To complement the history of technical and commercial examinations a comprehensive glossary of terms is included to assist the reader.

Chapter 1 – Short History of Technical and Commercial Examinations. A Reflective Commentary

Introduction and Background.

This first chapter will provide a brief introduction and some general background to the topic. The following chapters will attempt to provide a relatively short history of the development of technical and commercial examinations primarily in England over the past two centuries. Hopefully it will complement the history of technical education that is also on this website. In common with the history of technical and commercial education it is a very fascinating and at times a complex topic and as a result I cannot hope to do full justice it.

The main focus will be on England but I will attempt to include contributions made in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Scotland and Ireland made a number of significant contributions to the examination system e.g. the Edinburgh School of Art and Trinity College, Dublin, both of which I will describe. Also I will try and include some brief descriptions of other disciplines such as agriculture, art, design. The account will attempt to describe the impact, influences and consequences that arose from the Industrial Revolution that progressively shaped technical education and the development of a national system of examinations. A whole series of social, cultural, economic and political factors interacted during this period that influenced and determined the pace and ultimate shape of technical education and the related examination system. Recurring themes in this account will be the various fragmented initiatives and the ideas of a number of visionaries which were presented over many decades and ultimately shaped the system of technical education and the associated examination system. In hindsight if many of these worthy, innovative and farsighted initiatives/ ideas had been adopted at the time and resourced properly the history of technical education would have been very different and would have mirrored the positive progress and achievements of our main competitors on the continent and America.
In addition I will add some personal observations and asides to a number of the issues described in the history.

As already mentioned the evolution of the system for technical and commercial examinations in England mirrors many of the characteristics that figured in the development with technical education. The development was slow and haphazard with little involvement by government, a reluctance by the State to intervene and a philosophy dominated by a laissez -faire and voluntarist approach that has so defined and determined much of British history. In addition to these elements a multitude of factors were also in play including the ongoing reluctance of industrialists and business people to give wholesale support to the development of technical education and assessment techniques arguing that it was the State’s responsibility to fund and organise instruction and assessment. Another major retarding factor contributing to the slow and ad hoc development of an examination system was the absence of a national education system before 1870. Obviously this was an essential prerequisite for subsequent scientific and technical studies in order to allow pupils/students to progress on to further study. Even when a national education system was introduced the instruction of science, technology and tradecrafts was practically non-existent in most schools. Also the cultural hostility to scientific, technical, practical activities and occupations contributed to the inertia and resistance in developing an effective system for technical and commercial education and a relevant programme of examinations.
The Beginnings of Examinations.

Historically it had been long recognised time that assessments/examinations played an important part in the organisation of education including in technical subjects. An examination system would provide evidence of a student’s achievement and the examinations provided the instructors/ teachers syllabuses and curricula frameworks to work to. It also provided comparative evidence of how technical schools and colleges were performing. Scotland as usual led the way with formal accreditation methods with the Edinburgh School of Arts awarding certificates from 1835 to successful candidates after three years of attendance, which included classes in chemistry, mathematics, and natural philosophy during the first year. In addition to these certificates which entitled students to life membership of the School ‘attestations of proficiency’ were awarded at the end of each annual course of lectures to successful candidates but only after a ‘strict examination’. By 1850 only 38 candidates had achieved a Diploma of Life Membership reflecting the high standards of the system. In many ways Edinburgh School of Art was strictly the pioneer of class examining. The techniques used by the School of Art greatly influenced individuals like James Booth, Henry Chester and James Hole who were very involved and influential in developing public/common examinations from the mid-1850s. Trinity College, Dublin, had introduced a system of examinations for its degrees long before Oxford and Cambridge and is now seen as pioneer of university assessment. Interesting to note that James Booth [see biography] was a graduate of Trinity |College, Dublin and was greatly influenced by their examination system. England only later developed a formal structure for examinations although the Society of Arts had recognised significant and meritorious discoveries and inventions by awarding medals and money since its foundation in 1754.

It was only during the second half of the 19th century that employers began to require evidence of educational attainment or paper qualification from their employees after passing an examination. However it must be noted that the numbers of qualified workers required with the scientific and technical knowledge to understand and operate the machinery was small at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. As the Industrial Revolution gained momentum the supply of qualified workers did not keep pace with the demand and this again confirms the negative attitudes to technical and vocational studies and employment. Simple comparisons with continental countries readily highlight this country’s backwardness. Technical education during most of the 19th century was offered in a heterogeneous set of institutions e.g. Mechanics’ Institutions, Working Men’s Colleges etc. [see history of technical education for fuller description]. Most of the classes were by part-time and evening study. Also the geographical spread of the provision was patchy until practically the end of the 20th century. Institutions catering for full-time students only really got established during the first few decades of the 20th century. Although it was the Industrial Revolution that acted as a catalyst for the development of technical education it took over a century before the government became convinced about the necessity of technical education in an industrialised country. One common positive feature in the development of technical subjects and their related examinations was the contribution of a small number of visionaries (see later) who argued strongly for the introduction of an effective system of examinations as the instruction of science and technical subjects emerged. Their ideas and recommendations had to wait many years and in some cases decades before they were implemented. Mention of these initiatives and individuals will be made later and many appear in the short biographies in appendix 4 of the website.


Apprenticeships were the main vehicle for technical education and training before the Industrial Revolution and were provided by the Craft Guilds. The ‘master’ craftsman had a duty under the indenture (basically a contract and agreement between the master and apprentice) to teach the art, craft and as was often said ‘the mystery of his trade’. At the time this approach worked well and created a flow and maintained a stock of skilled craftspeople for the majority of trades and crafts that existed during this period. Completion of the apprenticeship and the honouring of the indenture recognised the skills and ability of the apprentice who could then practice his craft or trade [see the history of technical education for a fuller account of apprentices]. Prior to the First Industrial Revolution crafts and trades practiced were mainly associated with agriculture and rural crafts. However as the Industrial Revolution gained momentum the apprenticeship system began to lose its significance and importance as the craftsman and the workshop were gradually replaced by the machine and factory. The Industrial Revolution brought with it narrower forms of specialism associated with the operation of machines coupled with larger numbers of less skilled workers, which undermined the traditional master-apprenticeship relationship. This period witnessed massive transformations with people moving to the cities from the villages and towns where craftspeople had worked alone or in small groups in workshops. Skills were transferred from the craftsperson to the engineer/designer of the machines. Skilled workers were replaced by machine operatives working in larger units carrying out highly repetitive tasks i.e. increased emphasis on sub-division of labour that meant the traditional methods of apprenticeship were increasingly irrelevant. Another reason for the collapse of apprenticeships was the increased competition that resulted in a different attitude and relationship between master and trainee. As competition increased both from domestic and overseas sources and the resultant need to maximise and maintain profit margins the masters increasingly did not want to teach the young apprentices because of cost in terms of time, money and the fear of plagiarism.
Personal observation.

Apprenticeships still have a major role to play today. If the programmes are configured, managed, delivered and monitored in conjunction with employers they can make a significant contribution to creating a more work ready, better-qualified and skilled workforce. The programmes must be valued by employers , parents, politicians, and society in general and possess parity of esteem with the so-called academic qualifications e.g. GCSEs, ‘A’ levels and degrees. In the past practical, technical and vocational courses have inevitably been seen as second class and ‘for the less able’. Previous reforms of the apprenticeship programmes, particularly throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, have failed to recruit sufficient numbers. Another factor has been persistent political interference and prejudice (remember the Thatcher years?) that contributed to the negative image of apprenticeship programmes. During the mid-1970s I witnessed a 70% decline in apprenticeships and day release students at a college in East Anglia across the Construction, Engineering and Science Departments. Similar negative attitudes beset and impeded the pre-vocational/work preparation and work-based programmes developed by the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) as well as the innumerable reviews and reforms to technical/practical based programmes over many years e.g. Certificate of Pre-Vocational Education (CPVE), Technical Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) and General Vocational National Qualifications (GNVQ) et al.

The current initiatives to reform and invigorate apprenticeship programmes will I fear also fail. The essential features of the way the content is taught and learnt and how the work is assessed/examined is still based on traditional academic methods. Sadly continued political dogma exercising a short-term philosophy/mentality and the lack of a sustained and effective employer involvement will yet again create a set of programmes that will be seen as second class. The whole current debate about the context of work based learning and assessment is superficial and flawed e.g. the developments of ‘functionality’ in key subjects such as mathematics, literacy and information technology. The functional subjects being introduced currently in literacy and numeracy are still too academic and divorced from the realities of the workplace e.g. the functional mathematics papers are pale imitations of the GCSE papers. The papers must be about applying the concepts in real workplaces. Also the ongoing debates about skills and how they can be defined and learnt are flawed [see articles on the website]. I will consider the current developments in later chapters. A true understanding of the challenges and requirements created by work-based learning and assessment is essential if meaningful and valued programmes are to be established that address the future needs of employers, employment and the economy.

The Impact of Science and Technology.

Technical and scientific instruction was meagre before the mid 1820s but as the Industrial Revolution gained momentum interest in science and its practical value began to increase both among the workers and in the minds of the general public. There was a growing awareness of the scientific ideas of Francis Bacon, Galileo, Newton and other scientists coupled with the inventions resulting in the design and use of machines in a wide range of industries associated with cotton mills, foundries, telegraphy, transport (road, trains and canals), the military and agriculture etc. New methods and approaches to disseminate information and raise awareness about scientific and technical methods were required as Britain’s industrial economy and wealth grew. A number of key developments and movements contributed and drove this change of approach including Mechanics Institutes. They played a major part in increasing the interest in technical and scientific knowledge along with the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge and other literary, scientific and technical societies and bodies.

The Mechanics’ Institutions developed over the period 1824 to 1850 and in 1850 there were 610 Institutes with 102,000 members. In 1851 there were only eight universities in the UK of which only two had departments of engineering (two in London and one in Glasgow). The period around the 1840/50s witnessed the creation of formal educational establishments throughout England including the creation of The Royal College of Chemistry (1845), the Government School of Mines (1851) along with other higher education institutions and professional bodies. Even though the Mechanics’ Institutions movement was in decline after the mid-1850 they had established the precedent for the future development and shape of technical education and the essential requirement for an appropriate examination system. A number of the original Institutes transmogrified into larger technical institutions and a number of these later became large technical colleges, polytechnics and universities. The development albeit slow of a national system of technical education and the resultant need for examinations was supported by other national developments. These included after 1850 an emerging national school education system at both elementary and secondary level, the growth of public examinations and the gradual development of a national network of technical institutions, universities, university colleges and professional bodies.

As a result of these and other influences by the early 1850s a number of important defining features of technical education and instruction had emerged including the crucial recognition that industrial success depended on an established and effective system of technical education. Increasingly it was the impact of the application of science and the resultant technological developments that required new skills and more focussed methods of instruction, training and assessment. The need to apply scientific and technological principles to industry and industrial processes required the instruction of these basic principles coupled with practical experience delivered in realistic working environments and this was gradually recognised. This realisation of the need to integrate theory and practice was to occupy much of the subsequent design and development of technical/vocational education and its systems of assessment.

Personal Observation.

Interesting to note even in the mid 19th century it was argued by a number of individuals that the basic fundamental principles of science and technology could not be taught in the workplace – an argument that still persists today in the design and provision of work based/vocational education and training. One of the continuing and central questions ever since has been how to achieve the balance between the theoretical and practical aspects and how to assess these elements whether in the work place, realistic working environments or by simulation. The assessment of the skills, knowledge and understanding gained in the work place is a complicated but critical issue. Initially with limited physical resources the Mechanics’ Institutions and the other educational institutions could not provide the appropriate workshops and equipment and were often unable to recruit experienced instructors/teachers. As a result the emerging technical education, instruction and examinations were prone to be theoretical and involved little practical activity or work based assessment. The issues associated with work based assessment and the application of the underpinning knowledge and understanding in the workplace has always been a challenge to the management of vocational and technical examination. These issues have figured in the endless debates associated with the so-called academic vocational divide that persist even today. However whatever the merits of these debates the belief that apprenticeships could provide the foundations of scientific and technical knowledge brought about the first faltering attempts to create and organise a national system of technical education and a system of related examinations.

The following chapters will attempt to describe the developments in technical and commercial examinations from the 18th century up to the current time.


  1. Montgomery. R. J. ‘Examinations.’ Longmans. 1965.
  2. Roach. J. ‘Public Examinations in England 1850-1900.’ CUP. 1971.

A comprehensive book list is provided on this website along with a comprehensive chronology and glossary of terms for technical and commercial examinations which I hope will be helpful to readers.

Charles Knight (1791-1873)

Author, ’ Popular Educator,’ Pioneer Populariser of Inexpensive Publications and Publisher.


Charles Knight merits a biography not only for his work with Henry Brougham [see biography] on the publications for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge but as a person committed to publishing written material for the wider public. In the early 19th century books and newspapers were incredibly expensive and out of the reach of the majority of the population. Charles Knight with other visionaries e.g. Chamber brothers attempted to produce informative and attractively presented literature to the workers and their families.

Charles Knight was born in Windsor and was apprenticed to his father’s bookselling business. ( One story that is told about his fathers business was that King George 111 came across a copy of Tom Paine’s book ‘The Rights of Man’ in the shop and was not at all pleased about the publication. Subsequently the book was banned and Paine charged with seditious libel). On completion of his apprenticeship Knight entered journalism and became an established author and publisher for the next forty years. When he was asked “sir, what do you travel in?” he replied “in Useful Knowledge, sir”.

In 1825 he developed a plan for a National Library publishing inexpensive books on art, history and science. In 1827 Thomas Brougham appointed him to oversee the publications for the Society of the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge and he became the superintendent of the Society’s material and from 1829 its publisher. The publications provided invaluable information for workers enrolled at the Mechanics’ Institutions and included the following titles: Library of Useful Knowledge (1837+), Penny Magazine (1832-1845), Quarterly Journal of Education (1831-1836). Knight and Brougham appointed a group of highly regarded scholars and business people who were supported by equally high powered members who served on the editorial board and acted  as writers for the journals. Below is a copy of the front page of the Penny Magazine of 1833.

Penny Magazine 1833

Many of the publications were scientific in nature. Initially many of the publications proved popular and profitable but eventually because of excise duty and tax issues very high losses were incurred. For example the Biographical Dictionary lost £5,000 and the Penny Cyclopaedia lost a massive £30,000 of which £16,500 was associated with the paper tax. Inevitably Knight could not sustain such losses and sadly the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge and its publications ceased. Interestingly the demise of the publications mirrored the fate of the formal lectures staged initially at the Mechanics’ Institutions. For example the Library of Useful Knowledge was seen as being too scientific and assumed prior knowledge that did not exist and as a result proved too difficult for the average worker. In retrospect many of the readers of the publications were from the more skilled and well-off workers but nevertheless the endeavour was a remarkable and brave experiment to bring informative reading material to the masses.

Knight continued in publishing after finishing with the Society. Publications included such titles as The Land We Live In, Local Government Chronicle (1855), Popular History of England (8 volumes 1856-62), a biography of William Caxton and many famous authors. In 1864 he retired as a publisher but continued to write until his death in 1873. He wrote his autobiography ‘Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century’.

Charles Knight was a remarkable individual who helped to make a massive contribution to publishing inexpensive literature as well as being an influential author. He was a member of a small group of popular publishers including the two brothers William and Robert Chambers, John Cassell and Harriet Martineau. Harriet Martineau was a remarkable woman who worked closely with Charles Knight. She was born in Norwich in 1802 and published ‘Illustrations of Political Economy’ in 1832. Later she wrote a number of books on the ‘Poor Law and Paupers’, and a five volume set of ‘Illustrations of Taxation’. Harriet Martineau was a remarkable woman for Victorian times and a unique figure. She was a very productive writer producing thirty-four volumes in just over two years. She was also instrumental in helping to create the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women after writing an article in the Edinburgh Review a publication that was founded by Thomas Brougham. Later in life she delivered lectures to the mechanics in the Lake District. See biography on this website to H Martineau.


  1. Knight. C. ‘Passages of a Working Life.’ 2 volumes. Bradbury. 1864/65.
  2. Webb. R. K. ‘Harriet Martineau- A Radical Victorian.’ Heinemann. 1960.
  3. Gray. V. ‘Charles Knight. Educator, Publisher, Writer.’ Ashgate. Aldershot. ISBN-10:07546 5219 X. 2006. An excellent and highly informative account of this remarkable man.

Thomas Huxley (1825-1895)

Author, Biologist, Educator and Research Scientist.

Thomas Huxley was born in Ealing in 1825 son of a mathematics teacher. Mainly self taught he began a medical apprenticeship and soon won a scholarship to the Charing Cross Hospital where he gained an MB degree in 1845 from University of London. At the age of 21 he signed on as an assistant surgeon and was involved in surveying the seas around Australia and New Guinea aboard H.M.S. Rattlesnake. During this time he continued his studies and carried out fundamental research on marine invertebrates the detail of which he sent back to England. On his return the England he found that his research papers had been enthusiastically received and some had been read at the Royal Society and as a result he was soon acclaimed as a pioneering and brilliant biologist in his own right and was also elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1851.

In 1854 he became a lecturer in Natural History at the Government School of Mines that later became the Royal School of Mines and was later appointed as the first Dean of the Normal School of Science that eventually became the Royal College of Science (RCS) in 1889. He remained as joint Dean of both colleges until his death in 1895. He was a very strong advocate of technical education and like others before him e.g. Lyon Playfair and George Birkbeck fought hard for the subjects to be more fully recognised, valued and funded. He realised the importance of good science teaching and how essential it was that scientists and technologists received an effective grounding in the sciences and technology. He actively supported the various Parliamentary Bills on Education and was often used as an expert witness or as a full member on a number of Royal Commissions e.g. the Devonshire Report. Thomas Huxley was appointed a Member of the School Board of London in 1870 and played a major part in establishing the London elementary education system. As a Board member he argued strongly for liberal education. He frequently lectured to working men’s’ classes and believed that the detail of even the most complex topic could be communicated if carefully and sympathetically explained.

In 1868 he became Principal of the South London Working Men’s College in Blackfriars Road – courses cost six pence and a penny to attend one of his lectures. He wrote extensively for periodicals including the Westminister Review, Macmillans Magazine and Comtemporary Reviews on many themes including general education and technical education.

He met Charles Darwin in 1856 and became a great friend and supporter of his ideas. Following the publication of the ‘Origin of the Species’ Huxley became a passionate supporter and defender of the theory of evolution so much so he became known as ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’. He also helped to refine the theory and published a seminal book ‘Evidence on Man’s Place in Nature’ just five years after the ‘Origin of Species’. Huxley was an energetic individual pursuing a wide range of causes and interests. Throughout his life he worked incessantly as a researcher, scientist, teacher and writer. He lectured widely including at the Royal Institution where he held the Fullerian Professorship.

Huxley wrote a fascinating and influential book entitled ‘Science and Education’ in 1883’ (1). The book is a collection of his writings and lectures and contains a number of very interesting essays including one on ‘Technical Education’ written in 1877 (pages 402 to 426) and an ‘Address on behalf of the National Association for the Promotion of Technical Education’ delivered in 1887 (pages 427 to 451).

He was elected President of the Geological Society in 1869 and was President of the Royal Society between 1883 and 1885.

To reflect on his wide range of interests he was a member of the following Royal Commissions:

>trawling for herring on the coast of Scotland (1862)

>UK fisheries (1863-65)

>Contagagious Diseases Acts (1870-71)

>Scientific instruction and the advancement of science (1870-75)

>Scottish Universities (1876-78)

>Medical Acts (1881-82)

>On the Royal College of Science for Ireland (1866)

>On science and art instruction in Ireland (1868).




  1. Huxley. T.H. ‘Science and Education.’ Macmillan. 1905.
  2. Bibby. C.’ T H Huxley, scientist, humanist and educator’. Watts London. 1959.
  3. Peterson. H. Huxley, prophet of science’. Longmans Green London. 1932.
  4. Irvine. W. ‘Thomas Henry Huxley’ Longman London. 1960.

Chapter 9 – The Beginning of the 20th Century 1900-1921



Chapter 8 showed the relatively rapid progress in the development of technical and commercial education particularly from about 1880 to about 1905 and highlighted that before 1880 it had been a period that had been punctuated by a series of promising initiatives but leading to relatively little real progress. From the late 18th century, as we have seen, there had been so many false dawns, in spite of some isolated and amazing initiatives and significant statements and contributions from a number of exception individuals. The momentum generated after 1880 was maintained until around 1905. Chapters 9 and 10 will describe the progress or lack of it between the beginning of the 20th century and the Second World War.

The State of British Industry From 1870 to the Early 20th Century.

In spite of some modest progress in the development of technical education between 1880 and 1905 Britain’s industrial performance still continued to decline when compared with its competitors. The period from 1870 witnessed the decline of this country’s predominance in manufacturing, innovation and more worryingly by the failure to exploit new scientific discoveries and their application to industrial processes. The measures of decline can be described both in absolute and relative terms when compared with our competitors. The country was not only losing its international market share in the traditional industries e.g. steel, ship building and textiles, but more concerning was its failure to capitalise on the newer technologies in such areas as chemical and electrical engineering.

The following few examples attempt to illustrate these two aspects of decline during the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1880 the UK accounted for 41.1% of the world’s manufactured products but by 1913 this had decreased to 29.9%. In 1913 the British chemical industry represented just 11% of the world market compared with 34% and 24% held respectively by America and Germany. The final example shows the country’s failure to embrace and exploit the modern technologies even though we had been in the forefront of many of these discoveries. One such area was that associated with electrical technology where we quickly lost our initial advantage to other countries e.g. by 1913 the UK’s electrical industry was just a third the size of that of Germany. It was the failure to compete in the traditional industries as well as those associated with the new industrial processes which makes the picture so depressing. In addition industry was becoming known for poor quality products and this, coupled with decreasing levels of productivity when compared with our competitors, further contributed to our loss as the first major industrial nation. Some more statistics in 1913 Britain had 9,000 university students compared with approximately 60,000 in Germany. The country sent 5 day release students in every 10,000 to institutions compared with 13 per 10,000 in America. Germany produced 3,000 engineering graduates each year compared with just 350 (1st and 2nd class honours) for England and Wales in ALL branches of mathematics, science and technology

These statistics and other forms of evidence emphasised and reinforced this country’s continued failure to recognise the importance of a national system for technical education and its inability to rise to the challenges and opportunities that technological innovation afforded. In addition to numerous statistical reports a number of influential individuals had conducted a series of comparative studies with our major competitors, for example Shadwell (1) and Magnus (2). Shadwell had carried out a very detailed analysis of the relative industrial efficiencies of Germany, America and England. His findings reinforced earlier reports that English industry was over regulated by government and was reluctant to invest in up-to-date equipment and get directly involved in technical education. A typical quote from Shadwell reflected his view of this country’s performance “Other nations have not only caught up with us from behind but have surpassed us” and he continued that Germany and America regarded England with ‘a mixture of contempt and pity as a spent force.’ Shadwell also pointed out the superiority of the German education system namely that it worked closely with industry and fully recognised the importance of the application of science and technology in industry. Both Shadwell and Magnus commented very favourably on Germany’s commitment to training and the national system for commercial and technical education when compared with this country.

Coupled with this was the continuing indifference of successive governments, mainly fuelled by ignorance of technical and scientific concepts, to recognise the strategic importance of science and more importantly its application in industry and as a result to the future economic health of the country. It is depressing looking back to this period when so much was happening as a result of scientific discovery and technological innovation that the political community failed to fully realise its importance and as a result had little or no impact on government policy not only for industry but also for technical education.

The State System of Education Starts to Take Shape.

After this period of expansion i.e. 1870 to 1905, for a number of reasons some of them understandable, the pace of development of technical education began to slow dramatically after the 1902 Education Act. The devolution of power to local authorities following the 1902 Education Act slowed down the impetus that had been generated during the latter half of the 19th century. The provisions in the Act, which had been place on the local authorities and their education committees, were of a permissive nature and not a duty. Interesting to note that following the 1902 Act politicians became concerned about the loss of central control of education and one of the initial intentions of the next major Education Act of 1918, was an attempt to wrest back some of those powers given to the local authorities. However yet again intentions were thwarted and classic fudge was achieved. When reading the history of education it is a miracle that a national system of education across any of the sectors was ever realised bearing in mind the succession of compromises and political machinations. Even with the development of secondary education in the early 20th century there was still great uncertainty about the importance, role and place of technical and scientific subjects in the school curriculum.

The 1902 Education Act had belatedly established a national system for state secondary education the curriculum it perpetuated was based on the traditional public school academic model. The Act introduced a co-ordinated national system of education but it was very much a compromise. This was evidenced by the fact that the older grammar schools and the public schools remained independent and aloof from the state schools and continued to largely perpetuate and pursue classical education – preparing students for entry to Oxbridge and the professions. The political machinations associated with the 1902 Education Act had produced a set of compromises that amongst other elements had weakened the existing central system and replaced it with power bases devolved to county and county borough level. This left the further development of technical education to the discretion of local authorities which up to then had shown little interest in this aspect of education. This cocktail of localism and discretion laced with the inevitable ambiguities enshrined in the 1902 Act most certainly impeded the development of a national system for technical education. The 1902 Education Act is yet another classic example of the laissez- faire philosophy so beloved by successive governments. This hands off, piecemeal philosophy which by definition is permissive has continued up to the present time as evidenced by the operation of the so called free market recently and will be described in later chapters.

An insight into how local authorities viewed technical education can seen in the way they managed the whiskey tax. The tax had provided additional monies for technical education but not all had been used exclusively. In fact only 59% of the total raised was used for that purpose because some authorities had spent it on strengthening secondary education. Even more concerning was the fact that much of the money had been spent on encouraging and improving the teaching of pure science rather than for technical subjects. This sad fact again reinforces the impression of a hostile perception of technical subjects and their relation to industry, and that this country regarded pure science as more important and of higher status than its application. It finally took the Great War and its consequences to begin to bring about changes in perception of technical subjects. For example it was only after the First World War that craft subjects such as plumbing, carpentry, joinery, welding and fabrication were introduced in a number of technical schools.

One early development at the beginning of the 20th century in technical education was the introduction of the ‘grouped courses of instruction’ some of which had been in operation in the late 19th century. Grouped courses had been offered in Sanitary Engineering at the Manchester Technical College from about 1890. Other courses were operation in Halifax and St. Helens. The grouped courses developed rapidly after 1902 particularly in the north of England and by 1905 over 85% of the larger towns in Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire were staging grouped examinations. Development was slower in London and the south but the system was finally adopted across the country. The grouped courses replaced the rather unregulated and badly co-ordinated arrangements for study by a more effectively managed scheme of instruction. The following illustrates how evening courses were configured:

The Junior Course.
Courses were not specialised and were offered over two years in evening continuation schools for students aged between 14 and 16. Provision aimed to give a good general background in a number of vocational studies.

The Senior Course.
Three years duration from about 16 years of age and taken in technical schools. Courses were more specialised and catered for the educational needs of industry and commerce. Admission to the courses required previous educational experience from schools or other institutions with a leaving age greater than 14 e.g. a continuation school, secondary school or another education establishment.

The Advanced Course.
These courses were of two or three year’s duration and usually available in the larger technical schools. The courses were obviously far more advanced and specialised and built on the Senior Courses. The courses were generally welcomed by students and increasingly by employers who liked the national standardisation and management and relative simplicity of the schemes. The first and second years of senior courses were referred to as S1 and S2 respectively. This designation was adopted later with technician and operatives examinations which I will describe later. The majority of students in evening technical schools were studying on Senior Courses. The courses represented and reflected the demands and needs of a particular industry and students could attend more than one set of classes/courses e.g. a mathematics class was freely available to engineering and construction students whilst an economics course was accessible to banking and insurance students.

The abolition of the school boards inevitably required a great deal of energy, time and resource to be expended by the local authorities as they assumed responsibility for the wider range of duties placed upon them by the 1902 Education Act. They had to develop totally new systems and structures to manage the responsibilities that they were required to manage including a much wider and heterogeneous range of both colleges and schools. In addition they were required to bring together and to integrate the hitherto separate organisations of the Education Department, the Science and Art Department and the educational sections of the Charity Commission. These early preoccupations provided another opportunity to divert attention away from technical and commercial education and as a result slowed down the pace of its development. Obviously the impact of the Great War further added to the other factors that retarded the momentum that had been established between 1880 and 1905.

During the 19th century concerns were constantly expressed about the country’ industrial performance, the inadequate state of education including technical instruction and the resulting weak educational background of the workforce. All of these factors resulted in the loss of international competitiveness. Unfortunately these factors and themes would haunt most of the 20th century and dominate educational and political debates. To be fair the early 20th century experienced a number of massive social, financial and political transformations that inevitably impacted on state spending. However some important and positive developments did occur in technical and commercial education during the early 20th century in spite of these difficulties. So as we will see during the next forty years there was a more ‘gradual evolution, that built on the foundations that were laid between 1880 and 1905.

There was a flurry of political activity with a number of key parliamentary Acts and reports at the beginning of the 20th century. The 1902 Education Act (Balfour Act) has already been mentioned along with its weaknesses but it did establish a national system of secondary education by integrating higher grade elementary schools and fee-paying secondary schools. LEAs replaced the School Boards. The term elementary school was gradually being replaced by a more appropriate title for the early stage of education namely the primary sector and school. The 1904 Secondary Schools Regulations continued the reforms and introduced a subject based curriculum. Subjects included Drawing, English Language, Geography, History, Mathematics and Science as well provision for manual work and physical education. Science instruction was to include both theoretical and practical aspects. Housewifery was introduced in girls’ schools which yet again reinforces the continuing perception of the role of women.

The 1907 Code improved the quality and aims of primary education and introduced free places and scholarships for secondary schools. As you can see the emphasis was very much on schools with little legislation on technical education. In 1909 the Board of Education (BoE) published a consultation paper that recommended the introduction of Day Continuation Education for school leavers. In 1911 the Board published a report on Examinations in Secondary Schools which would have some minor implications for the development of technical and commercial examinations. The Committee was chaired by Dyke Acland a key figure in education during the late 19th and early 20th centuries having been President of the BoE Consultative Committee from 1907 to 1916 and Vice-President on the Committee for Education between 1885 and 1889. The terms of reference were: To consider when and in what circumstances examinations are desirable in secondary schools (a) for boys and (b) for girls. The committees are desired to consider this question under the following headings:

  • Examinations at entrance to school.
  • Examination during school life.
  • Examination at leaving school.

The Committee made a number of recommendations about the conduct and inspection of external examinations and that the examinations for pupils up to 16 years of age which they said should form the basis of a liberal education and serve as a foundation for further studies. They suggested the main external examination should be called the Examination for the Secondary School Certificate giving it credibility to the members of the general public. The Secondary Schools Examination Council was eventually established in 1917 to administer the new School Certificate and Higher School Certificate examinations first recommended in 1911.

The rather late recognition that some form of preliminary technical education for young people was essential in order to prepare them for employment in particular trades brought about additional legislation to strengthen the existing trade schools which were then offering instruction in a number of trades. In 1913 the Board of Education with the promulgation of the Regulations for Junior Technical Schools recognised the trade schools. These Regulations were subsequently incorporated into the 1914 Regulations for Technical Schools, Schools of Art and other institutions offering further education. The regulations and the position of the schools were finally sorted out following the 1944 Education Act when the trade schools were established as an integral part of the secondary school sector. I will describe the range of institutions involved in technical and commercial education in chapter 10.

The Lewis Report in 1917 with an interim report in 1916 focused on the consequences of the Great War. It was entitled: Juvenile Education in Relationship to Employment after the War and its terms of reference were: To consider what steps should be taken to make provision for the education and instruction of children and young persons after the war for those

  • who have been abnormally employed during the war;
  • who cannot immediately find advantageous employment;
  • who require special training for employment.

The interim report published in 1916 recommended the strengthening of the juvenile employment bureaux and the local employment committees. The final report in 1917 recommended the raising of the school leaving age to 14 with no exceptions, followed by attendance for at least 8 hours a week or 320 hours per annum at Day Continuation Classes up to the age of 18 years. These two recommendations were picked up and considered by the 1918 Education Act (Fisher Act) which enacted most of the Lewis Report recommendations. As a result this gave all young workers right of access to day release education. However the raising of the school leaving age from 12 to 14 was only implemented following the 1921 Act. In 1920 the Unemployment Insurance Act gave the Government powers to link benefits to training. No national funding was made available and what developments occurred were at a local level.

Earlier chapters have highlighted and continually stressed that the growth and development of technical education was to say the least unsystematic, if not haphazard, and had as a result created a complex, confused and disjointed system, a matter which had become only too apparent at the time of the 1902 Education Act. By the end of the 19th century a wide range of continuing education existed for adults and young people including day-time, evening study, part-time study etc. History had created a heterogeneous group of institutes whether these were evening schools, mechanics’ institutions, polytechnics, and schools of art, tutorial classes, university extension lectures and various forms of the working men’s college.

Unfortunately this confusing complexity has continued in many ways right up the present time and has contributed to the relatively poor public perception and track record of technical education. Successive governments have failed to tackle and implement educational reforms that could have created a national system of technical education that was equally valued with the so-called academic route. The long gestation period to establish and locate technical education within a national education framework has most certainly contributed to this country’s decline and weakened our competitive edge over the past 150 years. The striking feature of the English education system particularly for secondary and technical sectors that emerges was the lack of any central direction and the absence of the essential elements necessary for any overall organisation namely coherence and integration. One essential and critical factor that had impeded the development of a national framework for technical education was the inadequacy of existing elementary and secondary schools and the absence of practical subjects and science which would have provided a flow of more educated young people into the technical institutions that existed at the time. Obviously the ultimate success, well-being and long term security of technical education critically depends on a sufficient flow of suitably qualified young people from schools. In spite of many worthy attempts by a number of visionary individuals in creating institutions for technical instruction e.g. Mechanics’ Institutions, Polytechnics etc the majority mostly failed because of weaknesses in the learners’ educational background. Inadequate basic literacy and numeracy skills, coupled with lack of any scientific and technical awareness, either theoretical or practical, was a result of inadequate and in some cases non-existent schooling. Margaret Gowing made the following a very incisive statement and judgement in a Wilkins Lecture to the Royal Society of London in July 1977:

“Most economic historians seek objective, primarily economic explanations ranging from markets and tariff policy to the complexity of Britain’s inherited industrial structure. In this interpretation, education is scarcely mentioned, and such views attune with our current disenchantment at the results of recent large educational expenditure. Of course it is impossible to draw a simple cause and effect line between education and economic strength – but a smaller group of historians do accept that Britain’s failure in the nineteenth century to develop the educational system essential for national efficiency was a main cause of this decline. I am on their side”

As already mentioned the period between the late 19th and early 20th centuries was one of unparalleled change in science and technology and this inevitably impacted on and subsequently influenced social and economic thinking. Many historians have attempted to describe the industrial decline but as Gowing commented very few linked the decline with the weakness in education particularly the elements relating to industry. However one aspect where historians did agreed was that at the beginning of the 20th century the traditional English view still persisted namely that theory and practice should be separated and the schools should concentrate on the theoretical aspects whilst the practical activities were delivered in the workshop. This was reinforced by the 1889 Technical Instruction Act which had expressly stated that schools should not be involved in the instruction of any trade or industry. This approach was in stark contrast to similar schools elsewhere in Europe, which emphasised the importance of workshop practice and the apprenticeship.

Developments in Examinations.

As already mentioned in 1917 the Board of Education recommended that the junior certificates and other awards that existed at the time should be replaced by the School Certificate Examinations Scheme. Universities would be responsible for their operation and a Secondary Schools Examination Council was established to advise the Board of Education. Thus was born the School Certificates and Higher Certificates often called the School Matriculation, which continued to be offered until their replacement in 1951 by GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. These were by definition academic in nature with little technical content. I will continue discussing the development of the examination system in later chapters describing more fully the developments with CGLI, RSA, the Regional Examination Unions, ONCs/HNCs and other awarding bodies [see also the history of technical and commercial examinations also on this website].

One of the most fascinating and important developments and a facet of technical and commercial examinations arose out of a collaborative scheme between the Board of Education and a Professional Institution namely the Institution of Mechanical Engineers that was to become known as the ‘National Certificate Scheme’. This co-operation began in 1921 and certification was available to successful students in technical schools and colleges. The National Certificate Scheme and its awards proved a success and subsequently were extended when other Professional Institutions including the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Institute of Building, Institute of Chemistry and the Textile Institute got involved. Similar arrangements were developed later for Commercial subjects. The Board of Education and the Professional Institutions would determine the standard and range of the subject content which would attract the award of the certificate. However they would attempt to allow the greatest degree of freedom to the school/college in terms of the organisation of the work and its assessment.

The success of the scheme soon saw the development of national certificates and diplomas across a wide range of technical subjects. Each provider would draft its own syllabus very often focussed on the needs of local employers and reflecting local industries. The syllabus would then be submitted to the Board of Education and the relevant Professional Institution for their approval. Once the course was approved successful candidates in the examinations would receive a certificate or diploma according to the level of the course and/or the mode of attendance i.e. part or full –time. For example Ordinary Certificates (ONCs) were awarded after a three- year part –time course at a technical college whilst Higher Certificates HNCs) were awarded after a further two years. Ordinary and Higher Diplomas (O/HNDs) required two and three years of full-time study respectively.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Professional Institutions had introduced their own examinations e.g. Institution of Civil Engineering in 1897 and the Institution of Mechanical Engineering in 1913 respectively. In addition the universities and university colleges awarded qualifications in technical subjects although the latter could not award degrees. In spite of the increasing numbers of students pursuing technical subjects there was already a mismatch between supply and demand. Industry wanted qualified people but even during this period complained that the universities and other providers of HE were biased against vocational and technical subjects. Surprisingly there was also evidence in the 1920s/30s that there was also an imbalance in graduate science numbers e.g. a surplus of chemists and deficit of biologists – a problem that persists to this day in e.g. engineering, physics, mathematics and statistics. Finally ,interesting to note that of the 4,439 students in full-time technology courses in 1934 the vast majority of them went into technical i.e. research, testing and design as opposed to the production side of industry – yet another example of academic drift?

Developments in the universities

One crucial indicator of a country’s commitment to technical education is the number of graduates in such subjects as the sciences, engineering and technologies. As has been said before, England significantly lagged behind other countries such as America, France and Germany in this critical area. British industry during the 19th century employed very few graduates at both management and specialist level, again in stark contrast to our main competitors. This to some extent reflected the attitude of industry which did not recognise the need to create qualified scientists and technologists. This negative attitude was further exacerbated by successive governments which had failed to establish a unified educational system. Rather belatedly the newer universities and university colleges (many of which were later referred to as the civic universities) were established to train the cohorts of scientists and engineers/technologists. In addition successive governments had not invested or encouraged the ancient universities to develop provision in line with the emerging technologies and newer industrial processes such as electrical and chemical engineering. The development of the university sector at this critical period especially in the technical subjects again reflects the low esteem that the country held the application of science and its impact on industry. Even at the higher levels of achievement we lagged well behind other countries and coupled with the inadequate provision it sadly reflected how industry was responding to the new technologies.

It will be helpful to quickly review the development of the universities in England as this reflects the level and type of commitment. In 1902 six universities existed in England namely Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, London, Birmingham and the federal Victoria University. This compares with twenty universities in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century many of which had a strong commitment to technical subjects. However during the early part of the 20th century there was a relatively rapid development of new independent universities. Victoria ceased to be a federation and separate institutions of Manchester and Liverpool were established in 1903, and Leeds in 1904 quickly followed by Sheffield in 1905 and Bristol in 1909. These universities and their precursors as university colleges had been encouraged by the government but not supported or funded adequately to develop honours and general degree programmes in technical subjects. Enrolments in these subjects increased although they were relatively low when compared with our competitors. For example in 1910 the total number of graduates in science and technology from all institutions offering these programmes was just 3,000 compared with 25,000 in Germany. Figure 1 attempts to show the relatively slow growth of science and technology graduates from 1870 to 1910. Figures do not include graduate numbers from Oxford or Cambridge, which were dominated by mathematics.

Figure1. Numbers of Science and Technology Graduates between 1870 and 1910

Subject 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910
Sciences 13 38 136 304 800
Technologies 6 17 30 74 431
Totals 19 55 166 378 1,231

The domination of Oxbridge continued well into the 20th century for example even in 1938 these two institutions still accounted for 20% of the total university population. The total student population in 1938 was approximately 50,000. Another interesting but depressing statistic was that in 1908 the number of full-time students in provincial university colleges and technical schools was below 3,000.

In spite of 500 new secondary schools opening as a result of the 1904 Education Act the post-14 participation rate was still under 20% in the first two decades of the 20th century which meant that the reforms had little impact in encouraging pupils to stay on at school, let alone increasing progression on to further study in technical subjects.

The gradual realisation of some of the weaknesses within the 1902 Act had been identified and addressed by the Lewis Report (1917) and 1918 Education Act as described above. Clearly the Great War would have a number of repercussions on the future development and shape of the national education system and this will be considered in chapter 10.

The trade unions still showed little interest in technical education outside the existing apprenticeship programmes. The reason for this reluctance seemed to stem from a fear that the unions would lose influence and their ability to control wages and conditions of service of their members when in employment.
Other relevant developments between 1900 and 1920.

A number of other developments deserve a mention as they indicate that the country was beginning to take science and technology more seriously. In 1900 the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington was founded that carried out testing, research and setting standards. In 1915 A Committee of the Privy Council on Scientific and Industrial Research was established that lead to the creation of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. In 1919 the University Grants Committee was created that fundamentally changed the way universities were funded. A comprehensive chronology in Appendix 1 provides far more detail about key dates in the development of technical and commercial education.

In spite of a great deal of legislation the period between 1900 and 1920 this gave little advantage to technical education.

Chapter 10 will continue to describe developments up to the Second World War.


  1. Shadwell. A. ‘Industrial Efficiency. A Comparative Study of Industrial Life in England, Germany and America.’ Longmans, Green, and Co. 1909.
  2. Magnus. P. ‘‘Industrial Education.’ Kegan Paul, Trench and Co. 1888.

Other Useful References:

Abbott. A. ‘Education for Industry and Commerce in England.’ OUP. 1933.
Maclure. S.J. ‘Educational Documents 1816 -1967.’Chapman and Hall. SBN 412 07960 7. 1968.

Comprehensive book list, chronology and glossary available on this website in separate sections.

Chapter 8 – The Developments at the End of the 19th Century.

This chapter continues to describe the most significant developments during the 1870s/80s/90s and the beginning of the early 20th century.

Finsbury Technical College.

Of the three institutions created by CGLI Finsbury Technical College is the only one that no longer exists. In spite of its relatively short life 1881-1926 it was truly a ground breaking institution and a remarkable success with a number of outstanding teachers. Finsbury Technical College was officially opened in 1883 although day and evening classes had been taught from November 1879 and it was the first true technical college in England. It was based on technical institutions in Germany and Switzerland. Subjects taught initially included applied chemistry, mechanical engineering and physics. Students, both sexes, were enrolled from those who wished to study scientific and practical instruction for intermediate posts in industry or from schools preparing for entry to the Central Institution in higher technical and scientific studies. Evening classes were provided for people working during the day in order for them to receive additional instruction in art, practice and science to more fully understand industrial processes. In 1883 100 day and 699 evening students had been enrolled. The range of subjects taught was amazing including brick-laying, chemistry, drawing, electrical technology, joinery, mathematics, metal-plate work and workshop practice. Even foreign languages were taught including French and German.

Finsbury Technical College

One very important distinction between the College (shown opposite) and the Mechanics’ Institutions was that at the College practical work formed part of the programme whereas the Mechanics Institutes predominately taught the theoretical aspects of technology and science. The College was the first to attempt to integrate practical/manual training and pure science. This approach proved a great success and was adopted by the emerging Polytechnic movement in London. It was organised and managed by way of a number departments that catered for the different subjects and differing attendance modes. Unfortunately in spite of its pioneering work it increasingly experienced competition from the London Polytechnics, Working Men’s Colleges and other technical institutions. Throughout its existence it had serious accommodation shortages – cramped laboratories and unsuitable temporary accommodation that became permanent. Through out its relatively short history even with the continuing support of the Livery Companies and the CGLI the College experienced continuing funding problems. Successful as the College was it could not break even financially and the gap between revenue and expenditure continued to grow in spite of generous donations and support from the Livery Companies. For example in 1912 the annual running costs of the College were £11,700 whereas income from student fees and other sources was £3,680. The College tried to operate an open access policy and was reluctant to increase student fees for fear of deterring attendance. The students already made great sacrifices e.g. by losing two years’ employment opportunities. If the fees were increased it would change the student profile completely and attract students who already had other opportunities afforded by the wealthy status. The College in many ways set the model for the future shape of the technical education system and the institutions that constituted the Further Education Sector of the 20th century.

The Royal Commission on Technical Instruction (Samuelson Report) 1882-84.

Chairman: Bernhard Samuelson.
Members included: Philip Magnus. Henry Roscoe (see portrait below).


The Samuelson Commission was set up in 1881 with the following terms of reference:

“ To inquire into the instruction of the industrial classes of certain foreign countries in technical and other subjects for the purpose of comparison with that of the corresponding classes in this country; and into the influence of such instruction on manufacturing and other industries at home and abroad”

The Commission attempted to address the continuing and wide spread concerns about the random and fragmented development of technical education and the resultant unregulated nature of technical education institutions. It also focused on the continuing and increasing worry about the declining ability of the country to compete with overseas countries as evidenced from the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Paris Exhibition of 1867.
The most important outcomes from the published reports by the Commission were the comparisons with other countries, which showed this country’s continuing lack of effective instruction in science in schools particularly its relationship with industrial practice and the absence of a national system for technical education. This investigative approach of the Royal Commission helped to make the series of reports truly seminal as its remit allowed members to visit European countries and witness first hand their technical education systems. Commissioners visited Austria, Belgium, France, German, Holland, Italy and Switzerland. Evidence was also gathered from a wide range of sources across Britain. The reports were published in 1882 and 1884 and made a number of key recommendations including the following ones:

  • Rudimentary drawing be incorporated with writing as a single elementary subject
  • Advocated more teaching of agriculture and craft work
  • Advocated more teaching of science and art in training colleges
  • More support for CGLI
  • Greater powers for local authorities to establish more technical and secondary schools
  • Advocated less part-time employment for children
  • Recommended more systematic training for young workers in work schools and that employers and trade organizations should make financial contributions to help realise this recommendation.

The Samuelson Commission made a number of key recommendations three of which related directly to technical and secondary education namely:

  • “That steps be taken to accelerate the application of ancient endowments, under amended schemes to secondary and technical education,
  • That provision to be made by the Charity Commissioners for the establishment, in suitable localities, of schools or department of schools, in which the study of natural science, drawing, mathematics and modern languages shall take the place of Latin and Greek,
  • That local authorities be empowered, if they think fit to establish, maintain and contribute to the establishment and maintenance of secondary and technical (including agricultural) schools and colleges”.

One of the visits made by the members was to Messrs Mather and Platt’s Workshop School which was a private technical evening school established and supported by the company for the benefit of its workers – even by today’s standards a rare occurrence. The school had 68 workers enrolled which was operated to provide science teaching to the apprentices employed at the works. The facilities were well resourced and very impressive with realistic working environments. Mr Mather was very clear about the purpose of the school and the methods of instruction – he said that you must bring the school to the workshop as you cannot bring the workshop to the school. He argued that bringing the school to the workshop was simple and inexpensive, I find his evidence truly amazing- what an enlightened employer years ahead of his time and even today he could teach our politicians a thing or two about work based learning and the value of realistic working environments.

The Royal Commission also commended the Finsbury Technical College as a ‘model trade school for the instruction of artisans and other persons preparing for intermediate posts in industrial works.’

One obvious conclusion of many of the recommendations was that a single central authority should be established for technical education. However the remit of the Commission did not permit such a recommendation to be made directly but reading the reports one senses it was strongly implied.
These recommendations were presented after exhaustive inquiries and investigations across the country and the continent but were not as bold as many of commentators would have wished for. One lasting consequence of the Commission was the very detailed analysis given to the issues and formed the basis of many of the subsequent reforms in the early 20th century. What it reinforced yet again was that the country still possessed an inadequate and insufficient secondary school system that seriously weakened progression onto higher technical studies especially for managers in industry. Even though compulsory education was established and a school leaving age of up to 14 was bringing about improvements to literacy among workers, major problems still existed through ignorance of scientific and technological concepts by managers especially when compared with their counter parts on the continent. The Commission and its recommendations influenced a number of important parliamentary Acts that followed including the 1888 Local Government Act that established County and County Borough Councils. The real positive legacy of the Royal Commission was the Technical Instruction Act of 1889, which was the first piece of legislation of any real significance in technical education. I will describe more fully the Technical Instruction Act later in the chapter.

Quintin Hogg and the Polytechnics

Trade instruction for workers was still driven by private enterprise and in London one of the examples was the Polytechnic Young Men’s Christian Institute (better known as the Regent Street Polytechnic) founded 1882. The Polytechnic started as a ragged school in1860 when Quintin Hogg [see biography], a city businessman gradually became aware of the urgent need to offer greater educational opportunities for young workers. In 1864 he was teaching in a ragged school and in 1868 had become head of a boys’ home in Drury Lane and using his wealth then opened an evening institute in 1878 in his Long Acre Institute. His working Lads’ Institute proved a great success and offered classes for boys from the slums in London. The classes proved a great success and as a result dealt with wider social classes. Quintin Hogg based his institution on the model developed at the Artizan Institute founded by the Rev Solly in 1874. The Artizan Institute was at the time the only institute in London providing practical trade instruction. The Artizan Institute was eventually incorporated into the Finsbury Technical College in 1881. The head of the trade class department was C. Millis (1) who wrote a number of key books on technical education and became the first Principal of the Borough Polytechnic. As accommodation became too crowded a number of moves occurred until in 1880 he acquired a building as the Polytechnic located on Regent Street.

Royal Polytechnic Institution (Incorporated 1838)

The Polytechnic was established in 1838  (shown opposite) for the demonstration of ‘practical science’ – Hogg adapted the building for his own purpose and retained the name Polytechnic. The creation of the Polytechnic in Regent Street in 1882 was a quantum leap in terms of size and financial backing. To date the technical institutions depended on the generosity of the Livery Companies, the CGLI, the Science and Arts Department and a few benefactors. However in order to begin to compete with America and Europe larger institutions with better facilities had to be built and critically the need for the State to become more directly involved to fully realise this aspiration. The driving force behind the Polytechnic was Quintin Hogg [see biography] who had already invested heavily in his Long Acre Institute, which he founded in 1878. Quintin Hogg spent over £100,000 in creating the Polytechnic and his commitment and belief in technical education was truly remarkable. He was the catalyst in the formation of other Polytechnics in London in conjunction with the financial support and patronage of the City Parochial Foundation and the Charity Commissioners. In 1883 the City of London Parochial Act further added impetus to the development of the Polytechnic movement and hence the technical education in London. The Act amongst other aspects made a commitment to create, fund and promote:

  • Education for the poorer inhabitants of London in technical, secondary and art subjects
  • Public libraries, art galleries and museums
  • Extend working men’s and women’s institutions

Central funds were established to realise these worthy endeavours and included capital grants to Polytechnics and the Charity Commissioners influenced by the Report of the Royal Commission on Technical Education and evidence from CGLI. Other Polytechnics were quickly established across London including: Battersea, Borough, Chelsea, Northampton Polytechnic (one of the few outside London) and Sir John Cass College in the City. Interesting to note that even at this time differing views existed about the relevance of technical education particularly for the poorer members of society and at HE level and a number of individuals openly questioned the need let alone the importance of such proposals. In spite of this opposition the recommendations of the Charity Commissioners were accepted and the endowments to the institutions were implemented. When the London County Council was created in 1888 under the Local Government Act they took responsibility for the supervision of the Polytechnics. The Polytechnics provided a very wide range of activities including social, recreational and educational pursuits. The Polytechnics operated secondary and technical schools, day technical classes for more advanced students and evening classes for apprentices and workers. Practical classes offered included bookbinding, building, engineering, furniture and textiles. Commercial courses were also offered along with the teaching of foreign languages and a number of students prepared for degrees accredited by the University of London. Table 1 shows the number of student hours at the London Polytechnics for 1893/94 and 1900/01.

Table 1

Student hours in 1000’s
Subject 1893-94 1900-01
Building trades 37.5 123.4
Carpentry and joinery 1.4 23.1
Chemistry 23.7 52.1
Electrical engineering 4.1 31.3
Experimental physics 16.8 75.8
Mathematics 11.4 36.6
Mechanical engineering 17.0 92.5
Plumbing 6.8 19.6
Totals: 118.7 454.4

These developments were inevitably focussed on London but nevertheless provided valuable experience for later developments across England and beyond. This example of London centricity raises some interesting questions. Other developments were happening else where in England but overall these have not been fully documented –perhaps that is a worthy project for the future?

The Technical Instruction Act 1889.

The Technical Instruction Act defined technical education as follows;

“shall mean instruction in the principles of science and art applicable to industries, and in the application of special branches of science and art to specific industries or employment.”

In retrospect the founding of the CGLI in 1878 can be seen as an important bridge between the Samuelson Select Committee Report of 1868 and the Technical Instruction Act of 1889. After all the Institute had developed a number of strategically important elements that subsequently supported the emerging technical education system e.g. it established a system of technical examinations building on the pioneering work of the Society of Arts and also created three key technical institutions namely the Finsbury Technical College, the Central Technical College and the City and Guilds Art School. The Royal Commission on Technical Instruction gave rise to the Technical Education Act of 1889. Thirty- eight and twenty-two years after the Great and Paris Exhibitions, the Technical Instruction Act was passed fully recognising the need for a national framework for technical education in an attempt to halt industrial and manufacturing decline. The Act gave powers to the County Councils and the Urban Sanitary Authorities to levy a penny tax to support technical and manual instruction by: founding schools and appointing teachers; further supporting technical education by making grants to institutions; providing technical education and creating exhibitions and scholarships. The curricula in technical institutions also had to be approved by the Science and Art Department. In 1890 Local Taxation Act passed legislation to decrease the number of public houses and imposed an additional duty on alcohol in an attempt to reduce excessive drinking. The additional revenues were initially meant to compensate publicans whose licences had not been renewed but a number of MPs opposed that proposal and the monies were retained by the government. As a result the government found itself in the rather peculiar and unique position of having an excess of tax revenue and nothing to spend it on! Arthur Acland proposed that the money should be spent by the county councils either to further develop and strengthen technical education or as a means of reducing the local rates. Fortunately the majority of councils used the money to fund the development of technical education. The annual sum became known as the  ‘whiskey money’ or  ‘whiskey tax’, which really did provide a timely and valuable contribution for technical instruction.

The majority of authorities established Technical Instruction Committees and this brought about a rapid development of technical institutions across the country that began to satisfy the growing demand from technical education across the country. One result of the extra money was a spate of technical college building, mainly in the industrial northern towns and cities, but also a few in the South where industrial processes were developing. For example institutions were built in such places as Bath, Bristol, Bury, Cardiff, Derby, Glasgow, Halifax, Leeds, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Swindon and Wolverhampton. Many of these institutions went on to become the FE and Technical Colleges we know today (2). During the last decade of the 19th century twenty five-five institutions had been transferred to the technical instruction authorities and of these twelve were in county councils. The sums of money were considerable for that time being £179,501 in 1895/6, £142,413 in 1896/7, £69,333 in 1987/8 and £105,301 in 1898/99, although it must be said that a great deal of the money was spent on the teaching of science in schools rather than technical instruction. Between 1892/93 and 1901/02 the annual amount raised via the whiskey tax rose from £472,500 to £859,011 – this last figure represented 83% of the total public expenditure on technical education! In 1895 – 93 out of the 129 county and county borough councils were spending all the whiskey money on education. Of the £317,000 directly managed by the county councils in 1895, £188,000 was spent properly on technical education, £17,000 subsidised secondary schools, £39,000 was awarded on scholarships, £14,000 was spend on evening continuation schools and £22,000 was expended on training evening school teachers. Although most of the money was spend on technical education the majority of the money went to the younger students i.e. schools aged pupils as opposed to adults. The Balfour Act of 1902 eventually repealed the Act empowering the expenditure of the whiskey tax by authorities for technical education, although the money was still ring fenced in this Act for the development of HE. The issue of the whiskey tax is a fascinating episode in the history of education. Could it have been an early example of a hypothecated tax? Interesting to note the development critically depended on the consumption of alcohol but it did accelerate the development of technical education at the end of the 19th century and in the North of England, as usual did just that! It also influenced the 1889 Technical Instruction Act that included the authorisation of the new local authorities to fund technical and manual instruction by way of a penny rate.

Even though the Technical Instruction Act began to address and remedy one of the problems of the British technical education system through the empowering of local authorities to establish technical schools/colleges and to financially support the teaching of science in secondary schools it did not establish a national system of secondary education which had to wait until the 1902 Education Act! Also in spite of these positive developments the impact on the labour force was still fairly minimal and only about 10% of skilled workers in engineering had experienced formal training. One interesting feature, when one looks at the various Royal Commissions and other parliamentary committees/groups that considered different aspects and sectors of education, is the almost complete lack of any continuity and links between them. For example the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction had little impact on the Royal Commission on Elementary Education –the Cross Report of 1888, the Royal Commission on Secondary Education –the Bryce Report of 1895 and the Education Act of 1902. The Cross Commission had recorded that numbers of students studying at evening schools had declined and suggested that these institutions should be regarded as continuation rather than elementary schools. This recommendation was enacted by the Code of 1890 and as a result evening schools taught art, domestic work, languages and science. The legislation was further developed in 1898 under a separate Code for evening continuation schools. The upper age limit was abolished and grants were given for attendance rather than for examinations passed. The new code extended the range of subjects taught to include commercial and technical subjects and real opportunities to students to pursue subjects not available in elementary schools. As a result it offered progression opportunities to more advanced programmes in technical schools. The legislation did bring about increased enrolments in evening class students rising from 298,724 in 1896 to 474,563 in 1899 but still most of the instruction was at elementary level. To remedy this situation the Board of Education in 1907 introduced the grouped system of subject selection namely that students were required to select a group of related subjects to study. See below how this initiative evolved.

Evening Continuation Schools

Evening schools had existed for many years and were operated under the Elementary Schools Code and offered a rather limited curriculum often repeating the work covered in the elementary day schools. In addition to the narrow range of subjects strict age limits were imposed in order to gain funding from the Science and Art Department. However in 1898 a separate Code for Evening Continuation Schools was issued which dramatically changed the situation. In addition a wider range of subjects was introduced and the age restrictions removed allowing persons over the ordinary school leaving age to attend and new more effective funding arrangements were based on attendance and not on examination results. The students who enrolled for evenings fell into two categories – one group wishing to progress onto a technical school and the other completing their studies and leaving formal education. The consequences of these reforms were immediate, resulting in the doubling of enrolments in three years namely from 298,724 in 1896 to 474,563 in 1899 and approximately 14% of the students were over 21 years of age. A growing percentage of females were studying needlework and domestic science again still reinforcing stereotypical roles. The success of the continuation schools greatly accelerated the development of technical education as more people were more able to progress onto more specialised programmes. Grouped programmes were organised in five main themes to reflect the occupations or industries that the students wished to enter. These five groups were industrial, commercial, domestic, rural and general. Initially the industrial and commercial groupings enrolled the most students but later the general programme became more popular. The introduction of grouped programmes was a real improvement as up to their introduction the curricula were comparatively disorganised as students could randomly choose subjects possessing little coherence with skills needed in industry or commerce. In some areas of the country the School worked in collaboration with the university colleges in their locality. It is important to realise that up to this time many of these subjects were not eligible for funding in elementary schools – only grants being available for a limited range of science subjects. Even though the majority of the teaching was at a very basic level it did increase participation and ultimately created a greater demand at the higher levels. In 1901 the responsibility for these Schools was transferred to the Science and Art Department and the Board of Education, which were already funding other evening classes in science and art and organised science schools.

Board of Education

The Board of Education Act of 1899 brought together the powers previously held by the Education Department and the Science and Art Department. Then in 1901, as mentioned above, the responsibility for the central administration of the evening continuation schools was transferred to the South Kensington Branch of the Board. These various reforms culminated in the 1902 Education Act that formally created Local Education Authorities (LEAs) which would play a significant part in the development of Further Education (FE) in the 20th century.

The Education Act 1902.

Even though the 1902 Education Act is seen as the beginning of state funding for secondary education, in strict terms state aid had been made available before e.g. through the grants of the Department of Science and Arts, South Kensington and also following the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 that allowed county councils to spend money on technical education and finally the funding arrangements for the School Boards. The Act replaced the School Boards by the LEAs and these were given wide-ranging powers to administrate all higher education up to university level. The Act represented the first comprehensive Bill to reach the Statute Book. It attempted to bring about the unification of the education system but ultimately did not fully succeed in this worthy aspiration. Many existing schools including the public schools were suspicious of the local authorities and any central authority. As a result of this the attempt to totally unify and create a true State system of secondary school failed. The major challenge for the LEAs arising from the Act was to bring order across the amorphous and somewhat disjointed systems of the educational sectors and their constitute institutions. LEAs were empowered to co-ordinate elementary and higher education, (excluding universities), and at the time defined the possibility of providing “the ladder from elementary school to university.” To assist the realisation of this lofty aspiration scholarships were available to able pupils from the elementary schools. Balfour in this speech to the House of Commons stressed that a successful technical education and higher education system depended critically on a sound elementary and secondary education system. The Act clarified the limitations imposed by the 1899 Act of the Board of Education and attempted to put in place a set of duties and responsibilities for the LEAs. Part of the Act stated: the LEAs shall consider the needs of their area and take steps as seem to them desirable, to supply or aid the supply of education other than elementary, and to promote the general coordination of all forms of education – – -. It is important to note the use of the words consider and take steps as seem to them desirable as these gave rise to LEAs exercising different degrees of discretion and differing interpretations when implementing the Act and this was most certainly true for the implementation of technical education institutions. Many LEAs established and supported technical education to a high degree whilst others showed less enthusiasm. In many cases the munificence of provision in technical institutions can be likened to the Victorian propensity to build chapels and churches with certain similar results in the longer term. The use of such discretionary expressions in subsequent Parliamentary legislation has produced similar results creating a disparate range of technical institutions in terms of quality and quantity. The exercise of discretion coupled with lack of sufficient resources has dogged technical education through out its history and sadly reflects the market mentality that persists today. The 1902 Act was particularly successful in the provision of county secondary education and teacher training colleges but partly because of inadequate resources and the discretionary elements in the Act it was not so successful in bringing about a unified education system.

The 1902 Education Act, important as in was, did little to advance technical education. The Permanent Secretary of the Board of Education Robert Morant was very much an elitist and as a result mainly interested in improving elementary education and creating a system of higher education by developing grammar schools whose curriculum was modelled on that of the traditional public schools. The inevitable consequence was that little creativity or imagination was invested in technical education and very little was witnessed in further improvement of facilities in technical schools and institutes. The whiskey money represented a welcome but short window of opportunity to advance technical education and the building of new colleges. As will be seen in the next chapter progress during the early 20th century was very slow and depressing and even accepting the problems that were caused by the First World War and all the inevitable constraints that created only ten new colleges were established nationally between 1902 and 1918.

In 1904 a set of three new regulations and codes was introduced which dealt with evening and continuation schools, technical institutions for advanced, specialised, full-time instruction and with a variety of day technical classes. The framework for the future structure of technical, (further), education had finally begun.

Other relevant developments

It’s an opportune time to briefly describe a range of other developments that influenced technical education. Even though the State kept away from direct involvement in technical education for most of the 19th century there was one striking and obvious exception, namely the military. The armed services received technical training and a great deal of government funding and attention was focused on the manufacture of weapons to support and drive the Empire. Military schools and academies were established including; the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1741; the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in1799; the Royal Naval College at Greenwich in 1873. Army Certificates of Education were first awarded in 1800 and service personnel were required to learn arithmetic for the use of ballistics and other related scientific and technological principles of their equipment. The following table taken from Mitchell and Deane (3) shows clearly the relatively low expenditure and development of education between 1840/49 and 1900/09 when compared with the total expenditure on the military:

Table 1: Net Government Public Expenditure 1840 to 1909

Year Military Expenditure Education Expenditure Total
£ m % £ m % £ m %
1840 – 49 15.1 30 0.3 1 51.0 100
1850 – 09 21.9 37 0.7 1 59.6 100
1860 – 09 26.8 41 1.3 2 64.6 100
1870 – 09 24.2 37 2.6 4 66.1 100
1880 – 09 28.0 37 4.9 6 76.7 100
1890 – 09 36.4 41 9.2 10 89.2 100
1900 – 09 79.1 55 14.9 10 143.6 100

A fascinating account of Army History has been written by White (4).
The two world wars accelerated the commitment of the armed forces to technical education and this will be described in later chapters. A view of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich is shown below.


Developments in the Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

To date most of the history has been focused on England but it might be helpful to comment on some the developments in the Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Up to the early 20th century most of the education parliamentary acts enacted in England were also generally applicable to Wales.
In Scotland and Ireland for a number of reasons education very often developed in different ways. A Technical Schools Act of 1887 was passed exclusive to Scotland that allowed school boards to provide funds establish and maintain technical schools. Much less revenue from the Local Tax Act, (Whiskey Money), was received by Scotland and with the much smaller population and the greater diversity and number of authorities the sums were too small to have any real impact on education institutions. However with the passing of the Local Taxation (Scotland) Act in 1898 additional monies were made available and a number of institutions did receive funds for technical education. No funds or grants to support art or science instruction were made available to Scottish schools from the England although a number of the technical schools offered examinations by CGLI and the English Board of Education. As mentioned before the Scottish education had established a system far in advance of its English counterparts. The universities had offered far more enlightened curricula including science and technical subjects long before Cambridge and Oxford. John Anderson and George Birkbeck [see biography] had pioneered the Mechanics’ Institution movement and the Scottish elementary school system was the best in Europe. Scotland already possessed a number of impressive and well equipped technical colleges including the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College (Glasgow), Heriot-Watt College (Edinburgh), Robert Gordon College (Aberdeen) and the Technical College (Dundee). These institutions operated on very similar lines to colleges in England both in terms of subjects taught and the examination boards used. One characteristic of the Scottish system in elementary and secondary schools was the emphasis on practical and manual skills and the teaching of science – far more than in English schools. Scotland also developed a system for awarding leaving certificates based on examination results. The universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow continued to excel in science and technology including such subjects as engineering and naval architecture. St Andrews too had an outstanding reputation in science and mathematics.
Ireland’s education system especially the technical side sadly was very much less developed than in England, Scotland and Wales. Even though the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 was applicable to Ireland it was never enacted to any real effect. The revenues from the Local Taxation Act were expended on intermediate education and not on technical education. Recommendations made from the Recess Committee of 1896 proved to be valuable and influential leading to the passing of the Agriculture and Technical Instruction Act of 1899. These two key commissions the first focused on manual and practical instruction in elementary schools and the second focussed on these subjects in the secondary sector brought about the teaching of technical subjects and as a result greatly enhanced the quality of teaching and instruction in Irish schools.

Conclusions and some observations

One interesting issue that has emerged so far is the difficulty of assessing how much industry itself provided direct training for its workers. We have the example of the Mather and Platt Workshop evidenced in the Samuelson Report but it has proved difficult to find let alone analyse any statistical data and so far little evidence exists in company reports in order to identify if any training was offered. This area needs further research.

Another intriguing if not unsurprising finding was the random way governments established the various Royal Commissions and other committees that looked at education. Very often there appeared to be a complete lack of any systematic approach, planning or sequencing in regard to their overall purpose. Many of the key Commissions seemed to be established in an ad hoc fashion with little regard to how their recommendations linked or were influenced by previous reports. It almost seems as though they were regarded in isolated and separate compartments and were often strongly influenced by political dogma and inbuilt prejudice. This attribute sadly continues even today. Real consideration of the complex linkages between the various sectors of education and training seem to have been ignored or subjected to political amnesia. Issues associated with the essential need to progressively build up competence and capability in literacy, numeracy and the foundations of mathematical and scientific knowledge were ignored.

The period covered by this chapter witnessed a large number of important developments in technical education many of which laid the foundations for the future shape and management of technical education. As one can see the momentum, at last, was being generated and the basic framework for a national system for technical education was beginning to emerge in colleges, industry and other training providers. The 1902 Education Act would establish a national system for secondary education but its impact on technical education was fairly limited. The gradual development of secondary education began to provide more highly educated youngsters who were more able to benefit from further study at college and as a result increased progression opportunities as well as participation rates after compulsory schooling. Also developments in higher education through the existence of the Polytechnics and the creation of a number of civic universities began to offer enhanced opportunities in scientific and technical subjects and so gradually developed a system of technical education that began in schools and progressed to higher education.

The class structure still dominated the way this country perceived technical education. In England the failure of the middle and upper classes to organise a national secondary education system and their neglect of scientific studies in the majority of their public schools produced generations of employers who failed to appreciate the value and place of technical and scientific studies.

The last two decades of the 19th century also witnessed other transformations e.g. the disappearance of the scientific and technological amateur who was gradually replaced by the specialist and the professional. This transformation was mainly due to the growing complexity of science and technology and not necessarily brought about by the demands of industrialists or industry.

More Reflections (Linking the late19th and the 20th Century)

In a sense four key dates in the 19th and 20th centuries can be identified in the development of technical and commercial education. These were the Elementary Education Act of 1870 which ulimately established the foundations for the earlest higher technical education. The Technical Instruction Act of 1889 which identified the urgent need for industrial and commercial education and training for young people. The Education Act of 1902, even though, it did set back the development of secondary technical education did provide a number of loop holes for the more enlightened Local Authorities to exploit and this ultimately led to the Regulations for Junior Technical Schools issued in 1913. The final key date was the 1944 and the Education Act – see later more detail of the 1902 and 1944 Acts.

The 1870 Act allowed the more enlightened school boards, (sadly very few), to develop provision to cater for their localities e.g. science shools, day technical schools assisted with grants from the Science and Art Department. A high Central School was opened in 1878 in Sheffield and similar schools were established in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford and Manchester. Sadly the majority of school boards were held back by the traditions of the past!

Unfortunately the high grade schools, including the science schools and day technical schools developed between 1870 and 1900 were largely killed off by the Cockerton Judgement of 1899.

Chapters 9 and 10 will describe the developments in the rather turbulent first two decades of the 20th century.


  1. Millis. C. ‘Education for the Trades and Industries.’ Edward Arnold. 1932.
  2. Millis. C. ‘Technical Education, Its Development and Aims.’ Edward Arnold. 1925.
  3. Venables. P. F. R. ‘Technical Education Its Aims Organisation and Future Development.’ Bell. 1955.
  4. Mitchell B. R. and Deane P. ‘Abstract of British Historical Statistics.’ CUP. 1962.
  5. White. A. C. T. ‘The Story of Army History 1643-1963.’ Harrop. 1963.

Comprehensive book list, chronology and glossary are provided on separate sections of this website.

Chapter 7 – After the Great Exhibition – A Growing Recognition for the Need for Technical Education?

Chapter 6 highlighted some of the positive benefits and outcomes of the Great Exhibition particularly in regard to stimulating and provide incentives to develop provision in scientific and technical education. However the hopes of a sustained and vigorous continuation of the initial burst of enthusiasm was not realised. The rigid class structure with its hierarchical nature still largely preserved the prevailing elitist culture to be found in public schools and the older universities. Also the managers of industry were still not convinced of the value of employing qualified workers and nor particularly the importance of technical education and training. The gap between the English and overseas countries in regard to technical education grew ever wider. The period described in this chapter and the next identifies the growing interest and commitment to scientific and technical education albeit in a relatively slow and faltering fashion. A number of important parliamentary committees occurred during the 1860s/70s/80s that had a bearing on future developments. Also it witnessed the creation of the City and Guilds of London Institute as well as the founding of some technical institutions including the first technical college in England namely the Finsbury Technical College.

Developments in higher education.

The momentum created by the Great Exhibition continued after 1851 to have positive influences on a number of other aspects of education. In England technical and scientific higher education was almost non-existent particularly within Cambridge and Oxford. Both universities had been strongly opposed to the recommendations of a number of royal commissions to reform themselves and introduce science into the curriculum. Oxford and Cambridge had dominated the sector since the early 14th century and in spite of a succession of criticisms about their adherence to medieval statues and closeness to the Establishment e.g. the Church, had done little to change. However eventually partly because of the increased interest in scientific and technical matters engendered by the Exhibition and the growing impact of the developing network of new universities and university colleges created throughout the 19th century, reforms gradually occurred. Cambridge introduced the natural sciences tripos in 1851 and Oxford followed by creating honours schools in science although very few students enrolled for these new opportunities. As mentioned earlier the reason the Dissenting Academies were created was a reaction by the non-conformist against the domination of Oxbridge and a curriculum that was resistant to the sciences and technology.

However Cambridge and Oxford did not have a monopoly on higher education during the 19th century. A small number of Universities and colleges that would eventually become universities were created from the about the second decade of the 19th century. These included: University College, (London) in 1826; St. David’s (Lampeter Wales) in 1827; King’s College, (London) in 1828; Durham in 1832; University of London in 1836; Queen’s College (Birmingham) in 1842; Owen’s College, (Manchester) in 1851 see picture below) and as mentioned already the School of Mining, (London) in 1853.

Owens college

These and other Higher Education Institutions were more prepared to introduce science and technology into their programmes and were often assisted by leading scientists, industrialists and thinkers such as: Whitworth, a machine tool manufacturer from Manchester; Brentham a philosopher from London; and Hamilton a professor of civil history from Edinburgh. These and other individuals were aware of the achievements and developments in such institutions as the Ecole Centrale in Paris and the higher institutions in Germany and other European countries preparing people to enter industry well informed of scientific and technological principles. However the country still continued to lack behind our competitors in Europe and America and even when programmes in science and engineering were offered in the new universities and university colleges the student enrolments were small. Even in London with the active and enthusiastic support of the Prince Consort and Lyon Playfair progress was slow and a number of attempts to establish more facilities for science and technical teaching involved long and difficult arguments and the sad reality was that provision outside London was meagre. For example Owens College Manchester founded in 1851 only had 88 day-time students in 1861. To illustrate the development of higher education in science and engineering at this time I provide some brief pen portraits of these new universities and colleges:

University College – London. Founded in 1826. (University College was incorporated into University of London in 1837).

Quickly established chairs in 1827 in Astronomy, Chemistry, Engineering, Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. Later Chairs in Geology (1841), Analytical and Practical Chemistry (1845), Mathematical Principles of Engineering and Descriptive Machinery (1846), and then a succession of chairs in specialised areas of science and the emerging technologies.

King’s College-London. Founded in 1828.

Immediately established chairs in Chemistry, Experimental Philosophy (physics), Geology, Mathematics and Zoology. Between 1838 and 1840 chairs were created in Civil Engineering (1838) and a teaching post in Manufacturing Art and Machinery (1839). In 1851 a course in military engineering was attempted but ultimately failed to recruit sufficient students.
University of Durham. 1832.
A number of posts were created immediately including a chair in Mathematics, a readership in Natural Philosophy and a teaching position in Chemistry. In 1843 engineering was introduced but the university was very much based on the Oxbridge model and the technology of science and technology did not figure significantly in the early life of Durham. However a College of Physical Science based in Newcastle was established in 1871 to teach the scientific principles of agriculture, manufacturing and mining

Owen’s College, Manchester-1851.

John Owens bequeathed £100,000 to create a college to teach such subjects that were taught in existing universities and colleges including science. He made no particular reference to the teaching of technical subjects that might be of value to industry. Chairs were immediately created in Chemistry and Physical Sciences, Mathematics and Natural History. Engineering was instituted in 1868. Owens ultimately became Manchester University in 1903 and was the first of the civic universities.

The Royal School of Mines and the Royal College of Science- London. 1853.

The Government School of Mines and Science as Applied to the Arts was founded in1851 and was originally the Museum of Economic (later named Practical) Geology which was founded in 1839. The Royal College of Science grew out of the Royal College of Chemistry founded in 1845. The two institutions were merged to create the leading scientific and technogical teaching institution in the country. The Royal College of Chemistry technically became the chemistry department of the Royal School of Mines. Both institutions had already well established teaching posts in such disciplines as Applied Mechanics (1851), Biology (1851),Chemistry (1845), Geology (1851), Mathematics (1851), Metallurgy (1851), Mining (1851), Physics (1853) and Practical Chemistry (1851). To affirm its pre-eminence lecturers included some of the greatest scientists and technologists of the time including Thomas Huxley [see biography], John Percy (Metallurgist), Lyon Playfair {see biography] and John Tyndall (physics).

During the last four decades of the 19th century a number of other university colleges were established which are now referred to as the civic universities. Examples of some of these were:

  • Hartley Institution founded 1862→Southampton University (1952).
  • Yorkshire College of Science founded 1874→Leeds University (1904).
  • College of the West of England founded 1874→Bristol University (1909).
  • Frith College Sheffield founded 1879→Sheffield University (1905).
  • Joseph Mason’s Science College founded in 1880→University of Birmingham (1900).
  • University College Liverpool founded 1881 → University of Liverpool (1903).
  • University College of Nottingham founded in 1881→University of Nottingham (1948).

I will consider the development of the Higher Education Sector in later chapters and the creation of the Red Brick, Plate Glass and New Universities as well as the Colleges of Advanced Technology and the Polytechnics particularly in relation to their commitment to technical education.

Other Developments in the 1860’s and 70’s

Following the Great Exhibition science was gradually introduced into schools across the country. The Royal Commission, established in 1864, inquired into the ‘Revenues and Management of certain Colleges and Schools and the studies pursued and instruction given herein’ (Clarendon Report). The report recommended that the nine so-called public schools should introduce science into the curriculum for an hour a week. The Clarendon Report was focussed on the upper classes and in 1868 another Royal Commission (Taunton Report) was established and became known as ‘The Schools Inquiry Commission.’ The Taunton Report advocated the adoption of the Prussian school system: a classical Gymnasium for those able to progress to Oxbridge, and a Realgymnasium, together with the trade schools, for the middle and lower middle classes, with science as an essential part of the curriculum. It is interesting and somewhat depressing to see the obsession yet again with the class structure. Class structure still dominated and determined so much of the English way of life. Sadly even after the promising start following the Great Exhibition politicians and teaching professionals e.g. head teachers still failed to accept that the teaching of science and technology was equally important and relevant for all ages. An interesting statistic that reinforces the hold that the classics still had on the public schools is illustrated by the fact that Eton employed 24 classicists, 8 mathematicians and only 3 teachers for all the other subjects.
The Science and Art Department continued to be responsible for providing grant aid to art schools from 1856 and to design schools and technical schools from1868. This funding regime was known collectively as the South Kensington Grants and this also supported the teaching of science albeit in the evenings.

The Paris Exhibition of 1867 was a resounding wake up call for this country. Whereas in 1851 Britain had won most of the awards across the majority of the manufacturing categories the 1867 Exhibition was a disaster producing only twelve awards. This poor result had been predicted by a number of commentators including Lyon Playfair.As a result Lyon Playfair who had been an assessor at both exhibitions wrote a passionate letter published in the Journal of the Society of Arts (2) reflecting his observations at the Paris Exhibition and wrote:
“- – – opinion prevailed that our country had shown little inventiveness and made little progress in the peaceful arts of industry – – -. The one cause upon which there was unanimity of conviction is that France, Prussia, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland possess good systems of industrial education for the masters and managers of factories and workshops, and that England possesses none”.
This letter and the concerns of others was supported by another conference convened by the Society of Arts which forced the government to establish a select committee in1867 to inquire into the state of scientific education. It was chaired by Bernhard Samuelson [see biographies] and involved a number of visits abroad to compare other countries’ systems. The select committee was tasked to ‘inquire into the Provisions for giving Instruction in Theoretical and Applied Science to the Industrial Classes.’ Samuelson was a successful and well regarded businessman who brought a refreshing and enlightened perspective to the inquiry. His leadership was energetic and he sought evidence from a variety of sources especially from industrialists. He was ably supported by a number of influential people who gave evidence including Thomas Huxley [see biography], Edwin Abbot (a very progressive head teacher of the City of London School who had introduced the teaching of science into his school) and Joseph Whitworth. The committee made a number of strongly worded recommendations particularly associated with the inadequacy of primary and secondary education and the shortage of science teachers. As a result the Select Committee made a very strong plea for the development of a comprehensive and sound system for secondary education, a significant reform of primary education and vastly improved facilities for science teaching. The report from the select committee was a crucial document or the future development of technical education.

The Select Committee on Scientific Instruction met from 1867 to 1868 and reported in July 1868. It concluded with a series of conclusions including:
·         Effecicient elementary instruction should be available to every child to enable the working class to benefit from scientific instruction.
·         In order for this to be effective, regular attendance of the child for a sufficient period must be obtained.
·         Elementary schools should teach drawing, physical geography and the “phenomena of nature”.
·         All those who are not obliged to leave school before the age of 14 should be taught science.
·         Parliament and the nation should consider immediately the reorganisation of secondary education and the introduction of more scientific teaching.
·         Certain endowed schools in the relevant districts should be reconstituted as science schools. Exhibitions open to public competition would enable children of every grade to rise from the lowest to the highest school.
·         Fees alone cannot adequately fund colleges and schools of scientific education: the State, the localities, endowments or other benefactors could contribute.
·         Centres of industry are ideal locations for such colleges and schools due to the possibilities of combining science with practice, and also because some pupils would not be able to live far away from home.
·         The agricultural districts in particular of England in general do not enjoy sufficient State grants for scientific instruction.
·         These provinces of England are entitled to increased funding.
·         Increased pay for science teachers would probably ensure the establishment and permanence of elementary science classes.
·         The Public Libraries and Museums Act should be amended to enable public bodies to charge slightly more for scientific purposes.
·         The managers of teacher training colleges should devote more time to instructing elementary teachers in theoretical and applied science.
·         Teachers in elementary day schools should be paid on the basis of the results for teaching science to older scholars. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge should grant degrees in science.
·         A closer relationship between government institutions for scientific in London would increase the efficiency of each institution.


Bernhard Samuelson continued to be a significant figure in the development of scientific and technical education. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science (the Devonshire Commission -1872 to75) and chaired the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction – 1882 to 84 that will be described later.

The terms of reference of the Devonshire Report were as follows: ‘An inquiry with regard to Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science, and to inquire what aid thereto is desired from grants voted by Parliament or from Endowments belonging to the several universities in Great Britain and Ireland and the Colleges thereof and whether such aid could be rendered in a manner more effective for the purpose.’ Members included Thomas Huxley, Bernhard Samuelson and James Kay-Shuttleworth. The resulting report provided a comprehensive survey of scientific education at universities, and other institutions and organisations e.g. the British Museum involved in higher education. It also considered science in the public, endowed secondary schools, elementary schools and training colleges. It recommended the science teaching should be introduced for older children in elementary schools. It also urged improved training for science teachers and made a wide ranging set of recommendations to improve training, salaries for qualified science teachers and more investment on buildings and equipment.

Another influential industrialist and engineer Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887) wrote to the Prime Minister Disraeli in March 1868 offering thirty scholarships valued at £100 each to promote science and technology and to bring science and industry into closer relation with each other.
Also in1868 the British Association for the Advancement of Science established a high powered committee to review the provision of research and education of science. This Committee’s Report along with the select committee’s findings and recommendations eventually forced the government to establish, in 1872, the Royal Commission chaired by William Devonshire .

The Elementary Education Act of 1870 (the Forster Act) went some way in responding to the recommendations of the Select Committee but progress was still painfully slow – as usual positive actions on the development of technical education were secondary to lots of rhetoric over the next few years and no real progress was witnessed until the 1880s following the Samuelson Report (1882-84) and the Technical Instruction Act.

City and Guilds Institute of London (CGLI).

By the late 1870s it was becoming clear that the country urgently needed a number of initiatives to establish a national framework for technical education and to capitalise on the inherent interest of workers in science and technology but one not based exclusively on State funding. The poor results of the Paris Exhibition (1867) and the awareness that the country was continuing to lose its competitive edge to overseas countries precipitated a meeting of a number of Livery Companies on 3rd July 1876 at the Mansion House that resulted in the following key resolution being proposed:
“That it is desirable that the attention of the Livery Companies be directed to the promotion of Education not only in the Metropolis but throughout the country, and especially to technical education, with the view of educating young artisans and others in the scientific and artistic branches of their trades”
A provisional committee was established in1877 to consider and advance this recommendation and this ultimately led to the founding of CGLI in 1878 which subsequently made a significant contribution to the creation of a national system for technical education. The main purpose of the CGLI was to improve the training of craftspeople and the Institute was finally incorporated in 1880 to promote and advance technical education. Philip Magnus [see biography] was appointed its first director and secretary in 1880. One crucial driving force behind the creation of the CGLI was that the Livery Companies felt there needed to be a general and national scheme for technical education and that they needed to work together collectively to maximise and capitalise on their individual strengths and promote the interests of several trades. The Livery Companies and their various committees continued to develop ideas on how to realise their ambitious agenda for a national system for technical education and in January 1879 established a set of objectives namely:

  • The transference of the Society of Arts Technological Examinations to the Association of Livery Companies which had now been constituted as the CGLI for the Advancement of Technical Education.
  • The establishment of a Trade School at Finsbury and a Trade School of Applied Art at Kennington.
  • The establishment of a Central School which should serve as a training school for teachers, and which should afford technical instruction of a high character.
  • Grants for assisting certain technical classes already established at King’s College and, elsewhere, and grants for the proposed Chairs of Chemical Technology and Mechanical Technology at University College, London.

Below I provide some brief details of how these four recommendations were actioned.

(First objective) -Technological examinations.

This was an incredibly important initiative, which predates the creation of CGLI and required annual examinations to be held after technical instruction had been given to students and teachers of handicrafts through Britain and in the colonies. The prime mover in this development was the Society of Arts [see history of technical and commercial examinations]. Remember the Society of Arts had pioneered technical and commercial examinations in 1873 under the stewardship of James Booth [see biography]. The first examinations were staged in 1873 when 6 candidates presented themselves. This number gradually increased to 184 in 1878 following financial assistance from the Clothworkers Company for payment to teachers for registering the candidates. Following the establishment of CGLI and the subsequent transfer of responsibility of the technical examinations to the Institute from the Society of Arts more rapid progress was witnessed. CGLI offered the examinations for the first time in 1879 when 202 candidates from 23 centres were entered with 151 passes. The subjects offered in 1879 included; Cotton manufacture, Gas manufacture, Steel manufacture, Telegraphy and Wool Dyeing. Subjects offered but did not enrol any candidates included: Paper manufacture, Photography, Pottery and Porcelain and Silk manufacture. The table below shows the situation between 1879 and 1900 which reflects the beginning of a national examination system for technical subjects. (Readers may have their own interpretations for the relatively poor pass rate!). For example the pass rate for the 1884 examinations was 50.3% and the examiners’ report stated that the candidates “are already familiar with the practice of their trades, but possess a very imperfect knowledge of the application thereto of the principles of science” – interesting to compare with a similar situation today where lack of scientific and mathematical capability causes concern to teachers and employers.
However for those candidates who passed the examinations the universities regarded them and the technological examinations very highly e.g. King’s, University College, Nottingham and Firth College, Sheffield. Another indication of their reputation was that in 1887 Australia applied to enter candidates.

Year Number of subjects Number of centres Number of candidates Number of passes
1879 7 23 202 151
1880 24 85 816 515
1885 42 167 3,968 2,168
1890 49 219 6,781  3,507
1900 64 390 14,551 8,114

The CGLI organised the examinations in line with the approaches used by the Science and Art Department, namely staging examinations and issuing certificates to successful candidates. In a similar fashion to the Department and using the additional funding made available from the City Livery Companies allowed the Institute to award grants on the results of examinations. CGLI continued to pay these grants until the enactment of the Technical Instruction Act in 1889 and the Local Taxation (Custom and Excise) Act of 1890 that empowered county councils to raise funds from other sources to assist the development of technical education.
The City and Guilds was and continues to be one of the few jewels in the crown of technical and vocational education. As well as being the premier awarding body for trade, craft, vocational and technical qualifications it has played a significant role in other developments such as establishing the Finsbury Technical College. In 2008 the Institute awarded approximately 2 million certificates in over 70 nations. The recent census showed that over 20 million people in Britain hold CGLI qualifications. Throughout its history it has maintained close working relationships with the Livery Companies, technical colleges, training providers and employers. The Institute has remained true to its founding principles and has not succumbed to academic drift (an expression first coined by Tyrrell Burgess).
Other awarding bodies complemented the work of CGLI but were associated with predominantly non-scientific and technological subjects and included the Royal Society of Arts, College of Preceptors and a number of Regional Union Institutions. An excellent history of examinations including those offered in technical subjects can be found in Montgomery (3). The history of examinations is a fascinating and complex topic in its own right [see history of technical and commercial examinations].
Excellent histories of the two premier vocational awarding bodies have been written namely: for the Royal Society of Arts (4) and for the CGLI (5).

(Second objective)-The City and Guilds Technical Art School at Kennington.

Established in 1878 in Kennington it was an extension and further development of the South London Art School. The South London Art School had been founded by The Rev Gregory in 1854 and had already established a high reputation in art and design. The CGLI were able to provide money to make the necessary extensions to the school based in Kennington Park Road. The new institution was an example of a trade school for applied art enrolling students engaged in art and the industries in the locality including such subjects as: house decoration, illustration, pottery and sculpture. This institute by focussing on the applied aspects of art very much mirrored the vocational mission of the Finsbury Technical College and went on to produce many notable people in the world of applied art. In 1932 the school was renamed the City and Guilds of London Institute – Kennington and Lambeth Art School and is now known as the City and Guilds of London Art School.

(Third objective)-Central Institution at South Kensington.

The Central Institution, later to become the City and Guilds College, was founded by the City Livery Companies under the auspices of the CGLI. One of the objectives of the CGLI was to found a Central Institution in London. However initially it proved difficult to find a site within the City so the Finsbury Technical College was established in 1878, [see later]. This college was intended to act as a feeder for the Central Institution. Eventually a site was found for the Central Institution at South Kensington that had been purchased from the surpluses generated by the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Central Institution

The institution see picture opposite) focussed on the instruction and the awarding of qualifications in the practical aspects of scientific and artistic subjects necessary for entry to such professions as: technical teachers, architects, mechanical, civil and electrical engineers and senior people in the chemical and other manufacturing industries. Formally opened in June 1884 by the Prince of Wales, then President of the CGLI, it adopted a very different approach in its instruction from the existing universities focussing on the practical applications of science to industrial methods. It very much mirrored the approach adopted by the Finsbury Technical College and the CGLI Institution of Technical Art focussing as it did on applied science and art as opposed to the theoretical and pure aspects of these subjects. In addition the Institution offered opportunities for progression to HE to students completing their studies at Finsbury Technical College and the Technical Art School. These two institutions today could be equated with Colleges of Further Education (CFEs). Philip Magnus [see biography] with his knowledge of developments in mainland Europe and direct involvement with CGLI was a key figure in configuring the Central Institution and technical education owes a great deal to this visionary individual. Subsequently the Goldsmiths’ Company provided very generous funding to extend the buildings and facilities of the College which eventually became the Central Technical College and finally in 1909 the Engineering Section of the Imperial College of Science and Technology under the title of the CGLI (Engineering) College.
It became known as the City and Guilds College after its full incorporation into Imperial College.

(Fourth objective)-Grants to Technical Institutions in London and Beyond

The Livery Companies and the CGLI continued to provide grants to existing technical institutions both within London and a number of provincial towns throughout England. Grants, subsidies and scholarships from these two organisations included:

  • The London Polytechnic and the Artizans’ Institutes [more about these institutions later].
  • Subsidy to the British Horological Society.
  • Annual grant to the Society for Promoting Employment of Women.
  • The Leicester, Manchester and Sheffield Schools.
  • Engineering Departments at University College, Nottingham, Mechanical and Chemical Engineering Departments and for the study of Metallurgy at King’s College, London and the School of Practical Fine Art in London.
  • Extensive grants for textiles to a number of colleges including Bradford, Stroud, Trowbridge and Halifax.

This list is by no means exhaustive but indicates that from around 1881 additional external funding began to establish a wide range of technical institutions that reflected and aided the industrial bases at the end of the 19thand beginning of the 20th centuries. Various writers have estimated the total amount of money given by the Livery Companies and the CGLI was of the order of £ 2,000,000 over a period of forty years which was an immense sum at that time. However it ultimately proved impossible to sustain this level of financial support and it was becoming clear that State funding was essential in order to create a more secure and long term basis for the consolidation and further expansion of technical education and its constitute institutions.

Artizans’ Institute and the People’s Palace.

These two important and influential movements merit mentioning. The Artizans’ Institute although it predated the formation of the Finsbury Technical College was a significant establishment. The Institute was founded in 1874 by the Rev Solley following a number of meetings and conferences held during 1873 some of which were held at Society of Arts. They were supported by a number of key figures representing various trades, which led to the creation of the Trades Guild of Learning, which in turn established the Artizans’ Institute. The following resolution of a meeting held in March 1873 indicates the intentions of the Trades Guild of Learning:

“ That in the opinion of this meeting it is desirable to form a Trades Guild of Learning with the view of promoting the delivery of lectures, and the formation of classes, to assist members of trade societies and other skilled workmen in acquiring a knowledge of history, political economy, and technical education, as well as of literature, science and art generally.”

The Trades Guild of Learning quickly led to the development of the Artizans’ Institute and true to its founding principles focussed on a wide range of trades. Interesting to note the creation of the Guild and the Institute was triggered by a growing disillusionment with the weakness of technical education and the demise at the time of many apprenticeship programmes. The purpose of the Institution was to:

“Offer systematic instruction of workmen and apprentices in the principles of art and science forming the basis of various handicrafts and in the technical applications of those principles to actual work. In other words the object may be stated as that of affording combined instruction in principles and practice, the one illustrating the other”.

This set of objectives is as relevant today as it was then. Another interesting aspect of the Institute was that its instruction would complement the training in the workshop or factory and not attempt to subvert it. The Institute was housed in relatively small premises in St. Martin’s Lane and the range of trades and other subjects was remarkable for the time including: Bricklaying, Carpentry, Pattern Making, Plumbing and Sheet Metal Working. In addition classes were offered in science and mathematics with such subjects as Applied Mechanics, Building Construction and Geometry as well as in the Arts. To further enhance the curriculum lectures were given in Economics, Industrial History and Politics although sadly these subjects failed to recruit many students. A series of problems with funding, premises and weak management eventually brought about the incorporation in 1883 of the Artizans’ Institute into the newly created Finsbury Technical College becoming the Trades Class Department. Throughout its relatively short life the Artizans’ Institute received considerable support from the Livery Companies and CGLI as well as having a strong advocate in Philip Magnus then Director and Secretary of the CGLI. Notable teachers were employed included Professors Armitage and Ayrton who were to become pioneers in the teaching of science education. Equally important were a number of successful former students who went on to become influential figures in industry and technical education.

People’s Palace

The People’s Place is an excellent example of how an isolated initiative developed successively into a technical college and finally a university.The People’s Palace was established by a generous benefactor, the Palace then received significant and on-going financial support from a City Livery Company namely the Drapers. It began following a bequest by John Beaumont upon his death in 1841 to establish a home for education and amusement/creation in the East End of London. John Beaumont as well as being a gifted artist had been a successful businessman who made his fortune in insurance. The People’s Palace was formally opened by Queen Victoria in 1887 the name being taken from a successful novel at the time by Walter Besant entitled ‘All Sorts and Conditions of Men’.

The Drapers’ Company provided £20,000 for the construction of permanent technical schools as well as a significant sum of money including endowments totalling £7,000 a year for ten years. The People’s Palace received other donations from other trust organisations and as a result was able to offer courses in trades and industrial disciplines to young workers. The whole complex was completed in 1892. The technical schools operated both day and evening classes with an average attendance of about 400 and of these about 300 were on free scholarships. In 1896 the Palace became the East London Technical College being divided into three departments: a day school for boys that were closed in 1906, day classes and evening classes both preparing students for university and the civil service.

People's College 1891

The College (see opposite) offered an amazing range of courses with an emphasis on chemistry and engineering but equally important was the teaching of the trade and commercial subjects including carpentry, tailoring, needlework and photography. The College amalgamated with the Bow and Bromley Institute in 1898 and continued to 1911 when this branch was closed. By 1900 five professors at the college were recognised as University of London teachers. The College by now had become an institution of higher education promoting HE in East London. In1907 the Technical College made a successful application to become a school of the University of London and eventually in 1934 the College became Queen Mary College part of the University of London.


One striking impression during this time is the rapid growth of different kinds of technical institutions many of which were short lived whilst others thrived and ultimately transmogrified into major institutions. The period 1850-90 witnessed in London and beyond a rapid development of technical education with widely differing purposes, operating at different levels and managed in a variety of ways. As has been seen new institutions were created whilst existing ones like some of the Mechanics’ Institutions were assimilated into others. The hands off approach adopted by successive governments of the time had produced an array of largely unregulated technical institutions – the inevitable consequence of the laissez faire philosophy (interesting to compare the situation TODAY where the free market is still encouraged!). The concern about the unregulated growth of technical education and it’s constitute institutions was one of the factors that led to the establishment of two important Royal Commissions which published the Devonshire and Samuelson Reports in 1872/75 and 1882/84 respectively both of which will be described in chapter 8.
As one can see the momentum, at last, was now being generated and the basic framework for a national system for technical education was emerging in colleges, industry and other training providers and the next chapter will continue to map the developments at the end of the19th century including the founding of the first technical college in England namely the Finsbury Technical College.


  1. Hole. J. ‘An Essay on the History and Management of Literary, Scientific and Mechanics’ Institutions.’ London. 1853.
  2. Playfair.L. Letter to Journal Society of Arts. 15.p 477. 1867.
  3. Montgomery. R.J. ‘Examinations.’ Longmans. 1965.
  4. Hudson. D. and Luckhurst. K. W. ‘The Royal Society of Arts 1754 – 1954.’ J. Murray.1954.
  5. Lang. J. ‘City and Guilds of London Institute Centenary 1878 – 1978.’ ISBN.0 85193 007 7. 1978.
  6. ‘City and Guilds: A Short History 1878 -1992.’ ISBN 085193 010 7. 1993. Both volumes published by CGLI.

Please note a very comprehensive book list , chronology and glossary are present on separate sections of this website.


Skills for the Future – Is the current agenda valid?

Skills still seem to be a top priority for the government, but are the strategies and policies being developed correct? Lots of resources e.g. human, time, and  financial, (this last is now affected by the constraints of the financial crisis) seem to be expended on developing a number of frameworks and models to address the current problems associated with skills shortages and gaps among people already in employment and those wishing to enter employment. But will the current efforts to create flexible enough frameworks and models resolve today’s challenges and those in the future, particularly in the volatile global financial scenario?  Such turbulent times require radical decisions, strategies and policies. However reading the multitude of policy statements, research papers and reports from innumerable task groups the lessons from past attempts to resolve skill shortages and gaps seem to have been overlooked and forgotten to a large extent. It’s the classic case of political and historical amnesia with lots of people and organisations rushing to jump on the band wagon without any real depth of understanding or resultant analysis of the complex factors in play. At present the fallout from the global financial crisis will demand a fundamental rethink of the skills agenda.  One of the first budgets cuts in difficult financial times is the funding of training both at government and company levels. The country is bankrupt with personal and corporate debt standing at 300% of GDP so little chance of sufficient funding for post-16 education and training – what money is available will go of schools. In spite of a favourable exchange rate manufacturing declined by 12.8% in January 2009  adding a  £1 billion deficit to our exports. As unemployment rises during the current recession/depression companies can be even more selective in their limited recruitment campaigns having a pool of qualified unemployed people to draw from.

Recent developments have also highlighted the dangers of building a skills strategy based on a supply of qualified workers from overseas. Interesting to note that many qualified Polish workers e.g. plumbers are returning to Poland having reckoned that their own country offers a more stable economy than that of the UK including taking into account the poor exchange rate between the pound and euro – a matter which also indicates that an urgent rethink about Britain’s entry into the Euro is long overdue!

This last factor shows the fragility of depending on immigrant workers to fill skills shortages and gaps. The issue of using overseas workers either through immigration or by directly poaching qualified workers, particularly from the developing world, raises fundamental ethical questions. This is especially so when recruiting medical and paramedical personnel from countries who educated and trained these people from their very limited budgets only to see the UK and other countries poach them. Britain should not be saving money through short-sighted cuts in its education and training budgets. Australia has already decided to grow its own timber by reviewing and reforming its vocational programmes.

A number of possible key questions arise that include:

  • Are the emerging skills strategies and models in this country sufficiently flexible and sufficient in scope to cope with the rapidly changing global labour markets and all the required skills?
  • Are the very complex issues associated with the rapidly developing technologies, innovation and technology transfers being properly addressed in the current skills agendas? How can education and training programmes keep abreast with these rapid changes? * (An important aside -obviously there will be a need to produce skilled workers in traditional crafts and skills associated with such areas such as restoration and heritage activities).  BUT there is an ongoing, urgent and essential requirement for responding to the future needs arising from technological advances?   
  • Are the current developments sufficiently sensitive to the subtle dynamics associated with skills e.g.  rapidly emerging new technologies and applications of science?
  • Are the consequences of demographic changes fully appreciated and planned?
  • Is sufficient attention being focussed on up-skilling and cross-skilling the existing workforce? With a declining young population older workers are even more important and must receive equal attention in training and CPD programmes.
  • Is sufficient attention being given to the involvement by informed employers,  workers and their representatives in developing a flexible model for the skills agenda or are the current policies for representation mere tokenism?
  • Is sufficient attention being given to global competitiveness and the challenges of market advantage that will require flexibility, rapid innovation and a high degree of diversification when developing  policies, strategies and tactics for skills?
  • Is sufficient attention being given to the higher levels of skills i.e. > level 3 or will the focus continue on the lower levels of skills i.e. level 2? After all many countries particularly in the Far East are addressing the need for the higher levels as well as giving equal attention to the essential lower skills.
  • Is there sufficient urgency about current skills development? Leitch time lines 2020 – perfect vision but this is far too leisurely compared with many of our major competitors. 

The list is by no means complete but attempts to illustrate the many complex interacting factors that most certainly require an urgent rethink and their impact on the skills agenda. As an earlier article in the ‘t’ magazine (1) so excellently stated Skill is a slippery, complex and dynamic concept. Any national skills strategy MUST recognise these facts and it must not be driven by accountants, bureaucrats and questionable political myopia. To resolve the long standing problems radical solutions are urgently required!

I hope this article will trigger a debate in the magazine.


  1. “Skill-a slippery concept” ‘t’ magazine. August 2008.

March 2009.