Chapter 5 – Developments in the 20th Century – Continued

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series The History of commercial & Technical Examinations

The 1944 Education Act

The 1944 Education Act has been more fully described in the history of technical education but it obviously had implications for not only technical education sector but its associated examinations. The Act was preceded by a number of key reports namely the Spens Report of 1938, the Norwood Report on the Secondary Schools Examination Council on ‘Curriculum and Examinations’ published in 1943 and the White Paper on ‘Educational Reconstruction’ published in 1943 that laid the foundations for this major Education Act. These various reports and others began to define the tripartite system of secondary schools and their examinations and as a result triggered the more precise location of the technical education sector within the overall system. The Act created the tripartite system namely grammar, technical high and secondary modern schools. It raised the school leaving age to 15 and advocated the leaving age to be raised to 16 as soon as was practicable. However it was light on detail for technical education which was increasingly referred to as further education. Sections 41- 47 of the Act deal with Further Education.

Section 41 is divided into two sections and laid down the duty of the LEA to secure the provision of adequate facilities for –

  • ‘Full-time and part-time education for persons over compulsory school age
  • Leisure-time occupation, in such organised cultural training and recreative activities as are suited to their requirements, for any persons over compulsory school age who are able and willing to profit by the facilities provided for that purpose’.

LEAs were required to survey their areas and submit schemes to the Minister for developing further education provision in their areas.
The Act reintroduced the idea of County Colleges first mentioned in the 1918 Education Act. In fact only one college was ever established, because of hostility from parents and employers and that was in Rugby. The guide lines stated that it was the duty of each LEA to serve every young person in their locality, who was not exempt from compulsory attendance, with a ‘college attendance order’ directing him or her to attend at a specified college’.

The following exemptions were given as:

  • ‘Anyone in full-time attendance at a school or other educational institution
  • Anyone who is shown to the satisfaction of the LEA to be receiving suitable and efficient instruction, full-time or part-time, equivalent to 330 hours per year
  • Anyone who does not cease to be exempt under the first point above or until the age of 17 years and 8 months
  • Anyone undertaking an approved course of training for the mercantile marine or the sea-fishing industry, or having completed such course is engaged in either of these occupations
  • Any person employed by or under the Crown in any service or capacity with respect to which the Minister certifies that, because of the arrangements made for the education of young persons therein, it would be unnecessary
  • Any person certified as a mental defective or lunatic
  • Any person who was 15 before the coming into operation of this section, unless required by previous legislation to attend a continuation school’.

The language is that used at the time!

The wording was ambiguous and gave LEAs a great deal of leeway and freedom to interpret the so-called duties in a number of ways and this inevitably gave rise to a wide range of interpretations by LEAs. Many LEAs developed large, vibrant and successful colleges whilst others were not so progressive and this lead to all sorts of problems later in the century especially when the Further Education Funding Council was established in 1991. However at least it began to define and locate technical education and its constituent institutions and established a pattern of provision that is recognisable today. Subsequent Acts rationalised and clarified many of the ambiguities. The use of language in many Education Acts often leads to misinterpretation which can take decades to sort out. The Act and subsequent legislation created a wide range of technical institutions and Further Education became more consolidated and gradually expanded. Various titles described their respective purposes and priorities e.g. Art Schools, Evening Institutes, Colleges of Further Education, Colleges of Technology. The clearer definition of the Further Education Sector allowed greater choice of progression after leaving school and increasing numbers went on further study whether onto full-time, part-time, evening, day or block release courses.

The examinations offered by City and Guilds, Royal Society of Arts, REBs, London Chamber of Commerce etc continued to develop as more students elected to attend colleges. In addition many other awarding bodies offered qualifications to college students in new areas that were becoming popular e.g. hairdressing, nursery nursing, nursing and secretarial studies The traditional areas of commerce and technical subjects likewise expanded in range and level as the numbers of students increased and new occupational areas were identified and which were largely satisfied by the well established examining boards. Many of the bigger colleges offered a mixed economy of provision spanning technical, commercial, professional, academic programmes i.e. GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels and at higher education level. In addition there were specialist colleges focussing on programmes in particular industry sectors e.g. agriculture, construction, horticulture, hospitality, marine studies and non-vocational subjects etc.

A good example of a mixed economy college was Portsmouth College of Technology. I left secondary modern school and went to Portsmouth to take GCE ‘O’ levels, stayed on to take GCE ‘A’ levels and finally studied for an external special honours degree accredited by the University of London. The further education college was and still is the place where second chances are truly provided especially when the 11+ was still in operation! Portsmouth eventually became a Polytechnic and then a University. Its’ roots were in the earlier technical and Mechanics’ Institutions established in the Gosport and Portsea areas.

As the Further Education Sector expanded and became more consolidated, national, regional and local structures had to be established to oversee the sector. One such regional structure was the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs). They had a major influence on examinations particularly the distribution of provision in terms of levels allowed in particular colleges in order to reduce duplication. Very often the discussions for course approval could be heated between a college wanting to introduce a course that was already available in another college in their locality. Issues around supply and demand were carefully considered. One pleasing feature of these approval procedures was that a specialist subject HMI would be involved along with the colleges’ general inspector. It was a very open and civilised process.

The Regional Advisory Councils (RACs)

The Councils played an important role in technical examinations within their respective regions.

There were nine such Councils covering the following regions, namely:

  • East Anglia
  • East Midlands
  • London and Home Counties
  • Northern Counties
  • North West *
  • South West
  • Wales *
  • West Midlands *
  • Yorkshire and Humberside *

*These Councils had a formal relationship with the Regional Examining Bodies (REBs) see chapter 4.

The main function of the Councils was to provide a joint forum for FE and HE institutions and representatives from commerce and industry to plan and monitor the provision within a particular geographical area. They were particularly active in considering and making recommendations on the location of advanced programmes i.e. programmes above GCE ‘A’ level standard e.g. HNC/HNDs and professional awards. In addition some RACs had responsibility for the location of non-advanced programmes. During the 1970s the RACs became responsible for the approval of proposals for the Diploma in HE and other initial teacher training programmes as well as part-time non-degree programmes leading to post-graduate awards. The Haslegrave Report (see later) held that the pattern for technician and business programmes was too complex and confused because of the overlaps in provision and management by CGLI and the Joint Committee and action on their recommendation significantly altered the qualifications landscape by introducing new national administrative and co-ordinating arrangements. Their recommendations led to the creation of TEC and BEC (again see later).

The main examining bodies in technical and commercial subjects in the 1960s continued to be City and Guilds of London Institute, London Chamber of Commerce, National Awards (Joint Committee), Royal Society of Arts, Regional Examining Unions and the Professional Bodies. A large number of smaller more niche market examining boards existed e.g. College of Preceptors, Institute of Linguists, Nursery Nurses Board and Pitman’s et al. In addition there were the GCE boards offering ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels and some were beginning to offer technical and commercial subjects. Numerous governments throughout the years had attempted to reform the courses/programmes and the related examinations in vocational and technical education. One good example was the 1961 White Paper ‘Better Opportunities in Technical Education’ proposing a series of recommendations many of which were implemented.

The chief proposals included:

  • Courses available to students leaving school would include: National Certificates and Diplomas for students aiming to become at least high grade technicians; technician courses devised specifically for particular industries; craft courses and courses for operatives
  • ONCs should last two years instead of three and entry requirements raised.
  • There should be new courses of four or five years specially for technicians which became known as T courses
  • New general courses should be introduced leading to either technician or ONC/D courses which became known as G courses
  • Craft courses should be modified in a number of ways i.e. updating and making the theory more relevant to the practical/ vocational skill required by the occupation
  • Courses for operatives should be vigorously developed to reflect the needs of industry more.

The recommendations were an attempt to reduce the non-completion in technician and commercial subjects and other programmes especially among the younger students. The reasons for drop out were the familiar ones of poor teaching, difficulty of access to study and the problems associated with weak basic literacy and numeracy skills and an inadequate appreciation or knowledge of scientific concepts. The introduction of the diagnostic G courses lasting one or two years were referred to as G1 and G2 respectively and were taken at the beginning of FE studies unless the student possessed four GCE passes. The Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes also introduced G courses from1953/4. The more specialised technician courses were staged by the City and Guilds of London Institute.
A number of people argued that the National Certificate and Diplomas were complex and expensive to operate and service and the numbers declined as the university sector expanded and the polytechnics became established and offered a wider range of vocational subjects. Also as already mentioned successive governments preferred to encourage ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels as the country’s primary qualifications at age 16 and 18. In 1973 the government again pushed for reform and appointed the Haslegrave Committee to advise. In retrospect the government had driven a system that was founded on college-based assessment, (e.g. the National Awards), rather than external assessment to national standards. This approach was against the majority view held by employers and reinforced the belief that the Department of Education and Science (DES) was biased towards the academic route and qualifications.

The Haslegrave Report (1969) on technician courses and examinations significantly changed the examinations landscape. The Report recommended that the CGLI and the REBs should consider ‘– – drawing closer together to form a unified administrative organisation for the examinations, testing and general assessment of performance’. Following the recommendation the Technician Education Council (TEC) and its counterpart the Business Education Council (BEC) were created which resulted in the REBs having no specific role in examinations or validating technician courses. Consequently after 1974 the majority of the REBs reconstructed themselves and merged with Regional Advisory Councils for FE.

Further major reforms followed and in 1985 the Review of Vocational Qualifications in England and Wales, (the De Ville Report), was published driven by the ongoing concerns about the lack of a coherent qualifications structure and the confusing multitude of awarding bodies. Following its recommendations the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) was established. The report recommended that a national framework for qualifications should be created and that the awarding bodies should become more integrated. So National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) were born and Scotland had a similar set of arrangements in SCOTEC and SCOTBEC. Once implemented the national framework actually increased the number of qualifications and the number of awarding bodies remained at approximately 150. However, this was in the view of many people the first major move to nationalise and create a more centralised system for qualifications and the associated examinations system.

The De Ville Report was followed by the White Paper ‘Working Together-Education and Training’ and established Lead Bodies to set the national standards for occupational/industry sectors which meant for example that City and Guilds role of standard setting was curtailed. So for the CGLI this transition meant the focus shifted from the wide representations (e.g. teachers, professional bodies and other subject specialists and T.U. representatives) of their National Advisory Committees to one where the employers’ needs would predominate. In many ways this was a regressive development. The advisory committees of CGLI had played an important part and were on the whole excellent forums to monitor and improve technical examinations. The advisory committee structure for the REBs had also provided valuable opportunities to work with people and organisations who were key partners with the colleges.

NVQs and Employers

On past evidence the role and consequent influence of employers on examinations and qualifications has been changeable and questionable. Too often successive governments have been inconsistent in their views about the involvement and role of employers. Employers have a pivotal role to play but there has to be a balanced and representative group of knowledgeable people to develop effective programmes and assessment regimes which meet up to date needs of their workforce. Throughout their existence NVQs have been heavily criticised as expensive and bureaucratic and the majority of employers have voiced concern about the costly assessment regimes with their numerous assessors, internal and external verifiers. The NVQ system was also attacked by a few ill-informed academics who had little understanding of technical education and training. Sadly as so often happens government ministers and civil servants were unduly influenced by these questionable research publications. All these negative factors undermined and eroded the true potential that competence based assessments in the work place could achieve for many occupations. The initial hope (dream?) that NVQs would become universal across all occupational sectors and thus eventually replace all other work-based qualifications was in hindsight greatly misjudged which in many ways was unfortunate. NVQs continue today and are constantly under review particularly as the new vocational diplomas and apprenticeship schemes are introduced.

Personal Observation.

The introduction of NVQs represented a marked departure and I would argue a welcome improvement from previous approaches to reform work based education and training particularly to assessment methods. NVQs had a key set of values that made them distinctive i.e. competence based; reflecting fully knowledge, understanding and practical application for /in the workplace. I will further consider the various advantages and disadvantages of the reforms in technical and work based education and training in the last chapter of this history.

Professional Institutions

As already mentioned a number of professional bodies have conducted examinations for entry into their professions and they have had a major influence on the development of technical education and the examination system [see biography on the professional bodies]. However a few examples of their influence will assist this presentation. The Institution of Civil Engineering began examinations in 1897 whilst the Institution of Mechanical Engineers started examinations in 1913. Since then the Professional bodies have set their own standards which candidates achieved partly through examinations and awards of various grades e.g. student, graduate, associate and member. A wide range of professions offered examinations include Chemistry, Construction, Engineering and Physics. Recognition for the various grades within the profession was gained through experience and successful completion of the examinations. As the examinations developed throughout the 20th century a system of exceptions for some of the grades was recognised for students gaining qualifications from public examinations e.g. School and Higher Certificates, GCE O and A levels, HNC/Ds, Diplomas in Technology and degrees in science and engineering etc. Similar arrangements exist today with the equivalent qualifications.

Professional bodies represent a wide range of professions including agriculture, business, commerce, construction, engineering, financial services, medical and paramedical sciences, science and technology. Millerson (1) identified about 160 qualifying bodies about 80 in science and technology, 50 in commerce, law and the social sciences and about 12 in agriculture. Approximately 120 conduct their own examinations and around 75 award qualifications that are recognised as HE. Their primary purpose is to maintain standards and regulate entry to the particular profession. The professional bodies work closely with colleges and higher education institutions which they recognise to run their programmes. They worked in joint partnerships such as through the National schemes. In agriculture and agricultural engineering the certificates and diplomas awarded were referred to as ‘nationals’.

The Council of Engineering Institutions (CEI) founded in 1965 by the major engineering bodies to promote the interests of the profession had responsibility for engineering examinations until it was succeeded by the Engineering Council following the Finnistan report in 1980 and this was later reformed to create the Engineering Council (UK). Currently the Engineering Council (UK) still continues to offer the long established Engineering Council Examinations which are now administered by the City and Guilds of London Institute. The examinations comprise three parts, the final part being for chartered engineers and the examinations are particularly popular internationally.

The review of vocational qualifications (DeVille Report) in 1986 identified 250 professional bodies involved in examining and accrediting qualifications.

College Awards

A number of colleges and Polytechnics offered their own awards to satisfy local needs in topics that were not met by other established or recognised qualifications. Obviously relatively few colleges were able to establish national recognition or currency for their own awards but before the various reforms a number did create some awards that satisfied local employment needs and were greatly valued by local employers. Such awards were set at both non-advanced and advanced level and were ultimately linked and accredited by professional bodies, local universities or the CNAA.

It might help to provide some information in table 1 about the size and the names of institutions in 1955 that formed the further education sector at that time.

Table 1. Titles of Technical Institutions in 1955.

Title/Name Number of Institutions
Polytechnics 12
Technical Colleges 150
Technical Institutes 90
Colleges of Technology, Art and Commerce 20
Colleges of Further Education 39
Colleges and Schools of Commerce 24
Colleges of Art 32
Schools of Art and Crafts 135
Others* 90
Total 592

*Includes the eight National Colleges three of which were based in London Polytechnics

Source: Venables. P.F.R. ‘Technical Education’.

A number of colleges within the further education sector were monotechnics i.e. specialising in a single discipline such as art, building, catering/food and commerce. These monotechnics offered examinations from the most of the main awarding bodies e.g. CGLI, LCCI, ONC/OND/HNC/HNDs, RSA, etc. as well as offering their own specialised certificates/diplomas.

Personal observation

The recent announcement by this current Labour government in 2007 resurrected the prospect of colleges creating and awarding their own qualifications! This coupled with the encouragement of private companies to similarly become awarding bodies surely will cause all sorts of problems and difficulties not least in terms of the issues about quality assurance and validity, reliability and probity of the awards. Other issues associated with the qualifications would be about their national credibility and currency and how colleges could resource their development and maintenance. In addition it will further complicate the qualifications and examinations landscape for students, parents, employers and other end users – it’s a strange old world!

National Colleges

One interesting development in the 1940/50s was the creation of specialised colleges and monotechnics. In all, eight national colleges were established between 1946 and 1951 and maintained by central government with significant support from the appropriate industry. A Ministry of Education Annual Report of 1947 identified a number of strategically important industries or sectors that employed relatively few workers but required advanced training in specialised colleges. The national colleges were:

National College Location Date of designation
as a national college
College of Aeronautics Cranfield. (Now Cranfield University) 1946
Royal College of Art Founded 1837 as school of industrial design 1949
National College of Food Technology Formerly the Smithfield College of Food Technology 1951
National Foundry College Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Technical College 1947
National College of Heating, Ventilation, Refrigeration and Fan Engineering Borough Polytechnic, London 1948
National College of Horology and Instrument Technology Northern Polytechnic, London 1947
National Leathersellers’ College Formerly Leathersellers’Technical College (established in 1909) 1951
National College of Rubber Technology Northern Polytechnic, London 1948

Source: G. L. Payne. ‘Britain’s Scientific and Technological Manpower’.

Interesting to note the specialism’s chosen in the 1940/50s and the London centricity although to be fair the polytechnics established by Quintin Hogg [see biography] were based in the capital.

The national colleges provided a wide range of courses including higher degrees and although the numbers of students were small the colleges produced highly specialised and competent technologists for the relevant industries. It was hoped they would provide the apex of technical education building on the achievements of the Further Education Sector. A number of the colleges conducted research activities supported and funded by government and/or their parent industries. Courses and the related examinations were designed for their particular industry and were dependent on entry requirements and included college diplomas, higher nationals, degrees and postgraduate awards. The national colleges progressively underwent a number of title changes including Colleges of Advanced Technology (CATs) and eventually became universities or were absorbed into the university sector. Cranwell is now a world-class university with outstanding business and manufacturing programmes.


Much has been written about the history and development of the university sector and individual institutions so I will provide only a very brief account of their involvement with technical education and examinations. The role the ancient universities played in scientific and technical education was minimal as they were preoccupied with classical and religious studies. The exception was mathematics at Cambridge. The methods of teaching and high cost of provision at the ancient universities further added to their exclusive nature. In spite of this reluctance by Oxford and Cambridge Universities to teach science and technical subjects a number of attempts were made to extend their activities into these areas and engage with the Mechanics Institute movement. One example from Cambridge was Arthur Hervey who proposed the creation of ‘four circuit professors’ who would travel to such cities as Birmingham, Brighton and Manchester to teach such subjects as astronomy, geology and natural philosophy (science). These ideas and suggestions made by Hervey and Sewell from Oxford University were instrumental in getting their universities to agree to administer local examinations for the Society of Arts. The Universities of Cambridge and Oxford introduced the ‘local examinations’ that subsequently influenced the development of the examination systems for schools and for entry into universities.

Table 2 illustrates the initial growth of the Cambridge and Oxford local examinations.

Table 2. Cambridge Local Examinations.

Date Number of centres  Number of candidates
1860 10 355
1870 31 2,482
1880 118 6,429
1890 190 8,476
1901 460 14,473

Oxford Local Examinations

Date Number of centres Number of candidates
1860 13 864
1870 23 1,605
1880 33 2,119
1890 62 2,890
1901 241 9,992

Source:Balfour. G ‘The Educational Systems of Great Britain and Ireland’.

These boards offered commercial subjects e.g. shorthand. They evolved into ‘A’ and ‘O’ level examining boards and throughout the 20th and into the 21st century offered both technical and commercial subjects and are now involved in developing vocational diplomas.

Science and Technical Teaching in HE.

The teaching of science and technical subjects and their associated examinations came very late to English universities compared with the dissenting academies, universities in Scotland and on the continent. Until the mid 19th century few opportunities existed for students who wished to pursue scientific and technical subjects at higher levels at Oxford and Cambridge. Between 1850 and 1900 new institutions in London and the larger cities were created and began to specialise in applied and pure science and technological subjects. London University, Kings College, Royal College of Mining and University College set the pattern in the capital. In Birmingham (Mason College) Leeds (Yorkshire College of Science), Manchester (Owens College), Royal Technical Institute Salford (1896) and Sheffield (Firth College) schools of pure and applied science were established. Similar institutions were founded in Liverpool and other major cities in England. With the expansion of the Universities throughout the 20th century and the absorption of the polytechnics into the university sector in 1992 many began to specialise and some became centres of excellence in the sciences and technologies. One interesting aspect of the degrees offered by some universities was the development of thin and thick sandwich programmes. As I mentioned in the introduction one of the ongoing concerns in technical and vocational education is how to achieve the balance between theory and practice and prepare students more effectively for employment. This also reflects on what and how students are assessed. Sandwich degree programmes are very effective in achieving these essential aspirations. For example CGLI accredit a number of universities who offer thick sandwich programmes by recognising the students’ work experience and awarding the successful students the Licentiateship Grade. The Institute also accredits some professional bodies, the armed forces and some companies undertaking programmes of Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The Senior Award recognises experience and achievement in the work place for the student on a work placement and represents an added value element for the students’ HE studies. The Senior Awards are also used by a number of professional bodies, the armed forces and employers to recognise experiential learning and skill acquisition in the work place.

Special mention must be made about the unique feature of the University of London degrees namely the external degree. This degree at general and honours level was offered in a number of the larger technical colleges or colleges of technology throughout Britain and the majority were in science and technology. Many of the colleges offering these higher awards ultimately became polytechnics and then universities. The external degree made a significant contribution to the number of scientists and technologists during the 1950/60s. In 1952 there were 1,102 students pursuing external degrees in colleges. As mentioned earlier I was fortunate to take an external degree at Portsmouth College of Technology.

Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA)

As the college sector became more established many institutions were offering higher education programmes e.g. HNC/HNDs, professional awards, teaching qualifications as well London University external degrees. Some colleges also had special arrangements with local universities to run HE courses. It was inevitable that special arrangements would be introduced to approve and inspect this provision and in1964 the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) was created following a recommendation of the Robbins Report on HE. The Council validated HE programmes including degrees and diplomas for students in maintained institutions outside the university sector. It replaced the National Council for Technological Awards (NCTA). It later assumed responsibility for teacher education and in 1974 in conjunction with the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design became responsible for degrees in art and design. It was also responsible for the Diploma and Certificate in Management Studies. From 1974-75 the Council along with a number of universities validated the Diploma in Higher Education. The Council achieved a great deal and its work was valued by many colleges which offered higher education programmes. It was dissolved in 1993 following the enactment of the Higher and Further Education Act and the establishment of the Higher and Further Education Funding Councils.

National Examining Board for Supervisory and Management Studies (National Examining Board for Supervisory Studies Management (NEBSS/M)

NEBSS was established in 1964 under the umbrella of CGLI and from 1966 offered examinations for managers and supervisors. It had a national responsibility and contained representatives from CGLI, commerce, industry, professional bodies and relevant government departments. It raised the profile of management and supervisory education and before the merger had 50.000 registrations. NEBSS was an excellent example of a relatively small awarding body that identified and satisfied an important niche market. In 2002 the National Examining Board was merged with the Institute for Supervision and Management (ISM) to establish the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM). ILM is still a part of the CGLI group of companies.

TEC and BEC/BTEC/Edexcel

The Technician Education Council and the Business Education Council were created in 1973 and 1974 respectively following the recommendations of the Haslegrave Committee. Scottish equivalents were created namely SCOTEC and SCOTBEC. Wales and Northern Ireland had same structures as England. TEC was established to unify and validate technical educational programmes in FE and HE Institutions. These programmes led to ONC/ONDs and HNC/HNDs, which were previously the responsibility of a number of professional bodies and other organisations. BEC was required to rationalise and improve the relevance of sub-degree vocational business programmes in FE, HE and Polytechnics. BEC assumed responsibility for ONC/ONDs and HNC/HNDs in 1976.
The TEC’s Art and Design Committee established the Design and Art Technician Education Council (DATEC) in 1980. Similar arrangements were established for Scotland.

BEC and TEC were merged in 1984 to become BTEC and offer a wide range of awards at First, National and Higher Certificate and Diploma levels. During the 1990s BTEC became involved with the General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs). GNVQs, after a relatively short life were phased out between 2005 and 2007 being replaced by vocational GCSEs and Diplomas. BTEC checked and moderated programmes but did not directly assess the centre staff. That responsibility resided with employers and employer groups. In 1996 BTEC merged with the London Examinations Board to become Edexcel. As a result Edexcel offers a wide range of qualifications including ‘A’ levels, GCSEs and BTEC vocational subjects. Edexcel is currently involved with the development of Foundation degrees.

Edexcel currently operates internationally and awards over 1.5 million certificates every year. Edexcel and CGLI are by far the largest awarding bodies for vocational and technical subjects and are largely complementary.

The next chapter will complete the history of technical and commercial examinations up to the present time and will include the developments of Foundation Degrees, Vocational Diplomas and other government reforms.


  1. Millerson. G. ‘The Qualifying Associations’. RKP. 1964.

Other Useful References:

  • Payne. G. L. ‘Britain’s Scientific and Technological Manpower’. Stanford University Press. 1960.
  • Sanderson. M. ‘The Universities and British Industry 1850 – 1970’. RKP. ISBN 0 7100 7378 X. 1972.
  • A more comprehensive book list is at the end of Chapter 6.
  • A comprehensive chronology and glossary on examinations accompany this history and can be found on this website.

Chapter 4 – Developments in the 20th Century

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series The History of commercial & Technical Examinations

Board of Education Examinations

Following the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Secondary Education (1895) a series of reforms were introduced over the next few years that had implications for technical education and commercial education and their associated examinations. The 1904 Secondary School Regulations defined secondary education more clearly as a general, academic provision, essentially liberal in its nature. Technical education was a separate activity and received grants for student attendance to encourage a greater uptake by students but with exceptions for higher awards. As a result an increased number of applied/vocational subjects received grants. The old Science and Art Department was split into two with one part responsible for schools especially grammar schools and the other part assuming responsibility for the growth of technical colleges, and day and evening classes. In 1902 the Department of Science and Art was merged with the Education Department and the Board of Education was created which assumed responsibility for the examinations previously offered by the Department of Science and Art. Following the 1902 Education Act greater responsibility was given to local education authorities and this heralded the changes to the examination system after 1911. As a result of a number of reforms by the Board the examination system was greatly improved with the abuses of the grant system by schools removed. There was evidence that a number of schools and teachers made false claims. Teachers were given greater guidance on syllabuses that particularly helped part-time lecturers involved in evening classes. In 1903 there were 1,488 examination centres in science (with 75,956 papers marked) and 1,166 for art (with 89,992 papers marked). However the numbers of candidates declined because of competition from other examination boards and critics of the examination system argued for major reforms. Following the merger the Board of Education ceased offering lower level examinations (stage 1) in 1911 and made a number of reforms to the other stages namely stage 2 and the higher levels represented by stage 3 and honours. The higher examinations were continued even after the lower general examinations had been were abolished but were finally abandoned in 1918. The numbers taking the higher examinations were extremely low in 1911/12 only 2,558 candidates sat the examinations and only 985 passed a pass rate of just 38.5%. Also examinations in science were discontinued in 1918 as the numbers remained small and continued to show a decline. The payment by results was finally discontinued. So why did the Board’s examinations fail? Firstly a number of technical institutions introduced their own internal examinations operating either on their own or in association with other institutes. This development was particularly popular for the lower level examinations. However as one would expect these awards had only limited validity and local value. Following the demise of the Board examinations a major gap was identified and after 1918 the Board involved a number of professional associations to develop the National Certificate scheme that would award certificates to students pursuing part-time courses.

National Certificate Scheme

This development represents one of the most fascinating and important developments in the examination system of technical subjects involving as it did an innovative collaborative scheme between the Board of Education and a Professional Institution namely the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and became 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 qualification provided an examination system that allowed teachers a fair degree of freedom and flexibility in their teaching methods. The National Certificate awards proved a success and subsequently other Professional Institutions joined the scheme including the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Institute of Building, Institute of Chemistry, Institution of Gas Engineers, Institution of Naval Architects, Worshipful Company of Shipwrights and the Textile Institute. Analogous arrangements were developed for Commerce but much later. The main reason commercial examinations took longer to be involved in the National Certificate Scheme stemmed from the fact that no large established professional body existed to represent commercial subjects. Also the number of candidates for commercial subjects was very low. Eventually the Board itself elected to become the representative body in 1935/36 and the scheme began. Finally the British Chamber of Commerce was recognised as being a mature representative body and assumed responsibility for commercial subjects in 1939. In 1951 fifteen interested professional organisations and other relevant educational groups assumed responsibility for a revised scheme for commerce.

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. The Board and the Professional bodies would nominate three persons each to form a Joint Committee or Examination Board to oversee a particular scheme. 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. Participating institutions were inspected by the Board to assess their suitability to offer the awards. The quality of resources e.g. staffing and facilities needed to be approved by the appropriate Joint Committee. The success of the scheme soon brought the development of national certificates and diplomas across a wide range of technical subjects. Each provider would draft its own syllabus, very often focused on the needs of local employers and reflecting local industries. Subject teachers would often draft syllabuses involving local employers. The syllabus would then be submitted to the Board of Education and the relevant Professional Institution for their approval. Once the course was approved and offered successful candidates would receive a certificate or diploma after passing the examinations reflecting the level of the course and/or the mode of attendance i.e. part or full –time. Students had to be at least 16 years of age and present acceptable entry qualifications. If the students had achieved reasonable school qualifications .g. GCE ‘O’ levels they could gain partial exemption for the ordinary programme but the final year was compulsory. Attendance criteria were rigorously enforced so that students had to demonstrate at least 60%. Intermediate examinations were held at the end of each year to assess the progress of the students and these became known as S1/S2/S3 for the ONC and A1/A2 for the HNC reflecting the years of attendance. External examiners were appointed to assess the draft papers and after the examinations, samples of the marked papers. Some of the questions were compulsory, in some cases up to 40%, and the assessors could redraft questions prior to the examinations being offered. Minimum pass mark was set at 40% and all records of on-course practical work were retained for possible assessment by the assessors. Distinctions were awarded to candidates achieving 85% and more. The range of programmes for certificates and diplomas is shown in table 2 below.

The first ONC in 1922 in Mechanical Engineering attracted 1,017 candidates from 46 colleges and schools of whom 521 passed (51.2% pass rate). Certificate programmes were mainly based on three key and relevant subjects and also an endorsement arrangement allowed for additional subjects to be studied in order for the student to gain professional recognition and qualifications. 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. 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.

The scheme was later extended to cover full-time Diploma programmes but these sadly like the ordinary diplomas never really gained wide spread popularity having to compete with the so-called gold standard of ‘A’ levels and reflected the ongoing debates about parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications. The numbers of candidates taking the full time programmes i.e. OND and HND were always relatively small. The majority of candidates gaining certificates were from the engineering disciplines.

Table 1 shows the take up of and participation in the national diploma awards between 1923 and 1944.

Table 1. Number of OND and HND Candidates in 1923, 1931 and 1944.

Dates: 1923 1931 1944
Ordinary Awards (OND) 663 2,043 4,070
Higher Awards (HND) 168 749 1,405

The number of awards of the National Certificates increased significantly in the immediate period after 1945. To convey the development of the scheme in terms of numbers of candidates and subjects table 2 shows the entry detail for the years 1952 and 53.

Table 2. Entries for ONC for 1952 and 1953.

Subject Date
Entries 1952 Entries
Civil Eng. 1943
Mech. Eng. 1921 11,803 11,777 5,872 (49.8%) 5,457 (46.3%)
Elect. Eng. 1923 5,698 5,429 3,087 (54.2%) 2,791 (51.4%)
Prod. Eng. 1 941
Building 1929 1,661 1,726 1,087 (63.0%) 1,137(65.9%)
Chemistry 1921 1,285 1,494 729 (56.8%) 917 (61.4%)
Applied Chemistry 1947 51 30 34 (66.7%) 19 (63.3%)
Metallurgy 1945 334 390 186 (55.7%) 184 (47.2%)
Applied Physics 1945 131 151 64 (48.9%) 64 (42.4%)
Commerce 1939 321 412 183 (57.0%) 255 (61.9%)
Naval Architecture 1926 89 89 53 (59.6%) 49 (55.1%)
Textiles 1934 252 235 189 (75.0%) 188 (80.0%)
Mining 1952 352 510 190 (54.0%) 280 (54.9%)

Source: Venables. Technical Education.

The total number of candidates for the ONC in 1952 was 21,977 with an average pass rate of 53.1%. For 1953 the total number of candidates was 22,243 with an average pass rate of 53.0%.

Table 3 shows similar data for the HNCs.

Table 3. Entries for the HNC for 1952 and 1953.

Subject Entries 1952 Entries 1953 Passes 1952 Passes 1953
Civil Eng. 119 188 96 (80.7%) 162 (86.2%)
Mech. Eng. 4,018 4,119 2,712 (67.5%) 2,773 (67.3%)
Elect. Eng. 2,529  2,679 1,810 (71.6%) 1,848 (69.0%)
Prod. Eng. 413 402 354 (85.7%) 321 (79.9%)
Building 795 848 667 (83.9%) 689 (81.3%)
Chemistry 593 687 364 (61.4%) 448 (65.2%)
Applied Chemistry 37 40 31 (83.8%) 26 (65.0%)
Metallurgy 132 140 120 (90.9%) 116 (82.9%)
30 55 20 (67.7%) 27 49.0%)
Commerce 11 6 8 (72.7%) 5 (88.3%)
Naval Architecture 49 45 44 (89.8%) 42 (93.3%)
Textiles 105 121 85 (81.0%) 107 (88.4%)

The total number of candidates for HNC in 1952 was 8,831with an average pass rate of 71.3%.For 1953the total number of candidates was 6,659 with an average pass rate of 71.4%.

Table 4 shows entries for the OND for 1952 and 1953.

Table 4. OND entries for 1952 and 1953.

Subject Entries 1952 Entries 1953 Passes 1952 Passes 1953
Mech. Eng. 159 144 88 (55.3%) 72 (50.0%)
Building 193 140 125 (64.8%) 108 (77.1%)
Elect. Eng. 58 73 40 (69.0%) 34 (46.6%)

The total number of candidates for OND in 1952 was 410 with an average pass rate of 61.7%. For 1953 the total number of candidates was 357 with an average pass rate of 60.0%.

Table 5 shows similar detail for HNDs.

Table 5. Entries for HND in 1952 and 1953.

Subject Entries 1952 Entries 1953  Passes 1952 Passes 1953
Mech. Eng. 124 147 83 (66.9%) 114 (77.6%)
Building 113 120 94 (83.2%) 100 (83.3%)
Elect. Eng. 82 118 73 (89.0%) 98 (83.0%)

The total number of candidates for HND in 1952 was 319 with an average pass rate of 78.3%. For 1953 the total number of candidates was 385 with an average pass rate of 81.0%.

These tables provide a fascinating insight into the profiles of subjects being studied and the modes of attendance. Part –time students were in the majority and that inevitably produced relatively high failure rates but still not atypical for part-time study e.g. a failure rate of 60% existed for the Board of Education’s Higher Examinations in Science in 1912.A report in 1959 highlighted the failure rate and recommended a policy to move to full-time or sandwich provision. The report identified a much lower failure rates for ONDs (typically 44%) and HNDs (typically 19%). There were a number of reasons for the low pass rates many of which are still valid today and include; poor teaching and teacher support, ineffective course/careers advice, guidance and information, weak literacy and numeracy skills. In addition many part-time students often work long hours during the day and are then expected to attend evening classes as well as having family commitments or indifferent support from the employer.

The National Scheme continued to thrive until major reforms were carried out in the 1980s. Having taught students on all but the HND programmes I was always impressed with the basic structure of the scheme. It gave teachers a greater degree of freedom to plan and operate the programmes working closely with employers to produce a relevant course of study for both the employer and student. The membership of the various subject advisory committees/teams were representative of the subject and it role in the workplace. The students were overall motivated and relatively enthusiastic bearing in mind many were working and required to attend in the evenings or on day release programmes. The standards were high and were recognised by many professional bodies for recognition and subsequent progression to their membership grades and entry to universities. More enlightened universities granted exemptions for their degree programmes. I worked closely in the Greater Manchester area with universities where either one or in some special subject areas, two years exemptions were gained for HND graduates. These arrangements were often referred too as 2+1 or 2+2 schemes. This arrangement was an excellent example of college/university partnership, sadly somewhat of a rarity during most of the period covered by this history. This partnership was most certainly helped by strong support from employers. HNC students were particularly impressive with their high degree of motivation but this was to be expected as they were invariably mature and well experienced in their occupations. A number of outstanding HNC students even gained direct entry into post graduate awards when strongly supported by their employers.

Professional Bodies

As already mentioned during the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Professional Institutions 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 continues to this day in e.g. engineering, physics and mathematics. 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 – another example of academic drift?

Gradually fewer science examinations were held in schools and the emphasis shifted to the emerging network of technical colleges. Student numbers declined for science in schools as greater choice in the curriculum developed and students preferred to opt for non-scientific subjects. Higher technical education was still an exception in the education system in spite of the perception of Britain as the workshop of the world (as the short history of technical education testifies.) Science and technology courses were slow to develop in universities at the time. Until the reforms in the 1980s the National Awards at Ordinary and Higher levels for students studying part and full-time in colleges/polytechnics provided a greatly valued set of awards for employers across a number of occupational areas. The system of technical and commercial examinations grew throughout the 20th century as the further and higher education sectors became more established.

Very little reform to the examination system occurred after 1920 until the major reforms following the Haslegrave and De Ville Reports (see later). During this period the major awarding bodies consolidated their positions and responded to the changing nature and growth of the technical education sector. As the number of institutions grew during this period and the participation rates increased the awarding bodies extended their programmes across different areas.

City and Guilds of London Institute

The Institute continued to grow throughout the 20th century and introduced changes in its awards and the subject range as the profile of employment in the economy underwent major transformations. The Institute worked closely with employers through a wide range of advisory committees. They also established strong links with the emerging Regional Examining Boards.

The range, levels and titles have undergone many changes over the decades, as indeed have many of the examining bodies considered in this history. For example it might be illuminating to show how in the 1950s CGLI offered examinations at three levels and how these related to the apprenticeship:

  • Intermediate. Represented an adequate level of achievement in a craft or trade that was deemed appropriate e.g. a level expected of the higher grade of industrial workers but who had not been required to undertake an apprenticeship.
  • Final. Represented complete competence for all normal purposes in the selected craft or trade i.e. the level required of skilled craftspeople, mechanics and artisans who had served a fully recognised apprenticeship.
  • Full Technological Certificate. Represented a wide field of achievement and competence that indicated that the holder had a comprehensive knowledge of the subject.

It is interesting that one still sees these certificates particularly the full technological certificates proudly displayed in some workplaces e.g. garages, hairdressing salons and other workshops.

Table 6 shows how the total entries grow for CGLI during the 20th century.

Table 6. Entries for CGLI 1900 to 1992.

Year Number of Candidates
1900 14,551
1910 24,508
1920 9,825
1930 14,721
1940 15,163
1950 66,679
1960 143,661
1970 376,443
1980 473,214
1990 1,429,056
1992 2,335,005

Source: CGLI – A short history 1878 – 1992.

N.B. Some of these figures do not include overseas entries, those for teacher’s certificates and special examinations candidates.
CGLI is currently active in 100 countries through 8,500 centres and registering 1.8 million candidates annually. Throughout the years the Institute has undergone numerous changes many driven by changes instigated by successive governments e.g. The Haslegrave and DeVille Reports, the Ferryside agreements.
A persistent misperception exists that CGLI is only involved in lower level awards. This is most certainly not true. Through its royal charter awarded in 1900 it can confer Senior Awards at four levels namely Licentiateship, Graduateship, Membership and Fellowship. Universities, professional bodies, other organisations and companies both in the UK and abroad can gain delegated authority status following a rigorous accreditation process and the requirement to satisfy the CGLIs quality assurance systems. These Senior Awards recognise experience, competence and skill in the work place and are becoming increasingly popular. More recently the CGLI has developed a suite of Higher Level Qualifications that are very vocationally focused in a range of traditional and emerging subjects. CGLI are currently working with the one of the unitary awarding bodies AQA to develop vocational diplomas.

Regional Examination Unions/Bodies (REU/Bs)

It might help at this stage to describe the progress of the Regional Examining Unions and their collaboration with the City and Guilds of London Institute that most certainly made a significant contribution to the development of technical education and the examination system. One real advantage was the effective partnerships that existed between the various advisory and subject committees and equally importantly the representative membership of these and other relevant groups e.g. employers, college staff, Her Majesty’s Inspectors. The unions had two aims, namely:

  • Providing standard examinations for the benefit of students studying technical and other subjects approved by the Union within the Institutions of its area
  • Promoting the objects of such Institutions and FE colleges.

Following the Industrial Training Act in 1967 the REBs in conjunction with CGLI created the Council of Technical Examining Bodies which prepared new and revised schemes for the training requirements issued by the Industrial Training Boards.

Six Regional Examination Bodies existed namely:

  • East Midland Educational Union (EMEU)
  • Northern Counties Technical Examinations Council (NCTEC)
  • Union of Educational Institutions (UEI)
  • Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes (ULCI)
  • Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC)
  • Yorkshire and Humberside Council for Further Education (YHCFE)

With the exception of the WJEC the other bodies focussed on the post-school sector.
The REBs offered examinations for operatives, craftspeople and technicians following an agreement with CGLI in 1966. The REBs also offered examinations in commercial and other subjects as well as some ordinary and higher national certificates. They worked closely with CGLI through advisory committees and the Institute’s Committee for Technical Education.

Throughout the history of the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) – [see later in chapter 5] and REBs there were debates about their effectiveness and ability to influence local and national examinations. I served on a number of RACs and two REBs and must admit found them useful forums to network with other colleges’ staff, HMI and employers. The advice and guidance was often helpful in planning provision in colleges. This benefit was largely lost as the FE system became more centrally driven and subject to constant interference by governments from the 1980s.

It would be useful to compare the parallel situation that occurred with the examinations staged by the REBs and the CGLI between the years 1952 and 1955 and this is shown in table 7.

Table 7. Entries for Examinations Staged by CGLI and the REBs between 1952 and 1955.

Examining Body 1952 1953 1954 1955
Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes 46,300 entered 50,674 52,852 56,926
Northern Counties Technical Examinations Council 21,059 entered 23,052 24,459 24,403
East Midland Educational Union 20,525 entered 23,502 26,121 30,122
Union of Educational Institutions 24,165
28,002 34,811 38,944
City and Guilds of London Institute 70,856
Ordinary National Certificates 21,977
Higher National Certificates 8,831
Totals of entries 213,713 232,169 254,677 276,223
Total of passes for REBS and CGLI 62,375 65,418 69,306 76,402

(Source: Argles. M. ‘South Kensington to Robbins’.

Clearly the pass rates were not particularly good but again it is important to remember that most of the provision was by evening study and often the students did not receive support from their employers. The students were very much self motivated and often had to support themselves financially and to attend classes after a full day’s work.

Programmes offered at ONC and HND level included such subjects as: applied chemistry, applied physics, building, chemistry, civil engineering, commerce, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, metallurgy, mining, naval architecture, production engineering and textiles.

Commercial Education

During the early 20th century commercial education became more established with about fifty junior commercial schools created but these were eventually closed following the 1944 Education Act and the work absorbed into the tripartite system of secondary schools. Commercial education was greatly assisted by the development of the National Certificate Scheme. Degree programmes in commerce were developed from the early 20th century in a number of universities and polytechnics. As demand grew for commercial subjects and the national awards scheme got more involved in these subjects new syllabuses and subject areas were introduced after 1961 for part-time ONC/HNCs in Business Studies along with HNC/HNDs for full-time and sandwich students. Increasingly these were offered in colleges of FE as opposed to colleges of commerce as the FE sector and its constituent colleges expanded and offered an extended range of subjects. Another factor was that in general monotechnic colleges, (i.e. separate discipline specialist institutions), were more expensive when compared with mixed economy FE colleges because of economies of scale factors.

Management education was practically non-existent until after 1945. This arose from the Urwick Report (1947) which recommended that the relevant professional institutions should develop common management themes and that management studies should lead to Intermediate and Final examinations and overseen by a Central Council of Management. The British Institute of Management (B.I.M.) was established in 1947 and eventually merged with the Institute of Industrial Studies (I.I.S.) which had been struggling to develop management studies since 1919. The I.I.A. assumed responsibility for the examinations element from the B.I.M. The qualifications offered were the Intermediate Certificate and Diploma in Management Studies. After 1960 a new Diploma of Management was established and awarded after three years of part-time-study. Management studies have greatly expanded and a whole series of awards currently exist across a number of levels including the Certificate and Diploma in Management Studies i.e. the CMS and DMS respectively as well as MBAs at post-graduate level.
In addition many examinations for commercial and related specialism’s were set by a number of professional bodies that regulated the various occupational categories including accountancy, banking and financial services.

Personal observation

The current development and introduction of Foundation Degrees is now threatening the future of the highly respected higher certificates and diplomas – such is academic drift! This government seems obsessed with qualifications and most certainly with degrees and give little attention or credibility to other equally valuable qualifications. This obsession in some ways reflects a perception of ‘A’ levels as the gold standard for level 3 qualifications and they have distorted the examination and qualification landscape since the early 1950s. This government has set another target regarding higher education namely that 40% of the workforce should have graduate or higher skills by 2020 and 50% of young people should go to university. This obsession with arbitrary and questionable targets deflects and masks any meaningful discussion about the purpose of higher vocational qualifications and in fact the rationale of Higher Education. The real aspiration should be to create programmes at all levels that ‘satisfy the needs of employers’ and ‘are fit for purpose’ and allow all types of students to benefit from the appropriate experience of education. All too often today university education seems to be a rite of passage for a number of students almost like some sort of accessory. It will be interesting to see how the current recession/depression impacts on the large number of graduates now seeking employment in the rapidly changing and contracting labour market. The increasing number of graduates will create all sorts of problems in terms of supply and demand and highlight mismatches in the labour market.

Chapter 5 will continue to describe the developments in the 20th century including the impact of the 1944 Education Act of and other important legislative initiatives by governments, the role of the Regional Advisory Bodies, reforms to technical and vocational qualifications and developments in higher technical education.

Cot grove. S. F. ‘Technical Education and Social Change’. George Allen and Unwin. 1958.
Richardson.W. A. ‘Technical Education’. OUP. 1939.
Venables. P. F. R. ‘Technical Education Its Aims, Organisation and Future Development’. Bell. 1955.

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


Chapter 3 – Developments in the 19th Century

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series The History of commercial & Technical Examinations

The chapter continues to describe the developments to the end of the 19th century.

Science and Art Department.

As described fully in the history of technical education the Great Exhibition stimulated in its aftermath a series of reforms and developments in education. In 1852 a Department of Practical Art was established and in 1853 a Science Department was added to create the Science and Art Department and this signalled that the State at last was going to get more directly involved in education. The Department was located in South Kensington and this usually described many of its initiatives e.g. the grants awarded to schools namely the South Kensington Grants. Examinations were developed and introduced soon after and were based on the model developed and operated by the Society of Arts. The Department gave grants to schools to encourage the development of science and the more practical basic subjects but with little effect. The Department eventually realised that there were no science teachers so they introduced an examination for teacher’s in1859 to help address the problem but again with no effective impact. Even when teachers became qualified to teach the subject there was little demand from the schools! The salaries for teachers depended on the student success rate in passing the examinations and with so few students the financial rewards were miniscule. One really negative outcome of the grants was a culture of cramming which concerned many students and parents. Teachers taught the students to just the pass the examinations and in doing so often reduced the richness of the subject. This teaching for the tests continued for the later 11+ examinations and most certainly today with the Standard Assessment Tests (SATs). This concern continued to be a contentious issue until the grant regime operated by the Department was abolished in the early 20th century. Many teachers resorted to offering evening classes to enhance their salaries. In spite of the ongoing concerns about the Science and Art Departments grants they eventually began to have a positive impact and ultimately greatly assisted the growth of classes in science and technical subjects for both evening and finally in day schools and institutes. Any school receiving grants, (they became known as the South Kensington Grants), became known as ‘Science Schools’. A number of Mechanics’ Institutions also availed themselves of the grants and by 1867 there were 212 ‘Science Schools’ enrolling 10,230 students. Eventually enough teachers and instructors became available and as a result the Department’s examinations to qualify teachers of science were abolished around 1867.

The Science and Art Directory for 1870 provides an interesting insight into government thinking particularly in regard to technical instruction and who should be eligible. Part of the directory details the categories of persons who were to be regarded as industrial students. The list included:

  • Artisans or operatives in receipt of a weekly wage
  • Coast-guards, policemen , and others, who, though in receipt of weekly wages, do not support themselves by manual labour
  • Teachers in elementary schools in connection with the Education Department
  • Persons in receipt of salaries not large enough to render liable to income tax, as some descriptions of clerks, shopmen etc.
  • Small shopkeepers employing no one but members of their own family, and not assessed to income tax
  • Tradesmen and manufacturers on their own account , supporting themselves by their own manual labour, not employing apprentices, journeymen.etc and not assessed to income tax
  • Children (not receiving their own livelihood) of all such persons above mentioned.

This list might look slightly bizarre now and somewhat exclusive in barring taxpayers from the grants. The assumption behind the categories of eligible persons presumably was to apply a kind of means testing in order to give advantage to people who had only received a minimal elementary education at this time. As mentioned before very few opportunities existed for the vast majority of young people. However there was a downside to this approach which resulted from the state of industry at the time. Most companies at the time urgently needed not only workers from the groups the grants were assisting BUT also people who could enter industry equipped to assume roles as supervisors, managers and entrepreneurs i.e. people who had already benefited from previous education , usually from advantaged family circumstances. This is where the paradox lies as it was only from the tax paying families that the flow of people could be drawn into these higher echelons of industry at this time. This situation was inevitable as these individuals had experienced a privileged education that ironically had itself largely excluded science and technology in the curriculum. The social class structure had created this situation and the long standing hostility of the upper and middle classes to industry and commerce had come to haunt the examination system and the flow of properly qualified people into industry! So there lies the paradox, in order to get better educated people into industry the more wealthy individuals whose parents would pay tax should be eligible for the grants but even then they were not scientifically or technologically qualified. The sad reality was that British industry was still lacking qualified people at all levels within companies needed to improve their competitiveness and international performance. The examinations needed to be more socially inclusive and reflect the total employment requirements and needs of industries.

Aspects of the application of science to industrial occupations were covered in examinations in order to encourage the study of science amongst a wide range of workers. Topics included building, chemistry, geology, geometry, mechanics and physics. Other subjects added later included mathematics, nautical astronomy and navigation.

Table 4 illustrates the growth in numbers of schools receiving the grants after 1861 when grants were awarded based on examinations results i.e. the payments by results regime.

Table 4. Number of Science Schools and other Institutions Receiving Grants from the State.

Date Number of institutions Number of students Number of classes
1862 70 2,543 140
1867 212 10,230
1872 948 36,783 2,803
1882 1,403 68,581 4,881

In 1895 it was decided to replace the payments by results regime with a system that partly paid grants on student attendance/retention and partly on examination results.

Eventually in 1911 the Board of Education discontinued the elementary examinations for science and in 1915 abolished the advanced examinations and just continued those for awarding certain scholarships. Overall the Department of Science and Art did have a positive impact on the early developments of examinations in spite of having many critics throughout their existence. In addition to the grants issues and the cramming syndrome there were other negatives such as the funding was a relatively selective and narrow range of subjects. For example there were no classes in subjects like dyeing, plumbing and textiles so overall the support to these industries was limited. In addition some of the emerging newer technologies were seldom examined e.g. electrical and chemical subjects. Therefore not only were the needs of industries that were well established and successful not being satisfied but little or no attention was being given to plan for the future needs of the developing sciences and technologies. The problems associated with skill levels and their maintenance as well as the challenges of the supply and demand equation were around even in the 19th century. This challenge is equally important today namely the need to consider carefully the qualifications and skill levels of the workers already in employment as well as the qualifications and skills level of new entrants into particular occupations .
However in spite of these fundamental weaknesses the examinations introduced by the Science and Art Department were partly successful but at least contributed to raising the awareness of examinations and equally important highlighted deficiencies that would be addressed later.

City and Guilds of London Institute (CGLI).

The next important and possibly the most significant development in technical examinations was the creation of the City and Guilds of London Institute. CGLI was established in 1878 following a meeting of 17 of the City of London’s livery companies who were still the traditional guardians of apprenticeships and work-based training.

A report by the Livery Companies in 1878 articulated the basic aims of the CGLI and some of the main elements, principles and objectives included:

  • “The Central Institution would supply competent Teachers for the Local Trade Schools, and ….. there would also go forth from it a supply of superior Workmen, Managers and Principals of Manufactories”
  • “Local Trade Schools should teach the application of Science and Art to particular trades”
  • “the improvement of the technical knowledge of those engaged in the manufactures of this country, whether employed as workmen, managers or foremen or as principals”
  • “Knowledge of the Scientific or Artistic principles upon which the particular manufacture may depend; not by teaching the workman to be more expert in his handicraft – the latter improvement must be derived from greater assiduity in the workshop, and from longer practice therein, and therefore except in special cases, it would be unwise to establish any place for teaching the actual carrying out of the different trades”
  • “Establish a Central Institution and Local Trade Schools; the former in London, for more advanced instruction”
  • “Examinations would be periodically held in the Central Institution as well as in Trade Schools, Prizes would be awarded, and Certificates of merit would be issued in connection therein”

Fascinating to read the fourth objective. It raises some interesting issues about the teaching of technical and commercial subjects, either in realistic working environments (RWE) or by simulation.

Following the creation of the Institute twelve of the Livery Companies promised to provide £11,582 10s. which enabled it to start its planning and fulfilling the objectives cited above. The Institute provided funding for a trade extension to the Cowper Street Class Schools in London and eventually after a few problems granted £5,000 to establish laboratories and workshops as well as appointing two exceptional individuals namely Henry Armstrong and William Ayron to teach chemistry and physics. These two individuals went on to contribute greatly to the teaching of the two subjects as well as playing a significant role amongst others in the developments at Finsbury Technical College and the Royal Schools of Mines. In addition the Institute provided funding to the Lambeth School of Art in Kennington Park Road (see history of technical education).

After the technological examinations were transferred to the City and Guilds in 1879 from the Society of Arts, the Institute advertised for an Organising Secretary and Director at a salary of £ 400 per annum. The successful candidate was Philip Magnus (see biography). He quickly established a reputation for innovation and began to place the Institute on a very firm base in regard to technical and vocational education. The Cowper Street Institute was becoming very overcrowded and eventually this led to the creation of the Finsbury Technical College (see biography) – this opened in 1883.
Information has already been given in the earlier chapters as well as in the history of technical education but it will be helpful to provide more figures for the developing examination entries in figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Entry for Technological Subjects between 1879 to 1899.

Year No. of centres No of subjects No. of candidates
1879 23 7 202
1880 85 24 816
1881 115 28 1563
1882 147 37 1972
1885 167 42 3968
1890 219 49 6781
1895 353 58 10,293
1899 397 63 14,004

In 1901 technological examinations were held in 380 centres across country with an attendance of 34,246 students and there were 904 candidates in manual, (practical), training examinations for teachers.

Table 2 shows the entries from industrial groupings.

Table 2. Entries in Industrial Groupings in1882.

Industrial group 1882
Mining  90 (1.5%)
Process Industries 358 (4%)
Production and Maintenance Engineering 1,221 (14%)
Electrical, Electronic Engineering 689 (8%)
Vehicle and Plant Maintenance 212 (3%)
Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Leather 3,650 (43%)
Construction and Construction Services 1,929 (23%)
Media and Communications Industries 256 (3%)
Creative Arts, Crafts and Leisure Pursuits 29 (0.5%)

(Source: CGLI- A short history 1878 – 1992.)

It is interesting to see the participation percentages within each group and see the relative importance of the trades at that these times and then compare with the current figures.

The examinations were inevitably offered in single subjects as table 3 illustrates for specific subjects offered in 1879.

Table 3. Some of the Technological Subjects Offered in 1879.

Cotton manufacture Gas manufacture  Porcelain and pottery
Steel manufacture Silk manufacture Photography
Paper manufacture  Carriage building Silk dyeing
Glass manufacture Telegraphy Calico bleaching

(Source: Reflections – Past and Future (CGLI, 2000)

As can be seen these reflect the major industries of the time particularly cotton which was for many years our greatest export but even so the take up of these examinations was at a low level. The cotton industry like many others placed little reliance on technical education in order to develop and sustain a skilled workforce. The CGLI and the Society of Arts continued to be the major players in technical and commercial examinations throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st century and I will continue to describe their progress and the transformations that have occurred since the end of the end of the 19th century to the present day.

The Union of Institutions.

The significant role played by the Union of Institutions and their close collaboration with the Society of Arts in creating the first public examinations in the country has already been described. They grew out of the Mechanics’ Institution movement. However it will be helpful to provide a short history, partly repetitious, of them into the 20th as they continued to play an important role in examinations in colleges. The Regions in many cases were ahead of their counterparts in London reflecting that the majority of industries were located outside the capital. Obviously their roles and remits changed as new legislation was enacted throughout the 20th century. The Regional title indicates outside London.

A list of the Regional Examining Unions (REUs) up to the early 1960s:

Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes (UCLI) founded in 1839 – covering Caernarvonshire, Cheshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Isle of Man and Lancashire. Started offering examinations in1847.
Union of Educational Institutions (UEI) founded in 1895 – covering Cornwall, Devon, Hampshire, Huntington and Staffordshire. Started offering examinations in1896.
East Midland Educational Union (EMEU) founded in 1911 – covering Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland and the Soke of Peterborough.
Northern Counties Technical Examinations Council (NCTEC) founded in 1920 reconstituted in 1924. – covering Cumberland, Durham, Northumberland, Westmorland and Redcar in Yorkshire. This Union was originally founded in 1848 as the Northern Union of Mechanics’ Institutions.
Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) covering the rest of Wales and from 1952 started offering examinations to its wider role of activities.
Yorkshire Council for Further Education (YCFE) – covering Yorkshire except the Redcar area and also added examinations to their remit.

These unions provided a complementary and valuable service to examinations offered by the CGLI, Society of Arts and the Board of Education and drafted, with the assistance of specialist advisory committees, curricula and syllabuses, and examined and certified candidates in their respective geographical areas. They examined candidates at evening continuation schools and at Senior and Advanced level study in technical schools and colleges. The Unions did not cover all parts of the country and students outside their orbit took CGLI examinations in technical subjects whilst commercial examinations were offered by the Royal Society of Arts and the London Chamber of Commerce. There seems to be an interesting correlation between the establishment and subsequent strength of the Unions and the colleges in the industrial areas of England such as Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire. Courses reflected the particular industries in the immediate area and many argued that colleges should be given more autonomy in determining curricula and assessment. In fact the issue of local and central control became politicised during the first two decades of the 20th century, which reflects the wider debates of who manages and controls the colleges and schools. Obviously it is essential that employers are involved as equal partners and not as a tokenistic gesture. Local employers know what the needs are and can work with education and training providers to develop and configure the relevant provision that satisfies local demands. At present a number of quangos and agencies proclaim the participation of employers, employer organisations and trade unions but too often their views and ideas are marginalized by the academics, politicians and other non-employers. I will continue to describe the contribution of the Examining Unions in later chapters.

Commercial Education and Examinations

Commercial education and examinations in many ways mirror the development of technical education and examinations. Just as the Industrial Revolution brought about the need to instruct workers in the scientific principles and their application a similar need to create qualified staff to undertake clerical, accountancy and administrative work also arose. In 1887 the Associated Chamber of Commerce published a report on ‘Commercial Education’ that stated ‘that technical education in the sciences which underlie all arts and industries is being provided in the chief centres, no attempt has been made to supply a technical mercantile education’.  ‘It is a most serious defect in our educational system and one that calls loudly for amendment and reform’. Similar sentiments were expressed in a report from the London County Council sub – Committee on Commerce in 1899 which again stated ‘in conducting our investigations upon the subject of commerce education, we have been greatly impressed with the feeling that the matter is one of supreme national importance’. In spite of these and other reports little occurred in developing commercial education until later in the 20th century. A similar situation existed in management education. I will describe the developments in later chapters.

From the mid 19th century the examinations were conducted by the Society of Arts, the Local Examinations, the Regional Examining Unions and the Department of Science and Art. Commercial examinations developed in parallel with technical examinations and were in many ways wider in scope rather than being focused on technical specialism’s although specific subjects like shorthand and typing did exist. Examinations in shorthand were introduced in 1864 by the Society of Arts and by the Oxford Local Examining Board in 1888. The Society started examining in typing in 1891 as the demand for this skill increased. The Society was very responsive to the needs of the institutions and students and offered commercial subjects under the title of ‘Commercial Certificates’ as well as in single subjects from 1876 .The mode of study was mainly by way of evening courses and examined initially by the Society of Arts and the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes. The Union of Institutions was disbanded in1882 and as a result examinations were then opened to all institutions offering instruction in commercial subjects. The ‘Commercial Certificates’ were abandoned whilst single subjects were encouraged. As mentioned earlier the numbers of candidates steadily increased.

Table 4 shows the overall enrolments for Society examinations between 1858 and 1900 and remember the Society had transferred technological examinations to CGLI so the subjects were focussed on commercial topics.

Table 4. Entries for Society of Arts Subjects between 1858 and 1900.

Year No. of Candidates
1858 288
1880 2,325
1882 695 (interesting decline!)
1890 2,474
1900 9,808

London Chamber of Commerce and Pitman’s Examinations

The London Chamber of Commerce was created in 1881 and was committed to improving the condition of commercial education in schools and colleges. The Chamber recognised the importance of modern language teaching in order to improve export markets and as a result introduced the teaching and assessment of modern languages. The Chamber established a Commercial Education Committee in 1887 and offered examinations later in the same year. Overseas operations began in Bombay in 1898 reflecting the importance of the trading activities in the colonies. The Chamber is one of the oldest awarding bodies in the country and is a major partner in the recently formed Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) [see later chapter. The Board offered a wide range of examinations leading to qualifications in business, commercial and office studies at elementary, intermediate and higher levels.
Isaac Pitman opened the Pitman’s Metropolitan College in 1870 probably the first business education institution in the world. Commercial examinations were later developed by other Regional Examining Boards, London Chamber of Commerce, Pitman Examinations and a number of professional bodies representing commercial and managerial education. In addition a number of specialist colleges of commerce were opened following the 1902 Education Act and from 1935 ONC/HNDs were established in commercial subjects – more of that later.

Other Developments.

In 1852 the year of the Great Exhibition the Amalgamated Society of Engineers was founded by William Allan and this was followed by the creation and restructuring of the trade unions representing craft workers in such areas as builders, carpenters, iron founders, potters and other self-improving artisan groups. These groupings established a much stronger voice and focus for their crafts within the trade union movement which were still viewed with suspicion and hostility among most employers. The trade union movement became far more influential for the workers and were able to argue with a unified voice for better working conditions and wages.

Professional bodies representing science and technology were beginning to be established after the 17th and 18th centuries and some of these went on to develop their own examinations. The Society of Civil Engineers was founded in 1771 becoming the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1818 and began to establish an examination system for its members in 1897. The examination created membership grades e.g. ‘associates’ and ‘members’.

Other professional bodies established examinations in the 20th century and these will be described in later chapters [also see article on professional bodies on this website].
The Institute of Bankers was established in 1879.
The Chartered Institute of Secretaries was established in 1891.
The Chartered Insurance Institute was established in 1897.

Personal observations.

Since their creation, examinations have always been viewed with varying degrees of distaste and suspicion but a necessary evil. Initially the creation of a national system for examinations was an attempt to introduce some sort of national standard in the country that otherwise possessed a fragmented and often independent set of institutions operating their own assessment and examining regimes. Throughout the history of examination a number of central arguments have been proffered namely:

  • that they provide evidence to: employers on the ability and achievement of the student and hence a prospective employee
  • validation of students on their ability and overall performance on the course they have attended
  • national agencies responsible for funding and managing technical education. Over the years the examination results have been increasingly used by government to compare performance between schools and colleges –hence the growth of the culture of league tables with all the problems they cause! (Clearly over the years these agencies have changed significantly as the responsibility for the funding, planning and control of technical education moved from local to national control. I will describe how these changes influenced the development of technical and commercial education and the associated examination system more fully later in this history as well as in the other history).

In addition the examination system also provided the teachers with syllabuses and curricula frameworks to work with.

Some Special Features of Technical Examinations

Even accepting the slow and at times haphazard development of the technical and commercial examination system it eventually possessed some positive features. It offered real opportunities to motivated students for entry and subsequent promotion in their chosen occupations. The examinations were more flexible than their school and university counterparts mainly arising from the complexity of industry and the subsequent wide range of crafts, trades, vocations and occupational sectors involved. In addition to written examinations assessments of practical activity were undertaken e.g. in special workshops or science laboratories. As mentioned already there was greater involvement of teachers, employers and other key players in technical and commercial education. A number of examinations were set by the teachers themselves and then externally moderated/verified/validated. Inevitably the system had its critics and there were weaknesses in the system that was identified by the various reforms that occurred from the 1950s up to today.

One recurring concern over many decades is the complexity and plethora of vocational and technical education qualifications and examination systems. Various reviews initiated by successive governments and resultant reforms have attempted to rationalise the system and reduce the confusion. The arguments have mainly centred on how to achieve the difficult balance between central government control and regulation and the need to allow freedom at local and institutional level. More detail is provided later of some the examining bodies that have existed although it must be noted many have been reformed, merged and/or undergone changes in their names and terminology. It is by no means complete but attempts to briefly reflect on how they contributed to the history of technical and commercial education and training and the development of an examination system. These descriptions will not detail how the examinations were structured or managed but just provide an insight into how they were created and how they related to other similar bodies.


Inevitably the early period resulted in patchy provision of technical instruction and technical examinations that were heavily influenced by the secondary school regulations but gradually as the technical education system developed separate arrangements were established. During the 19th century the main providers of technical qualifications and examinations to students in Mechanics’ Institutions and technical colleges were the Society of Arts, City and Guilds of London Institute, the Science and Art Department and the Unions of Institutions. The professional bodies’ examination systems were at that time not fully developed or wide enough in scope to meet the needs for entry or progression to the occupations. The methods of instruction and examining operated by the professional bodies were very variable and depended critically on how the bodies had evolved historically. In addition to these players a number of colleges awarded diplomas in their own right but these were only recognised at a local level. The gradual development of technical examinations was greatly assisted by many of the recommendations of a number of Royal Commissions throughout the 19th century in particular the Devonshire (1872-75), Samuelson (1882-84) Reports and a few visionaries such as Charles Babbage [see biography], James Booth [see biography], Henry Brougham [see biography], Henry Chester, James Hole, Thomas Huxley [see biography], Philip Magnus [see biography].

Abbott. A. ‘Education for Industry and Commerce in England’. OUP. 1933.
Cotgrove. S. F. ‘Technical education and Social Change’. George Allen and Unwin. 1958.
Hudson. D and Luckhurst. K. W. ‘The Royal Society of Arts 1754 – 1954’. John Murray. 1954.
Peters. A. J. ‘British Further Education’. Pergamon. 1967.

A more comprehensive book list is provided on this website along with a comprehensive chronology and glossary for technical and commercial examinations.

  • The biographies and pen portraits are presented in Appendix 4.

Chapter 2 – The Beginnings of Examinations in the 19th Century

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series The History of commercial & Technical Examinations


Chapters 2 and 3 will describe the beginnings of technical and commercial examinations in England up to the end of the 19th century.
The history of the development of examinations especially in technical and commercial subjects inevitably mirrors that of the development of the technical education and commercial education itself. Many similarities will be identified in the following chapters e.g. a slow evolution often in a very ad hoc fashion; resistance from employers and members of the general public, and the reluctance of government to support and initially fund the development of a national system. Also the history will highlight some amazing individuals and visionaries involved in establishing an examinations system for these important disciplines. Once the development of a national system began to be established there were a number of very innovative and farsighted organisations involved in the awarding of qualifications. Interesting to note Scotland and Ireland made major contributions both to technical education and to public and technical examination systems that were emulated later in England and the other home countries. Like the history of technical and commercial education it is a complex and fascinating subject and inevitably I will not be able to do full justice to the topic though I provide some useful references at the end of this chapter and the more comprehensive book list on this website  that hopefully readers will find helpful.

The importance of the various forms of assessment and formal systems of examinations was gradually recognised once education institutions, particularly as a result of Mechanics’ Institutions, were established and this was most certainly true for the technical and commercial subjects. Obviously the first Industrial Revolution acted as a catalyst in establishing a need for more formal instruction in technical matters and then the need to assess and examine the individuals who had attended a set of classes. However it was some time after the beginning of the industrial revolution and the creation of the Mechanics’ Institutions that any identifiable system of examinations was established and even then it evolved relatively slowly after 1850. As with the development of technical education the related examination system began in a fragmented and disjointed fashion. This gradual development continued throughout the 19th century albeit in a series of fits and starts driven by private enterprise and a few farsighted individuals such as George Birkbeck, James Booth, Henry Brougham, Henry Chester, James Hole, and Thomas Huxley [biographies of some of these individuals are given in Appendix 4].

It is important to remember that England still did not possess a national system of education at any level, elementary or otherwise, prior to 1870 so it was little wonder that an examination system was absent. This deficit also contributed to problems that the Mechanics’ Institutions experienced through the lack of basic education of their students. However evidence was already appearing that countries on the continent and beyond had already established national education system at a number of levels including for higher level technological subjects and with the State willingly being involved and prepared to funding these developments. This became clear from evidence gathered on visits by a number of individuals to continental countries where they had more quickly recognised the importance of establishing a national education system including for technical subjects and their assessment. I have provided far more detail of the factors that contributed to the slow development of technical education in this country in the other history that can be found on this website. Many of the factors that retarded the development of technical and commercial examinations are replicated in the wider development of technical education. However once the implications of the need to improve the effectiveness and the overall performance of the workforce was recognised and this coupled with capitalising on the growing interest in the principles of science and technology among workers it brought about developments in technical education.

The Beginnings.

Scotland as usual led the way with formal accreditation methods at the Edinburgh School of Arts where awarding certificates were awarded from 1835 to successful candidates after three years of attendance, that included classes in chemistry, mathematics, and natural philosophy (they read physics 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 what was referred to as a ‘strict examination’. The awarding of these attestations of proficiency was discontinued in 1850. Only 46 students gained the Diploma of Life Membership by 1850. However the model developed by the Edinburgh School of Arts significantly influenced a number of key individuals such as James Hole and James Booth both of whom greatly contributed to the pioneering of public examinations in England. The School was one of the first institutions to be created after the ground breaking work of John Anderson and George Birkbeck [see biographies] in Glasgow.

The Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (later known as the Royal Society of Arts).

Founded 1754 by William Shipley as the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce has been a major force in the development of technical and commercial education and associated examinations. Equally important has been its role in supporting the development of technical and commercial education throughout its entire existence. The Society played a significant role in supporting the Mechanics’ Institutions movement and was the major force in organising the Great Exhibition which has already been acknowledged in the history of technical education. I intend in this chapter to describe and focus on its significant role in creating examinations. However the Society has also made many important and valuable contributions to the world of education and in many other fields it is a truly multi-disciplinary institution. The Society vision of the Society’s founders was about ‘embolding enterprise, enlarging science, extending our commerce, improving our manufactures and refining our arts’ and this was most certainly realised throughout its existence.

The Society has been at the centre of many significant developments in education and the cultural life of the country and in its long and illustrious history founded:

  • The Royal Academy of Arts in 1768 after the first contemporary art exhibition
  • The National Training School for Music in 1876 that became the Royal School of Music.
  • The first public examination system in the country.

The Society was granted a Royal Charter in 1847 and in 1908 given the right to use the term Royal in its title.

However I will focus on the third achievement namely its role creating the first public examinations in the country. As mentioned above it began awarding, following its foundation in 1754, prizes and ‘premiums’ (money) for meritorious discoveries and inventions. For example premiums were awarded for the invention of new forms of agricultural machinery. It is important at this point to explain the contributions made the Mechanics’ Institutions in association with the Society which increasingly highlighted the need for some form of assessment and examination system.

The Role of the Mechanics’ Institutions.

A small number of the Mechanics’ Institutions had introduced similar awards to those of the Society of Arts, namely premiums and prizes at an earlier stage of their existence for example in Glasgow and Newcastle, but these were not particularly successful. It showed though, that the institutions understood the importance of recognising achievement. The influence that the Mechanics’ Institutions had between 1824 and the 1850s of the development of examinations cannot be underestimated as they helped to lay the foundations to the examination systems developed later by the Society of Arts and the local examinations created by Cambridge and Oxford Universities and the Department of Science and Art. As always key individuals appeared on the scene and triggered debate that ultimately, in spite of some opposition, lead to positive development. One such individual was James Hole who in 1853 proposed amongst other ideas a really original and imaginative scheme that could have greatly advanced the cause of technical education and the related examination system .The proposal was that the Mechanics’ Institutions and other technical institutions in existence at the time should become constituent colleges of a new proposed industrial university obviously building on the work of the Union of Institutions. This radical proposal sadly did not materialise although some of his ideas did come to fruition as we shall see later. (Comment – one can only imagine the positive consequences of such an ambitious suggestion if it had been implemented at that time!)

James Hole was also a major advocate along with James Booth [see biography] and Henry Chester for the general system of examinations. Hole had been greatly influenced by the Edinburgh School of Art scheme and in 1853 wrote a seminal essay on Mechanics’ Institutions (1) that won a Society of Arts prize. In his essay James Hole argued strongly for examinations in the Mechanics Institutions and wrote  ‘to put the educational machinery of our institutes on a proper footing, a system of examinations and certificates must be established.’
Little is known of James Hole but he is now seen as an important figure in the development of examinations and influential in raising the profile of the Mechanics’ Institutions even though he was critical of some of the aspects of their management. The Society of Arts had organised a series of conferences and it was following one in 1852 involving the Mechanics’ Institutions which were under the umbrella of the Union of Institutions, that Hole wrote his essay. The Union of Institutions movement had been developing since the 1830s and most certainly contributed to strengthening the profile of the Mechanics’ Institution movement and subsequently became a force in supporting people like Hole and Booth to introduce an examination system. Initially the Unions had provided itinerant specialist teachers who had attempted to compensate for shortages of specialist instructors and tutors. They were set up on a regional basis. The Unions were more successful in the north than the south of the country and the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes, created in 1839, was an example of a union that developed an examination scheme. Hole was the secretary of the Yorkshire Union and he had proposed in his essay a nationwide Union of Institutions which finally came to fruition in 1856 when the Society of Arts and the London Union of Institutions established a system of examinations. Other Unions served the Midlands, Northern Counties whilst others represented the larger single authorities such as the West Riding and Kent. I will refer to the achievements of these Unions and other organisations that evolved from them later in this history. It was the association and collaboration between these early Unions and the Society of Arts that eventually brought about the wider introduction of examinations and their ultimate national adoption.

The subject titles and the success of the examinations following their introduction by the Union of Institutes and the Society of Arts, (see later under Society of Arts), reflected the social changes that were occurring during the period when the Mechanics’ Institutions were at their peak. Increasingly successful students entered clerical professions e.g. clerkships, and in 1861 the dockyards voiced concern that they wanted more technically qualified people. Analysis of the subject results highlights the very high proportion of clerks obtaining book-keeping qualifications with fewer taking technical subjects and the students were not from the working classes. This middle class disinclination highlights how little impact scientific and technology knowledge had made on the population as a whole in spite of the fact that science and technical examinations were the first ones to be introduced.

The following few figures demonstrate the decline in the sciences. For example at Leeds Mechanics’ Institution, although it increased its membership by nearly tenfold, the average class size in mathematics fell from 36 to 24 and in chemistry from 19 to 13 between 1839 and 1852. At the Manchester Institution classes in the physical sciences fell from 235 in 1835-9 to 127 in 1840-4. This indifference to science was also reflected in enrolments for the technical subjects and this continued to impact on subsequent enrolments in these subjects as the examination systems developed after 1850s. However the numbers did fluctuate and in some years before 1870 the proportion taking book-keeping decreased and science subjects increased.
(Comment – This trend reflects that social class issues are in play again namely middle classes associated business/clerical occupations as evidence to rising social class status plus they had basic education. Manual working classes have in interest but did not possess the foundations of literacy and numeracy).

This recurring recruitment difficulty experienced by the Mechanics’ Institutions was largely caused by the lack of a universal system of elementary and secondary education and therefore the manual workers who attended the Institutions lacked the very basic literacy and numeracy skills and most certainly any background knowledge of science and technology that they needed. Typical subjects taught included: applied mechanics, building, chemistry, electricity, heat, optics, magnetism, mathematics (applied and pure) and metallurgy. Knowledge of these subjects was clearly important for a more effective workforce in the emerging chemical, electrical, foundry, shipbuilding industries. As one can imagine the lack of adequate basic education had a negative impact on the choices individuals made and on what classes were offered by Mechanics’ Institutes and other institutions largely aimed at manual working class men.

College of Preceptors

Although not directly involved in technical and commercial examination the College of Preceptors merits a mention. The College initially called the Society of Teachers was created by an association of private school teachers in 1846. In 1849 it was incorporated by Royal Charter as the College of Preceptors. The College had the following rather long winded and manifestly elitist set of aims that were enshrined in its 1849 Royal Charter:
‘Promoting sound learning and of advancing the interests of education, more especially among the middle classes, by affording faculties to the teacher for acquiring of a sound knowledge of his profession, and by providing for the periodical session of a competent body of examiners to ascertain and grant certificates of the acquirements and fitness for their office of persons engaged or desiring to be engaged in the education of youth, particularly in the private schools of England and Wales.’

The College had set itself the very ambitious objective of creating a professional standard of qualification that would be administrated by the teachers themselves. It pioneered formal examinations and qualifications for teachers, awarding grades at Associateship (corresponding to matriculation), Licentiateship (pass degree) and Fellowship (honours degree) levels. The College attempted to raise interest among schoolteachers in more effective ways of teaching in grammar and other middle-class schools. This purpose was mainly achieved through their examinations which started in 1853, initially for teachers and later around 1854 for pupils. These examinations attempted to provide parents and teachers with a means of comparing standards. Very few teachers took the examinations but from around the early 1850s the College expanded into examinations for pupils. Its activities were focussed on private schooling and remained relative small when compared with other examination bodies resulting from its rather narrow and niche market. One of the initial problems that the College experienced was that it became clear that parents were unhappy with the policy of teachers assessing themselves as the policy was in 1853. However once the Preliminary Local Examinations of Oxford and Cambridge became established numbers of candidates declined as they opted to take these examinations instead. The college then suffered another set back when the Board of Education refused to recognise the value of its qualifications as it had for the existing universities. Later the same fate occurred in1910 when the Secondary School Examinations Council deprived the College of official recognition for its examinations. The reason for this refusal was that the College was predominately involved with private rather than the state-aided secondary school pupils.

However the College played a pioneering role in getting the study of education as a subject adopted in the universities. Later in 1873 the College began courses of lectures for teachers that led to the awarding of diplomas. Table 1 illustrates how the College developed during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Table 1. Number of Candidates Entering the College of Preceptors between 1860 and 1903.

Date Number of candidates entered
1860 821
1863 1,000
1870 1571
1880 11,208
1890 16,269
1893 17,000
1902 9,612

The College continues today and provides in-service qualifications for teachers and changed its name to College of Teachers in 1998.

Society of Arts/Royal Society of Arts (SA/RSA).

I shall now return to the crucial role played by the Society of Arts in developing public examinations. As interest developed in the early 1850s in technical education the Society began to work closely with the Mechanics Institutions and to improve communication and coordination with the emerging network of technical institutions created by the Union of Institutions. As mentioned already the Unions grew out of the ideas of three farseeing individuals namely Harry Chester (Chairman of the Society of Arts), James Booth [see biography] and James Hole (Secretary of the Yorkshire Union). Henry Chester advocated a national union of Mechanics Institutions to administrate examinations staged and examined by the Society of Arts. Following a conference staged in 1851 when 220 institutions became affiliated to a total of 90,000 individuals signed up. As a result of recommendations from various conferences staged in 1851 and 1853 and proposals made by such individuals as Booth, Chester and Hole the Society of Arts began to plan and organise a comprehensive examination system for science with approximately 400 institutes. It was Henry (Harry) Chester who took the initiative in 1853, just two years after the creation of the Union to propose to the Council of the Society that they consider the creation of ‘class examinations’ which the Council agreed and in the following year outlined the scheme for the Society to offer examinations. The creation and the affiliation of the Unions acted as a catalyst for that development. The Society as I have mentioned was greatly influenced and supported by the Unions and this eventually brought about the development of the Society’s examination system in 1854. The examinations were primarily for the benefit of the working classes.

The first examination was held in 1855 and proved a disaster with only one candidate namely a chimney sweep! As a result the examinations were cancelled and the Society appointed James Booth [see biography] to assume responsibility for the management of subsequent examinations. James Booth was an active writer on educational and mathematical topics with a particular interest in adult education. Interestingly Booth voiced concern that the poorer social classes could be at an advantage in their education over the middle-classes as a result of the growing influence and impact of the Mechanic Institutes movement! A classic example of social class intervening in developments namely the fear by the middle classes that the workers might gain superior knowledge and skills in technical subjects! However he was a very strong advocate for a formal system of examinations as a way of improving elementary, secondary and adult education. He wrote the first authoritative pamphlet ever published in England on examinations. Through his writings James Booth was already known as a supporter of examination. He had been greatly influenced by the system of examinations established at Trinity College, Dublin as a mathematics graduate himself from Trinity and recognised the innovative work at the Edinburgh School of Arts and as a result was an ideal candidate for the post with the Society. Following his appointment Booth completely rewrote the schemes for the examinations, part of which, interestingly, in their early stage of development included an interview –see table below. The 1856 examinations attracted 52 candidates and a wide range of papers were prepared on such subjects as: agriculture, book-keeping, chemistry, English, free-hand drawing, mechanics and a number of foreign languages. The candidates had to take at least two subjects as well as preliminary and qualifying examinations in handwriting, spelling and free-hand drawing. In spite of small numbers and the cost to the candidates having to attend the interview the 1856 examinations were deemed a success and the Society then considered extending the examinations to other parts of the country.
Table (2) shows the timetable for the 1856 examination papers.

Table 2. The Examination Timetable for 1856.

Time Tuesday 10th (June) Wednesday 11th Thursday12th Friday 13th
10am to 1pm Registration of candidates* Mathematics
English History Viva voce exam (interview) Mathematics
Viva Voce
2pm to 5 pm Preliminary examinations for all candidates** Geography
English Literature
Viva voce in history
Viva voce
7 pm to 10 pm Mathematics
Mechanics Roman History Latin French

Attendance at the registration* was compulsory where all the candidates received their card of Admission. Otherwise students could not sit the examination. The preliminary paper** was compulsory. Obviously Friday was not an ideal day for any superstitious students!

Following another conference of the Union of Institutions the Council agreed to establish four centres from 1857 but eventually only two were created one in London and the other in Huddersfield (see Walker for a fascinating account of the examinations at the Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institution (2)). After the 1857 examinations it was decided to establish a permanent system and gradually the examinations gained greater popularity and the number of candidates increased. This growth brought about greater credibility and confidence in examinations and created the solid foundations for a national system that developed later with other awarding bodies being established to extend the range and level of subjects examined.

The Union of Institutions disappeared in 1882 when the examinations were extended to cover all other providers of technical and commercial education/instruction and not just limited to a number of affiliated institutes. The technological examinations developed by the Society were eventually transferred to the newly created City and Guilds of London Institute in 1879 [see chapter 3]. The establishment of the first public examinations, (the locals), staged by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge were also strongly influenced by the examination system created by the Society of Arts. The Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations started examinations in 1857 and the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate in 1858. The history of the Local Examination can be found in an excellent article by Watts (3). The Society of Arts therefore played a pivotal role in the development of a national system for examinations including significant contributions to commercial and secretarial subjects and for adult learners. In the early part of the 20th century the Society introduced three stages to their awards namely elementary, intermediate and advanced. In addition to these three stages or grades the Society introduced grouped certificates (see later and the history of technical and commercial education). These changes brought very positive results with the number of candidate increasing rapidly i.e. from 8,797 in 1901 to 100,000 in 1929.

Over most of its history the Society has been concerned mainly with commercial subjects and office skills at craft level but like the CGLI now examines over a wide range of subjects and levels. These now include such vocational areas as administration, clerical, distribution and information handling, reception and road transport. The RSA also offered single-subject awards in business, commercial and modern languages at Stages 1, 2 and 3. The examinations board of the RSA was merged with the Oxford and Cambridge Examinations to form Oxford, Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts (OCR) in 1997. OCR became one of the main three unitary awarding bodies namely AQA, Edexcel and of course the OCR.

Royal College of Chemistry

Britain lagged behind a number of continental countries in science and technology and practically no centres for fundamental research existed but the Royal College of Chemistry was an isolated exception. Founded in 1845 by a group headed by the Prince Consort the first Director was A Hofmann one of the most eminent chemists in Germany. Its aim was to apply chemistry to the arts and manufactures. The College provided programmes in applied science and although the number of entries was small graduates, published a number of important research papers and entered such occupations shown in table 3:

Table 3. Subsequent Occupations of Graduates of Royal College of Chemistry.


Brewing Chemical
Government India
Civil Service)
Iron/Mining Pharmacy Teachers
27 106 18 29 25 38 38

Initially the majority of examinations were set externally by awarding bodies and were invariably in an unseen written format. In spite of Hofmann’s reputation and brilliance the College experienced financial difficulties and eventually in 1853 in was amalgamated with the School of Mines. In fact it became the chemistry department of the School of Mines. Hofmann assumed the chair formerly held by Lyon Playfair and whilst in England (1845-1863) Hofmann laid the foundations of chemistry/chemical education in England. The College eventually became part of Imperial College but represents an important element in the development of science, science education and a number of aspects in the creation of the chemical industry in the country.

Chapter 3 will continue to describe the developments of the examination system up to the end of the 19th century. Topics covered will include the role played by the Science and Art Department, the founding of the City and Guild Institute of London, the developing provision for women and a range of other relevant initiatives throughout the century.


  1. Hole. J. ‘An Essay on the History and Management of Literary, Scientific and Mechanics’ Institutions.’ Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. 1853.
  2. Walker. M. A. ‘Examinations for the ‘underprivileged’ in Victoria times; the Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institution and the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.’ William Shipley Group. 2008.
  3. Watts. A. ‘Independent examination boards and the start of a national assessment system.’ Cambridge Assessment Network. Research Matters. Issue 5. January 2008.

Other Useful References:
Foden. F. ‘The Examiner. James Booth and the origins of common examinations. ’ Leeds Studies in Adult and Continuing Education. ISBN 0 907644 06 6. 1989.
Hudson. J. W. ‘The History of Adult Education.’ Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans. 1851.

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

  • The biographies and pen portraits are presented in Appendix 4.

Chapter 12 Developments in the 1950s and 1960s

This entry is part 12 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education



The 1950s continued to witness a series of Education Acts and pieces of legislation that impacted on technical and commercial education. Many of these Acts and reports would help shape and determine the future development of the Further and Higher Education sectors.

As will be seen after 1945, successive governments at last began to see that technical and commercial education was a key factor in the country’s future economic success. The first priority was technical education that resulted in a slower pace to improve commercial and art education. However, initially the majority of the money understandably was spent on schools particularly on capital projects e.g. suitable buildings but eventually in the 1950s more investment was made available to begin to tackle the poor state of colleges both in terms of accommodation and facilities. 1951 saw the introduction of the General Certificates of Education  (GCEs) at ‘O’ and ‘A’ level. These awards replaced the School Certificates (SCs) that had been offered since 1917. They were mainly aimed at students in Grammar and Secondary Technical Schools although increasingly Secondary Modern Schools students were taking them. Initially very few subjects were offered in commercial and practical subjects at ‘O’ and ‘A’ level. Also Colleges of Technology and Further Education offered these qualifications to students leaving Secondary Modern Schools.

In 1954 the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) published a report entitled ‘Early Leaving’. The committee was chaired by Samuel Gurney-Dixon and its terms of reference were: ‘To consider what factors influence the age at which boys and girls leave secondary school which provide courses beyond the minimum school-leaving age; to what extent it is desirable to increase the proportion of those who remain at school, in particular the proportion of those who remain at school roughly to the age of 18; and what steps should be taken to secure such an increase’.
The committee had access to hitherto unavailable data on social class information and as a result came up with a number of important proposals. It recommended improving the maintenance allowances for needy children staying on at school beyond 15. In addition it called for legislation to be introduced to pay family allowance for children still at school and favoured an increase in numbers attending grammar schools. Clearly these were important recommendations as it would increase the number of students progressing to colleges after leaving school.

The White Paper on Technical Education 1956.

This is a seminal publication and followed a speech by Winston Churchill in 1955. He was concerned about advances by the Russians in science and technology so it was very much a political issue and not necessarily one based on sound educational need. However it precipitated a major programme of investment in building up facilities for technology and technical education. Expenditure of £100 million was proposed to expand technical colleges and this reinforced the expansion plans for university technology departments announced in 1953. There was already evidence of the growth in science and technology numbers at universities as the number of students studying these subjects had doubled between 1939 and 1955. Also improvements to schools and colleges were gradually having a positive impact on enrolments and more teachers were being recruited. Employers and parents were also showing a growing interest in science and technology subjects,

The White Paper advocated an expansion of technical education at all levels i.e. further and higher. Up until 1956 the colleges evolved slowly into a heterogeneous group of institutions depending on their respective histories, courses offered and their student catchment areas. Basically one could identify three tiers namely regional, area and local colleges. They varied greatly in size and the range of courses offered and this determined their titles. The higher education element of the report recommended an expansion of full-time student numbers by the extension of sandwich courses. In addition the White Paper advocated the establishment of a new category of college namely the College of Advanced Technology (CATs) where the majority of the advanced courses outside the university sector would reside. Therefore the White Paper created a fourth category of colleges. This proposal eventually picked up one of the main proposals of the Percy Report published in 1945 that was described earlier.

Following the publication of the White Paper ‘Technical Education’ technical education experienced a number of changes including the eventual designation of ten Colleges of Advanced Technology (CATs), which were to be the apex of technical education. The lower levels of work were shifted to local colleges. A number of Regional Colleges were made CATs. CATs were eventually removed from local authority control and following the Robbins Report in 1963 were designated universities and not surprisingly many pleasingly used the word technology in their title. The main qualification studied was the degree equivalent Diploma of Technology (Dip. Tech.). The Diploma in Technology (Dip. Tech.) was created as a result of a committee established in 1956 and chaired by Hives. It was to be a degree equivalent qualification based on a full-time course of two or three year’s duration or a sandwich course consisting of six-monthly periods in industry that could last up to four years in duration. It is interesting to note that CATs were established a decade after Percy and well over a century after similar institutions were established in Germany. A parallel expansion occurred in the FE sector with a period of sustained capital investment to begin to improve accommodation and equipment in colleges. There were some interesting transitions in the attendance modes of students with fewer evening part-time numbers and an increasing number of day part-time students. Also many school leavers particularly those from secondary moderns, (I was one of them) went to their local colleges to take a variety of examinations by full-time study including CGLIs, O and A levels.

The ten CATs established were:
Birmingham College of Technology, Bradford Technical College, Bristol College of Technology, London: Battersea Polytechnic and Chelsea Polytechnic, Northampton, Loughborough College of Technology, Newcastle-on-Tyne Technical College, Salford Royal Technical College and Welsh College of Advanced Technology.

The CATs enrolled by far the most students studying the Dip. Tech qualification and table 1 shows the distribution of Dip. Tech programmes offered by the CATs.

Table 1. Dip. Tech Programmes in the CATs 1959/60.

CAT  Full-Time Sandwich
Birmingham 9
Bradford 2 5
Bristol 5
Battersea 8 6
Chelsea 2 1
Northampton 8
Loughborough 2 4
Salford 7
Wales 3
Totals: 14 48


Interesting to see the relative popularity of sandwich programmes that combined theory with actual work experience. The popularity of sandwich courses sadly has progressively declined over the recent decades. One of the main reasons for the decline was associated with student finances and the perceived need of students to complete the course as quickly as possible. Also related to the decline of sandwich programmes was the need by universities to reduce their costs. Recent research however shows that students who have undertaken sandwich courses and a significant period of relevant work experience stand a better chance of employment after graduating and gain at least a half better classification in their degree. They get paid during their work placement and often are offered employment by the work placement companies even before graduating. Currently the CGLI Senior Awards are used by a number of accredited universities and other organisations to recognise the work placement element of the sandwich programme.

The following table shows the gradual growth in science and engineering courses in colleges between 1950 and 1955 for students taking National Awards.

Table 2.Ordinary and Higher Certificates and Diplomas Awarded Between 1950 and 1955 in Science and Engineering.

1950 10,581 337 4,961  293
1951 10,617 299 5,564 351
1952 11,302 253 6,226 250
1953 10,898 214 6,452 312
1954 11,957 361 6,827 248
1955 13,458 412 7,371 229

In 1959 the Crowther Report was published simply entitled ‘15 to 18’. It proved to be an important report and had implications for technical education. Its terms of reference were ‘the education of boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 18’. One of the recommendations was that provision of Further Education for 15 – 18 year olds, especially for school leavers should be made available on a free basis. It also raised some important questions about the value of day-release provision for apprenticeships. As I mentioned in chapter 1 the level of day release has always raised concerns about the commitment by employers to support this mode of attendance. The report pointed out that only 40% of 15-17 year-olds were involved in some sort of day release programme. The report identified the tendency in this country to treat education and training as separate entities and argued strongly they should become more closely related and integrated. It pointed out that technical education and vocational training in other countries was much better coordinated and integrated and this issue is still as valid and alive today! The philosophy of voluntarism has persisted to a large extent for much of the time covered by this history where successive governments remained distant from direct involvement in technical education and training that allowed employers, if they wished, to take decisions unhindered by any government policy. The Crowther Report had noted that ‘more and more people are coming to believe that it is wrong to label children for all time at 11.’ This quote is referring to the 11+ plus examination. As a result many local authorities ceased the 11+ plus examinations and created comprehensive schools. Technical High and Secondary Modern Schools then formed part of the comprehensive system. The comprehensive schools/sector did not develop a meaningful technical and vocational curriculum basically continuing the elements from the secondary modern schools namely domestic science metalwork and woodwork. sadly another opportunity missed!

‘Better Opportunities in Technical Education’ (1961).

Another seminal White Paper ‘Better Opportunities in Technical Education’ (1961) placed a greater emphasis on provision for technicians, craftspeople and operatives.
The White Paper had four primary aims namely:

  • To broaden the education received by students and provide continuity between school and college
  • Provision at colleges to be better matched to the needs of industry and to urgently improve facilities for technicians
  • Increase the range of courses to suit the needs and ability of the students
  • Tackle the high failure and wastage rates experienced by students.

Some of the chief proposals were:

  • Preliminary courses in evening institutes be discontinued and students should start at a college immediately after leaving school
  • Improvement in selection procedures and colleges should PILOT induction courses and tutorial methods (where have we heard that before!)
  • ONC courses should last two years instead of three
  • Courses for technicians, craftspeople and operatives should be reformed and extended in range and scope
  • New courses known as General courses (designated by G and the year of study e.g. G1, G2 etc.) that allowed progression on to Technician course (T courses)
  • Development of more day release courses and students should not have to rely wholly on evening study
  • Sandwich and block release courses should be increasingly developed.

G courses were designed for school leavers who had potential to qualify as technicians by studying part-time or by block release study. Successful completion of a G course would allow progression onto an ONC or to the second year of a T course. G courses were externally administered by the CGLI and the six Regional Examining Bodies (REBs). Courses were offered in a number of subjects including construction, engineering, mining, printing, science, and textiles. Table 3 shows the enrolments for G courses in 1963 and 1968.

Table 3. G Courses: No. of Candidates and No. and % Qualifying for ONC and T2.

Construction 1,950  722 (37%) 756
Engineering 15,454 3,942 (26%) 6,080 (39%) 11,423 4,216
Mining 503 211
Printing 236 55
Science 1,501 595
Shipbuilding 63 11
Textiles 18 2
116 57
Totals 15,472 3,944
15,792 5,867
% Pass rate:

Table 4 illustrates the state of the Ordinary  Certificates and Diplomas again for the years 1963 and 1968

Table 4. Number of Candidates and Number and % Pass Rates for ONC /Ds.

Subjects 1963 1968 1963 1968
Building (e) 3,771
(p) 2,292
(e) 2,630
(p) 1,632
(e) 341
(p) 224
(e) 499
(p) 365
Mechanical Engineering (e) 19,017
(p) 9,082
None (e) 491
Electrical Engineering (e) 9,523
(p) 5,260
None (e) 31
(p) 19
Engineering None (e) 15,261
(p) 9,452
(e) 318
(p) 218
(e) 1,637
(p) 1,107
Metallurgy (e) 761
(p) 424
None None None
Mining and
(e) 832
(p) 493
(e) 191
(p) 128
None None
Grand totals all subjects (e) 38,702
(p) 20,067
(e) 22,731
(p) 14,136
(e) 1,181
(p) 745
(e) 2,444
(p) 1,683
% Pass rate: 51.8% 62.2% 63% 68.9%

Key: e – entered
p – passed

Table 5 below shows same data for Higher National Certificates and Diplomas (HNC/HNDs):

Table 5. Number of Candidates and Number and % Pass Rates for HNCs/HNDs.

Subject 1963 1968 1963 1968
Building (e) 1,740
(p) 1,335
(e) 3,275
(p) 2,784
(e) 144
(f) 122
(e) 377
(p) 337
(e) 6,241
(p) 4,040
(e) 5,174
(p) 3,416
(e) 675
(p) 586
(e) 1,241
(p) 1,035
(e) 4,461
(p) 2,833
(e) 5,250
(p) 3,024
(e) 278
(p) 209
(e) 756
(p) 603
(e) 761
(p) 608
(e) 1,034
(p) 845
(e) 34
(p) 32
(e) 152
(p) 141
(e) 811
(p) 572
(e) 680
(p) 518
None None
Metallurgy (e) 379
(p) 298
(e) 303
(p) 243
(e) 33
(p) 31
(e) 76
(p) 65
Textiles (e) 75
(p) 69
(e) 31
(p) 27
None (e) 18
(p) 18
Grand totals all
(e) 17,462
(p) 11,574
(e) 19,551
(p) 13,496
(e) 1,398
(p) 1,165
(e) 3,243
(p) 2,670
% pass rate 66.3% 69% 83.3% 82.3%

Key: e–entered

Technician-Courses (TCs)

There were two types of T-courses namely; “End-on” and “Ab Initio”. In 1961 there were 23 ab initio and 26 end-on courses running in such subjects as building, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, the utilities and furniture. These courses had no age restriction for study and special arrangements were made for mature entrants e.g. they could study single subjects depending on work and career aspirations.

Ab Initio courses were designed for particular occupations and required two years full time study or part-time study over four years and opportunities existed for progression onto higher qualifications. There were just two such courses in 1961 but by 1968 this had grown to 90 involving thirteen occupational areas. The range of subjects approved by CGLI was remarkable spanning such areas as: mining/quarrying, food technology, metal manufacturing, engineering specialisms, automotive, building, textiles and even programmes in photography, computing and technical illustration. In 1967 there were 105,734 candidates registered with CGLI and the REBs with a pass rate of 66.1% (69,874).

I have presented this rather detailed set of data and brief analysis to illustrate the overall state of technical education by the 1960s. The tables reflect the decline of traditional industries such as textiles and shipbuilding and the relatively slow growth in the new technologies. The decline in ONCs can be identified with the introduction of the T-courses. But in spite of these worthy developments the overall picture was somewhat depressing. One aspect of these concerns was picked up by The Dainton Committee (1968) addressing the declining numbers of students entering HE in science and technology.

Another depressing fact was that the overall participation and pass rates remained stubbornly low. It was a critical time for this country, two decades after the war with the continuing decline of our traditional industries and the slow response to recognise the importance of new manufacturing and managements techniques. Overseas competition was increasing from such countries as Germany and Japan. England still lacked the necessary critical mass of a well-trained, skilled and adaptable workforce at all levels of industry. Real evidence was emerging of our continuing low levels of productivity, declining industrial competitiveness, skill shortages and industrial poaching within the small stock of competent, experienced and qualified workers. To further complicate the assessment of the needs of industry and labour market intelligence there were increasing numbers of school leavers trying to enter the labour market. After the 1944 Act the main responsibility for technical education had fallen almost by default on colleges. In hindsight they never received the level of sustained investment that was necessary in order to compensate for decades of neglect. Little evidence exists to show that employers offered in – company training programmes and normally they recruited directly from universities, colleges and schools. The majority of school leavers still opted for the narrow academic curriculum personified by ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels which contributed to the low participation levels in technical subjects and the low value placed on technical education and the associated examinations by parents and young people.

To be fair other factors contributed to this low participation level: poor careers advice in schools, lack of maintenance grants for college students and the supposed high status of the academic sixth form. The majority of school leavers still entered jobs, which offered no formal training, and those who did receive training embarked on apprenticeship programmes. In 1964 240,000 school leavers undertook apprenticeship training but these programmes were increasingly becoming outmoded and inappropriate for the latter half of the 20th century. Weaknesses included questionable age and gender criteria for entry, often the absence of proper off-job training but the main criticism was the rigidity of the programmes which required long periods of training before qualifications could be gained. The negative effects of this time serving regime have only recently been highlighted. Likewise, it has only recently been accepted that apprenticeships must be governed by effective national standards of competence and proficiency that they must recognise the different abilities of trainees, and ensure that this flexibility is part of the training framework.

The White Paper ‘Better Opportunities in Technical Education’ stands out as a seminal piece of legislation that made a number of positive recommendations which added impetus to the development of technical education but as usual it was too little too late. One positive consequence during this time was the recognition by the professional bodies and the Council of Education Institutions (CEI) of the need to classify the skills needed by industry. In addition the CEI clarified progression routes for professional status for engineers. The examinations staged by the CEI have continued and are now jointly managed by the Engineering Council (EC/UK) and CGLI and offer recognition for the three grades of the engineering team namely the Engineering Technicians, Incorporated Engineers and Chartered Engineers. The Haslegrave Report (1969), see later, on Technician Courses and Examinations advocated amongst other proposals a greater coherence between the technician, the technician engineer and the chartered engineer. In addition the Haslegrave Report recommended a rationalisation of examinations for people employed as technicians in technical areas and also in business and commerce. Following the implementation of the Haslegrave proposals Ordinary and Higher certificates and diplomas, G and T courses were replaced by Technician Education Council (TEC), Business Education Council (BEC) and Design and Art Education Council (DATEC).

Industrial Training.

By 1953 approximately 70 industries had established nationally agreed industrial training schemes for their respective industries but the implementation locally and the understanding of them was patchy and overall ineffective. The trade unions continued to be suspicious and obstructive over the entry requirements for apprenticeships preferring to concentrate on the importance of time serving rather than the quality and relevance of the apprenticeship programmes. The issue of time serving was always a contentious matter with apprenticeships, an issue that persists today. The important issue is to recognise the differences between the ability and motivation of the apprentices and not assume they are all the same and to configure the programmes that recognise this diversity. i.e. ‘programmes that are flexible and fit for purpose’.

The continuing concern about the provision and its quality led to the establishment of the ‘Industrial Training Act’ in 1964 which created the Industrial Training Boards (ITBs). Prior to the Act there had been a number of half baked attempts to improve industrial training. One such attempt was in 1959 when a report entitled ‘Training for Skill’ which had tried to differentiate education and training and exclude any government involvement in training. This was a classic example of fudge and mudge with the government attempting to establish a very weak compromise between the employers and the trade unions and it was not helped by weak leadership from the then Ministry of Labour.

The inadequate situation of industrial training continued to cause concern and in 1962 a White Paper revisited the issue reflecting these concerns and fortunately showed a major shift in the attitudes to training by employers. The White Paper proposed a more central control of industrial training and that it could not be just left to employers to manage. Following the White Paper the Industrial Training Act in 1963 implemented its proposals, greatly assisted by, a strengthened Ministry of Labour which received more informed advice from the Central Advisory Council. It proposed bring training into central control including the way apprenticeships were operated and provided new opportunities to bring about significant changes to all levels of industrial and technical training. The Bill had a direct link with the developments in Wales (see below). However the devil was in the detail as the legislation as always depended on the attitudes and commitment of successive governments. I will consider the consequences of the Act in later chapters.

Wales also considered the issue of Industrial Training in 1961 in a report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (Wales) on Technical Education in Wales. The committee was chaired by Oldfield Davies and its terms of reference were: ‘In the light of contemporary changes in the industrial pattern of Wales, to consider what educational provision should be made to serve the best interest of industry and those employed in it’. The recommendations including a significant proposal to reform apprenticeships and to establish a national craft apprenticeship scheme managed by the Ministry of Education. Devolution was a long way off so inevitably these proposals were not implemented and had to wait until the various developments in England. The Industrial Training Act 1964 finally led to the general adoption of first-year full-time courses for apprentices. In some ways this delay made sense as what was urgently required was a standardised approach to industrial training across the whole country but it did highlight the frustrations that the home countries must have experienced over many decades /centuries having to wait for England to catch up.

The primary functions of the Act were:

  • To enable decisions on the scale of training to be better related to economic needs and technological developments;
  • To improve the overall quality of industrial training and to establish minimum standards; and
  • To enable the cost to be more easily spread between government and the employers.
  • The Minister of Labour would be given statuary powers to create Industrial Training Boards (ITBs) which would be responsible for specific industries. These ITBs would have the following operating functions:
  • Establishing policy for training in the industry, including such questions as the admission to training including apprenticeships, length of training, registration and the provision for the appropriate attendance at college.
  • Establishing standards of training and syllabuses for different occupations in the industry, taking into account the associated technical education required.
  • Providing advice and assistance about training to firms in the industry.
  • Devising tests to be taken by apprentices and other trainees on completion of training and, if necessary, at intermediate stages e.g. at the end of the first year.
  • Establishing qualifications and tests for the instructors.
  • Establishing and running training courses in its own training centres.
  • Paying grants to firms to reimburse them all or part of the costs incurred in the provision of approved training.
  • Paying allowances to trainees not taken on by companies while being trained in public, or the Board’s own training centres.
  • Collecting money from companies in the specific industry by means of a levy/grant.
  • Borrowing money as required.

As a result of the Act a Central Training Council (CTC) was created to advise the Minister and the creation of 29 ITBs able to operate the levy/grant system. The Act was initially welcomed by all the key parties e.g. employers, trade unions and training providers but by the 1970s major weaknesses were beginning to be identified. For example the ITBs only represented about half of the industries and the levy system was considered too complex and bureaucratic. Other major concerns included the difficulty of judging the quality of training and the subsequent decisions about levy imposition or exemption and also equality factors where the larger companies were more able to release employees compared with the small companies. One continuing concerns has always been how small and medium sized companies i.e. SMEs can be supported and represented by national organisations. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) possess very different problems from the larger companies particularly in terms of releasing employees for training and the costs associated with CPD. The Act however provided a distinct improvement in the quality and quantity of industrial training and established stronger working relationships between employers and colleges. Further reforms to industrial training occurred in 1973 with the ‘Employment and Training Act’ see chapter 13.

Regional Advisory Councils, Inspection Methods and other Organisations Associated with Technical and Commercial Education.

After the 1944 Act a number of Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) were established in 1947/8 – nine in England and one in Wales to co-ordinate the provision of further education in different areas of the country. They were established and funded by local education authorities. Their remit was to advise LEAs and their constituent colleges on the further education needs required in their regions and to encourage cooperation between colleges to reduce duplication of provision. The Councils would regularly review provision to identify gaps in their areas and would consider and approve higher level course applications from colleges. They also were required to create advisory committees and other forums to exchange ideas among colleges, employers and universities as well as staging conferences, seminars and staff development programmes. A number organised and made provision for examinations in conjunction with the REBs. Inevitably the bureaucratic course approval structure attracted a great deal of criticism and generated friction between the colleges and LEAs because of mismatches between local/ individual interests and educational judgements. Polytechnics argued quite rightly that they were serving a national catchment and should not be subjected to regional criteria. Having worked with three different RACs I experienced first hand the frustrations in getting approval for new technician and HE programmes. Looking back the influence of these Councils was very mixed with a number of positive benefits but at times they manifested great inertia. The role of the RACs was to change significantly during the following decades particularly following the Oakes Report (1978) and the creation of other national management funding bodies e.g. FEFC and LSCs.

The colleges’ work was inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI) and comprised both subject specialist and generalist inspectors supported by a General College Inspector and a Regional Staff Inspector. I remember with great pleasure the supportive and professional attitude these people possessed, a far cry from their successors e.g. FEFC, ALI and OfSTED.

The CBI have never really played an effective role in influencing national training policy as it lacked the power to compel employers to improve their investment in training. Its stance was very much based on non-intervention and has supported voluntary and free-market philosophies. Indeed a senior member of their Education Directorate in 1986 openly stated, “That any legislation to compel changes in training policy was perceived as constituting an intolerable financial burden on industry.”

The CBI did not have many members representing small and medium sized companies who were often unable to fund training and prone to poaching other companies’ employees and the real power anyway still resided with individual employers to develop effective training practices. The TUC like the CBI was limited in its ability to influence government policy and to enforce centrally negotiated policies on member unions. The unions were pre-occupied with overseeing the multitudinous complex of confusing and un-coordinated collective bargaining arrangements for whole industrial sectors down to small elements within companies. The Chambers of Commerce also manifestly failed to create a particularly effective local employer network lacking as they did the powers given to their counterparts in Germany. Many employers I have worked with in a number of different areas of the country have viewed the contributions made by the Chambers as being ineffective and irrelevant to their needs.

Some important developments:
In 1952 Imperial College raised to university status.
In 1955 the National Council for Technical Awards (NCTA) established and eventually became the Council for National Academic Awards in 1964.
In 1959 Lord Hailsham appointed Minister of Science.
In 1960 the Beloe Report recommended the creation of the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE).
In 1963 the Colleges of Advanced of Technology (CATs) become universities after the recommendations of the Robbins Report.
In 1964 Department of Education and Science (DES) replaced Ministry of Education (MoE).
In 1964 Industrial Training Act.
In 1964 the Schools Council for Curriculum and Examinations (SCCE) established following Lockwood Report.
In 1965 Science and Technology Act created a number of Research Councils to advise the Department of Education and Science (DES). Advisory Council on Technology also created to advise the Ministry of Technology.
In 1966 the Central Council for Science and Technology created to advise Cabinet Office.
In 1966 the White Paper ‘ A Plan for Polytechnics and Other Colleges’ – created the foundations of the binary system for polytechnics and universities and 30 new Polytechnics in England and Wales were created from regional and the larger area colleges.
In 1968 the Science and Technology in Higher Education Report (Dainton) – attempted to address the reduction of students studying science and technology.
In 1968 the Education Act – proposed comprehensive schools.
In 1969 the Report of the Committee on Technician Courses and Examinations (Haselgrave) published – recommended the establishment of TEC and BEC (see chapter 13).

Part 13 will further consider the developments in the late 1960s including the creation of the Polytechnics and the Haselgrave Review into qualifications associated with technician and business education and the developments and the initiatives in the 1970s following on from the developments in the 1950/60s.

Aldrich. R. (Editor). ‘A Century of Education’. Falmer Press. ISBN 0-415-24323-8. 2002.
Summerfield. P and Evans. E. J. ‘Technical Education and the state since 1850’. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-2967-8. 1990.
Plus others cited in earlier chapters.

A very comprehensive book list is provided in a separate section of this website.

In addition a comprehensive chronology and glossary are provided in separate section of this website.

Chapter 11 – Developments in the 1940s and 1950s

This entry is part 11 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education

The 1940s, 1950s and 1960s witnessed innumerable parliamentary reports and Acts many of which related to technical and commercial education. To do justice to this period chapters 11, 12 and 13 will focus on this critical time not only for the country but also for technical education. I will describe a number of topics and attempt to capture the essence and chronology [see chronology] of these reforms and subsequent developments. It was a period of rapid change financially, politically and socially as the country attempted to come to terms with the aftermath of the war and its changing role in the world. As always the period is littered with missed opportunities, weak political leadership and lack of real understanding of industry and technical and commercial education.

Because of the depressions during the 1920s/30s and the subsequent limitations on public expenditure little development of technical education occurred. The local authority budgets were severely curtailed which had a negative impact on their spending on education and this was further exacerbated by the permissive and voluntary nature of the existing legislation for the provision of technical education. As has been said the heyday of the growth of technical education was witnessed in the last two decades of the 19th century when colleges were established in most major cities and the larger towns. During the next half-century stagnation set in and a depressing period of national neglect was apparent. Only after the recommendations of the 1944 Education Act, which was strongly influenced by the Hadow (1926) and Spens Reports (1938), were enacted was there some evidence of progress.

The Second World War provided many harsh lessons for this country and most certainly identified its limitations as a world power. Once the workshop of the world it was made to realise in very stark terms that it was massively dependent on the US through the Lend-Lease programme. Churchill’s call  ‘Give us the tools and we will finish the job!’ was only realised by the vast amount equipment and other hardware that America provided throughout the conflict. This included the essential electrical components for radar which had been discovered by our own few brilliant scientists. Even the plentiful initial supply of penicillin during the war was hampered by the failure to exploit its potential. The process to gain robust patents for the products was inadequate and slow even though it had been discovered in this country by Alexander Fleming. We had to depend on the Americans for the initial supplies. Barnet (1) brilliantly describes the fundamental problems associated with British industry and the war effort. Industry was ill prepared for the challenge that mass production presented. Lack of investment meant that the antiquated machines available were unable to quickly manufacture quality products. Britain was unable to build modern machinery and machine tools and this led to a major dependence on the US. The workforce was largely unqualified and massive shortages were highlighted across craftspeople, scientists, technicians and technologists.

It is often said that the Second World War was a conflict in which physics figured significantly whereas the First World War exploited chemistry so it was inevitable that the future was about science and its application. The Second War had shown the need for more highly qualified engineers, scientists and technologists as well as skilled craftspeople and operatives in the future. In addition the need to train more and better managers and administrators was only too evident. It was finally recognised that the country needed an organised and more efficient system of technical and commercial education in order to realise this aspiration. There was an urgent need to improve productivity and begin to tackle issues associated with our international competitiveness. Skill levels of the existing workforce had to improve and had to increase the flow of highly qualified people into industry and commerce. The painful lessons learnt during the war were addressed by a succession of committees, reports and parliament acts.

1944 Education Act

This major Education Act mainly dealt with schools with a great deal of parliamentary time was spent on the place of religion the curriculum. However Sections 41 to 47 dealt with Further Education and placed a duty on Local Education Authorities to ‘secure the provision of adequate facilities for further education, for:

  • Full-time and part-time education for persons over compulsory school age
  • Leisure-time occupations, in such organised, cultural, training and recreative activities as are suited to their requirements, for any person over compulsory school age who are able and willing to profit by the facilities provided for that purpose’.

Therefore the Act attempted to address the concerns highlighted during the war namely the inadequacy of:

  • Provision of training for craftspeople, technicians and technologists
  • Financial, human and physical resources for colleges
  • Provision for adult education.

The Act created a blue print for the development of a national network of technical institutions.

Because of the continuing concern about technological education two committees were established chaired by Eustace Percy (1945) and Alan Barlow (1946) respectively both of which focussed on higher education particularly of technological education and scientific manpower. Percy was a visionary, passionate about the importance of technology and recommended amongst other things the creation of a few highly specialised technology institutions. This and other recommendations were only to be implemented much later. The Barlow Committee dealt with the supply of a scientific workforce and it is interesting that it supported pure science rather than technical and technological prowess (academic drift again!). Although to be fair to Barlow he argued that a national system should be developed integrating schools, technical and technology colleges, universities and industry –an aspiration still to be realised.

These two Reports occupy an important part in the history of technical education so it would be helpful to describe more fully their remits and recommendations.
The Percy Report was entitled ‘Higher Technological Education’ and reported to the Minister of Education and its terms of reference were:

‘Having regard to the requirements of industry, to consider the needs of higher technical education in England and Wales, and the respective contributions made thereto by Universities and Technical Colleges; and to make recommendations, amongst other things, as to the means for maintaining appropriate collaboration between Universities and Technical Colleges in this field’.

Among the recommendations was the creation of a number of Colleges of Technology that should be allowed to offer full-time programmes at degree standard. These Colleges should remain under the control of the LEA who would receive additional funding from central government. The committee however disagreed about whether these awards should be degree (B. Tech.) or a State Diploma in Technology (Dip. Tech.). Percy also advocated a number of ‘Royal’ institutions that could award Associateships and Fellowships. The Committee also recommended the establishment of Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) [see history of technical and commercial examinations] to coordinate the higher education programmes across the 147 education authorities. Sadly and inevitably very few of the recommendations were adopted by the government except for the creation of the REBs. Percy and his committee were remarkably farsighted and it was only in 1956 ten years later that Colleges of Advanced Technology (CATs)  were established realising the concept of Colleges of Technology. Another example of a missed opportunity!

The Barlow Report in 1946 continued the battle to create a more scientifically qualified workforce. The Report was entitled ‘Scientific Manpower’ and its terms of reference were:

‘To consider the policies which should govern the use and development of our scientific manpower and resources during the next 10 years, and to submit a report on very broad lines at an early date so as to facilitate forward planning in those fields which are dependent on the use of scientific manpower’.

(Sorry about the wording obviously women were regarded as not capable of becoming scientists!)

The committee strongly restated the urgent need to produce more scientists and technologists and fortunately this time the government accepted most of the recommendations. The report recommended that universities and colleges should greatly expand the numbers studying higher science and technology subjects BUT not at the expense of the humanities. This recommendation contributed to the growth of university numbers which in 1938/39 were 50,000 and by 1958/9 had increased to 100,000. The two reports provided blue prints for higher scientific and technical education for the years to follow. It was only in 1956 that the White Paper ‘Technical Education’ picked up some aspects of the blue prints and some of Percy’s and Barlow’s recommendations implemented. The then Secretary of State of Education, David Eccles, was an exceptional Minister with vision and fought hard to create a coherent properly funded system of technical education.

Technical Colleges

During the fallow period from 1900 up to the mid-1940s colleges existed in inappropriate accommodation, with inadequate equipment, facilities and funding coupled with poor human resource strategies. As a result the colleges in particular too often struggled to satisfy local industrial and commercial needs. Following the 1944 Education Act more precise definitions for tertiary, technical and further education were established with a basic structure that can still be recognised today. One positive aspect of this development was the wide-ranging consultations that occurred with the Federation of British Industries (FBI) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC). A period of rapid development then occurred with the opening of new technical and further education colleges.

As a result of these developments the number of employees released for part-time training had risen to 417,000 by 1957 – a ten-fold increase when compared with 1938 – but there was still a real lack of effective employer involvement in vocational training. However employers did begin to be more committed to day release as evidenced by the increased participation between 1938 and 1963 which went from 51,000 to 644,000. The Crowther Report 1959 (see chapter 12) considered the level of day release in detail and made a number of important recommendations. The 1944 Education Act reinforced the fact that the English education system was a ‘national system, locally administered’ with all the resultant problems that implied and which would continue to impact especially for technical education and its constitute colleges. Although many elements of the Act produced lasting benefit others continued to fail to fundamentally address critical shortages of technically trained people in industry. One of the main problems was the way different LEAs interpreted the duties placed on them in regard to technical education.

Between 1944 and the mid 1950s the college started to become more differentiated and carried a range of titles including: technical college, college of technology, municipal college and colleges of further education etc. During this time these 460 or so colleges offered mainly work at ONC/OND level with qualifications offered by CGLI, RSA, and GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ boards [see history of technical and commercial education].

It might be helpful to provide some detail of students attending colleges on day and evening courses. Table 1 shows the growth of numbers between 1911 and 1951.

Table 1. Enrolments at Colleges on Day and Evening Classes Aged Between 15 and 24 (England and Wales) Between 1911 and 1951 (in 000s).

Year Day-Time Evening-Time Total Population of Age Group Participation Rate in Day-Time Study Participation Rate in Evening Study
1911  14.7 765 6,512 0.23% 11.7%
1921  22.0 867 6,654 0.33% 13.0%
1931 35.8 906 6,929 0.52% 13.1%
1937 40.1 1,049 6,640 0.60% 15.8%
1947 209.5 1,377 6,036 3.37% 22.8%
1951 318.5 1,901 5,612 5.68% 33.7%

Table 2 shows the dominance of part-time evening study, the very low participation rates and the increases after the war. The low participation rates have been a continuing problem for this country and in spite of innumerable attempts to increase the rates most initiatives have failed. This country has always compared badly with other countries particularly after a year of leaving school e.g. when the school leaving age was raised to 16 the participation was well below that at 16.

Table 2. Shows the Rate of Expansion in Student Numbers between 1931 and 1955

Mode of Attendance 1931 1937 1947 1951 1955
Full-time 100 149 i.e. (49%) 422 471 618
Part-time 100 100 634 983 1,510
Total day 100 112 584 888 1,140
Total evening 100 116 141 210 191

For convenience of the presentation the index is normalised at 100 for 1931. This allows the percentage to be calculated more easily.
To continue this statistical detail table 3 shows the proportion of students studying vocational courses during the evenings between 1931 and 1955.

Table 3 shows that the proportions remained relatively constant during this period either side of the war.

Table 3. Proportion of Vocational Evening Subjects Between 1931 and 1955.

Mode of Attendance 1931 1937 1947 1951 1955
Industrial 13.0% 14.7% 15.0% 15.3% 16.5%
Professional and Commercial 21.1% 20.1% 16.0% 15.2% 15.8%
Total 34.1% 34.8% 31.0% 30.5% 32.3%


Table 4 shows the index of expansion in evening class entries between 1931 and 1955.

Table 4. Expansion Index of Evening Class Entries from1931 to 1955.
Note 1931 taken as base line index of 100.

Vocational Area 1931 1937 1947 1951 1955
Industrial 100 119 124 165 166
Professional and Commercial 100 104 83 103 100

Interesting to note that the increases occurred in the industrial sectors whilst professional and commerce experienced very modest increases and in 1955 returned to its value of 1931.
The table 5 shows the proportion of evening class entries in vocational subjects by institution type.

Table 5. Proportion of Vocational Evening Class Entries By Institution Attended in Between 1937 and 1950.

Type of Course Year Evening Institutes Colleges Totals*
Vocational 1937 27.0  57.3 34.8
Vocational 1947 17.1 50.8 31.0
Vocational 1950 14.6 54.1 30.3

Key * Proportion against the total student numbers in all the types of institutions.

Table 6 shows enrolments as a % of the age cohort in 1931 and 1951.

Table 6. Enrolments as Percentage of 14-25 Age Cohort in 1931 and 1951 (in 000s).

Year Day students Evening students Total cohort population  Full-time participation
1931 35.8 906 6,929 0.52 13.1
1951 318.5 1,901 5,612 5.68 33.7

Table 7 shows the index of expansion in student numbers for 1931, 1947 and 1951. To make comparisons easier I have assigned an index of 100 for 1931. The expansion indices speak for themselves but remember the figures indicate total enrolments and do not differentiate between technical, academic and recreational classes. Data is difficult to analyse but the table attempts to show enrolments across these categories for the same years.

Table 7. Index of Expansion in Student Numbers for 1931, 1947 and 1951.

Year 1931 1947 1951
Full-time day 100 422 471
Part-time day 100 634 983
Total day 100 584 888
Total evening 100 141 210

Table 8 explores again from a different perspective the proportions studying on vocational, academic and recreational subjects.

Table 8. Proportions on Evening Vocational, Academic and Recreational Subjects in 1931/47/51.

Subject 1931 1947 1951
Vocational  13.0 15.0 15.3
Professional/ Commercial 21.1 16.0 15.2
Total V/P/C 34.1  31.0 30.5
Academic total 34.5 26.3 20.9
Recreational 28.6  42.7 48.6
Total 100 100 100

Notice that the proportion for vocational subjects remained fairly static at around 15% and about 33% if you factor in Professional and Commercial subjects. As can be seen most of the expansion in evening classes was in non-vocational provision.

These tables begin to show important shifts in the functions of colleges and evening institutions. Evening institutions began to shift to leisure and recreational subjects whilst the technical colleges still continued to still have a substantial proportion of their work associated with general and recreational subjects. Increasingly students preferred to attend colleges after the compulsory school leaving age seeing colleges as more mature environments when compared with 6th forms. Many of these students pursued general subjects e.g. GCEs. To honour their local responsibilities many colleges maintained provision in leisure and recreational subjects. This pattern continued throughout the 20th century and continues today so one must always carefully consider the relative and absolute proportions across the various categories of provision for any given college. This commitment to a range of specialist, general and recreational provision offered at a number of levels is what defines the mixed economy nature of many colleges then and now.

Colleges catered for both full and part-time students and around 160 offered advanced level programmes e.g. HNC/HNDs and even some degree programmes. The range of students and provision was beginning to become very heterogeneous and this would present problems and challenges to future governments and LEAs when reforms were introduced. In addition there were twenty regional colleges with over 50% of their students pursuing advanced level work involving part and full time study for HNCs/HNDs, professional qualifications and degrees – good examples of comprehensive and mixed economy institutions. These colleges recruited students from their particular region often offering specialised programmes only offered at the college. A number of national colleges offered advanced programmes in such subjects as foundry, food, rubber, refrigeration and fan technology, heating and ventilation. These were eventually merged with other HE institutions whilst Cranfield Aeronautics College only provided post-graduate technology education and went on to become a world class university. Finally there were 135 art colleges, 4 agricultural colleges and 41 farm institutes many of which went on to become colleges or were later merged with universities.

The National Colleges represent an interesting development in higher technological education and table 9 lists them for the period 1946 to 1951. Interesting in the sense that they represent first the first an attempt to create specialist higher education monotechnics.

Table 9. National Colleges, 1946 – 1951.

National College Location Date of designation as a national college
College of Aeronautics Cranfield (now Cranfield University 1946
Royal College of Art Founded 1837 as school of industrial design 1949
National College of Food Technology  Formerly the Smithfield College of Food Technology 1951
National Foundry College Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Technical College 1947
National College of Heating, Ventilation, Refrigeration and Fan Engineering Borough Polytechnic, London 1948
National College of Horology and Instrument Technology Northern Polytechnic, London 1947
National Leathersellers’ College Formerly Leathersellers’ Technical College (established in 1909) 1951
National College of Rubber Technology Northern Polytechnic, London 1948

Source: Payne, G. (1960) ‘Britain’s Scientific and Technological Manpower’.

The national colleges provided a wide range of courses including higher degrees. Although the numbers of students were small the colleges produced highly specialised and competent technologists for the relevant industries. Some also conducted research activities supported and funded by government and their parent industries. Courses and the related examinations were designed for their particular industry and were dependent on entry requirements. They included college diplomas, higher nationals, degrees and postgraduate awards. The national colleges progressively underwent a number of title changes including Colleges of Advanced Technology (CATs) and eventually became universities or were absorbed into the university sector.
Definitions of levels of technical education were used to describe both qualifications and names of institutions, these being ranked: for technologists, technicians and craftspeople (sometimes referred to as operatives). Such a hierarchy inevitably has limitations and inherent dangers and mirrors the way this country likes to segregate organisations and people e.g. academic/ vocational qualifications, state /public schools etc.
(In some ways the education and training in of this country over many years has operated an apartheid system, i.e. any system of segregation, separating and dividing students on the basis of their social class).

Vocational Secondary Education

Following the implementation of the 1944 Act the main providers of secondary technical education were in local education authorities that had adopted the recommendations of the Spens (1938) and Norwood Reports (1943) and established a tripartite system of schools i.e. Grammar, Secondary Technical and Secondary Modern Schools. Many of these enlightened authorities had over the previous three to four decades operated systems involving local technical colleges which incorporated a junior technical and commercial school and in some cases a junior trade school. After 1944 these were designated secondary technical schools and took successful 11+ pupils and offered them a vocationally biased curriculum. The Ministry of Education, which had been established following the 1944 Act, identified these schools as being for a minority of able pupils who would benefit from a technical or commercial curriculum. I was never clear how the students were selected for the Technical Secondary School after they had passed the 11+ examination and could have gone to a Grammar School. However very few Secondary Technical Schools were created. The numbers of secondary technical schools between 1946 and 1958 is shown in table 10.

Table 10. Number of Secondary Technical Schools.

Year Number of Secondary Technical Schools
1946/47 317
1948 319
1949 310
1950 301
1951 296
1952 291
1953 292
1954 300
1955 302
1956 298
1957 290
1958 279

During the period 1947 to 1958 the number of students in secondary technical schools in England and Wales and technical schools in bi-lateral and multilateral schools increased from 66,454 to 97,485. Some authorities operated secondary technical schools on the same site as grammar and/or secondary modern schools i.e. a single campus for the different schools. In addition to taking GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels examinations the secondary technical schools entered students for a range of technical and commercial qualifications offered by a number of awarding bodies. Table 11 shows the external examinations taken other than GCEs.

Table 11. External Examinations taken by Secondary Technical Schools.

Examination Board Number of Centres Taking the Board Examinations
Royal Society of Arts (1) 47
Welsh Joint Board (2) 12
City and Guilds of London Institute (3) 11
Union of Lancs. and Cheshire (4) 10
General Nursing Council (5) 8
Pitman’s 6
Union of Educational Institutes (6) 3
London Chamber of Commerce 2

Source: Edwards. R. The Secondary Technical School (2).

(1) Included the Commercial Certificate, the Technical Certificate, Single Subject Certificates in Commercial Subjects and Senior Certificates.
(2)The third year leaving certificate and first year ONC examinations.
(3)Including a range of subjects in craft, handicraft and needlework.
(4)Secondary School Certificate and Single Subject Certificates
(5)Preliminary examinations.
(6)Including Commercial Subjects examinations, Craft Apprentices examinations and first year ONC examinations.

As one can see the number of technical and commercial subjects and examinations taken were relatively small and quite quickly the curriculum mirrored that of the grammar schools – another classic example of academic drift! In the third arm of the tripartite system namely the Secondary Modern Schools were given a fair degree of freedom to develop their own curriculum and examinations. Very often various examinations were offered. Examples included the RSA Technical Grouped Course Certificate in Elementary Subjects namely English, Mathematics, Trade Calculations and Science and the Preliminary Technical Certificate offered by the LEA with subjects such as English, Arithmetic, Mathematics, Science and Technical Drawing. I still am the proud owner of these certificates. In addition some students would take entrance examinations, say, for the local dockyard apprenticeship school or for large local company schemes. Eventually at the end of the 1950s academic drift set in and more and more secondary modern schools prepared students for GCE ‘O’ levels.

A Personal Observation

I was a pupil at a secondary modern school having failed the 11+ twice – the curriculum was not examination led but I experienced a rich range of provision including the crafts taught by great teachers many of whom had been emergency trained after the Second World War. The Crowther Report in 1959 stated that the country did not have a tripartite system but in reality a two-sided system, grammar and secondary technical schools being predominately academic and secondary modern schools being vocational. Crowther was particularly interested in those pupils for whom a more vocational and practically focused curriculum would be more appropriate.

Industrial Training

Despite the emphasis on reforms of further and higher education, vocational training was still left very much in the hands of industry and the benevolence and support of a number of committed employers. Increasing concern was expressed about this situation throughout the immediate post-war years and the establishment of National Apprenticeship and Training Councils serving individual industries was advocated. Interesting to note this meant a re-adoption after 16 years of the conclusions of the Balfour and Malcolm Committees! These calls were finally supported by two pieces of legislation namely The Industrial Organisation and Development Act (1947) and The Employment and Training Act (1948). Inevitably neither Act had much impact on vocational training in industry, and by the end of the 1940s the continuing concern about leaving industrial training to employers was gaining momentum. However successive governments failed to recognise the fundamental weaknesses in the voluntary arrangements and continued to adhere to the policies formulated in 1945. During the early 1950s the concerns grew about the poor state of the skill levels in the workforce and culminated in 1958 with the report ‘Training for Skill’ chaired by Robert Carr the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. The central theme of his report concerned apprenticeships for craftspeople and recommended that the government expand and improve facilities for technical education BUT that the responsibility for industrial training remain with employers. The report called for a non executive Council that endeavours to ‘help, encourage and if necessary exhort employers to improve industrial training’.

As one can imagine the report attracted a great deal of criticism both for its concentration on craft training and the lost opportunity to introduce a compulsory instrument. Many argued, including the British Association for Commercial and Industrial Education, that what was needed was a national strategy for workforce planning for all training programmes and that a compulsory levy be imposed on employers.

Only in 1964 did the government finally accept the failure of the voluntary approach and this brought about a reversal of a policy that had been obstinately upheld for over 17 years. The White Paper Industrial Training – Government Proposals was published. The White Paper was supported by all political parties and both sides of industry and became law and resulted in the creation of the Industrial Training Boards (ITB) representing particular industries (see chapter 12 for more detail on the Industrial training Act). Each Board would approve courses/qualifications including those run in colleges that would receive training grants and a Central Training Council would be established to oversee the adequacy of provision. However as will be seen later in this levy/grant regime imposed on employers was to cause problems particularly for small and medium size companies/enterprises. Employers would only receive a grant if their companies provided approved training programmes for their employees. ITBs were the precursors of a multitude of employer lead organisations that would be created over the next four decades with the responsibility to set occupational standards and maintain employer involvement in industrial training and qualifications. These have included Industrial Lead Bodies (ILBs), Lead Bodies (LBs), National Training Organisations (NTOs) and the latest attempt the Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) all of which have largely failed to improve the situation.

Technical Examinations.

In some ways the examination system mirrored the heterogeneous nature of the college sector with a large number of boards offering examinations in technical subjects as the following list attempts to illustrate:

  • Technical College Diplomas – certain technical colleges awarded their own diplomas or associateships after advanced study
  • National Diplomas and Certificates at Ordinary and Higher grades. HNDs were being recognised as providing exemptions from examinations of professional institutions
  • CGLI was the major player awarding final and full technological certificates in a wide range of technical and vocational areas. These were the highest level of recognition in craft subjects. CGLI also offered intermediate certificates as well as technician awards.
  • The Regional Examining Unions in co-operation with CGLI offered examinations at intermediate and higher levels. Successful students could then progress to the final examinations of the CGLI.
  • Professional and Trade Certificates were offered by the many professional and trade organisations.

(Note: For a more detailed account of the history of technical and commercial examinations see separate publication on this website).

As can been seen the examination system was both complex and confusing to the employees, employers, parents and students. It was only with later reviews that the qualifications landscape was begun to be rationalised e.g. the review of vocational qualifications in 1986 [see history of technical and commercial examinations] which led to the creation of NVQs but concerns still remain even today about the plethora of awards and qualifications – successive reforms have failed to provide a tidy system.

To reinforce some of these facts about the examinations in the technical colleges I provide three more tables with information taken from the Ministry of Education annual surveys. Table 12 shows the progress of entries to ONC/OND/HNC/HNDs between 1945 and 1949.

Table 12. Entries for National Ordinary and Higher Certificates and Diplomas Between 1945 and 1949 I Science and Engineering.

1945  5,135 116 1,844 60
1946 5,544 130  2,069 80
1947 5,805 110  2,479 61
1948 7,997 Not available 4,509 Not available
1949 9,483   348 4,147 287

Table 13. University Degrees Awarded in Science and Technology between 1947 and 1949.

Year  Pure Science Technology
1947 12,516  8,767
1948 14,544 10,146
1949 16,099 10,884


Table 14. Number of Degrees, HNCs and HNDs Awarded in Technical Colleges in 1949.

Award Science Engineering Other Technologies
Internal External 296 413
External 155 308
Totals: 451 721
HNC 203 3,851 525
HND 144 143
Totals: 203 3,995 668
Grand Totals: 654 4,716 668

Table 15. Percentage of Technical College Students Taking Science and Engineering Courses Compared with those in Universities in 1949.

Award  Pure Science Engineering
Degrees 2.9% 7.1%
HNC and HND 4.7% 34.6%


Other Relevant Developments in the 1940s:

  • In 1943 White Paper on Educational Reconstruction published.
  • In 1943 Secondary School Examinations Council on Curriculum and Examinations in Schools Report (Norwood) published that supported tripartite structure for schools.
  • In 1944 Education Act (Butler) published.
  • In 1945 ‘Higher Technological Education’ Report (Percy) published that recommended upgrading of a number of technical colleges to colleges of advanced technology.
  • In 1946 Committee on ‘Scientific Manpower’ Report (Barlow) published that advocated a doubling of scientists in universities over a ten year period.
  • In 1947 ‘Industrial Organisation and Development’ Act established a number of Councils in certain industries with functions to “promote the training of persons engaged or proposing engagement in the industry.
  • In 1947 School leaving age raised to 15.
  • In 1948 ‘Employment and Training Act’published largely focussed on issues to do with youth employment.

Chapter 12 will continue to describe the developments in the 1950s.


  1. Barnet, C. ‘The Audit of War’ Papermac. ISBN 0-333-43458-7. 1986.
  2. Edwards. R. ‘The Secondary Technical School’. University of London Press. 1960.

Other Useful References:

Argles. M. ‘South Kensington to Robbins’. Longmans. 1964.
Cotgrove. S.F. ‘Technical Education and Social Change’. George Allen and Unwin. 1958.
Dent.H. C. ‘The 1944 Education Act’. University of London Press. 1968.
Maclure. J. S. ‘Educational Documents England and Wales 1816-1967’. Chapman and Hall. SBN 412 07960 7. 1967.
Venables. P. F. R. ‘Technical Education’. Bell. 1955.

Comprehensive book lists, a chronology and a glossary are provided in separate sections of this website which hopefully will be helpful to readers.


About the Author

Attended Portsmouth College of Technology after leaving Hilsea Secondary Modern School (failed 11+ twice!). It was a great institution amazing staff who encouraged me to continue my studies from GCE ‘O’ Level – obtained GCE ‘A’ levels in Mathematics and Physics. Portsmouth was accredited to offer honours external degrees of the University of London and was brave enough to enrol – gained a good 2.1 and went to Essex University to study for PhD in Physics – another great institution brand new with committed staff. After a few stints in post doc research, science lab technician and supply teacher in London entered the FE section and made a career reaching position of Principal of  very large college in the NW until I fell foul to the Blair Government for amongst things being too passionate and out spoken about technical education. Took early retirement and enjoy writing, developing this website, learning Mandarin and doing the odd spot of voluntary work in technical education.


Richard Evans PhD. BSc (Hons). PGCE. MEd. DMS. FInstPhy. FInstLM. FCGI. Companion CIPHE

Welcome to the website

I have created this site covering a range of topics that will hopefully convey the history and the current importance of technical and vocational education from a number of different perspectives. I hope it will prove of interest and value to students, researchers and people who are associated with this important sector of education and training.

The website is a free resource. All I ask is that the source is referenced if used. Some of the material is written from a personal viewpoint reflecting my experiences gained as a student in Further Education and a long career working in the FE sector.

I have always believed that the Further Education (FE) Sector is the closest example of a truly comprehensive sector of education. Technical Education is a strategically important part of the education system especially at a time of massive transformations occurring globally. The history and commentary on various aspects of technical and vocational education attempt to identify why it is still perceived in a negative way in spite of innumerable initiatives and government pronouncements over many decades. The FE sector has been referred to as the Cinderella sector often with good cause. The material on this site attempts to record and reflect on a number of issues that have influenced and shaped technical and vocational education. Much of the material catalogues a series of misguided political initiatives, false dawns and missed opportunities which sadly continue even today. It also highlights initiatives through the centuries which have been pivotal in putting technical education in this country on the map at all. I strongly believe that one must understand history and attempt to learn from the lessons if one is to improve the situation in the future. Sadly generations of politicians have consistently ignored these lessons preferring to recreate the mistakes of the past – this is most certainly true where technical and vocational education and training are concerned. Some of the content will be controversial and I hope it will provoke constructive argument and debate.

Some of the materials in earlier versions (2003+) have appeared in  ‘t’ magazine and on their website ( ( Sadly ‘t’ magazine no longer exists). In addition to the histories, biographies and pen portraits, glossaries, chronologies I have included a number of articles and viewpoints on technical, commercial and vocational education and training. Also a series of statistical information on the topic and its institutions is included.
The site will be constantly expanded and updated.

Feedback would be welcome, email any comments to:

Dr Richard Evans FInst.P. FCGI. FInstLM  CompCIPHE

May 2009+

Last updated November 2013.


Recent Additions:
‘An Equation I Cannot Balance’
‘To learn or not to learn’
> ‘Youth Matters’
>The Challenges of Introducing Environmental Issues into the Skills Agenda
>Functional Skills and Apprenticeships
>Why No Licence to Practice. An Historical Perspective
Biographies and Pen Portraits:
>Harriet Martineau 
>Great Engineers and Pioneers and their Education’
> Polytechnic Institutions of London
>Trade Schools in England
Academic vs. Vocational Debate Revisited
>The Importance of WRL for All
>The Richard Review of Apprenticeships
>The TechBacc-What Chance of Success?
>Inhibitors to Implementation of the Skills Agenda
August 2013