attendance Officers, whose job it was to go round to the houses of children who hadn’t turned up for school. However, it was hard for poor families to comply with this law when the income they could gain from sending their children out to work was so valuable. In an attempt to combat this, employed children who were under the age of 13 were obliged to have a certificate indicating that they had reached a certain level of education, with penalties in place for those employing children who lacked this certificate. In 1893, the school-leaving age was raised to 11, and it was also made compulsory for blind and deaf children to receive an education (until then, they had not been catered for at all). The school-leaving age rose again to 12 in 1899.

11. 1902 – The Balfour Act

Sweeping changes to the education system in England and Wales were brought about by the 1902 Balfour Act, which saw the introduction of Local Education Authorities taking over the previous system, under which many schools had been managed by the Church of England while others had been run by school boards (committees). Local Education Authorities would, by 1906, also provide school meals, and the year after that would introduce medical inspections. The Act resulted in the opening of over a thousand new secondary schools by 1914, 349 of which were for girls.

12. 1918 – The Fisher Act

Image shows the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

In 1918, the school-leaving age was raised again to fourteen by the Fisher Act. Secondary schools were handed over to the state, and some grammar schools became state-funded secondary schools. At this time, unlike in the present education system, most children remained in primary education up to the age of fourteen, rather than attending a separate secondary school. Interestingly, the Fisher Act also contained the first provisions for compulsory part-time education for children aged fourteen to eighteen; planned expansions to tertiary education were abandoned due to post-First World War spending cuts, but it was an important step in thinking about education continuing to eighteen.

13. 1944 Education Act and the Eleven Plus

In 1944, an Education Act commonly known as the Butler Act was passed, imposing sweeping changes to the education system. It created a tripartite structure of grammar, secondary modern and secondary technical schools, as well as cementing the split between primary and secondary education. The Act also resulted in the creation of the Eleven Plus exam (an entrance exam designed to test academic ability), the background to which was the 1938 Spens report, which had advised that grammar and technical schools should impose intelligence testing as part of their admissions procedures. Children who failed the Eleven Plus went instead to secondary modern or technical schools. In addition to these changes, the 1944 Act also raised the school-leaving age to 15, which came into force in 1947. It was a difficult balancing act in the sense that keeping fifteen-year-olds in education rather than employment reduced the size of the country’s workforce; but the benefits of creating a more skilled workforce were seen to outweigh this disadvantage. Post-war spending cuts, as with the 1918 Act, again limited plans contained in the 1944 Act for compulsory part-time education up to the age of eighteen, though its provision in the Act was a clear indicator that the state recognised the value of a good education.

14. 1965 – the introduction of the Comprehensive System

Image shows a 60s comprehensive school building.

A Government circular issued in 1965 saw an important change in the country’s education system: the conversion of secondary schools to the Comprehensive System. A comprehensive school is a non-selective school that accepts pupils regardless of their academic ability, with no entrance exam. The circular – known as Circular 10/65 – abolished most of the old grammar schools and secondary moderns, as well as the Eleven Plus, forcing many Local Education Authorities to convert to the Comprehensive System through refusing funding for new secondary schools unless they were comprehensive. An important follow-up to this circular came five years later, when a new circular was put forth by Margaret Thatcher, who was the Education Minister at the time, allowing local authorities to make their own minds up as to which system they used. As a result, some grammar schools survive to this day, though in somewhat smaller numbers than in days gone by.

15. 1988 – The National Curriculum

The final landmark in our history of English schools came in 1988 with the introduction of educational reforms that aimed to make schools more competitive among one another, so that they would strive to improve themselves in order to attract pupils. One of the most important reforms was the introduction of the National Curriculum, which imposed a set curriculum for primary and secondary schools to follow. This meant that schools had less choice about what subjects they could teach, as certain subjects were required to be taught by law. Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) were introduced to test pupils at ages 7, 11, 14 and 16; these are now called Key Stages 1 to 4, Stage 4 being GCSE exams. For the first time, league tables were introduced that ranked schools’ performance, allowing parents to make informed choices about where to send their children to school. In 1996, another Education Act redefined the school-leaving age as the last Friday in June in the year of a child’s 16th birthday, and home education was given legal standing with the stipulation that parents provide an education for their children through school or “otherwise”. So, as we’ve seen, the English education system has been a long time in the making, and these days, there’s no denying that it’s up there with the best in the world. If you’d like to experience a little of what an English education has to offer, why not book your place on an Oxford Royale Summer Schools course ?

history of education system in uk

19th Century

Education in 19th Century Britain: A Glimpse into the Transformative Era of Learning

Education in 19th Century Britain: Step back in time and explore the fascinating world of education in 19th century Britain. From the emergence of public schools to the struggles of working-class children, this article delves into the educational landscape of this transformative century. Discover the challenges, reforms, and lasting impact that shaped the minds of a generation.

Table of Contents

1. The Evolution of Education in 19th Century Britain: A Historical Perspective

The 19th century in Britain witnessed significant developments in the field of education. The period saw a gradual shift from a limited and elitist education system to a more inclusive and accessible one.

One key aspect of the evolution of education in 19th century Britain was the establishment of state-funded schools. The government recognized the need for universal education and implemented policies to ensure that every child had access to schooling. This was a pivotal step towards democratizing education and providing opportunities for children from all social backgrounds.

Another important development was the introduction of compulsory education laws. The Elementary Education Act of 1870 made it mandatory for children between the ages of 5 and 13 to attend school. This marked a significant departure from the previous system where education was largely voluntary and relied on charity schools.

Moreover, the curriculum underwent significant changes during this period. The focus shifted from traditional subjects such as Latin and Greek towards a more practical and vocational education. This was a response to the growing industrialization and the need for skilled workers.

The establishment of teacher training colleges also played a crucial role in improving the quality of education. These institutions provided aspiring teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively educate their students. Prior to this, teaching was often seen as an ad-hoc profession without standardized training.

Furthermore, the expansion of educational opportunities for women was another prominent feature of 19th century Britain. While female education had been limited to domestic skills in earlier centuries, the Victorian era saw an increasing recognition of the importance of educating women. This led to the establishment of girls’ schools and higher education institutions for women.

In conclusion, the 19th century brought about significant changes in the education system in Britain. The introduction of state-funded schools, compulsory education laws, revised curriculum, teacher training colleges, and increased educational opportunities for women were all transformative steps in the evolution of education during this period.

Victorian realities – how did they use the toilet??!

The evil history of our education system (documentary), what was education like in 19th century england.

In 19th century England , education underwent significant changes and improvements.

During this time, the Education Act of 1870 was introduced, which established a framework for elementary education for all children aged 5 to 12. This act aimed to provide compulsory and free education for all children in England. However, despite this legislation, many children still did not attend school due to various reasons, such as poverty or the need for child labor.

Elementary schools were typically run by local communities or religious organizations. The curriculum focused on basic reading, writing, arithmetic, and religious education. The teaching methods were often rote-based, with memorization being prioritized over critical thinking and creativity.

Secondary education during this period was mainly accessible to wealthier families or those who could afford private tuition. Public schools, such as Eton or Harrow, offered an elite education for boys, emphasizing classical languages, literature, mathematics, and sports. Girls’ education, on the other hand, was often limited to domestic skills and etiquette.

Higher education was primarily available at prestigious universities like Oxford and Cambridge. Women were largely excluded from higher education institutions until the late 19th century when some universities began admitting them.

Overall, education in 19th century England was still heavily influenced by social class and gender, with limited access to education for the working class and women. However, the introduction of the Education Act of 1870 marked a significant step towards universal education in England.

What kind of education was there in the 19th century?

In the 19th century , education underwent significant changes and advancements. Prior to the 19th century , education was primarily reserved for the elite and focused on classical subjects such as Latin, Greek, mathematics, and philosophy. However, during the 19th century , there was a shift towards providing education to a larger segment of society.

The public education system was established in many countries, including the United States and Europe, during this time. It aimed to provide basic education to children from different social classes. The curriculum in these public schools included reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, and basic sciences.

In addition to public education , there were also private schools that catered to wealthier families. These schools often provided a broader curriculum, which included foreign languages, literature, music, art, and physical education.

Higher education during the 19th century saw the establishment of prestigious universities and colleges, with a focus on academic disciplines such as law, medicine, theology, and the sciences. These institutions were primarily attended by male students, though some began admitting women towards the end of the century.

Girls’ education in the 19th century saw some improvements. While they were still largely excluded from higher education, secondary schools specifically for girls were established in various countries. The curriculum in these schools typically emphasized domestic skills, social etiquette, and the fine arts.

Overall, education in the 19th century witnessed a gradual expansion and diversification of subjects. It became more accessible to a wider range of people, paving the way for the development of modern educational systems.

What were the educational practices during the 19th century?

During the 19th century, educational practices underwent significant changes and advancements. Prior to the 19th century, education was often limited to the elite and privileged classes, with a focus on classical subjects such as Latin and Greek.

However, during the 19th century, there was a growing emphasis on universal education and the expansion of educational opportunities for all social classes. The development of public schools and the introduction of compulsory education laws in many countries were key factors in this shift.

In terms of curriculum, there were some notable changes during this period. While classical languages remained important, there was a greater inclusion of practical subjects such as mathematics, sciences, and modern languages. This shift reflected the growing importance of scientific and technological advancements associated with the Industrial Revolution.

Teaching methods also evolved during the 19th century. Traditional rote learning methods gave way to more interactive and experiential approaches. The use of textbooks and standardized exams became more common, as did the establishment of teacher training institutions.

Additionally, the role of women in education began to gain prominence during the 19th century. The establishment of women’s colleges and the advocacy for equal educational opportunities contributed to the gradual expansion of female participation in higher education.

Overall, the 19th century witnessed significant changes in educational practices, characterized by the expansion of access to education, changes in curriculum, teaching methods, and increased opportunities for women. These developments laid the foundation for the modern educational system that continues to evolve today.

Did England enforce compulsory education during the 19th century?

Yes, England did enforce compulsory education during the 19th century. The government passed the Elementary Education Act in 1870, which made it mandatory for children between the ages of five and ten to attend school. This act aimed to improve literacy rates and provide basic education to all children, regardless of their social or economic background. However, enforcement of this law varied across different regions and was not strictly implemented until later in the century. It was only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that compulsory education became a more widespread and established practice in England.

Frequently Asked Questions

How was education organized in 19th century britain, and what were the main differences between the education systems for different social classes.

Education in 19th century Britain was characterized by significant disparities and class divisions. The education system was organized based on social class, with distinct differences between the education offered to the working class, middle class, and upper class.

Working Class Education: For the working class, access to education was limited and often inadequate. Children were required to work from a young age to contribute to their family’s income, leaving little time or opportunity for formal schooling. The few schools available to them were often overcrowded and lacked proper resources. The curriculum primarily focused on basic literacy and numeracy skills, neglecting other subjects such as history or science.

Middle Class Education: In contrast, the middle class had more access to education. They could afford to send their children to private schools or academies, where a wider range of subjects was taught. These schools emphasized a classical education, including Greek and Latin, as well as subjects like mathematics, literature, and history. The middle class also had access to newly established grammar schools, which provided a more comprehensive education.

Upper Class Education: The upper class had access to the most prestigious educational institutions. Public schools, such as Eton and Harrow, catered exclusively to the sons of the aristocracy and gentry. These schools focused on classical studies and prepared students for entry into elite universities like Oxford and Cambridge. The curriculum included subjects like Greek, Latin, philosophy, and theology. Physical education and character development were also emphasized.

Gender Differences: Another important aspect of 19th century education was the distinction between education for males and females. Education for girls, especially those from lower classes, was seen as less important than that of boys. They were typically taught basic domestic skills and received little formal education. However, some private schools for girls offered a slightly broader curriculum, including subjects like art, music, and literature.

In conclusion, 19th century Britain had an education system marked by significant disparities between social classes. The working class had limited access to education, while the middle and upper classes enjoyed more comprehensive schooling, with the upper class having access to the most prestigious institutions. This system perpetuated social divisions and inequality based on educational opportunities.

What were the key educational reforms introduced in 19th century Britain, and how did they impact access to education for various groups of people?

In the 19th century, Britain witnessed significant educational reforms that had a profound impact on access to education for different groups of people.

One key reform was the establishment of state-funded elementary schools through the Education Act of 1870. This act made it compulsory for local authorities to open elementary schools in areas where educational provision was inadequate. The aim was to provide basic literacy and numeracy skills to all children, regardless of their background or social status.

Another important reform was the implementation of the Forster’s Education Act of 1870 , which aimed to address the issue of access to education for the working classes. This act introduced school boards elected by local ratepayers who were responsible for governing the newly established elementary schools. It also made elementary education free for children aged 5 to 13.

The Education Act of 1902 brought further reforms, centralizing control over education and establishing county and borough councils responsible for education. This act extended the school leaving age to 14 and introduced secondary education into the public system.

These reforms significantly improved access to education for various groups. Working-class children, who often had no previous access to formal education, now had the opportunity to attend elementary schools. The introduction of free education also removed financial barriers for many families. Furthermore, the establishment of local school boards allowed communities to have a say in the education of their children.

Additionally, the reforms laid the foundation for the expansion of secondary education in Britain. Middle-class children increasingly had access to grammar schools, which provided a more comprehensive education beyond basic literacy and numeracy. This helped create a more equal educational landscape, offering opportunities for social mobility and broader educational attainment.

However, it is important to note that while these reforms expanded access to education, disparities still existed. Girls, for example, continued to face barriers to education, particularly in terms of accessing secondary schools or pursuing higher education.

Overall, the educational reforms introduced in 19th century Britain significantly improved access to education for different groups. They laid the groundwork for a more inclusive and comprehensive educational system, although challenges and inequalities still persisted.

How did the industrial revolution influence education in 19th century Britain, and what changes were made to adapt the curriculum and teaching methods to meet the needs of an increasingly industrialized society?

The industrial revolution had a significant impact on education in 19th century Britain. As society shifted from an agrarian economy to an industrialized one, there was a growing need for an educated workforce. This led to several changes in the curriculum and teaching methods to meet the demands of an increasingly industrialized society.

1. Introduction of state-funded education: The government recognized the importance of providing education to the working class and introduced various reforms to expand access to education. The Elementary Education Act of 1870 made elementary education compulsory for children aged 5 to 12 and established school boards to oversee education.

2. Emphasis on practical skills: As industries grew, there was a greater need for skilled workers. The curriculum shifted towards practical subjects such as science, mathematics, and technical skills, which would provide students with the necessary skills for employment in factories and industries.

3. Expansion of technical education: Technical schools and vocational training programs were established to provide specialized training for specific trades and industries. These institutions focused on teaching practical skills relevant to the industrial workforce.

4. Increased focus on literacy and numeracy: With the rise of industrialization, there was a growing need for a literate and numerate workforce. Basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills became essential, leading to an increased emphasis on these subjects in the curriculum.

5. Growth of grammar schools: In contrast to the practical focus of technical education, grammar schools continued to provide a classical education that emphasized languages, literature, and history. The aim was to produce well-rounded individuals who could take up positions in management and administration.

6. Implementation of standardized examinations: To assess students’ knowledge and skills, standardized examinations were introduced. These exams tested students’ understanding of various subjects and played a crucial role in determining their future prospects, such as admission to higher education or securing employment.

7. Changes in teaching methods: Traditional teaching methods, such as rote learning, began to give way to more interactive and practical approaches. Teachers started incorporating demonstrations, experiments, and real-world examples into their lessons to make education more engaging and relevant.

In conclusion, the industrial revolution brought about significant changes in education in 19th century Britain. The curriculum expanded to include practical subjects, technical education was introduced, and there was a greater emphasis on literacy and numeracy. These changes aimed to prepare students for the needs of an increasingly industrialized society and the demands of the workforce.

In conclusion, education in 19th century Britain was characterized by significant changes and improvements that laid the foundation for the modern education system we have today. The advancement of education reforms such as the establishment of government-funded schools, the introduction of compulsory education, and the focus on standardized curriculum and teacher training were all pivotal in ensuring widespread access to education and fostering social mobility.

However, it is important to acknowledge that educational opportunities during this period were limited and heavily influenced by social class and gender. The inequalities present in 19th century society translated into disparities in educational provision, with working-class children often experiencing lower-quality education compared to their wealthier counterparts. Additionally, girls faced additional challenges in accessing education due to prevailing societal norms and expectations.

Despite these limitations, the 19th century marked a significant turning point in the evolution of education in Britain. The efforts made during this era set the stage for future advancements and reforms in subsequent centuries. Today, we can appreciate the legacy of those early pioneers who recognized the importance of education in shaping an enlightened society.

As we reflect on the 19th century British education system, it becomes evident that the struggles and achievements of that time continue to shape and influence our present-day educational landscape. The education reforms implemented during this era laid the groundwork for a more inclusive and egalitarian education system, striving to provide every child with the means to reach their full potential.

In conclusion , the 19th century was a transformative period for education in Britain, marked by significant improvements in accessibility, curriculum development, and teacher training. While limitations and inequalities persisted, the reforms initiated during this time set the stage for a more equitable and comprehensive educational experience for generations to come.

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The History of a traditional British Education

At iBOS , we pride ourselves on the fact that we teach our students the British curriculum , therefore equipping them with the skills and knowledge to attend well-renowned universities. Please see below as we go through the timeline of key events within education.

567: St Augustine founded the Kings School, Canterbury and later in 604 King’s School, Rochester. He established two types of school: Grammar schools for teaching Latin and cathedral schools for church choirs.

Latin was the language of law, diplomacy, and trade.

Education at this time as also limited to male nobles and gentry.

1150: “Free” Grammar schools appeared, that were exempt from church control and were allowed the freedom to teach other subjects.

1392: Winchester College was established, following the decimation of priesthood as a result of the Black Death. Winchester became the feeder school for New College, Oxford.

Universities were new, independent learning institutions, free from church control.

1440: Eton College was founded, endowed by King Edward VI. They followed in Winchester’s footsteps by being an institution free from church, linked to universities, all its pupils were boarders, it had a prefectorial system of control, as well being wealthy.

1509: Henry VII came to the throne and dissolved the monasteries resulting in the foundation of Grammar Schools as joint Church/State establishments. Therefore, throughout and beyond his reign the number of grammar schools increased from 400 to 2000.

Grammar schools were still predominantly male. Girls education was limited to Bible reading and housework.

1802: As a result of the Industrial Revolution, the population doubled, and many people moved to industrial cities and child labour was prominent. Therefore, laws were passed requiring apprentices and children to receive some basic maths and English lessons.

1811: The National Society was established aiming to set up a National school in every English and Welsh parish.

From 1816-1885 access to elementary education rose from 58% to 83%.

1840: Grammar Schools Act was passed, beginning the active state intervention in the history of education. It also made it lawful that grammar schools could teach more subjects, not just classical languages.

1868: Taunton Report. This influenced educational policy for nearly 100 years. It divided families into grades: gentry, middle, and working class. This determined different standards of education, as well as the age children were in school.

history of education system in uk

1868: Public Schools Act, this led to the reconstitution of Eton, Charterhouse, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Westminster and Winchester independent schools; due to a prior decline in standards.

1870: The Forster Act. The government mandated and made law the provision of elementary education for boys and girls aged 5-13 and attendance was compulsory.

1902: The Balfour Education Act.  This established the Local Education Authorities, giving them the ability to raise local taxes to fund schools (except Church schools). It also led to the creation of 1000 new county secondary schools (including 349 girl’s schools).

1944: The Butler Act. In the spirit post war and the subsequent desire for social reform, state education became free for all children. It also created separate primary (5-11) and secondary (11-15).

The School Health Service was also established, requiring the provision of school meals.

1951: National exams were introduced, GCSEs (they were called “O” levels) and “A” Levels.

1988: The Baker Act introduced a compulsory curriculum consisting of 14 subjects, the state now had control of the curriculum instead of teachers.

1992: The Education Schools Act established Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education), this ensured compliance of school standards.

2001: New AS levels are introduced.

2011: The Academies Act becomes law,

2015: The Education and Adoption Bill is published.

2015:   A new AS and A Level system was introduced, included the decoupling of AS levels resulting in AS results no longer counting towards an A-Level . Assessment is mainly conducted by an exam.

2015: GCSEs are reformed, the British government decided that students needed more differentiation therefore instead of a traditional grading system A*-E, a new grading system of 9-1 will be used. Courses will now require two years of studying and assessed mainly by an exam instead of coursework.

2020: The COVID-19 pandemic forces conventional schools throughout the world to accept online learning as the sole medium for educating students, whilst keeping them and their teachers safe at home.

. Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history David Turner (2015) The Old Boys: the decline and rise of the public school Leach AF (1915) The Schools of Medieval England

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A level sociology revision – education, families, research methods, crime and deviance and more!

Education Policy in England and Wales: 1979 to 2022

Education policy to 2022 has been influenced by neoliberalism: we now have a well established market in education with monitoring done centrally by government authorities while little has been done to address equality of educational opportunity.

Table of Contents

The last 40 years has seen a shift in the nature of education in England and Wales. Since the early 1980s we have seen a shift from a state education system to the establishment of a quasi-market in education.

The New Right conservative government which came to power in 1979 was influenced by a mixture of neoliberal and traditional conservative ideologies.

The New Right introduced the 1988 Education Act which first created an education market through the establishment of league tables, formula funding, OFSTED and the National Curriculum.

This created a system in which parents had the choice over which school to send their children to and by making schools compete with each other for pupils.

New Labour (1997 to 2010) continued the marketisation of education by keeping the same basic framework introduced through the 1988 Education Act.

New Labour’s third way approach to government meant they had more of a focus on social justice than the conservatives, in that they were more concerned with improving equality of educational opportunity for students from deprived backgrounds and to this end established academies in deprived urban areas, introduced Sure Start and introduced the Education Maintenance Allowance.

However New Labour still advanced marketisation through their focus on academies and through introducing fees for higher education.

When the Coalition came to power in 2010 they mostly ditched the social justice agenda and renewed their focus on creating an education market through the rapid conversion of LEA schools to academies and the establishment of Free Schools.

Since 2015 the The Tory government has largely carried on the Coalition’s agenda of establishing a quasi-education market, although this process has been stalled somewhat by the Pandemic requiring the government and schools to focus on their ‘safety’ and ‘catch-up’ agendas.

The rest of this post summarises the key changes to education policy since 1979.

history of education system in uk

The Curriculum

Up until 1988 there was little if no centralised control over the school curriculum, but that changed with the introduction of the National Curriculum as part of the 1988 Education Act.

The National Curriculum stipulated that all schools must teach core content and this made it possible to monitor schools to make sure they were delivering this content, and monitoring evolved through from 1988 to involve increasing amounts of Key Stage Testing.

The amount of prescribed content and volume of testing have been reduced in recent years, and the introduction of Academies and Free Schools means there are now more schools than ever that don’t have to teach the National Curriculum at all, but there still remains a strong focus on a core knowledge base.

School Structure and Governance

This has been a major area of change of the last 40 years in England and Wales.

In the early 1980s the majority of State Schools were under the control of Local Education Authorities who managed such things as school funding, term dates and teacher pay.

However the expansion of academies since the year 2000, and their rapid expansion since 2010, now means that 80% of secondary schools and 40% of primary schools are now independent of LEAs and are self managed either as single schools or Multi-Academy Trusts.

Neoliberals are happy with this arrangement as they see local government bureaucracies as inefficient, but ironically there is now more centralised control over academies and funding comes direct from central government.

Critics of academies argue that we now have a fragmented education system.

A Mass Market in Higher Education

In the 1980s the university sector was relatively small with most young people leaving the education system at 16 and going to work.

Today, we have a fully developed market in Higher Education with universities funded by research output and tuition fees from students with most students taking out loans of tens of thousands of pounds to pay for their fees.

The number of university places has also expanded massively – 50% of 18-30 year olds now attend university.

The U.K. Education market is also global, many students come here to study from abroad, and they tend to to pay a higher level of fees than UK citizens.

Early Years Education

in the 1980s there was very little pre-school childcare or education provided by the state, and this has been a huge area of expansion over the last 40 years.

All three and four year olds are entitled to 570 hours of free early education or childcare a year, equivalent to 15 hours a week ( Gov.UK ).

Unlike with the expansion of academies in the secondary and primary years of schooling, early child care provision is now the responsibility of Local Education Authorities.

Monitoring and Accountability

Monitoring has become increasingly sophisticated with the development of an education market.

Monitoring is now more centralised as more and more schools have converted to academies, come out of Local Education Authority of control and are now accountable to the Secretary of State for Education.

League tables have become the main means by which schools are held to account on a yearly basis with schools being required to publish annual progression data for students, with Progress 8 being the new benchmark for GCSE progress.

Schools are also monitored on their SEN data, number of exclusions and Ebacc performance.

OFSTED has expanded to include teams of inspectors and outstanding schools are now given light touch inspections whereas schools deemed to be in need of improvement are taken over by more successful academies.

Inequality of educational opportunity

Improving equality of educational opportunity has been a stated aim of every government since 1988, with New Labour doing the most through Sure Start, early academies and the Education Maintenance Allowance.

However, the Social Mobility Commission recently reported that the attainment gap has hardly shifted since 2014, and social class inequalities in educational achievement remain as a persistent feature of the education landscape.

Education Since 1979: 40 years of Neoliberalism…?

Looking back at the last 40 years of education policy it seems hard to argue that for the most part we have seen the influence of neoliberal ideology on education policy gradually transforming our education system into a quasi-market.

This seems to be especially true in the creation of a mass market in higher education but also in the establishment of academies and especially free schools where middle class parents get free reign use their cultural capital to effectively polarise education in local areas.

The strongest evidence for the influence of neoliberal ideology lies in the lack of progress around educational opportunities – after 40 years of education policy education remains a vehicle which allows for the reproduction of class inequality.

Possibly the one area of education policy where neoliberalism is less obvious is in the expansion of early years provision however we can just interpret this as being done so that parents are free to work in low-paid jobs, which is essential to capitalism.

Signposting and relevance to A-level Sociology

The above material is most relevant to students studying the education module as part of the AQA’s A-level sociology specification.

To return to the homepage:

Barlett and Burton (2021): Introduction to Education Studies, fifth edition

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British education system

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an introduction to the British education system

The education system in the UK is divided into four main parts, primary education, secondary education, further education and higher education.

The education system in the UK is also split into "key stages" which breaks down as follows:

  • Key Stage 1:  5 to 7 years old
  • Key Stage 2:  7 to 11 years old
  • Key Stage 3:  11 to 14 years old
  • Key Stage 4:  14 to 16 years old

UK primary education

primary school students

Primary school education begins in the UK at age 5 and continues until age 11, comprising key stages one and two under the UK educational system.

Some primary schools are split up into Infant and Junior levels. These are usually separate schools on the same site. The infant age range (Key Stage 1) is from age 5 to 7. The Junior age range (Key Stage 2) is from age 7 to 11. The year groups at primary School level are:

Year R (Reception) (age 4 – 5) Year 1 (age 5 - 6) Year 2 (age 6 - 7) The year when SATs testing takes place for Key Stage 1 Year 3 (age 7 - 8) Year 4 (age 8 - 9) Year 5 (age 9 - 10) Year 6 (age 10 - 11) The year when SATs testing takes place for Key Stage 2

secondary school - years 7 and 8

boys in classroom

Years 7 and 8 are the first two years of secondary school education in the UK. In some independent schools they are included in the Junior School, in others, they are part of the Senior School. 

Under the UK school system, all students study English, Maths, Sciences, a Humanity and a Modern Language. Besides these subjects, each school has a list with optional subjects (Art, Music, Drama, Latin, Sport Science, Design Technology, Computer Science),  and  students may choose a few subjects that interest them. 

In some schools, students sit the Common Entrance Exam in year 7. There are 3 examination sessions, in November, January and May/June. The transition from Junior to Senior School (from year 8 to year 9) may be conditioned upon the Common Entrance Exam results in those schools.

secondary school - year 9

St Mary's School, Shafestbury girls

Year 9 is a very important year in the British school system, as most of the students make the transition from Junior School to Senior School. It is also a very good foundation for the GCSE programme and it is an entry point to all schools. 

Students study English, Maths, Sciences, Humanity and Languages. In addition, students choose a few subjects from the optional subject list offered by each school. 

secondary education - years 10 and 11

science class of students

GCSE programme

In the last two years of secondary education, which are called Year 10 and Year 11, starting at age 14, students prepare for GCSE exams that are taken after two years (General Certificate of Secondary Education).

In the UK school system, during the GCSE programme, students study between 9 and 12 subjects. Some of them are compulsory (English, Math, 2/3 Sciences, History/Geography, a Modern Language etc.), some are chosen by each student according to their abilities and preferences. At the end of the 2 year GCSE programme, following the examinations on each studied subject, students receive their GCSE Certificates.

The chosen subjects and the GCSE results are very important for their Further Studies (A-Level or IB) and for their University admission.

Intensive 1 year GCSE

Some schools offer a 1 Year GCSE programme in Year 11 for international students seeking a school education in the UK. These intensive, one year courses, are available for students aged 15 plus, with the appropriate academic level from their own country. Fewer subjects are studied (maximum 6).

The IGCSE programme ( International  General Certificate of Secondary Education) prepare international students for A-Level and/or IB.

Students study between 5 and 7 subjects, English, Maths and Science being included. Each school has a list of available subjects for IGCSE students. At the end of Year 11, students take exams in each studied subject and receive IGCSE Certificates.

university preparation - years 12 and 13

sixth form students on steps in uniform

A level study

In the UK school system, once a student reaches the age of 16, they can start a 2 year programme which leads to A (Advanced) level examinations. Students specialise in 3 or 4 subjects, that are usually relevant to the degree subject they wish to follow at university. A levels are state examinations and are recognised by all UK universities and by institutions worldwide.

At the end of Year 13, following the examinations in each subject, the students receive A level Certificates.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

Those who would like to study more than 3-4 subjects, may continue their studies in a broader number of subjects with the International Baccaularete Diploma Programme, offered by some independent schools.

During the IB, students study 6 subjects, 3 at higher level (HL) and 3 at standard level (SL). Each school offers different subjects at different study levels (HL/SL). The IB programme also includes a compulsory Core programme consisting of Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Extended Essay (EE) and Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS).

Students take written examinations on each subject at the end of their courses.

further education - vocational courses

group of students at university walking away

International students can either choose a state sixth form college or a college of further education as an alternative to private education. Both offer GCSE and A level courses for students from the age of 16. Colleges of further education also offer foundation and diploma courses. All colleges can prepare students for entry to a  UK university or any university in the world. Bright World works with a number of state colleges in the UK which provide a multitude of vocational and academic courses. These courses can enable students to pursue their chosen career or to gain a place at a university of their choice.

The British school system also extends to BTEC courses which are designed for students who would like to develop practical knowledge and skills in a specific subject (Business, Psychology, Engineering, Sport, Art & Design) and find traditional exams challenging. Focussing on practical, skills-based learning, the BTEC students are assessed during the course. After each unit students are assessed through assignments, tasks or tests, and not at the end of the programme as it happens with GCSE or A-Level students.

university - foundation courses

Girl writing and studying in library

From age 17, international students can opt to study one year foundation programmes, instead of A levels or IB. These courses lead to private examinations that are an alternative to A levels. Foundation courses at colleges are recognised by universities with whom they have partnerships.

Some universities also offer foundation courses that lead onto their own degree programmes.

Bright World has partnerships with a number of colleges and Pathway providers and can help place students into Foundation and Diploma courses in London and across the UK.

university - undergraduate study

Student at Cambridge University

In the UK, a British bachelors degree normally takes three years to complete and most are awarded at honours level. Examples of first degrees are: BA (Bachelor of Arts), BEng (Bachelor of Engineering), and BSc (Bachelor of Science).

State colleges offer some 2 year vocational diplomas that grant exemption from the first and sometimes second year of a degree programme. Some private tutorial colleges offer a one year diploma programme which is equivalent to year 1 of university. Students taking 1 year diplomas are awarded second year entry at some universities.

university - postgraduate study

Girl studying with pencil and laptop

Postgraduate courses in the UK education system are very intensive. This means that the courses are usually much shorter than in other countries. A master's degree typically takes 12 months to complete, for example an MA - Master of Arts and an MEng - Master of Engineering. An MBA (Master of Business Administration) is a high profile Masters course which can take 2 years. Applicants will usually be high achieving with at least 2 years managerial experience. A PhD research degree in the UK can take between 2 and 7 years.

boarding schools

St John's School, Sidmouth

Bright World works almost exclusively with privately funded schools and colleges. A boarding school is a residential school where pupils live and study during the school year. There are approximately 500 boarding schools across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

UK boarding schools offer pupils an outstanding education, helping them to develop their skills and progress to university. All UK boarding schools have to meet strict government standards on the quality of their teaching, facilities and student care.

Many UK boarding schools combine beautiful, centuries-old buildings with a mix of modern classrooms and traditional architecture. The excellent facilities help make living and learning a great experience and pupils will will improve their  English skills while they study.

tutorial colleges

MPW College

Tutorial Colleges start at age 15 and have a more flexible programme range, focussing on fast access to UK university.

Many of the independent private sixth form colleges in Oxford, Cambridge and London work on a 'tutorial system' and are often referred to as 'tutorial colleges'. The tutorial system originates from Oxford and Cambridge Universities and is a very highly regarded and much tested system. It it is still used today and is the cornerstone of an 'Oxbridge' education. A tutorial is a small class of only a few students, in which the tutor (a lecturer or other academic faculty member) gives individual attention to the students.

state boarding schools

Study book

A state boarding school is one where you pay for boarding and the education is free. The government pays for the education as it would at any other state school in England.

Admission to state boarding schools in the UK is limited to children who are nationals of the UK and are eligible to hold a full UK passport, or those who are nationals of other European Union countries or those who have the right of residence in the UK. Please note that the holding of a BN(O) passport does not make the child eligible for a state boarding school in the UK.

F E Colleges

students at college

An FE college is an institution that provides education for those above school age (age 16). There are many types of FE colleges including, sixth form colleges, specialist colleges and adult education institutes. FE Colleges are state run and as such those members of the EU joining can benefit from free education. There is also a competitive fee structure available for non-EU international students.

pathway courses at university

university students on campus

If you need to improve your English language or study skills before attending a UK university, pathway providers offer unique foundation courses which often lead to direct degree-level entry upon completion. There are several private companies who operate Foundation and Diploma programmes on the campuses of UK universities. Often these courses offer accelerated access to undergraduate degrees.


mortar boards

The UK is one of the world's most popular destination for students from overseas. In fact, more than 400,000 international students enrol each year.International students considering an education in the UK have a choice of over 140 universities and higher education institutions, each offering a great range of tertiary qualifications that will be recognised the world over. Students join a 3 year undergraduate programme or a 1 year postgraduate course.

UK university placement

university students throwing mortar boards

For expert advice on UK and US university entry, Bright World has teamed up with Education Advisers Ltd, whose experienced consultants offer a full range of Higher Education services for international students. These range from complimentary advice on the best University Foundation courses, to bespoke Oxbridge and Medical School coaching and mentorship programmes. You can visit their websites at or or call +44 1622 813870 for further information.

guardianship and school placement advice

Boarding school guardianship.

If your child is attending a boarding school you will need to nominate a UK guardian. Bright World can help you with this service.

university guardianship

If you are under 18 when you start university you will need to nominate a UK-based adult or guardian. Bright World has a programme especially for you.

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I grew up in the US, while my wife grew up in the UK. She had a better education and now has a better understanding of the world.

I grew up in the US, while my wife grew up in the UK. She had a better education and now has a better understanding of the world.

  • I grew up in the US where the educational system was more general.
  • I didn't learn about world history or geography, and I was discouraged from pursing my dream job.

Having grown up over 3,000 miles apart, I am quickly learning the differences between my wife's education in the UK and mine in the US.

I recently married my wife, Kaajal, who was born and raised in London. My education in the suburbs of Pittsburgh emphasized an overview of general subjects, whereas Kaajal narrowed down her desired career through a series of specialized courses and exams.

Last year, for example, when preparing for a trip to Africa, my then-fiancée witnessed the differences in our education firsthand.

"I can't find Mozambique in this travel guidebook," I said, puzzled.

"That's because it's a guidebook for South Africa," Kaajal answered.

Yes, I thought Mozambique was a city within South Africa . If my wife and I have children, we'll undoubtedly move to the UK for superior academics to better prepare them for a career.

It seems the UK prepares students for the real world

After passing the GCSE exams in England , my wife was allowed to decide between immediately entering the workforce at age 16 or continuing her high school education to prepare for attending a university. Knowing she wanted to pursue a university degree, Kaajal studied history, computing, math, and biology for her A-level exams.

There, students choose only three to four preferred subjects to review in the final two years of schooling. More rigorous than the GCSE, the A-level exams help universities identify the leading candidates for their programs.

In the US, rather than specializing in preferred subjects, the majority of my education consisted of general subjects. In high school, you gain more freedom in your classes each year; however, you're required to continue taking math, science, and English courses throughout most of your education.

While my wife was focusing on only three chosen subjects to decide on a major in university, I was taking a random statistics course, environmental science , and four study halls. One of my study hall periods concluded my day, so I would join a gym class for fun or slip out to go home.

A guidance counselor was assigned to me — and hundreds of other students — to pick the few optional courses. When asked what I'd like to study in college, I quickly told my guidance counselor that I wanted to pursue a career in writing. I was told it wouldn't happen due to my average grades and the unlikelihood of success in a writing career .

Over 15 years later, I thankfully found my path to my dream job as a freelance mental health and wellness writer.

A British education provided my wife with an overview of potential career choices and prepared her for university. My US education discouraged me from my passion and left me with generalized knowledge. I entered a psychology program in college with little idea of my career choices and no anticipation of the student debt to follow.

I also learned very little about other cultures and religions

I took my first course on world cultures in my master's program as a 22-year-old adult. In the suburbs of Pittsburgh, I was surrounded by primarily white people identifying as Christian. Looking back, I recall one Jewish classmate and two to three non-white students. Courses emphasizing various cultures and religions of the world were truly needed to raise awareness of diversity and increase multicultural respect.

Meanwhile, in England, my wife and her classmates learned about cultures and religions throughout the world as early as age 4.

Geography is also thoroughly reviewed in the UK

History and geography are covered throughout US education , starting in elementary school. However, US history and geography are often the primary focus. In the fifth grade, I was expected to memorize all the US states and capitals. I can pinpoint Little Rock, Arkansas, but I recently realized that the European country Estonia exists.

Similarly to religion, the British school system provides a collective overview of world history and geography starting at a young age.

In my personal experience, the UK education system is significantly better than the US education system in preparing students for their careers, instilling well-rounded cultural experiences, and educating on the world map.

It's clear to me that my wife was better prepared to be an intelligent adult than I was in the US.

history of education system in uk

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I grew up in the US, while my wife grew up in the UK. She had a better education and now has a better understanding of the world.

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Blog The Education Hub

Medical doctor apprenticeships: Everything you need to know

history of education system in uk

The NHS confirmed pilot funding for a new Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship in January 2023.

The apprenticeships are also part of the NHS England Long Term Workforce Plan , which will see the biggest expansion of training in its history to help upskill, retain talent and create a healthcare workforce fit for the future.

Apprentices will earn a wage while training to nationally recognised standards, and like most degree apprenticeships , they won’t have to pay any tuition fees. The first applications for the small pilot scheme are likely to open in spring, with the aim that the first apprentices start in September 2024.

Of course, trainees will need to meet the same high standards as those who do a traditional undergraduate medical degree.

They will be required to attend medical school, complete an accredited medical degree like all other medical students, and meet all other criteria to qualify as a doctor as set out by the General Medical Council.

This marks an important step in making careers in medicine more accessible, helping to recruit frontline medics into the NHS.

Providing an alternative route into medicine will help more people of different backgrounds get into the profession, making the NHS workforce more representative of the local communities it serves.

Does this mean school leavers will be able to work as doctors without going to university?

Medical Doctor Degree Apprentices will be required to undertake an approved university medical degree programme as part of their apprenticeship. They will work as an apprentice while studying towards their medical degree.

Students who qualify via the traditional medical school route don't receive a salary until after they have completed their degree.

However, this doesn’t mean apprentices will be treated as qualified doctors from the beginning. They will work safely under supervision at an appropriate level that is suitable to their stage of training.

Will doctors who study an apprenticeship be less qualified than someone who went to university?

People who complete the Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship will have the same academic qualifications as those who complete their degree through medical school.

There will also be options for graduates with non-medical degrees. Individual employers will set applicant criteria themselves, which will ensure that applicants possess the values and behaviours to become a medical doctor.

The apprenticeship will typically last five years and apprentices will have to complete all academic elements of medical training, including a medical degree and the Medical Licensing Assessment.

They will also have to meet all requirements set out by the General Medical Council for entry onto the Medical Register.

This means that by the end of their training, apprentices will achieve the same high-quality qualifications as someone who has got their medical degree through a traditional route.

Will apprenticeships lower standards of the NHS?

Medical Doctor Degree Apprentices will be subject to the same rigorous requirements as doctors with traditional training, and will achieve a medical degree just like a medical student.

The apprenticeship will help to build a highly skilled NHS workforce, following on from the nursing and healthcare apprenticeships which already exist.

The apprenticeship will also boost the NHS workforce and help it to meet the growing demand for highly trained professionals, allowing it to benefit from a new pool of diverse talent.

How can I apply for a doctor apprenticeship?

Start dates are yet to be confirmed and we expect candidates will be able to apply to the pilot scheme from spring, with first candidates to start from September 2024.

Those who are interested in applying should periodically check  NHS Jobs   or the government’s   Find an Apprenticeship  website for any apprenticeship vacancies.

You may also be interested in:

  • 5 of the biggest myths about apprenticeships busted
  • Budget 2023: What are ‘returnerships’ and who are they for?
  • How are apprenticeships funded and what is the apprenticeship levy?

Tags: apprentices , Apprenticeship , degree apprenticeships , Doctor training , General Medical Council , Medical doctor apprenticeship , Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship , Medical Licensing Assessment , Medical school , National Apprenticeship Week 2024 , NHS Doctor Apprenticeships

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