BBC Radio 4 this week broadcast Teachers vs Government: Seventy Years of Education Policy. Roy Blatchford, Director of the National Education Trust tells the story of developments in education policy over the seventy years since the Education Act of 1944. The half-hour broadcast can only be a brief overview of the key moments in education policy rather than an in-depth policy analysis. However, while useful as a documentary in that it provides an overview of key developments and asks key questions, this broadcast draws on and perpetuates some myths about the development of education after 1944.
Blatchford begins with the claim that the 1944 Act was a “fundamental reform of the English education system”. Arguably, this was the case. The legislation provided for universal, free, secondary education and this was distinct from what had existed previously when a secondary education was not an entitlement, but was largely rationed according to the ability to pay or obtain a scholarship through the passing of an 11+ style exam.
Blatchford goes on to describe how the new legislation “…meant pupils would have a choice between a grammar, a secondary modern and a technical education” which is only partially accurate. The tripartite system to which he is referring reflects the ways in which the Act was implemented into existing contexts, rather than the Act itself, which did not prescribe specific secondary school types.
The broadcast also draws on the idea of a ‘post-war consensus’ claiming that “there was certainly a strong political consensus around the ambitions of the 44 Act” though, in relation to the aftermath of the 1944 Act at least, this has been contested (see for example, Jones, 1990). Blatchford continues:
“What then disturbed the postwar consensus was a seemingly mild but radical request from the Labour Government in 1965 in the form of the infamous circular 10/65, a request to abolish selection at 11+ and end the divide between secondary moderns and grammar schools.”
However, this oversimplifies the process by which comprehensivation became a popular means for LEAs to organise secondary education. Circular 10/65 did request that LEAs submit plans for comprehensivisation but there is evidence to support the claim that “[t]he drive for comprehensive education in England and Wales was a ‘bottom up’, rather than ‘top down’ initiative” (Crook, 2002: p. 257).
Nevertheless, featuring interviews with former Ministers and LEA personnel the documentary offers some interesting insights to key policy developments. It is broadcast again on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 27th April at 17.00 and is available to listen to here.