Setting the scene
The establishment of a national system of elementary schools was first tried following the Elementary Education Act of 1870. The more forward thinking school boards, sadly very few, attempted to develop provision that catered for the needs of their localities such as science schools, day technical schools which were supported by grants from the Science and Art Department. High Central Schools opened after 1878 in Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds, London and Manchester. The reason that very few school boards capitalised on the opportunities, (loopholes?), afforded by the 1870 Act was the majority were held back by the traditions and practices of the past e.g. the general lack of regard for technical and scientific education. The education systems in Wales were being ordered more effectively following the Welsh intermediate Education Act of 1889, which created the local authority and joint education committees for every county and county borough. In 1896 another Central Welsh Board for Intermediate Education Act brought even greater order to the education system in Wales.
However the administration in England continued to be disorganised, unduly complex and muddled when compared with Wales. The Education Department (ED) was mainly responsible for elementary education except for certain schools which were receiving more than £100 in endowments. Higher grade schools came under the authority of the ED but received grants from the Science and Art Department. At the time, Universities and one county council which offered agricultural education received grants from the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. This multitude of different agencies led to uneconomical duplication and an almost total lack of effective coordination. At local level the situation was even more confused and messy as endowed schools had their own governing bodies and across parts of England there were 2,568 different school boards and believe it or not 14,238 other authorities, committees, boards of managers etc. In addition to this so many school boards were of unequal size, did not serve the whole country, dealt only with elementary education and were very expensive.
Eventually it became essential to try and tidy up the situation by introducing legislation to allow counties to manage secondary schools in England. The first attempt in 1892 to follow the Welsh example failed. However pressure from a number of sources e.g. the Bradford Independent Labour Party and recommendations from a secondary education conference brought about the establishment of a Royal Commission chaired by James Bryce. It was established in 1894 and reported in 1895. The Commission was appointed to advise on the establishment of a well organised state system of secondary education. The Commission made a number of important and relevant recommendations including the establishment of a Ministry of Education and that all the various government departments involved with secondary education should be merged into a single Central Authority under the Minister. An advisory body, the Educational Council (EC) comprising independent people, knowledgeable about education, would assist the Minister with matters of general principle and keep and maintain a register of teachers. The Bryce recommendations advocated decentralisation with ‘little direct executive power’ given to the Central Authority which was to ‘stimulate, guide, supply information and act as a balance when conflicting interests appeared. The executive powers would reside with the Local Education Authorities which the Commission would establish in all the English counties and county boroughs. Many of the recommendations took several years to be adopted and this added to the resulting confusion.
As mentioned in the history of technical education on this website the Board of Education in 1900 strongly influenced by Robert Morant*, (the first Secretary of the new Board of Education), adopted a model of secondary education based on the public, endowed and grammar schools (a classic example of academic drift and elitism that has and still plagues the English education system). As a result the secondary school system attempted to mirror this elitist and exclusive model at the expense of science and technology and further relegated/marginalised scientific and technical education/instruction. Morant contributed to the creation of a state secondary system which perpetuated the anti- scientific/technological ethos and class dominated culture so engrained in Victorian public schools and Oxbridge. In 1900 the Board of Education (BoE), in spite of recognising the existence of the relatively few Higher Elementary Schools that provided provision for pupils aged between 10 and 15, did not go out of its way to positively encourage their further development in its policy. Eventually in 1902 the Education Act included a mention and record of technical education in a set of minutes entitled ‘Education other than elementary’! It seemed that a real concern existed about the higher grade schools operated by a few school boards and that they bridged the elementary and secondary stages of the education system, offering much broader curriculum and as a result were seen by many as being superior.
This sorry state of affairs yet again reflects the basic hostility towards technical and commercial education and training in England. After the 1902 Act the organised science schools, higher grade schools and schools providing other specialised provision were transformed into municipal secondary schools. Later the Consultative Committee on Secondary Education of 1938 reflected this pitiful situation by stating that the Board of Education ‘did little or nothing to foster the development of secondary schools of quasi-vocational type, designed to meet the needs of boys and girls who desired to enter industry and commerce at the age of 16.’
(I intend in the near future to write a brief biography of senior grade schools and their relationship with the other schools/colleges and institutions.)
All this turbulence and confusion eventually led to a series of legal challenges that resulted in the Cockerton Judgement. This action, known as the Cockerton Judgement, represents one of the most intriguing and perplexing events at this period of administrative muddle which sadly had a negative impact on the developments of technical and scientific education and training. The judgement arose in part from some of the Bryce recommendations but the causes gradually increased in number following the 1870 Education Act as this commentary attempts to describe. The situation was further exacerbated by the long period of time taken to implement the Bryce recommendations, the creation of a flurry of Education Acts and the introduction of new Administrative Codes.
The decentralisation policy of the Bryce Commission found its chief agent in those local education authorities who had no counterparts in 1900 in England when the administration remained with School Boards and the Technical Education Committees with all the resulting confusions that occurred during the transition period. Around this time a number of disputes arose including one between the London School Board (LSB) and the London Technical Education Board (LTEB) which wanted to become the authority responsible for secondary education. This case highlighted the confusions over the funding sources for secondary and technical education.
In addition to this case a related dispute arose in 1900 when the competence of the School Boards to pay for instruction out of money raised from the rates was contested by the managers of a School of Art in North London and the London County Council (LCC). The challenge centred of the expenditure incurred by the London School Board (LSB) to fund the teaching of science and art. The contester argued that the payment breached the Code regarding the conditions and limitations of expenditure derived from local rates. The Code arose from the 1870 Education Act that stipulated that money from the rates could only be expended on elementary education. The Local Government Board auditor Cockerton ruled that the London School Board had spent rate money illegally and this became known as the Cockerton Judgement and the London School Board were subsequently surcharged for the amount that they had expended. At the appeals to the Law Courts (1900 and 1901) the auditor’s decision and actions were upheld. The judgement decided that any expenditure outside the limits of the Code or instruction of adults was illegal. The ruling reflected the rather chaotic situation at the time and proved to be an embarrassment to the School Boards, the Science and Art Department and the Education Department. Following the Education Acts of 1901 and 1902 some relief was given which allowed county councils, county borough councils to directly levy rates to tolerate/condone such expenditure for a limited time. Again it reflected the rather adhoc manner in which education and training was managed and financed.
The judgement most certainly demarcated between and sharpened the curriculum of secondary and elementary education. Unfortunately however the majority of higher grade schools, including the science and day technical schools which had been established between 1870 and 1900, were, as a result of the Cockerton Judgement largely destroyed. So in spite of the positive and far looking recommendations of the Bryce Commission, the Board of Education with the publication of its Regulations for Secondary Schools (Issued between 1904-05) and the introduction of the School (Certificate) Examinations Regulations in 1917, the structures and organisational landscape were still complex and confused. As a result this led inevitably to the creation of unnecessary barriers between the various stages of the education system and most certainly between the secondary and the technical and commercial sectors which it must be remembered were still evolving. The administrative turbulence and chaos over this period created inertia and deterrence in the system, especially as it related to technical and commercial education and training. The Cockerton Judgement even resonated in the period after the 1944 Education Act, the creation of the tripartite system and the establishment of technical high schools – coalition government please note!).
The current coalition government is proposing to re-introduce technical schools in spite of the failure of previous attempts. The education and training landscape is already cluttered with a multitude of institutions e.g. academies, specialised schools, CTCs, COVEs, private schools and academies, private training providers, in company training programmes etc. along with colleges that are struggling to survive as a result of experiencing massive cuts in their budgets. This situation mirrors the chaotic situation described above and surely the true purpose of these new technical schools needs to be defined very precisely and their relationship with existing technical and commercial institutions clearly articulated – political and historical amnesia and a classic case of déjà vu.
*Note. Robert Morant was educated at a public school (Winchester) and Oxford University.