The Cabinet Papers banner

Retrenchment and expansion

Influx of pupils

The vast influx of pupils after the Butler Act of 1944 required the government to expand and reorganise the education system. Raising the school leaving age to 15 in 1947 created an immediate need to supply more capacity in schools. Need for expansion was not only due to the post-war increase in the birth rate, but also to the changing expectations of a new generation of parents, and governmental perceptions of the economic importance of education. The Labour education ministers, Ellen Wilkinson and George Tomlinson, were comparatively successful in obtaining resources. During the early years of the 1951 Conservative Government, Florence Horsbrugh was less successful, as school building was cut back and education targeted for reductions in government spending. Lowering the school leaving age was also considered, although not officially proposed.

Reorganisation under Eccles

The situation changed after 1954 with the ministerial appointment of David Eccles. Eccles led the reorganisation of rural education to reduce the remaining all-age schools. Further capital expenditure was authorised and he was successful in fending off pressure from the Treasury for further cutbacks. Eccles and his successors, Lord Hailsham and Geoffrey Lloyd, pressed for further expansion of the building programme and improved teacher training. Subequently, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Peter Thorneycroft argued for cutbacks as part of a more general attempt to reduce expenditure as part of the economic and political crisis of 1957. Following Thorneycroft's resignation, the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, decided in favour of an education drive.  Following this, Lloyd proposed a five-year building programme to finally end all-age schools and expand facilities for pupils over the age of 15, at a cost of £340 million.

After1958 the second 'baby boom' took place, increasing the number of primary school children and requiring a reallocation of resources. Even though expenditure had been reduced to £300 million, it was for these reasons that Geoffrey Lloyd was able to argue successfully in favour of announcing the implementation of these policies in the White Paper 'Secondary Education for All'.

Eccles was reinstated in 1959 and argued for an additional 8,000 places in teacher training colleges, which the Treasury resisted. Between 1960 and 1964 Conservative policy was constricted by economic and financial circumstances after attempts to reduce expenditure, following the sterling crisis of mid-1961. In 1960 the Crowther Report recommended raising the school leaving age to 16 by the end of the decade. After 1961 government attempted to reduce the annual expenditure rise from 4.6 to three per cent. Eccles argued hard for the retention of the building programme but had to compromise. Eventually, the Cabinet authorised plans to raise the school leaving age to 16 in 1970 or 1971.


The National Archives Newsletter Icon

Send me The National Archives’ newsletter

A monthly round-up of news, blogs, offers and events.