How to look for records of... Historical education policy and administration: secondary schools

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you to find government administration and policy records on secondary schools. The guide does not cover records of individual teachers or pupils, neither of which are held at The National Archives. The records cover the different sorts of secondary schools that have existed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Another source of information on secondary schools is inspection files. Read our guide on inspection reports for search advice.

2. The changing face of secondary education

By the end of the 19th century there was a variety of secondary school provision:

  • public schools
  • endowed grammar schools
  • private schools
  • proprietary schools
  • higher grade schools

The Education Act 1902 (Balfour Act) allowed the newly created Local Education Authorities (LEAs) to fund ‘education other than elementary’ and this resulted in two types of state-aided secondary school:

  • the endowed grammar schools (which now also received grant-aid from LEAs)
  • the municipal or county secondary schools (maintained by LEAs)

Other major developments in the state provision of secondary education since the beginning of the 20th century have included:

  • The Education Act 1907 – this Act introduced the free place scholarship system to give promising children from elementary schools the opportunity to go to secondary school.
  • The Education Act 1918 – under this Act the provision of secondary education became compulsory
  • The Education Act 1944 (Butler Act) – the Act abolished fees for secondary schools (secondary education had been fee-paying until 1944); the Act also created the tri-partite education system in which children were streamed into Grammar Schools, Technical Schools and Secondary Modern Schools
  • The government issued circular 10/65 in 1965, implementing the comprehensive school system

3. How to use this guide and get a search started

These records were created by central government departments, most of them by the Department of Education and its predecessors, and continue to be arranged and catalogued in the same way that they were originally grouped and used. To find information on an individual school or education district, therefore, you may need to look across a number of different record series.

A search for documents at The National Archives usually begins in our online catalogue. The following sections of this guide provide links to key series that you can search within our catalogue, helping you to target your searches more precisely. By clicking on the series links (for example, ED 270) you will arrive on the respective ‘series description’ pages from where you can search the series, using keywords (such as the name of a school or its location, though this will not always work) and/or dates/years. Keep in mind that a school may have changed its name. Series description pages provide information on the arrangement of the records and sometimes some of the historical context in which they were created, as well as suggesting related series you could explore.

Use the advanced catalogue search to restrict your, or widen, search results to all the records of a specific government department, including its predecessors (the Department of Education, for example). Use the department reference, which is always a letter code, to do this (the code for the Department of Education is ED). You can narrow your search using keywords, such as:

  • the name of a school
  • a type of school – for example, grammar school
  • a type of record – for example, inspection report
  • a committee name

Catalogue search results provide short descriptions of our records and a document reference for each one – you will need the document reference to see the record itself. The records covered in this guide are not available to view online so to see them you will have to either visit us in Kew or order copies. Bear in mind that a search in our catalogue will also search for records in other archives around the country – keep your eye on the ‘Held by’ field to establish whether the records are here or elsewhere.

4. 19th century commissions on secondary schools

A number of commissions reported on secondary education in the second half of the 19th century. All of their reports can be found via the Parliamentary Papers website.

Between 1861 and 1864 the Clarendon Commission investigated nine public schools and the subsequent Public Schools Act 1868 resulted in more representative governing bodies and eventually a more flexible curriculum.


  • HO 73 for the surviving papers of the commission

Endowed secondary schools and proprietary schools were examined by the Schools Inquiry Commission (Taunton Commission) 1864-1868. Its investigations revealed:

  • the poor provision of secondary education
  • the uneven distribution of secondary schools
  • the misuse of endowments
  • that there were only 13 secondary schools for girls in the country

The Commissioners recommended the establishment of a national system of secondary education based on existing endowed schools. The resulting Endowed Schools Act 1869 created the Endowed Schools Commission to draw up new schemes of government for these schools.

Progress since the Taunton Commission was assessed by the Bryce Commission of 1895. It led to the creation of the Board of Education, replacing the Education Department, Science and Art Department and the educational functions of the Charity Commissioners.


  • bound copies of the Commission’s minutes which survive in ED 12/11-12

5. Secondary schools before 1902

5.1 Endowed schools

Use the catalogue to search for a school name or name of charitable trust in:

Some enrolled deeds relating to secondary schools made between 1903 and 1920 or the Technical and Industrial Institutions Act 1892 are in ED 191. Later material is still with the Department for Education.

Trust deeds enrolled with the Charity Commissioners between 1856 and 1925 are in:

A number of trust deeds for secondary schools were not enrolled.

5.2 Higher grade schools and the Cockerton Judgement

Use our catalogue to search for a school name within ED 21.

The Cockerton Judgment of 1900 made local school board financial support for higher grade schools illegal (papers in ED 14/25, ED 24/83, ED 24/136, MH 27/141-2), a situation regularised by the provisions of the 1902 Education Act.

6. Secondary schools after 1902

You can search for a school by name within:

  • ED 35 secondary education institution files for papers dealing with the recognition and inspection of all secondary schools and institutions
  • ED 27 for files on endowed schools, (papers between 1903 and 1921 are in ED 35), with estate management papers in ED 43
  • ED 162 for individual school files after 1944


  • ED 53 for LEA files on secondary education
  • ED 15 for surviving returns of a census of private schools made under the provisions of the Education Acts 1918 and 1921. Surviving returns relate mainly to art, commerce and professional training schools

For information on searching for inspection reports please see our guide on Education Inspectorate reports.

7. Free places and special places

The Education (Administrative Provisions) Act 1907 introduced the free place scholarship system to give promising children from elementary schools the opportunity to go to secondary school.

All grant-aided secondary schools had to admit free place scholars (not less than 25% of the previous year’s total intake) who had spent at least two years at public elementary school. The school received £5 per head for each scholar.


The 1932 economy campaign converted free places into special places based on a means-tested scale of fees.


  • ED 55 for files on the administration of the special place system

Fees for secondary schools were abolished under the 1944 Education Act.

8. Examinations and curriculum

In 1911 the Consultative Committee made investigations into external examinations for secondary schools.

Its recommendations led to universities becoming responsible for external examination and to the creation of the Secondary Schools Examination Council. Two standard examinations were recognised: the School Certificate at 16 and Higher School Certificate at 18.

Consult the committee’s papers in:

In 1941 a committee of the Secondary Schools Examination Council investigated secondary school examinations and curricula.

The committee’s recommendations were accepted in 1947 when the School Certificate was replaced by the General Certificate of Education (GCE) in ordinary, advanced and scholarship levels.

Consult the committee’s minutes and papers in:

The Beloe Committee 1958-1960 on examinations other than the GCE led to the introduction in 1965 of a less academic examination for secondary school children – the Certificate of Secondary Education (ED147/303-13).

The work of the Secondary Schools Examination Council which was taken over by the Schools Council for Curriculum and Examinations in 1964, following the recommendations of the Lockwood Committee (ED 147/812-16).

Information on the work of the Schools Council is in:

In 1982 the functions were separated again with the creation of:

  • the Secondary Examination Council – papers in EJ 8 and EJ 10
  • the School Curriculum Development Committee – papers in EJ 4, EJ 6-7

In 1988 these two bodies were replaced by:

  • the Secondary Examination Council was replaced by the Schools Examination and Assessment Council (papers in KC 1-2)
  • the School Curriculum Development Committee was replaced by the National Curriculum Council (records in FW 1-4)

In 1993 examination and curriculum functions were combined under the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) (minutes and papers in EJ 15).

The SCAA was merged with the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (records in KY 1-2) in 1997 to form the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

9. The Consultative Committee reports (1899 onwards)

The Consultative Committee was created under the Education Act 1899. The committee issued several influential reports in the interwar period under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Hadow and Sir Will Spens.

The report Education and the Adolescent (1926) was concerned with elementary and secondary education.


  • ED 97 for files on the resulting reorganisation of schools to provide a system of advanced elementary education
  • working papers of the Committee in ED 10/147, ED 24/1265

The Spens report of 1938 on Secondary Education recommended parity of all types of school in the secondary system, with a tripartite arrangement of grammar, modern and technical school (papers ED 10/151-153, ED 10/221-222; ED 12/530; ED 136/131).

10. Education Act 1944 (Butler Act)

The 1944 Education Act redefined and reorganised secondary education.

Junior technical schools, junior commercial schools and junior art departments became recognised as secondary technical schools.

Public education was to be organised in three progressive stages: primary, secondary and further education.

LEAs were required to submit development plans for primary and secondary education. Browse the resulting files in ED 152.

For individual school files after 1944 search by school name within ED 162.

General aspects of primary and secondary education are covered in the general files in ED 147.

11. Welsh education

Records for Welsh schools are generally in the same series as their English counterparts, although additional files are in ED 216. Many files on Welsh schools were destroyed during the Second World War and by flooding in 1960.

In 1880 a departmental committee under Lord Aberdare investigated secondary education in Wales. The Committee’s report revealed a state of affairs similar to that found in England by the Taunton Commission (papers in ED 91/8).

The Welsh Department of the Board of Education was set up in 1907. Browse the main papers of the Welsh Department relating to secondary education in ED 93.

The Curriculum Council for Wales was established in August 1988 under the Education Reform Act. It was responsible for all aspects of the National Curriculum in Wales.

In 1994 it became the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales and three years later its functions were passed to the Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales. The records of these bodies are in JL 1-4.

12. Other records

12.1 List of schools

Browse ED 270 which contains various lists of schools giving details about:

  • the type of institution
  • status between 1834 and 1985

12.2 Schools’ census (form 7) datasets (1974-2006)

The Department of Education and Science collects information annually about individual schools in England and (up to 1977) Wales. These returns are known as ‘Form 7’ and include pupil numbers, teaching staff, classes and examination courses.


There is also an EducBase snapshot for Nov 2006. It might be possible to identify entries for individual schools by using the Register of Educational Establishments in CRDA 47/ NV 2.

12.3 Grant maintained schools: database 1992-1999

Grant maintained (GM) schools were created by the Education Reform Act 1988 and were allowed to opt out of LEA control and to be directly funded by central government.

Parents were balloted and new GM schools were created by the Funding Agency for Schools – corporate plans and annual reports are in KL 1.

GM schools were abolished in 1998 and responsibility for these schools returned to the LEA. Schools were recategorised as foundation, voluntary aided or foundation special schools; some became community schools. The Funding Agency for Schools was abolished in 1999.

Consult ED 278/CRDA/36 for details on each school as at March 2000. It includes information about:

  • the type of school
  • denomination
  • selection policy
  • age of pupils
  • when it applied for GM status
  • the date of the parental ballot
  • when it began operating as a GM school
  • contact details

13. Further reading

Read Education and the State from 1833 by Ann Morton, Public Record Office Readers’ Guide No 18 (PRO 1997).