In 1916 the administrative structure of Britain's school system adhered to the Education Act of 1902. The act transferred the powers of the thousands of individual school boards and managers of voluntary schools to 318 Local Education Authorities (LEAs). These were empowered to establish secondary and technical schools, and develop the existing system of elementary education.
Government made funds available to Church voluntary schools, but only at the cost of giving up management autonomy. Those that did not receive funding were the 'unprovided' schools, over which LEAs had only limited control. The incorporation of these schools into the system proved a persistent obstacle to reform between the wars. The Board of Education, established in 1899, had overall authority.
During the First World War, there was a growing demand for education and increasing pressure upon secondary schools, which were able to accept only a small proportion of children from elementary schools. The response of David Lloyd George's government was H.A.L Fisher's Education Act 1918. The act provided for a grant of 50 per cent minimum of total expenditure incurred by local authorities in the provision of education. This financial commitment was a strong encouragement to local authorities to expand secondary provision and implied commitment to the implementation of other measures under the act. Full-time elementary education for all children was extended from 12 to 14. Fisher envisaged the establishment of nurseries and 'continuance schools' at which children between the ages of 14 and 16 would attend compulsory part-time classes.
LEAs were charged with the duty of providing advanced courses for older children in 'central' or senior schools, stating the inability to pay fees should not prevent any child from access to education from which it would benefit. It stopped well short, however, of the Labour Party ideal of free secondary education for all children. The majority of secondary pupils continued to pay fees. Fisher had the broad support of the Church, the Labour Party and organised labour, although there was opposition from some employers who feared the Education Act would reduce available labour. Fisher also sought to attract more teachers by providing pensions and setting up the Burnham Committee to determine standard salary scales.
By 1919 the Treasury was already questioning costs entailed by educational reform. Economic circumstances deteriorated during 1920 and in 1922 the Geddes Committee on National Expenditure pressed for cuts to the education budget. As a result, the act's provisions on nurseries and continuation schools were not implemented. Nevertheless, during the 1920s there was a growing movement in favour of general secondary education. 'Secondary Education for All' was associated with the Labour Party. The influential 1926 report of the Hadow Committee - 'The Education of the Adolescent' - recommended the division of primary and secondary education at the age of 11, with all children attending school to the age of 15. Hadow maintained the principle of selectivity; apart from the existing grammar schools there should be selective and non-selective 'modern' schools, geared to the needs of pupils of different abilities.