Education Act 1944
The Education Act 1944 (7 and 8 Geo 6 c. 31) changed the education system for secondary schools in England and Wales
England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...

. This Act, commonly named after the Conservative politician R.A. Butler, introduced the Tripartite System
Tripartite System
The Tripartite System was the arrangement of state funded secondary education between 1944 and the 1970s in England and Wales, and from 1947 to 2009 in Northern Ireland....

 of secondary education
Secondary education
Secondary education is the stage of education following primary education. Secondary education includes the final stage of compulsory education and in many countries it is entirely compulsory. The next stage of education is usually college or university...

 and made secondary education free for all pupils.

The tripartite system consisted of three different types of secondary school: grammar school
Grammar school
A grammar school is one of several different types of school in the history of education in the United Kingdom and some other English-speaking countries, originally a school teaching classical languages but more recently an academically-oriented secondary school.The original purpose of mediaeval...

s, secondary technical school
Secondary Technical School
A Secondary Technical School was a type of secondary school in the United Kingdom that existed in the mid-20th century under the Tripartite System of education. For various reasons few were ever built, and their main interest is on a theoretical level....

s and secondary modern school
Secondary modern school
A secondary modern school is a type of secondary school that existed in most of the United Kingdom from 1944 until the early 1970s, under the Tripartite System, and was designed for the majority of pupils - those who do not achieve scores in the top 25% of the eleven plus examination...

s. It allowed for the creation of comprehensive school
Comprehensive school
A comprehensive school is a state school that does not select its intake on the basis of academic achievement or aptitude. This is in contrast to the selective school system, where admission is restricted on the basis of a selection criteria. The term is commonly used in relation to the United...

s which would combine these strands, but initially only a few were founded. It also created a system of direct grant schools, under which a number of independent school
Independent school
An independent school is a school that is independent in its finances and governance; it is not dependent upon national or local government for financing its operations, nor reliant on taxpayer contributions, and is instead funded by a combination of tuition charges, gifts, and in some cases the...

s received a direct grant from the Ministry of Education
Ministry of Education (United Kingdom)
The administration of education policy in the United Kingdom began in the 19th century. Official mandation of education began with the Elementary Education Act 1870 for England and Wales, and the Education Act 1872 for Scotland...

 (as distinct from local education authorities
Local Education Authority
A local education authority is a local authority in England and Wales that has responsibility for education within its jurisdiction...

 or LEAs) in exchange for accepting a number of pupils on "free places".

To assess which pupils should attend which school, they took an exam known as the 11 plus. The system was intended to allocate pupils to the schools best suited to their "abilities and aptitudes", but in practice the number of grammar schools, for the academically inclined, remained unchanged, and few technical schools or comprehensive schools were established. As a result, most pupils went to secondary modern schools, whether they were suitable or not, meaning that the majority of education funding went to the secondary modern schools.

One of the ground-breaking results of the Act was to educate and mobilise women and the working class
Working class
Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs , often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes...

. It opened secondary school to girls, and the working class, and as a result, a far higher percentage attended higher education after secondary school. This newly found education increased working class awareness of their disadvantaged social position and created a bitter class division between the working and middle class
Middle class
The middle class is any class of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy. In Weberian socio-economic terms, the middle class is the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class....

. Such division was illustrated in the theatrical works of John Osborne
John Osborne
John James Osborne was an English playwright, screenwriter, actor and critic of the Establishment. The success of his 1956 play Look Back in Anger transformed English theatre....

 in the late 1950s.

The Act renamed the Board of Education as the Ministry of Education
Ministry of Education (United Kingdom)
The administration of education policy in the United Kingdom began in the 19th century. Official mandation of education began with the Elementary Education Act 1870 for England and Wales, and the Education Act 1872 for Scotland...

, giving it greater powers and a bigger budget, ended fee-paying for state secondary schools, and enforced the division between primary (5–11 years old) and secondary (11–15 years old) that many local authorities had already introduced. While defining the school leaving age as 15, it granted the government the power to raise the age
Raising of school leaving age in England and Wales
The Raising of school leaving age is the name given by Government to refer to changes regarding the legal age a child is permitted to leave compulsory education, usually falling under an Education Act...

 to 16 "as soon as the Minister is satisfied that it has become practicable", though the change was not implemented until 1973. The Act also provided for community colleges, offering education for both children and adults, a measure that was only followed through by a few LEAs such as the Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire is a county in England, bordering Lincolnshire to the north, Norfolk to the northeast, Suffolk to the east, Essex and Hertfordshire to the south, and Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire to the west...

 Village College
Village College
The village college is an institution specific to Cambridgeshire, England . It caters for the education of 11 to 16 year olds during the day,...

s, and Coventry
Coventry is a city and metropolitan borough in the county of West Midlands in England. Coventry is the 9th largest city in England and the 11th largest in the United Kingdom. It is also the second largest city in the English Midlands, after Birmingham, with a population of 300,848, although...

, Derbyshire
Derbyshire is a county in the East Midlands of England. A substantial portion of the Peak District National Park lies within Derbyshire. The northern part of Derbyshire overlaps with the Pennines, a famous chain of hills and mountains. The county contains within its boundary of approx...

 and Nottinghamshire
Nottinghamshire is a county in the East Midlands of England, bordering South Yorkshire to the north-west, Lincolnshire to the east, Leicestershire to the south, and Derbyshire to the west...

 community schools.

The Act also introduced compulsory prayer into all state-funded schools on a daily basis. This clause was amended by the Education Reform Act 1988
Education Reform Act 1988
The Education Reform Act 1988 is widely regarded as the most important single piece of education legislation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since the 'Butler' Education Act 1944...

, which specified that the act of worship should be of a 'broadly Christian
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 nature' unless such a message was deemed to be inappropriate for a particular school or group of children. The amendment also specified that the act of worship could now take place in classes, rather than the previous system of conducting worship in assemblies.

The Act was repealed on 1 November 1996 by the Education Act 1996.

School milk

The Act provided free milk - a third of a pint a day - in schools to all children in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 under the age of 18 until 1968 when Harold Wilson
Harold Wilson
James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, FRS, FSS, PC was a British Labour Member of Parliament, Leader of the Labour Party. He was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s, winning four general elections, including a minority government after the...

’s Labour Government withdrew free milk from secondary schools. This policy was extended in 1971 when Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 (then secretary of state for education) withdrew free school milk from children over seven.

Further reading

  • Brown, J.W.H. (n.d.) The Education bill. London: Watts & Co. for the Rationalist Press Association.
  • Dunford, John, Paul Sharp, The Education System in England and Wales, London: Longman, 1990, 17-24.
  • Goldin, Claudia, "The Human Capital Century and American Leadership: Virtues of the Past," The Journal of Economic History, 2001, Volume 61, Number 2.
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