Chapter 10 – Developments between 1920 and 1940

This entry is part 10 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education



The Great War inevitably brought about many changes in education for example the existing apprenticeship programmes were seriously disrupted by the war. However, wars stimulate change and often as a result some innovate practices are introduced in order to increase productivity and tackle the challenges of the urgent need to accelerate manufacturing for the war effort. For example the Ministry of Munitions introduced much shorter training schemes by training workers in just one or two operations. More physical resources e.g. modern equipment was made available to technical schools and other institutions offering technical instruction. After the war the government training priorities centred on disabled ex-service personnel. In 1925 the Interrupted Apprenticeship Programme allowed individuals who had their apprenticeships disrupted by the war to complete their schemes. Training Centres were established offering six month to eighteen month programmes in a range of trades and were aimed at people who could relatively easily gain employment. Instructional Centres were established for the long term unemployed. Interestingly if people did not accept the offer of training their unemployment benefit was withdrawn. Training schemes were introduced for women but again the main purpose was to prepare them for employment in domestic occupations such as cookery, housework, laundry and needlework. Courses included both residential and non-residential to prepare unemployed women and girls for employment in domestic areas. Between the two world wars approximately 2 million people received some training with around 1.5 million attending Junior Instructional Centres. Junior Instructional Centres were managed by the LEAs under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour which had in 1919 assumed total responsibility for all government funded training although the post war recession and the subsequent depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s caused many of the training programmes to be severely curtailed. However even with the involvement of the Ministry of Labour training was still mainly seen as the responsibility of the employers – the government saw their role as supporting the most vulnerable in society e.g. disabled ex-service personnel.

Even with all the political developments associated with secondary education in the early 20th century there was still great uncertainty about technical and scientific subjects and their place in the school curriculum. In the early 1930s there were still only about 100 junior technical schools enrolling approximately 30 000 students in 1937. Before the Second World War day release schemes for apprentices from industry still operated at a very low level. Regional development of technical education was equally slow although the first really concerted effort to establish any semblance of regional co-ordination occurred in 1928 when the Board of Education created the Yorkshire Council for Further Education.

A series of financial crises during most of the 20th century linked with the massive national debt as a result of the two world wars inevitably caused all sorts of problems for the country. The shortage of money on many occasions during the century and the failure and inability to invest in education held back many essential initiatives to tackle skill shortages and to create and sustain a well qualified workforce. The continued lack of money to maintain a quality public sector of education sadly explains why even today problems still persist across the technical and commercial education system.

The two most important clauses in the 1918 Act were finally enacted following the 1921 Education Act namely the raising of the school leaving age from 12 to 14 and the possibility of creating a system of part-time continuation education for young people not in full-time education ultimately up to the age of eighteen. Both these important clauses, if they had been implemented immediately would have acted as a catalyst which would have brought about a greater degree of integration and coherence between the academic and technical streams of education. However the lack of money brought about massive cuts in public expenditure in the 1920s and 1920s and this coupled with a general culture of hostility from parents and surprisingly employers towards technical education continued to significantly curtail essential and crucial developments. Only one authority namely Rugby operated a system of part-time continuing education on a statutory basis. It was only after the 1944 Education Act that these two proposals were reinstated. The period between 1902 and 1939 witnessed the development of a mass secondary school system although it was only after the Second World War that it was completed. Colleges, many of which had been created from early developments i.e. Mechanics’ Institutions and Workingmen’s Colleges developed slowly and were very much dependent on the support and insight of the local authorities. Too often the colleges had to operate in outmoded accommodation with outdated and inappropriate equipment. Too often the situation can be summed up by the expression ‘make do and mend’. To illustrate the parlous state of investment the government’s commitment to spend £12 million on capital projects in 1939 actually saw less than £2 million expended. I will describe the development of the colleges in later chapters.

The Hadow Report in 1926 ‘Education of the Adolescent’ recommended the raising of the school leaving age to 15 and the creation of secondary education for all children which would follow consecutively on six years of primary education. The purpose of secondary education was therefore extended to include ‘modern secondary schools’ where the education might have a ‘practical’ and ‘realistic’ bias – note the use of the word might! In 1930 the Ministry of Labour became responsible for more training. In 1938 the Spens Report recommended the expansion of the technical schools and the continued development of the tripartite system of secondary education namely separate grammar, technical and modern schools. Two typical quotes from the report highlights the concerns felt by the members namely ‘We are convinced that it is of great importance to establish a new type of school of technical education quite distinct from the traditional academic Grammar School.’ and ‘The natural ambition of the clever child has been turned towards the Grammar School and the professional occupations rather than towards Technical High Schools and industry. This tends inevitably to create a disproportion in the distribution of brain power as between what may be broadly termed the professional and industrial worlds. Further, there is the regrettable and undesirable difference in social esteem.’ The report also recommended that the school leaving age should be raised to 16 years. The report argued that a new type of higher school of technical character should be developed as a first step from the existing Junior Technical Schools (JTSs). Clearly most of these recommendations were subsequently refined by later Reports and Education Acts and obviously the Second World War had a major influence on the new structures of the education system including technical education after the war. In 1932 the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance argued that attendance at Junior Instruction Centre or a courses of Instruction should be regarded and enforced as a normal condition in respect of unemployment whether through the Insurance Scheme or in the form of Unemployment Benefit .

Even in the early 1930s there were still only about 100 junior technical schools that enrolled approximately 30,000 students by 1937, for example. Before the Second World War day release schemes for apprentices from industry were at a very low level. Regional development of technical education was equally slow although the first really concerted effort to establish any semblance of regional co-ordination occurred in 1928 when the Board of Education created the Yorkshire Council for Further Education.

The two most important clauses in the 1918 Act that would eventually influence technical education were the raising of the school leaving age and the possibility of creating a system of part-time continuing education for young people not in full-time education ultimately up to the age of eighteen. Both these important clauses, if they had been implemented quickly, could have acted as a catalyst, which would have brought about a greater degree of integration and coherence between the academic and technical streams of education. However massive cuts in public expenditure in the 1920s and a general culture of hostility from parents and surprisingly employers significantly retarded these crucial developments. Only one authority namely Rugby operated a system of part-time continuing education on a statutory basis. It was only after the 1944 Education Act that these two proposals were reintroduced. The trade unions continued to show 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 they were in employment.

Technical Schools and Institutions.

Because of the historical development institutions were often composite in character, comprising programmes identifiable in more than one category in terms of level, mode of study and attendance. For example a technical college could comprise a Junior Technical School for boys, a similar school for girls, a senior full-time course in a specific trade along with evening courses in this and other related trades.
Table 1 illustrates the types of institutions offering technical teaching and instruction in 1935.

Table 1. Types of Institutions involved in Technical Education and Instruction.

  • Junior Technical Schools
  • Technical Day Classes
  • Day Continuation Schools
  • Evening Institutions
  • Senior full-time programmes in Colleges of Further Education.

Table 2 illustrates the range of provision for these technical institutions along with the enrolments for 1934.

Table 2. Enrolments and Range of Provision in Technical Institutions.

Junior (<16)

Full-time courses No. of Students in England and Wales
Junior Technical Schools 22,158
Technical Day Classes 1,223
Part-time courses   No. of Students in England and Wales
Day Continuation and Work Schools 15,658
Evening Continuation Schools 205,648
Juvenile Instruction Centres   23,543
Technical Day Classes   2,077
Grand totals   PT 250,906 / FT 23,381

Senior (>16)

Full-time courses No. of Students in England and Wales
Senior Courses in Colleges   8,709
Technical Day Classes   1,366
Part-time courses
Evening Classes in Colleges and Institutions 636,677
Technical Day Classes 23,350
Grand totals PT 660,027 / FT 10,165

Source: Education in 1934. HM Stationery Office 1935 reproduced in Technical Education (Fabian Research Bureau, 1936).

In 1937 a Board of Education Pamphlet 111 listed 4 types of junior technical and commercial schools (excluding art institutions). These were those i) preparing pupils for entry to specific industries or groups of industries, ii) preparing pupils for specific occupations, iii) preparing girls for home management and iv) preparing pupils to enter commerce. In 1935/36 194 junior technical and commercial schools existed with 23,844 pupils on roll. On March 31st 1938 there were 248 schools with 30,457 pupils on roll. In the year 1937/38 there were 224 junior technical and commercial schools with 28,169 pupils on roll.

These figures provide an interesting set of insights into how students were able to undertake technical studies e.g. note the low level of day release compared with evening attendance. Young people who had shown promise at primary school might be offered day release e.g. in 1934 approximately 25,000 boys and girls were so released on a basis of two half-days to attend technical subjects these would be enrolled in technical day classes and day continuation schools. In 1935 there were 53 Day Continuation Schools in England and Wales of which 46 were controlled by LEAs and 7 were provided by private companies. Also note the large number of titles for the institutions. In fact evening student numbers had reached a peak in the early 1900s and except for a few fluctuations remained relatively constant until the 1940s. From the 40s the driving forces were the increase demand for scientists and technologists in industry coupled with the acute shortage of skilled and highly qualified researchers and technicians and this led to a number of reviews, which in turn brought about an expansion.

Some Statistics on Number of Students Enrolled in Colleges and Other Institutions.
It might be helpful to present some data on student numbers and subjects to illustrate how the technical education system was developing and how people were participating in art, commercial and technical education. The following statistical data is taken from the Board of Education Annual Report for 1936 and shows class numbers and class entries classified according to specific subjects. In 1936 there were just over 100,000 evening classes in England and Wales with approximately 2.5 million class entries – remember students could enter themselves for more than one subject so it is not the number of students that is shown in the following tables.

Table 3. Evening classes in 1936.

Subject-group No. of sub-groups or Individual subjects No. of classes in group No. of class entries
Commercial 23 20,262  475,912
Engineering trades 33 8,087 159,888
Building 21 4,688 79,778
Mining 2 1,236 23,701
Printing 5 669 12,423
Clothing and Textiles 20 2,971 43,160
Chemical 16 757 12,208
Food and Drink 4 332 6,000
Domestic 13 15,095 289,567
Manual Subjects 3 5,686 132,476
Natural Sciences 10 5,810 117,509
Art 10 1,974 44,356
Languages 20 4,199 76,189
Hygiene 3 2,290 49,356
Others including: Physical Training, Social Sciences and Music 13 10,958 287,978
Miscellaneous 6 584 15,753


Numbers do not show detail for English and Mathematics as these key subjects wee offered mainly as a servicing subject for a very wide range of other programmes.
Analysis of the detail above shows that industry, commerce and domestic subjects were the most popular.
Table 4 shows the class entries in Colleges and Evening Institutes in 1936.

Table 4. Class Entries in Colleges and Evening Institutes.

Colleges  Evening Institutes
Subject-group Class entries Subject-group Class entries
Industry 276,190 Commerce 612,307
Commerce 134,565 Industry 372,153
Natural science 55,517 Recreational 309,453
Liberal studies 42,254 Domestic 299,038
Domestic 39,135 Liberal studies 178,245
Recreational 16,104 Natural science 61,992


Fascinating to see that study in evening institutes was three times that provided in colleges. A culture of going to college full-time or during the day was only growing slowly.

Table 5 illustrates the relative proportions of the various modes of attendance at a typical college. It also proves of interest reflecting the domination of evening study. The figures are taken from an average college and its annual return in 1936.

Table 5. Profile of Modes of Attendance at a Typical College in 1936.

Student hours
Mode of attendance Average annual hours %
Full-time 41,900 22
Part-time 22,300 12
Evening 126,400 66
Totals 190,600 100

Table 6 shows the enrolment pattern in schools of art and colleges.

Table 6. Enrolments in Schools of Art and Colleges 1936.

Colleges Art Schools
Mode of attendance Total % Total %
Full-time 12,505 5 5,729 8.7
59,829 91.3
Totals: 253,124 100 65,558 100


It must be remembered that art students represented a relatively small proportion of the total student numbers in colleges. The schools of art were in many ways monotechnics and able to offer a much wider range of art and design subjects much of it at the higher levels because of their better facilities.
The cost of educating a student in university and colleges has always been an issue and even today a great deal of debate continues about what the real costs should be to provide a high quality and relevant curriculum. Table 7 provides an interesting insight to the costs in the late 1930s.

Table 7. Cost of Courses to Institutions per Student (1930s).

Institution and mode of attendance  Annual Cost (£) Total cost of each completed course (£)
Technical college-evening 10 50 (5 years)
Technical college-part-time 26 156 (6 years)
Technical college-full-time 65 195 (3 years)
University-full-time 125  375 (3 years)

A really fascinating statistic that Richardson (1) carried out was the average fees paid per student to attend different courses in colleges and universities in the 1930s. Table 8 shows his calculations.

Table 8. Price of Education to the Student.

Institution and mode of attendance Estimated Annual Cost (£) Cost of completed course (£)
Technical college-evening 4 20 (5years)
Technical college-part-time 30 180 (6 years)
Technical college-full-time 90 270 (3 years)
Modern university e.g. civic 160 480 (3 years)


Interesting to compare with the equivalent fees and expense incurred by today’s students.
To complete this statistical presentation table 9 shows the overall numbers of students attending Further Education in 1936.

Table 9. Total Numbers of Students Attending Various Institutions in 1936.

Institution type Male Female
Universities 38,127  11,886
Art Colleges 33,087 31,511
Technical Colleges 280,748 71,297
Evening Institutions 352,125 388,927
Day Continuation Schools 8,564 10,506
Agriculture 11,000 2,000
Adult Education 3,939 4,726
Totals 727,590 521,221
Grand total for females
and males: 1,248,811


This table makes fascinating reading on a number of counts e.g. .the proportions of females studying in various institutions and the continuing dominance of evening and part-time study. It is interesting to make a comparison with current university enrolments patterns in 2008 when female enrolments at university for the first time exceeded those for males – at last some sort of equality is being achieved reflecting the demographic realities of the population.
Teachers in Technical Education.

In 1934 there were 3,854 full-time teachers many of those teaching languages, mathematics and science were graduates whilst the majority of the teachers of technical and vocational subjects possessed appropriate technical training and experience in the work place. These were supported by 10,000 part-time teachers and instructors again the majority being drawn from commerce and industry. At this time no technical training institutions existed for teachers and very few formal structures were available to help teachers and instructors develop teaching techniques. May just learnt on the job. However in 1936 the Nottingham University College in collaboration with the Board of Education instigated a full-time, one-year post-graduate course for the training of teachers of technical subjects mirroring existing ones offered for secondary school teachers. This pioneering course was a forerunner for later training colleges that were established as the number of teachers in technical and commercial education increased and he development of PGCE focused on teaching in technical education. Technical training colleges were created later e.g. Bolton College of Education (Technical), Garnet College London, Huddersfield College of Education (Technical) and Wolverhampton Technical Teachers’ College. [I will consider in more detail later the teachers and teacher training in Further Education – a title that is now accepted].


Although a much fuller account is provided in the separate history of technical and commercial examinations on this website it will be helpful to link some examination statistics with the data and information on student numbers, institutions and the courses describe above. Examinations have always played an important part in technical and commercial education. A number of awarding boards organised and provided external examinations for the wide range of institutions presenting their students. There were a number of Local/Regional Examining Unions offering very efficient systems of examinations. They involved local employers and he institutions by way of advisory committees to draft curricula and syllabuses for examinations that were in demand from their own areas. In areas not covered by these Examining Unions national bodies like the CGLI, [R]SA and London Chamber of Commerce offered a very wide range of subject examinations. The Joint Committee described earlier continued to offer ONC/ONDs and HNCs/HNDs developed during the 1920 and 30s. The total number of O/HNCs awarded in 1931 was 2,792 rising to 5,330 in 1939. In 1939 the number of candidates for mechanical / electrical engineering and building was 1,833, 1,133 and 533 respectively.

Table 10 illustrates how the number of candidates increased during the period covered by chapters 9 and 10 i.e. 1900 to 1940.

Table 10. Number of Candidates entered for CGLI at Various Years During the 1920/30s.

Year No. of Centres No. of Subjects No. of Candidates No. of Passes
Pass Rate
1900 390 64 14,551 8,114 (55.8%)
1910 418 75 24,508 14,105 (59.6%)
1915 419 72 15,625 9,866 (63.1%)
1919 312 65 8,523 5,221 (61.3%)
1920 321 67 9,825 6,231 (63.4%)
1925 299 73 8,676 5,738 (66.1%)
1930 402 86 14,721 9,616 (65.3%)
1935 433 108 18,656 12,084 (64.8%)
1939 556 125 34,174 22,000 (64.4%)
1940 427 116 15,163

It is Interesting to note the impact on the numbers at the time of the Great War and the beginning of World War 2. The passes show a fair degree of consistency albeit still with a high failure rate.

The [Royal] Society of Arts continued to grow after it had transferred the technological examinations to CGLI in 1879 and specialised in vocational subjects other than technical e.g. commercial, secretarial and office related subjects. It continued and still continues to be a major player in education and examinations [see the history of technical and commercial examinations]. The number of entries was small in the1880s but by 1890 the number of candidates had risen to 2,315 and continued to increase steadily during the 1890s and by 1900 had reached nearly 10,000. The increase can be linked to the whiskey tax as this created more classes in commercial subjects. Another factor that contributed to the increase was the introduction of bronze medals in 1891. The Society also introduced, at the turn of the new century, the three stages denoting level of study namely: elementary  aimed at day continuation schools); intermediate and advanced (this was finally introduced in 1905). The Society also reintroduced the group certificate an idea that had first been considered in the 1870s but failed to gain credibility. The group certificates at the three stages or grades quickly became accepted. After these reforms the number of candidates increased dramatically from 1900. Table 11 shows the growth in entries for RSA examination between 1900 and 1929.

Table 11. Number of Entries for [RSA] Examinations.

Year 1900 1905 1911 1919 1925 1929
No. of entries: 9.808 23,803 30,000 31,000 71,000 100,000


Again the Great War had an impact on entries and entries remained fairly constant up to and throughout the Second World War. After the war entries continued to increase e.g. 154,100 in 1949. Other examining bodies included the London Chamber of Commerce that had started offering examinations in commercial subjects in 1890 and the Pitman Examination Institute again offering commercial subjects [see biography].

The University Sector:

In the mid-1930s there were twelve universities and five university colleges but these institutions could not award degrees. Departments of technology were slowly being created within the university sector and some would cooperate with the local larger colleges e.g. Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Loughborough and Nottingham to reduce the possibility of unnecessary duplication. In 1934 there were 4,439 students enrolled full-time in these higher education institutions and the majority of the graduates preferred to enter the technical side of industry e.g. industrial design, research and development and testing rather than the production side of industry. Even in the 1930s there was a mismatch between supply and demand i.e. an over production of chemists and a shortage of biologists. Apparently nothing changes. Today our shortages are for mathematicians, physicists and statisticians.

Commercial Education:
In commerce recruitment for degrees was still relatively small. However, as industry became more sophisticated the demand for more qualified administrative, clerical, financial, legal and secretarial staff grew so institutions began to offer courses in a wide range of subjects. Subjects like accountancy, banking, book-keeping, law, shorthand, and typing. A number of these subjects were overseen by professional bodies some of which offered examinations, set standards and granted professional membership grades depending on the person’s experience and position in the company. Many other commercial occupational areas were offered by a variety of institutions including:

  • Junior Commercial School. In 1936 there were 44 such institutions enrolling 5,259 students. These institutions provided instruction in commercial subjects and the so-called ‘office arts’ as well as continuing the students general education.
  • Senior Full-Time Courses. There were 45 of these enrolling 1,447 post-certificate students. Examples of programmes included secretarial courses mainly for females, Intermediate B.Com and B.Sc. (Economics) and more specialised commercial programmes in, say, merchandising.
  • Evening Classes. Subjects offered at the junior level included arithmetic and accounts, English and commercial correspondence (literacy and business communications), shorthand and an optional foreign language. The senior courses were of three years duration and had commerce as a mandatory subject. In addition optional subjects were available including book-keeping, commercial arithmetic, foreign language, and shorthand, a trade subject reflecting the student’s employment interest and typing.
  • Advanced courses were obviously found in the larger institutions that could provide the facilities, qualified staff and resources to prepare the students for professional examinations. For example in London there were 23 Senior Commercial Institutes complemented by a number of privately run commercial institutions.

Other Developments that were Relevant to Technical and Commercial Education.

In 1911 the East Midlands Educational Union was founded and in 1920 the Northern Union of Mechanics’ Institutions (founded to 1848) was reconstituted as the Northern Counties Technical Examinations Council. In 1935 the National Association for the Advancement of Education for Commerce was founded. The British Association for Commercial and Industrial Education (BACIE) was established in 1934 following the merger of the association of Education in Industry and Commerce (founded in 1919) and the British Association for Commercial Education.
In 1919 the Board of Education established a committee to investigate ‘Education for Engineering that praised the quality of work in the Junior Technical Schools. In spite of the lack of funding to build and improve the accommodation of institutions some technical institutions/colleges were built during the period from 1900 and 1940. These included: Liverpool School of Commerce (1924), Loughborough Technical Institute (1909), Municipal Technical Institute (Norwich -1901), Rugby Technical and Art School (1920) and Workington County Technical and Secondary School (1912). Obviously the names of these institutions were changed later following the various reforms to the technical education system and the requirements of a number of Educations Acts.

Other institutions created earlier continued to operate and evolved from amongst others the Mechanics’ Institutions movement after their long and illustrious histories, A few examples include Birmingham Municipal Technical School (1895), Brighton Technical College (1897), Cardiff Science and Art School (1865), Glasgow Commerce College (1845), Leeds Mechanics’ Institution (1824), Leicester School of Commerce (1896), Manchester Mechanics’ Institution (1824), Mechanics’ Institution (Lancashire and Morecambe-1824), Northampton Institute (1891), School of Arts (Heriot-Watt Edinburgh (1821) and Science School and Technical College (Gloucester-1873). It is interesting to note the multitude of titles again these were rationalised during the rest of the 20th century.

A far more comprehensive chronology is provide in Appendix 1 that attempts to record many of the founding dates of key developments in technical and commercial education. In addition Appendix 4 provides more detail of key people and organisations in the technical and commercial education.


During the period from prior to the Great War and through the interwar years the major factor suppressing the further development of technical education was a succession of economic depressions and as a result a lack of money to invest in expanding the national education system and especially for technical and commerce education. The expenditure by the Board of Education in 1938 was £51 million – the same as it was for the period 1921/22! . High levels of unemployment during this period created little commitment to develop and sustain a skilled workforce – this has been a recurring issue throughout this country’s history and its attitude to technical education.

During the period covered by chapters 9 and 10 the importance of technical education was continually stressed by government and other relevant parties but resulted in little sustained or meaningful action. As I said earlier it was a period of slow evolution. The long awaited revolution following the expansion between 1870 and 1905 did not materialise. The Board of Education appeared to encourage and cajole but the State, because of financial constraints or indifference towards technical subjects failed to establish a comprehensive national system for technical education. The result was that the country was still denied an adequate system for the provision of secondary education for all and most certainly had an ill-formed system for technical education when the Second World War began 1939. The war again highlighted the lack of sufficiently qualified scientists, technicians and technologists and the poor state of engineering and manufacturing in Britain. The country survived more by luck and through outside support mainly from America. This fascinating but perplexing issue has been brilliantly explored and described by Barnett (2)

Chapter 11 will describe the developments after the 1944 Education Act and beyond that began to create a technical education system that we can begin to comprehend in terms of the current structures and practices. The country attempted, only partly successfully, to learn from the mistakes and problems identified in the war including the urgent need to develop and support a more effective technical education system. Amongst other developments was the rationalisation of the technical and commercial education landscape.


  1. Richardson. W. A. ‘The Technical College. Its Organisation and Administration.’ OUP. 1939.
  2. Barnett. C ‘The Audit of War.’ Macmillan -M Papermac. ISBN 0-333-43458-7. 1987.

Other useful references:

  • Venables. P. F. R. ‘Technical Education. Its Aims, Organisation and Future Development.’ Bell and Sons. 1955.

In order to help the reader comprehensive book lists, chronology and glossary are provided in separate section of this website.





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