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Attempts at reform

Trevelyan's Education Bills

By the late 1920s Labour Party policy on education focused on raising the school leaving age, the creation of sufficient secondary school places, and the abolition of secondary school fees. Following the election of the Labour government in 1929 the new President of the Board of Education, Sir Charles Trevelyan, introduced three education bills.

  • The Education (School Attendance) Bill proposed raising the school leaving age to 15 and abolishing secondary school fees. Parents would be assisted through a maintenance grant where necessary. The bill survived Treasury opposition and went before Parliament in October 1929. Arrangements and terms for state funding of additional places in 'denominational' non-provided schools continued to be a major obstacle to reform - a problem already considered by the Conservatives.
  • After consultation with the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, a White Paper formed the basis of another bill incorporating proposals for financing the reorganisation of the 'unprovided' schools. The bill also contained a clause providing for the means testing of the maintenance grant. This provoked a revolt among Labour MPs, so the bill was again postponed.
  • Trevelyan prepared a further Non-provided Elementary Schools Bill, to deal with the voluntary schools problem. Opposition to reorganisation, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church, was growing. The Church hierarchy wanted the best possible deal in exchange for the loss of management autonomy, and urged its constituency to resist. In the House of Commons, the 'Scurr Amendment' proposed to postpone the Schools Attendance Bill, until the voluntary school problem had been settled. The amended bill was lost in the House of Lords, following an attack by Lord Hailsham on the grounds of cost.

Education Act 1936

Reform initiatives were limited by the economic demands of the 1930s. Nevertheless, the decade was marked by the expansion and reform of secondary education, an increase in the number of 'free' places in grammar schools and the acceptance of a test at age eleven as the basis of selection.

There were further government initiatives during the mid-1930s. The recommendations of the Educational Policy Committees were the basis of an education bill. The Education Act 1936 specified an appointed day in 1939 for raising the school leaving age to 15, but without the maintenance allowance. It provided for the grants of between 50 and 70 per cent for 'denominational' schools to provide additional secondary places, in exchange for the transfer of management powers to the Local Education Authorities (LEAs). The implementation of the Education Act was largely nullified by the outbreak of the Second World War.


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