This short film, Charley Junior’s Schooldays was made by John Halas and Joy Batchelor as a public information film in 1949. It shows the story of Charley Junior, who, while he is not yet born, is keen to learn about the schools he will attend in the future. The film is over 60 years old, and so, is clearly not news. However it is a useful insight into the post war optimism surrounding the welfare state for anyone interested in the history of education in England and Wales. The film can be seen as a response to the 1944, or ‘Butler Act’. It was this Act which introduced compulsory secondary education up to the age of 15, (the intention was to increase the school leaving age to 16). The film describes the process of the 11+ exam determining whether a child went to a Grammar, Secondary Modern, or Technical School, though some LEAs chose not to follow this route.
It was, as this film suggests, much more than that. While Butler, the Minister responsible for the Act was a Conservative, and the Act passed in 1944 prior to the Labour landslide victory of 1945, the Labour Government developed the provisions of the Act as part of its wider collectivist and comprehensive agenda of social welfare.
There are clear references to education being important to socialisation, Charley Junior is told that, for the first few years of his life, his parents will teach him everything he needs to know about the world. This could have come straight from Emile Durkheim or Talcott Parsons!
The ‘tripartite’ system tends to dominate accounts of the 1944 Act (though the Act never legislated for this system), but here we can see that other educational provision was considered important. Charley Junior is shown his nursery school and his junior school. These schools didn’t just drop from the sky. As the film explains all this provisions required the training of teachers (70, 000 new teachers needed to be trained to meet the needs of post war welfare reforms), the building of schools and supplies of equipment. Another 600, 000 school places needed to be created, partly due to the raising of the school-leaving age, but also because of the increased birth rate following the end of the war.
The role of government is highlighted too. The Ministry of Education was shown to be of extreme importance, it wasn’t there just to make sure children were taught certain subjects, but it was there to ensure that children had access to health and social care, and that they were provided with a healthy meal. Regulation and ‘bureaucracy’ were there for a reason. As I’ve said in a previous post, when you deregulate, you get Turkey Twizzlers on school’s dinner menus.
There are some interesting gender stereotypes shown, with the girls in the Secondary Modern School ironing! The tripartite (in reality, a bipartite) system presented as natural in this film soon became problematic. Despite these, the film presents a feeling of optimism, that, through collectivity, children will be well educated, that schools will take care of, and nurtue children, and, importantly, that children will have a better start in life than their parents did. In short, it is radical.