How to look for records of... Historical education policy and administration: technical and vocational further education and schools of art

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide for advice on how to find records of government policy on technical and vocational further education, as well as the teaching of art, between 1836 and 1997. As well as policy files, you will find advice on records covering the administration of the further education system, how it was funded and the institutions that made it. The guide does not cover records of universities.

We do not hold personnel files on teachers or students – read our guide to records of schools for guidance on this.

2. The evolution of non-university further education in the UK

The first school of design in the UK, the Government School of Design, was established in 1837 and went on to become the Royal College of Art. It marked the beginnings of the development of technical education in the UK, which expanded in the remaining decades of the 19th century, and was largely instigated by the Science and Art Department of the Board of Trade, formed in 1853.  In 1856 the Science and Art Department transferred from the Board of Trade to the Education Department and administered grant-aid to art schools (from 1856) and to schools of design and technical schools (from 1868).

The Technical Instruction Act 1889 permitted local authorities to levy rates to aid technical or manual instruction. County and borough councils began to provide technical instruction by day and evening classes.

The Local Taxation (Customs and Excise) Act 1890 diverted ‘whisky money’ from publicans to local authorities for assisting technical education or relieving rates, boosting investment in technical instruction.

By the end of the 19th century continuing education was provided by a variety of bodies in a number of forms:

  • day continuation schools
  • evening schools and classes
  • mechanics institutes
  • schools of art
  • polytechnics
  • university extension lectures
  • tutorial classes
  • working men’s colleges and courses

Under the 1902 Education Act, changes to conditions attached to government grants encouraged the expansion of technical education. Local Education Authorities (LEAs) took over most of the evening continuation schools.

Major changes occurred after the Second World War. Junior technical schools , commercial schools and schools of art were fully integrated into the revised system of secondary education.

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

A search for documents at The National Archives usually begins in our online catalogue. The following sections of this guide provide links to key record 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 80) you will arrive on the respective ‘series description’ pages from where you can search the series, using keywords and/or dates/years, or browse the series to see all records in the series in reference order. 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 search results to the records of a specific government department, including its predecessors (for example, the Department of Education). Use the department reference, which is always a letter code, to do this (the code for the Department of Education is ED).

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. The Science and Art department and 19th century developments

Browse our catalogue for:

  • surviving correspondence between the Board of Trade and schools of design in BT 1. Browse by date
  • the minutes of meetings of the Science and Art Department (1852-1876) in ED 28
  • files relating to the Royal College of Art. Browse by hierarchy from ED 23/16, with later material (post 1944) in ED 167
  • building grant files in ED 29
  • correspondence and papers relating to art and science buildings in WORK 17, with plans in WORK 33

Technical education was considered by several Royal Commissions in the latter part of the 19th century. For full details search the Parliamentary Papers (institutional subscription required) for papers of the:

  • Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science (Devonshire Commission, appointed 1870)
  • Royal Commission on Technical Instruction (Samuelson Commission) which reported in 1884

The bulk of the papers relating to the provisions stemming from the Technical Instruction Act 1889 have been destroyed. Browse surviving files in ED 46.

5. Practical instruction courses

Payment of a special grant for practical instruction in domestic subjects was first authorised under the Code of Regulations for Elementary Schools in 1875. This led to similar arrangements for other practical subjects.

New provisions were introduced in 1906 awarding grants for each course of instruction.

Browse papers relating to the provision of these courses in:

  • ED 70 for both elementary and secondary schools
  • ED 96 for LEA complementary series

6. Trade schools and vocational courses

The need for preliminary technical education for young people going into particular trades had been accepted from the end of the 19th century.

Trade Schools  provided technical courses for two or three years after children left public elementary schools.

Use our catalogue to search by name of school within:

  • ED 98 for Junior Technical Schools
  • ED 82 for Technical Schools, which provided day or evening classes or part-time or full-time vocational courses

Between 1920 and 1987 Joint Committees oversaw the curricula and the award of National Certificates and Diplomas in vocational subjects. Committee members were drawn from technical colleges, professional bodies, the Board of Education and its successors and teachers’ organisations.

Browse minutes and papers of the Joint Committees in ED 182.

In 1967 the Haslegrave Committee was appointed to review this system.


  • ED 46/917 for the proposal to set up the Haslegrave Committee
  • ED 163 for the committee’s minutes, papers and evidence
  • ED 163/35 contains a copy of the report with comments and implementation files in ED 212/52-55 and ED 212/117-119

In 1973, following the Haslegrave Committee recommendations, responsibility passed to the Technician Education and Business Education Councils and the Joint Committees gradually disbanded.

7. Technical colleges

Higher technical education involving prolonged courses of study was encouraged by the provision of a fixed annual grant to technical institutions.

You can search our catalogue by college name within ED 90 for the work and organisation of technical colleges.

ED 90 also contains information on Grouped Course Certificates, a scheme initiated in 1907-1908 and on applications for approval of National Certificate courses.

Browse ED 182 for the records of Joint Committees which administered National Certificate and National Diploma courses until the 1980s.

8. Evening institutes

The merging of evening continuation and evening technical school provision after 1902 resulted in LEAs and other managing bodies providing:

  • part-time day and evening courses, including day continuation classes
  • courses at works schools and elsewhere in a variety of vocational, domestic, art and general subjects

After 1926 they became known as evening institutes. Search by name of institute within ED 41 for their files. Few papers survive prior to 1918.

9. Day continuation schools

The 1918 and 1921 Education Acts provided for compulsory part-time attendance at day continuation schools by school-leavers between 14 and 18.

The system only ever came into partial operation and attendance reverted to the voluntary system.

You can search by name of school in ED 75 for:

  • information on the provision, organisation and curriculum of the schools
  • correspondence and minutes on various local arrangements

10. Tutorial classes

Tutorial classes developed as part of a movement to expand facilities for adult education, fusing the interests of the Workers’ Educational Association and the University of Oxford.

The classes were recognised by the Board of Education in Regulations of 1908/1909 and grant-aided.


  • ED 73 for files on adult education tutorial classes, including material on university extension courses and lectures (note papers relating to recognition before 1924 have been destroyed)
  • ED 76 for files on adult education vocation courses. These were designed as short residential courses of one or two weeks, provided by ‘Responsible Bodies’ and subject to the same regulations and conditions as tutorial classes.
  • surviving Adult Education Residential College files in ED 68 (few survive before 1930)
  • policy files on adult education in ED 80

11. Other technical colleges

Papers of other colleges in the technical field are in:

  • ED 166 – major direct grant establishments files
  • ED 167 – major art establishments files
  • ED 174 – agricultural education files
  • ED 164 – papers of the National Training College of Domestic Subjects (which closed in 1961)

12. Inspectors’ reports

Browse ED 114 for HM Inspectors’ (HMI) reports on further educational establishments.

HMI reports on technical schools are also within files of individual institutions (see series listed above)

For further information read our guide on Education Inspectorate reports.

13. Developments since 1944

Until 1956 colleges offering further education were organised on a three tier system of regional, area and local colleges.

  • ED 155 and ED 46 which contain papers on local authority schemes for the establishment of county colleges

The need for greater collaboration between the universities and local authorities was acknowledged by the Percy Committee on Higher Technological Education.

Its 1945 report resulted in the establishment of national colleges providing training in specialised fields, developed from within existing institutions, with support from particular industries.


  • ED 46/295-296 for papers of the Percy Committee
  • ED 165 for files on the policy decisions leading to the establishment of these colleges and recording their development and progress

In 1956 a white paper on technical education proposed a four tier system adding colleges of advanced technology (CATs). Files on local and regional colleges, including CATs are in ED 168 and ED 166.

14. Robbins Committee on higher education

The Robbins Committee was appointed in 1961 to review full-time higher education.

Its report in 1963 made a number of recommendations including the expansion of higher education, the foundation of six new universities, that colleges of advanced technology and colleges of education should in future award degrees and the promotion of further institutions to university status. Browse:

  • ED 116 – minutes of the committee
  • ED 117 – papers of the committee
  • ED 118 – surveys and evidence submitted to the Committee
  • ED 46/941-949 – the setting up of the committee and its workings

The Committee’s report can be found via Parliamentary Papers online (institutional subscription required).

For files on those technical and further education colleges upgraded to technological universities with degree-awarding status search by institution name within ED 168.

15. Henniker-Heaton Committee (1962)

The Henniker-Heaton Committee investigated opportunities for young people under 18 to be released from work to attend daytime technical education courses.

Minutes and papers of the committee are in:

16. Adult education after the Russell Committee 1969-73

The broad issue of non-vocational adult education, including its financing and administration, was considered by the Russell Committee (1969) which reported in 1973.

  • Adult Education: A Plan for Development in ED 175/25 for all aspects of adult education and encouraged partnership between statutory and voluntary bodies
  • agenda, minutes, papers and evidence submitted in ED 175
  • records of the Adult Literacy Resource Unit, set up in 1975, and its successors the Adult Literacy Unit and the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit in FL 1-FL 3

Records after 1995 became the Basic Skills Unit records. These have been transferred to the University of London Institute of Education.

17. Further reading

Read Education and the State from 1833 by Ann Morton (PRO, 1997) for further background information and references to other original sources.