The Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) 1983- 1997.

The Technical and Vocational Initiative (TVEI) represented a dramatic departure from the education policy conducted by successive governments in Britain since the Second World War. It tried to address the deficiency in the school curriculum namely the absence of any meaningful vocational content. This particularly was a major concern with the high level of youth unemployment in the 1880s which has heightened the debate about the growing irrelevance school education for many young people who felt the curriculum did not prepare them for work. Employers too had over many years argued that the school curriculum should be more about employability and preparing young people for work. The debate included the need to introduce vocational subjects into the curriculum. The initiative aimed to influence and encourage schools to adopt a more vocationally orientated curriculum through a system of financial and other incentives operated through ‘categorical funding’ (i.e. a funding regime conducted under well-defined guidelines).

Interesting to note that the extra funding was not sought by the government from the two main spending departments namely the DES and DoE and this was at a time when the education and training budgets were experiencing massive cuts! (No doubt the government resorted to their usual creative accounting methods conjuring money from unspecified sources!) The target age range for the initiative was 14 to 18 year olds and so embraced the then emerging national curriculum and GCE ‘A’ levels. The TVEI was very much a broad based curriculum-led development in contrast to the development of GNVQs which was assessment-led.

The guide lines issued in the spring of 1983 provide an insight into how the government wanted the initiative to development namely:

TVEI Policy:
Sponsors: HM Government
Agency: Manpower Services Commission (MSC)
Managers/designers: Local Education Authorities (LEAs)
Users: Teachers/students
Purpose: To explore and test methods of organising, delivering, managing and resourcing replicable programmes of technical/vocational education.

Stated aims:

  • To widen and enrich the curriculum.
  • To prepare students for the world of work.
  • To help students lead a fuller life.
  • To enable students to contribute to the life of the community
  • To enable students to adapt to a changing occupational environment
  • To help students to ‘learn how to learn’.

Agency operational principles:

  • LEAs should be direct line managers, designers and responsible parties of schemes, following centrally devised general criteria with specific design features developed locally.
  • Funding of all extra costs incurred in educating the cohort within a scheme will be met by the agency under strict financial account procedures.
  • Participants and all the involved parties should be consulted during the development of project proposals.
  • The agency will accept a variety of approaches in order to meet the purposes and aims above.

Features of the ‘designated ‘programme: agency guidelines:

Target population:

  • A scheme should include 1,000 students during its life time.
  • Two cohorts of students should complete the course in the 14-18 age range.
  • Participation by students in the scheme should be voluntary.
  • Students should be attracted from the full ability range.
  • Both sexes should be represented.
  • Mixed sex classes should be the norm.
  • Some provision for students with special educational needs should be provided.

Curricular features:

  • Curricular designs should be for four years in the 14-18 age range.
  • Designs should state specific objectives, including attitudinal objectives.
  • Designs should link to subsequent training or vocational opportunities.
  • Designs should include a ‘work experience’ component.
  • Designs should be responsive to local and national shifts in ‘employment opportunities’.
  • Designs should consist of both general and technical/vocational education (i.e. the provision of
  • Courses which lead to students’ acquisition of generic or specific skills with a view to employment).


  • Courses should lead to nationally recognised qualifications.
  • Negotiation of assessment of Performance should take place continuously and on completion, with records of achievement or ‘profiles’ which should express student achievements not readily deducible from formal qualifications.

Management and Staffing:

  • Each LEA scheme should appoint a coordinator.
  • Each participating institution should appoint a coordinator.
  • Local management should be by a ‘support arrangement’, i.e. committee of interested persons.

(Interesting to note the use of the non-mandatory word should!)

At this stage many questions remained unanswered e.g. the precise role of the Local Education Authorities (LEAs), its relationship with the DES, its relationship to the then emerging national curriculum and how schools who did not wish to participate would be dealt with. Many commentators have since argued that the initiative was non-consultative, non-participative and presidential. In many ways it was deliberately provocatively confrontational in by passing so many key groups including the Department of Education and Science (DES). The initiative was seen by many to be driven by ideology and increased the already existing significant tensions between Ministries and their Ministers and the whole landscape at this time was dominated by the tensions between the role and power struggles between the MSC and the DES which were at times articulating contradictory messages about the purpose of education and training. Add to this personality clashes between senior politicians and their advisers and we had an initiative that was sadly doomed.

The then Secretary of State of Education stated the TVEI was just a case of narrow vocationalism and was highly critical of the initiative and its supporters. The initiative most certainly exposed the deep divisions that existed at the time between differing political and indeed ideological beliefs in regard to education and training particularly introducing technical and vocational elements into the school curriculum. These fundamental divisions have plagued British education and training policies for over a century as explained in the history of technical education on this website. A later initiative GNVQ also experienced criticism and ultimately was wound up mainly because of political dogma. Even today debates rage about introducing vocational subjects into the school curriculum e.g. the so-called vocational diplomas.

Personal aside:
I worked on the TVEI in Cornwall and actively supported the LEA and the support committees representing the FE college element within the consortium. It was a very rewarding experience and the initiative developed strong partnerships between the college and the consortium schools and the LEA. Extra courses and resources both in the schools and the college added value to the learning experience of the students and teachers. Specialised accommodation and facilities were created in the participating institutions in such subjects as biotechnology, office/business studies and computer suites and facilities. Staff from participating institutions attended joint in-service sessions that helped to improve their knowledge of teaching technical and vocational subjects. Meetings with other consortia from around the country highlighted good practice and a real commitment to the aims and objectives of the initiative. The initiative promised much both for the county and across the country but because of its politicisation especially at the launch and the uncertainties about long term funding it ultimately failed and represented yet another false dawn dogged by short- termism, inadequate resources and political divisions. In many ways much of the success and examples of good practice remain localised but I would argue that these elements still merit further analysis and evaluation.

Final comments:
TVEI was at its peak between 1983 and 1987 when it most certainly drove the 14-18/19 agenda but from around 1988 its influence waned as the DES reasserted itself and the National Curriculum gained increased momentum. The initiative was increasingly marginalised and eventually ended in 1997. TVEI was ultimately the biggest curriculum development programme ever in British -estimated around £900 million! It most certainly had both strengths and weaknesses which were never really evaluated. Throughout its existence the majority of LEAs were fundamentally against it and the continuing concerns about the role of the MSC and DoE all contributed to its ultimate demise. Also the emerging National Curriculum helped to kill off the initiative. I believe that the lessons learnt from the TVEI development could provide a rich harvest for future projects in 14 to 19 education and training and merit further exploitation.

Dale. R. ‘The TVEI.’ Esland. G. (Ed) ‘Education, Training and Employment.’ Volume 2.The Educational Response. ISBN 0-201-54430-X. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company/OU. 1991.

The Role of the Press in the Mathematics and Numeracy Debate

How can the press be more constructive in the way they present critical issues in education and training particularly, for our purpose, those associated with mathematics and numeracy? A good example of how most of the press communicate important topics is the annual frenzy around GCE ‘A’ and GCSE results. They go over the top with issues about grade inflation, the excellence of public schools over the state system, social deprivation and watered down syllabuses etc. This is so damaging, making many of the students feel guilty and that their efforts have not being recognised. Clearly there are major issues associated with the current examination system including the fact that a number of examining bodies see themselves as hardnosed businesses rather than part of the more public spirited education and pedagogic process, but that is for another time.

The publication of the OECD 2009 (PISA) report and the subsequent coverage in the press again highlights many of the concerns I have about this important topic. The figures should not come as any real surprise to informed individuals who have followed the decline in education and training standards in Britain over the past few decades. PISA shows that in 2009 Britain was ranked 16th in science, 25th in reading, 28th for mathematics compared with the respective figures in 2000 of 4th, 7th, and 8th. Immediately the press picked up the political elements with each respective party putting its own spin on the figures. The pendulum politics kicked in with the usual vacuous statements from Labour that the extra £30 billion spend during their period in government had brought improvements but there was ‘still some room for improvement’! The coalition government just made political capital out of the figures, stating their future plans to privatise schools, give parents and organisations an opportunity to open schools and create more academies – many of which are highly questionable. Surely education is too important to be a political football? The problems faced by this country are very serious as we are now in absolute decline after many years of relative decline when compared with other countries. Politics and politicians have a lot to answer for! What is needed is a cross party consensus on education and training policy.

Enough of politics, so how should the press handle the issues of poor achievement in mathematics and numeracy? Firstly they should accept that there is a real problem and it has been around for a long time and then systematically and carefully begin to highlight and explore ways that inform the public. Less eye grabbing tabloid headlines but a long term serious and reasoned debate about the important issues associated with these subjects and not just at the time of the publication of the results or the PISA reports.

The press made much of the countries which had performed better than us and particularly those that had overtaken us over the past decade. This as a factual statement was useful but what then needed to be asked was why. A number mentioned that many of the countries had a hard work ethic/culture whilst others emphasised that many used very traditional methods of rote learning, again interesting but what is now needed is an informed debate about the relative merits of the whole range of learning and teaching techniques not making ill judged or misinformed statements. There seems to be a tradition in this country to rubbish rote/ repetitious learning recalling the bad old days. If the teaching is inspired and motivating there is still a role for rote learning. After all many experts agree that to create numerical and mathematical capability in people the earlier you start the better by laying the foundation of number and number manipulation. What was wrong earlier was the use of rigid and mechanical ways of teaching which in many cases established good recall facility but no real understanding. Also the approach failed to build on the foundations laid and transfer that knowledge to new and more complex contexts and concepts. The foundations of learning are critical in all subjects and to coin an expression ‘foundations are invisible they are, as a result, as soon forgotten’. Many researchers and commentators on mathematics have stressed the importance of the ability to understand and handle numbers early on and stressed the essential need to link recall with understanding. Good teaching tackles the why and not just the how i.e. links the recall with the understanding and transferability skills. Good developed memory skills still have a place but not in isolation. With this background rationale, the PISA findings and others can be used by the press to convey how other countries manage their education systems particularly at the early stages and then discuss how these approaches may help this country tackle the problem. The press and indeed the media could play a very important part in this critically important issue.

A number of writers have suggested TV has a role to play in raising the profile of mathematics by broadcasting more programmes specifically on mathematics or making greater use in quiz shows. Worthy as these ideas are I feel in addition the image and profile of the subject and individuals involved in the subject could be raised by introducing the subject more in programmes e.g. soap operas. This is not such a trite suggestion just look at the interest and a massive increase in recruitment of students wanting to study forensic science after the Cracker series on TV. The result was that the number of graduates produced by the HE sector greatly exceeded the number of forensic scientists.

So how can the press be more constructive in the debates about mathematics?

  • Attempt to present the issues in a more reasonable and less sensational fashion to inform the public of the serious state of the subject in the country and present the facts as they are without embroidering them for political purposes
  • Take the politics out of the issue it is too serious for political dogma and prejudice and stop cherry pick the figures to make political points; that’s bad mathematics anyway
  • Project in a positive way the essential nature of the subject in life and employment
  • Influence public opinion to develop a positive view of the subject and convey it is an important subject and not difficult if taught be inspiring teachers
  • Introduce mathematics and numeracy problem solving and puzzling into social networking on the internet

Clearly similar statements can be made about the whole issue of the state of education and training in this country.

First published in The Numeracy Briefing. June 2011.

Characteristics of British Education and Training

“Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow”. T. S. Eliot.

A wonderful quotation that sadly sums up the British Education and Training system.

Some characteristics of technical. commercial education and training in Britain identified over the period covered by the history on this website include:

  • poor linkages to the economy and the world of work
  • low participation and achievements rates
  • restricted access, progression opportunities and continued evidence of elitism as a result of social class based divisions.
  • negative perception of technical and vocational education and training by politicians, parents, society in general and sadly by many employers
  • the basic cultural hostility to scientific mathematical and technological subjects
  • culture of amateurism and continued neglect of science and technology coupled with an indifference to entrepreneurialism.
  • reluctance to renovate and innovate the country’s manufacturing industries and associated infra-structure
  • a degree of over self-confidence and complacency born out of a misplaced belief of past industrial greatness and the continued resonances of the Empire!
  • constant government interference too often operated on a short term basis and coupled with an overall lack of interest in technical and vocational education and training
  • lots of talk about the problems but very little action to solve them – great – after all the country is world class at writing reports that then collect dust on the shelves.

As with the majority of important issues including education and training this country has suffered from the weakness of successive governments and politicians – after all Intellect Failure has been a Permanent Characteristic of Successive British Governments and many politicians! Poor decision taking has been a constant characteristic of British politics over many decades.

Education and Training over the period of this history has been too isolated and independent of the country’s economic needs and must surely in future produce people leaving schools, colleges and universities that match the employment needs of the country,

(It must be remembered that British Society is essentially a conservative one – this manifests itself very often in undue caution and even sheer inertia towards change).

The failure of the technical, commercial and vocational education and training system contributed to the poor performance of the country in its industrial and business base especially when compared with our main international competitors. Some of the factors identified in the history include:

  • Britain failed consistently to recognise the importance of educating trained scientists in the emerging industries and did not as in Germany establish close institutional relationships between applied science in HE and research and development in industry
  • Innovation in Britain lagged behind in emerging industries that were most dependent upon scientific knowledge and principles namely chemicals, dye-stuff and electrical technology.
  • One of the realities and ultimately negative results of being the pioneering industrial nation that had been created by the gifted artisan and enthusiastic and brilliant amateur who were subsequently unable to apply their undoubted talents to the emerging scientific and technological industries . This was not their fault but that of the state which did not establish a national system of technical and scientific education and training. Other nations such as America and Germany realised the importance of scientific education and training at the higher levels and subsequently became pre-eminent in these and other high technological industries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Lack of scientific and technological training of manufacturers and the resulting inability to comprehend the value and importance of science and technology.
  • Poor and uninspiring secondary education led to low progression rates to more advanced scientific and technological education and training
  • An insufficient supply of young people that were properly trained in science , the techniques of applied science and manufacturing
  • The absence of higher technological institutions properly resourced to deliver particularly advanced education and training e.g. at postgraduate levels
  • Also an underdeveloped applied science facility in universities, colleges and a lack of a number of high quality vocational HE institutions e.g. polytechnic type all contributed to a weak technical and technological education and training system. In addition there has been a consistent weakness in the schools for scientific, technical and vocational subjects.
  • Also generally a luke warm support for technical and commercial education and training from employer organisations, Chambers of Commerce, CBI etal.

The slow development of technical, commercial education and training in Britain has been voluntary, haphazard and incidental. Sadly these characteristics and approaches continue today!

When initiatives/pilot experiments were introduced most failed because:

  • of conflicts between and within relevant interested parties e.g. government, their departments, special advisors. quangos etal
  • Minimal coordination of the initiatives/pilots
  • The absence of clearly defined objectives and strategies for the implementation of the initiatives/pilots
  • Very often pilots and initiatives were operated over too short a period of time
  • Very seldom fully evaluated at the end of the pilot.

Good examples: CPVE, GNVQ and TVEI.

Qualified Workforce

Stating the obvious:

If the workforce is highly qualified, motivated and multiskilled it promotes productivity, flexibility, quality and innovation. In addition it ultimately elevates the status of industry and manufacturing and confirms the importance of high quality technical education and training. After all it is skills, knowledge, experience and competence of people that will create jobs.

However it must be remembered that it is not just about formal technical instruction BUT ALSO about the importance of apprenticeships and on-job training/experience programmes.

Also work experience programmes at school and college level and sandwich courses at FE and HE level are equally important provided they are relevant and effectively managed and monitored.

A whole series of factors contribute to the continuing culture of the low level of skills and an inadequately qualified workforce in this country. One critical contributing factor to the poor links between education, training, industry and government is the continued failure to establish an effective national network of organisations that oversee occupational standards and develop a long term strategy to promote and improve skills training in their respective occupational areas. In addition such bodies would help to determine training needs and become a powerful lobby for technical and vocational education and training. The membership must include employers, employer associations and trade unions. Many attempts have been made since the Industrial Training Act (1964) and the creation of ITBs. Some examples of successive attempts have seen Industrial Training Organisations (ITOs), Industrial Lead Bodies (ILBs), Lead Bodies (LBs), National Training Organisations (NTOs) and Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) come and go without any real positive and lasting impact. Criticisms of these organisations have identified systematic weaknesses including failures to:

  • Represent and cover the whole economy
  • Represent Medium and Small Enterprises (SMEs) particularly small companies
  • Represent job functions which cross occupational sectors
  • Establish a reliable, accurate and up to date Labour Market Intelligence system (LMI)
  • Create a better match between supply and demand
  • Identify skills gaps and shortages
  • Adopt a medium and long term strategy for training and skills development and improvement
  • Develop an effective general advisory service on training for the whole country
  • Recognise and manage local and regional labour markets
  • To recognise the skill needs of young people and adopt a strategy to increase skill levels
  • Develop and encourage a central focus for management training
  • Develop strategies for higher skills development that were too often focused on the lower levels e.g. level 2.
  • Prone to adopt short term strategies.

Many of these elements are interrelated e.g. ineffective LMI, a continuing skewed/ imbalanced supply and demand equation and the failure to identify skill gaps and shortages etc.

Also these organisations were accused of becoming very bureaucratic and prone to political interference.

Couple these elements with the continuing low status afforded to trainers and training organisations, lack of adequate investment in training and poor management training I see little or no hope of improvement in the near future. Also the continued operation of the open market militates against the development of a long term, coherent and consistent policy. The open market creates complexity, fragmentation, instability that makes management difficult and precipitates a level of destructive competition between providers. At present there is little prospect of breaking out of the low- skills culture and the low-skills equilibrium will continue unabated! This will make any attempt to rebalance the economy almost impossible whatever the politicians say.

Notable Teachers at Finsbury Technical College and the Central Technical College.

H. Armstrong (1848-1937), W.Ayrton (1847-1908), J. Perry (1850-1920) and S. Thompson (1851-1926).

Two pioneering technical institutions namely Finsbury Technical College (Leonard Street) and the Central Institution (South Kensington) – (see this website for pen portraits) attracted some remarkable individuals. Both these institutions were the result of the creation of the City and Guilds Institute for the Advancement of Technical Education (CGLI). Finsbury Technical College came to be seen as the feeder to the Central Institution which had a focus on higher education provision. The practical work developed at Finsbury was later expanded and enhanced at the Central Institution because of its well equipped and modern laboratories.

The brief biographies of four of the teachers involved at the two institutions are given below. These four remarkable individuals all ahead of their time and their ideas on how to teach mathematics, science and technical subjects was truly amazing and still have relevance today. If only their ideas had been implemented on a larger scale the parlous state of technical and scientific education and training could have been dramatically improved. They all had to deal at times with traditional and entrenched attitudes associated with the supposed superiority of academic studies and subjects over technical ones.

Henry E Armstrong
Born in Lewisham in 1848 and educated at the Royal College of Chemistry, (now the department of Chemistry at Imperial College). Between 1865 and 1867 studying under Edward Frankland who had succeeded Hofmann as Professor of Chemistry. During this time he attended lectures by such notable scientists as Thomas Huxley, William Ramsay and John Tyndall. These experiences established an independent thinking, confident and brilliant chemist. Frankland suggested that Armstrong continued his studies and research with Hermann Kolbe another famous chemist based at the University of Leipzig, Germany. During this period he visited and worked at Berlin and Dresden Universities and completed his studies and dissertation in 1870. After three years in Germany, (1867 to 1870), he returned to England and was appointed lecturer in chemistry at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1870. Henry was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the London Institution in 1871. He worked with William Ayrton at the Cowper Street Schools which later became the Finsbury Technical College and then Professor of Chemistry at the Central Technical College which later became the City and Guilds College between 1884 and 1913 (see biographies on this website).

Amongst other achievements he established a three- year diploma programme in chemical engineering arguing as did his other enlightened colleagues ‘that there was an urgent need for a more scientific attitude of mind among British industrialists.’ When he was appointed with William Ayrton, as the first professors at Finsbury Technical College they both shared the same view that examinations must not drive the teaching and learning process. This view was also held by other teachers such as John Perry and Philip Magnus. They all believed that teachers must have liberty of action and fortunately they were at that time supported by the committees of CGLI.

(Comment: Sadly currently examinations and continuous assessment regimes dominate the education system in many countries and particularly in England. This culture has made the awarding bodies become businesses driven by the market and are now more interested in implementing questionable government education policies and making money. Education and all the associated elements e.g. examinations should not be a hardnosed business enterprise based on market forces.)

In addition to being a notable chemist Henry was also an outstanding person in the teaching of science particularly active in this field during the last two decades of the 19th century. He was dis-satisfied with science teaching methods in schools. He strongly argued that pupils should be allowed to discover things for themselves and in a sense be in the position of the original experimenter and observer. His particular method of teaching became known as the heuristic method and was introduced at St. Dunstan’s College where he was a governor. This method has influenced science ever since, although the inevitable constraints of time modified its basic premises. His criticisms also helped to motivate science teachers and reduced the possibility of them becoming complacent. His ideas of on science teaching closely parallels those of John Perry on mathematics teaching. The Nuffield programmes in science were greatly influenced by their ideas. He was president of the Chemical Society from 1893 to 1895 and Emeritus Professor at Imperial College, London.

His obituary stated he was the major figure in chemistry and science education during two generations possessing a rare gift of expression and writing. He died in 1937.

Praagh. G. Van. (Ed) ‘Henry Armstrong and Science Education.’ Selection from the Teaching of Scientific Method by Armstrong. H. E. John Murray. ISBN 0 7195 2893 3. 1973.Eyre. J. V. ‘Henry Armstrong, 1848-1937. Butterworth Scientific Publications. London. 1958

William E Ayton
William Edward Ayrton was born in London in 1847 and studied at University College School and University College London where he passed with honours the first ever Bachelor of Arts at the University of London in 1867. After this he studied in Glasgow during the late 1860s with Lord Kelvin. He later worked for the Indian Government Telegraphic Service between 1868 and 1873 after gaining the highest grade in their examinations. Between 1873 and 1878 he was Professor of Natural Philosophy and Instructor in the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo, Japan. In both these appointments he made fundamental discoveries in fault detection systems in high tension electrical transmission lines and introduced electric lighting to Japan in 1878. He was a brilliant physicist, electrical engineer, pioneer of electrical engineering and teacher making many important discoveries and inventions both with joint collaborators and alone. He published extensively again alone and jointly on engineering and scientific disciplines particularly in their application in such areas as electrical technology and its measurement e.g. inventing with John Perry the dynamometer, the first electric tricycle, railway electrification, various ammeters and the wattmeter. He was the first to advocate high power electricity transmission. His career often crossed with that if John Perry (see below). He and Perry published 70 important scientific and technical papers between 1876 and 1891. He worked with Perry in Japan, Finsbury College, Central College and Imperial College.

On his return from Japan he took up a number of key appointments at the City and Guilds of London Institute in 1879, professor of applied physics at the Finsbury Technical College in 1881 and in 1884 professor of electrical engineering at the Central Institution at Kensington. In addition he was an outstanding teacher often using his own apparatus and inventions in the classes to demonstrate the concepts and processes. Both he and John Perry (see below) believed that teaching must be accessible to students and equally importantly with an emphasis on practical work. He believed that a machines workshop/facility was essential to effective teaching and learning and that an emphasis on practical work linked to lectures was crucial. The first year course comprised the core subjects of chemistry, mechanics, mathematics and physics and was offered both at the Finsbury Technical College and the Central Institution in order to lay strong foundations to students’ technical studies.

While teaching at Finsbury College he met and later married in 1885 Hertha (Sarah) Marks (see her biography on this website). In 1892 he became President of the institute of Electrical Engineers (IEE) and in 1896 was a member of the editorial committee of the Science Abstracts of the IEE. He died in 1908.

Chisholm. H. (ed). ‘William Edward Ayrton.’ Encyclopaedia Britannica. 11th Edition. CUP. 1911
Institute of Engineering and Technology Archives Biographies.
The National Archives and various Dictionaries and Encyclopaedia of Science and Technologies.

John Perry
Born in Londonderry, Ireland and studied at Queens College, Belfast. He left school early to support himself and worked as an apprentice at the Lagan Foundry from 1864 to 1870. During the last three years of his apprenticeship he studied Engineering at Queen’s College on what we would now call a sandwich course. In 1870 he took up a teaching post in mathematics and science at the boys’ laboratory and workshop. Whilst studying and as a result of all this pressure he began to lose his sight. However his sister used to read text books with him and he became fascinated with the electrical sciences. Later he became interested in steam power and a book he wrote became the seminal text for the US navy. He became a gifted mathematician and pioneering engineer. He taught at Clifton College, Bristol leaving in 1874 to study a year under William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) in a small laboratory in Glasgow. He then emigrated to Japan and took an appointment as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the newly established Imperial College of Engineering, Tokyo, (then the largest technical institution in the world), where he worked with William Ayrton. They collaborated very successfully on problems associated with applied electricity. They also introduced some novel methods of teaching mathematics and engineering. One often cited technique was the use of graph (or squared) paper as a method of teaching and analysing functional innovations relationships in mechanics and electricity. They used this technique in Tokyo and at Finsbury Technical College. This teaching technique was to become one of the defining features and innovations at the Finsbury College which are now referred to as the ‘Finsbury Method’.

On his return to England he was appointed Professor of Engineering and Mathematics at Finsbury Technical College in 1879, again joining William Ayrton and then in 1896 became Professor of Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering at the Central Institution. He retired from the Central Institution in 1914 but continued his work advising the British military on gyroscopic compasses. Mathematics to Perry was a branch of science being ’merely an inductive science based on experience’. One of his guiding rules was ‘that we ought to use, as illustrations, those things with which the pupils have most to do (and) must begin in the middle of the subject, working backwards and forwards. He was elected President of the Institute of Electrical Engineering in 1900 and was President of the Physical Society (later the Institute of Physics) from 1906 to 1908. Like Ayrton is believed in teaching science and engineering from a practical point of view. John Perry was a remarkable teacher who encouraged his students to develop a wider set of interests such as reading novels, taking an interest in literature and especially a greater emphasis in mathematics in order to move away from the rather narrow technically training and instruction that was dominant at the time. He attracted controversy and criticism from the academic mathematics community by publishing a book entitled ‘Calculus for Engineers’, It treated the subject as a purely practical tool e.g. there as an absence of abstract reasoning and presented a simplistic set of rules on differentiation and integration. The book maintained a focus on practical applications to electricity, mechanics and thermodynamics. He used the same approach to such subjects as algebra, arithmetic, geometry, trigonometry etc. He reinforced his ideas by publishing extensively from 1880 arguing strongly for major reform of teaching mathematics – sadly we are still waiting for such reforms considering the parlous state of mathematics teaching in England and some of the home countries! Indeed a man well ahead of his time.

However his ideas were picked up by the newly created Board of Education (BoE) that had succeeded the Science and Art Department in 1899 and it incorporated some of his ideas and techniques into an examination called ‘Practical Mathematics’. Following the creation of an educational section within the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) in 1900 Perry organised a series of discussions groups at the 1901 Glasgow meeting on themes associated with the teaching of elementary mathematics in military, secondary and technical education. The meeting highlighted the massive divisions between the academic approach of teaching i.e. the formal study of mathematics for its own sake as opposed to its practical applications and the essential importance of its utility that Perry was advocating. Interesting that one of the major themes identified in the history of technical education on this website mirrors this tension that has produced the so-called academic- vocational divide – nothing changes! Perry’s ideas are still very relevant and valid today and sadly await recognition and implementation and what little progress has been achieved since his time has been painfully slow. Many of his Irish predecessors, and he and others since, have been progressive thinkers and innovators in astronomy, mathematics, science and technical education. Their pioneering work has so often been overlooked or marginalised by the English. Perhaps it is another example of the inability of the English to recognise and celebrate the achievements of the other home countries? John Perry has not been given the recognition that he deserves and was truly a very remarkable individual well ahead of his time.

He was elected president of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and was president of the Physical Society, (now the Institute of Physics), from 1906 to 1908. He died in 1920.

Nudds. R. N., McMillan N. D., Weaire. D. L and McKenna Lawlor. S. M. P. ‘Science in Ireland 1800-1930. Tradition and Reform.’ ISBN 0:9513586 1 8. Dublin.1988.
John Perry. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Silvanus P Thompson
Born in York in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, he started teaching science at Bootham School in 1873. He was greatly influenced by a lecture given by William Crookes which inspired him to become interested in electromagnetism and optics. In 1876 he was appointed lecturer in physics at University College, Bristol and was made a professor in 1878 at the age of 27 and he stayed at Bristol for nine years. He was very interested in technical education and made a number of fact finding trips to Europe and presented a seminal paper at the (R) Society of Arts in 1879 entitled ‘Apprenticeships, Scientific and Unscientific’ (see chronology on this website) which again like others, (Huxley, Playfair, Magnus – see biographies on this website), highlighted the deficiencies in technical education in England. He recognised that technical education was critical in transferring and translating scientific knowledge into action and practical application and enhancing technical and technological innovation. He was totally committed to this endeavour and spent the rest of his life working to improve technical education and training. Following the creation of the City and Guilds of London Institute for the Advancement of Technical Education, the Finsbury College was founded and Thompson was appointed its Principal and Professor of Physics. Thompson organised classes in optics at Finsbury Technical College which was then at the centre of the spectacle making district in Clerkenwell, He held those positions for 30 years and in 1907 the City and Guilds of London College along with other institutions merged to create Imperial College, London.

Thompson was a recognised authority on acoustics, electricity, magnetism and optics writing a number of seminal text books some of which went through innumerable editions. He later became a widely respected biographer and historian of science writing a biography of Lord Kelvin. He was a very gifted speaker, a skilful artist, and linguist and greatly interested in literary, antiquarian and artistic subjects. His range of interests and vision was truly remarkable and he bridged the scientific and artistic divide – C. P Snow, (Two Cultures), would be impressed with such an individual!
In 1882 he was elected a member of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians and in 1886 a member of the Royal institution where he delivered some excellent lectures. He became the first president of the Rontgen Society, (Rontgen discovered x-rays), between 1897 and 1898. He died in 1916.

Thompson. J. S. And Thompson. H. G. ‘Silvanus Phillips Thompson, His Life and Letters,’ T. Fisher Unwin. London 1920. New edition published with and edited by Martin Gardner.
Lynch. A. C. ‘Silvanus Thompson: teacher, researcher, and historian.’ IEE Proceedings. 1989.

Hertha (Sarah) Marks Ayrton (1854 – 1923)

Born in Portsea, Hampshire, England and named Phoebe Sarah Marks – she later adopted the first name Hertha after the Teutonic earth goodness. Her father who had emigrated from Poland died when she was only seven and left the family heavily in debt, and who then struggled financially to survive. At the age of nine she went to live with her maternal aunt in London and attended the school that her uncle and aunt ran for their children. Both influenced the young Sarah her aunt teaching her mathematics and uncle philosophy. She supported herself and her family by tutoring and doing needle crafts. Her ambition of going to university was realised by the generosity of Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon* one of the founders of Girton College, (Girton was the first residential college for women established at Cambridge), and this allowed her to enter the college in 1876 after passing the Cambridge University Examination for women in 1874, with honours in English and Mathematics. In spite of problems with bouts of illness and consequent poor examination results she eventually completed the Mathematical Tripos with a relatively poor grade 3rd class from Cambridge in 1880. It is important to note that women were not eligible for the university degree at this time and were only granted certificates. However she then successfully completed an external examination and received a BSc degree from the University of London in 1881. She was greatly helped during this difficult period by Richard Glazebrook who provided extra coaching. So in spite of immense prejudice and resultant negative attitudes created by the male dominated education system towards women, she survived and triumphed – a remarkable achievement at the time.

Very few women were involved in such subjects as engineering, mathematics and science whether in teaching or research. Hertha began to violate and break down this deplorable situation. Between 1881 and 1884 she continued to support herself by tutoring in mathematics and other related subjects. Up to then her main interest was mathematics but she inherited from her father a practical ability, (he was a clockmaker and jeweller), and started patenting scientific and mathematical instruments such as a line divider for drafting. She also wrote and set problems in mathematics that were published in the ‘Educational Times’ and became acknowledged as a gifted mathematician particularly in spatial and geometrical reasoning. Her main interest then began to switch to science and she attended physics classes at Finsbury Technical College and was tutored by William Ayrton, (see biographies on this website), who she married in 1885. William Ayrton was a widower with a young daughter and besides being an outstanding teacher and physicist was supportive of women’s education and legal rights.

Hertha then began to work with her husband on electricity and other aspects of physics but developed her own research interests especially on electrical arc lighting and soon became an acknowledged expert in this rapidly emerging technology. She published extensively in such journals as the ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society’ and the ‘Electrician’ and wrote a seminal book on The Electric Arc which received international acclaim. She became recognised as a respected and renowned researcher in electricity and is now seen as a pioneer of plasma physics. Again it must be remembered that very few women were active in science and mathematics.

She was elected as the first female member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) in 1899 which possesses a commendable record in encouraging and recognising women in their discipline. Sadly the same cannot be said of the Royal Society for when she was nominated as the first woman for a fellowship she was refused on the excuse that she was married. The charter excluding women from fellowship was reversed in 1923 but it was another twenty years before a woman was elected. The Royal Society has a very poor record in recognising the achievements of women scientists and mathematics. However she did present a paper to the Royal Society in 1904 – the first women to do so and she later received the Society’s Hughes medal, an achievement yet to repeated by a woman. She was an amazing trail blazer!

Hertha had to reduce her research activities to look after her ailing husband and even during this period when at the seaside with William carried detailed analysis of the formation of sand ripples which later formed part of the recognition in the Hughes Medal, along with her pioneering work on electric arcs. William died in 1908 and she continued her research in such areas of hydrodynamics and invented a fan for ventilating the trenches in the First World War and also improved the design and efficiency of search lights. She was an active member of the Women’s Social and Political Unions and was a founding member of the International Federation of University Women and the National Union of Scientific Workers (1920). She served on a number of national and international committees associated with women’s rights. After WW1 she improved the design of the fan and continued her research on vortices. She died in 1923 leaving her not inconsiderable estate to The Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), the organisation that had encouraged and recognised her achievements throughout her career without prejudice or reservation. She is now recognised and accepted as an exceptional woman in her own right. Her approach to research was pragmatic and founded on engineering traditions; not for her were the theoretical physical models and concepts. Her background and education created this unique and productive individual. An example of this approach was her seminal work on sand ripples which initially was based solely on observation. Quite rightly she subsequently became a role model for future generations of women wishing to enter the scientific and engineering professions. Below she is delivering a lecture in 1899 to the Society of Electrical Engineers note the majority of males in audience and the visual aids she is using – a very remarkable lady.

Hertha Ayrton 1899

In 1925 her lifelong friend Ottilie Hancock endowed the Hertha Ayrton Research Fellowship at Girton College.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology Archives Biographies.
Mason. J. ‘Hertha Ayrton.’ In ‘Out of the Shadows: Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics.’ By Byers. N and Williams. G. (Eds). CUP, 2006.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

*Extra note:
Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon wrote a pamphlet ‘Women and Work’ in 1857; She and Emily Davies were founders of Girton College and were both closely associated with the origins of, and active supporters of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women (SPEW) – founded in 1859. Emily Davies served on the Committee of SPEW between 1865 and 1873. Emily Davies had been Mistress of Girton College since and in 1873 and in 1878 urged SPEW to apply for funding from various City Companies of London (see biographies on this website). This started an associated with the Clothworkers’ Company and later the City and Guilds of London Institute (CGLI) after SPEW became incorporated by licence from the Board of Trade.

Higher Education Institutes (HEI) including Universities, the National Colleges and the Polytechnics

Although the history of technical and commercial education did not directly relate to Higher Education (HE) it might be of value to describe some aspects and examples of the creation and development of HE institutions. Since the mid 19th century a succession of Royal Commissions and other inquiries have recommended the urgent need to promote technological institutions at Higher Education level. From 1945, the situation began to improve with the Percy Report– ‘Higher Technological Education’, 1945 and Barlow Reports ‘Scientific Manpower’. Cmd 6824. 1946 and the 1956 White Paper ‘Technical Education.’ Cmd 9703. To accelerate progress two complementary policies were adopted, namely to expand the provision of technological education in the existing universities and to recognise leading technological institutions outside the university sector. Two developments whichreflect this approach werethe selection of the Imperial College for special development and in 1956 the designation of Colleges of Advanced Technology (CAT).

The list is by no means complete but I have tried to trace the development of the universities in Britain. A number of the current universities had roots in scientific and technological disciplines e.g. Colleges of Art and Design, Commerce, Technology, CATs, the National Colleges and Polytechnics and many of these can be traced back to Mechanics’ Institutions and other earlier technical institutes. More detail is given in the history of technical education on this website.

Foundation dates of some Universities and University Colleges

Founding date
University of Oxford and its constituent colleges
University of Cambridge and its constituent colleges
University of St Andrews, Scotland
University of Glasgow, Scotland
University of Aberdeen, Scotland
 (Aberdeen had two universities namely King’s College (1495) and Marischal College (15930 and were merged to create University of Aberdeen in 1866)
University of Edinburgh, Scotland
Trinity College, Dublin
University College, London
King’s College, London
St David’s Lampeter, Wales
(Now part of the University of Wales which was established in 1893)
Durham University College
 (Established in Durham in 1657 by Cromwell)
City of London College.
University of London
(University College + King’s College)
Queen’s College, Birmingham
Queen’s University, Belfast
Victoria University of Manchester from 1903.
(Originally called Owens College 1851.
In 2004 merged with University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST)which was founded in 1824, to form the University of Manchester)
Hartley Institute, Southampton
(1952 renamed University College in 1902 received charter in 1952 to become Southampton University)
Newcastle College of Physical Science
(Later part of Durham University) became Newcastle University in 1963)
University College Wales
(Now Aberystwyth University)
Yorkshire College of Science, Leeds
(Became Leeds University in 1904)
College of Science for the West of England, Bristol.
(Became University of Bristol in 1909)
Royal Holloway, London
Royal University of Ireland
Mason Science College, Birmingham
(Became University of Birmingham in 1900)
University College, Nottingham
Became the University of Nottingham in 1948)
University College, Liverpool
(Admitted to the Victoria University (Manchester in 1884 and became the University of Liverpool 1903)
University Colleges, Cardiff
University College, Bangor
Firth College, Sheffield
(Renamed University College, Sheffield in 1897 and became the University of Sheffield in 1905)
University Extension College, Reading
(Became the University of Reading in 1926 renamed University College.
Exeter Technical and University Extension College
(Became the University of Exeter in 1955)
University of Wales – federation established
London School of Economics and Political Science
Royal College of Art
(Became a University in 1969)
University of London reorganised in 1900.
(In 1898 the University of London Act established a teaching university with a federal constitution. The original schools were University College, King’s College, Bedford College, Royal Holloway College, Royal college of Science, South Eastern Agricultural College at Wye, the Central Technical College, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the ten London medical schools. At the time the University had eight faculties namely: Arts, Economics with Political Science, Engineering, Law, Medicine, Music, Science and Theology. University continued to offer both external and internal degrees. Students from the constituent schools obtained an internal degree while those studying elsewhere gained external degrees)
University College, Hull
(Became the University of Hull in 1954)
University College, Leicester
(Became the University of Leicester in 1957)
The Post-Robbins Era:
University of Sussex
Keele University (Formerly a University College founded after WW2)
University of East Anglia
University of York
University of Strathclyde
Lancaster University
University of Essex
University of Warwick
Loughborough University (Formerly Loughborough CAT)
Aston University
Brunel University
University of Surrey (Formerly Battersea CAT)
University of Bath (Formerly Bristol CAT)
University of Bradford (Formerly Bradford CAT)
City University, London (Former CAT)
University of Kent
Heriot-Watt University, Scotland (Formerly Heriot-Watt CAT)
University of Salford (Formerly Salford CAT)
University of Dundee, Scotland
University of Sterling, Scotland
Cranfield University
(100% post-graduate institution the first of the National Colleges)
Open University
(A very special and innovative university being the only distance learning university)
University of Buckingham
(At present the only privately run university)
University of Ulster, Belfast
(Formed from a merger with Ulster Polytechnic and a plate glass university)
The Post- Polytechnic Era 1992+
This period witnessed the number of universities increasing from 46 to 84.
Napier University, Scotland
(Formerly Napier Technical College  and College of Commerce then Napier Polytechnic 1964)
Anglian Ruskin University
(Formerly Cambridge School of Art and before Essex Institute of Higher Education, Anglia Polytechnic University- Polytechnic designation 1991)
Birmingham City University
(Formerly the Central England in Birmingham and before  Birmingham Polytechnic 1971)
Bournemouth University
(Formerly Municipal College of Technology, Dorset Institute of HE and then Bournemouth Polytechnic)
University of Brighton
(Formerly Brighton Polytechnic 1968 and before the College of Technology and College of Art )
University of Central England
(Formerly Preston Polytechnic 1973)
De Montford University
(Formerly Leicester Polytechnic 1969 and before Regional College of Technology and College of Art)
Coventry University
(Formerly Lanchester Polytechnic 1970 and before Lanchester College of Technology (Coventry and Coventry College of Art))
University of Derby
(Formerly Derbyshire College of HE)
University of East London
(Formerly North East London Polytechnic 1970)
University of Glamorgan
(Formerly Glamorgan Polytechnic and before Treforest College of Technology)
University of Greenwich
University of Hertfordshire
(Formerly Hatfield Polytechnic and before Hatfield College of Technology)
University of Huddersfield
(Formerly Huddersfield Polytechnic and before Huddersfield College of Technology))
Kingston University
(Formerly Kingston Polytechnic and before Kingston College of Technology and College of Art)
Leeds Metropolitan University
(Formerly Leeds Polytechnic and before Leeds College of Technology, College of Art and College of Commerce)
University of Lincoln
(Formerly Humberside Polytechnic)
Liverpool John Moores University
(Formerly Liverpool Polytechnic and before Liverpool College of Technology, College of Building, College of Art and College of Commerce)
London South Bank University
(Formerly South Bank Polytechnic and before Borough Institute 1892)
London Metropolitan University
(Merger of London Guildhall University which was formerly City of London Polytechnic, and the University of North London which was formerly Polytechnic of North London)
Manchester Metropolitan University
(Formerly Manchester Polytechnic and before John Dalton College, College of Art and Design and College of Commerce)
Middlesex University
(Formerly Middlesex Polytechnic)
Northumbria University
(Formerly Newcastle Polytechnic and before Rutherford College of Technology, College of Art and Industrial Design and Municipal College of Commerce)
Nottingham Trent University
(Formerly Trent Polytechnic and before Regional College of Technology and College of Art and Design)
Oxford Brookes University
(Formerly Oxford Polytechnic and before Oxford College of Technology)
University of the West Scotland
University of Plymouth
(Formerly Polytechnic of the South West created from Plymouth Polytechnic. Exeter College of Art and Design , Rolle College and Plymouth School of Maritime Studies)
University of Portsmouth
(Formerly Portsmouth Polytechnic and before Portsmouth College of Technology and College of Art and Design)
Robert Gordon University
Sheffield Hallam University
(Formerly Sheffield Polytechnic and before Sheffield College of Technology and College of Art)
Staffordshire University
(Formerly Staffordshire/Stoke-on-Trent- North Staffordshire Polytechnic and before Staffordshire College of Technology, North Staffordshire College of Technology, Stoke-on Trent College of Art)
University of Sunderland
(Formerly Sunderland Polytechnic and before Sunderland Technical College and College of Art))
University of Teeside
(Formerly Teeside Polytechnic 1970 and before the Constantine Technical College 1930)
University of West London
(Formerly Thames Valley University formed from the merger of Thames Valley College and Ealing College of HE and became Polytechnic of West London)
University of Westminster
(Formerly Polytechnic of Central London originally the Royal Polytechnic 1838)
University of the West of England
(Formerly Bristol Polytechnic)
University of Wolverhampton
(Formerly Wolverhampton Polytechnic and before Wolverhampton College of Technology and College of Art)
Glasgow Caledonian University
University of Abertay, Dundee
(formerly Polytechnic of Wales)

Note: the Polytechnics in London were created out of a range of many existing institutions representing the National Colleges, the earlier Polytechnics, Colleges of Technology, Art, Commerce etc.

Extra notes:
A very important development after 1945 was the creation of the National Colleges. Some were based on existing technical colleges with high percentages of higher level work whilst others were new foundations. All were direct-grant institutions under the Ministry of Education (MoE). They are listed below.

Date of Foundation/Discipline/Location:
1946 Aeronautics (Cranfield)
1947 Horology and Instrument Technology (Northampton Polytechnic)
1948 Rubber Technology (Northern Polytechnic)
1948 Heating, Ventilation, Refrigeration and Fan Engineering (Borough Polytechnic)
1948 Foundry (Wolverhampton)
1949 Royal College of Art* (South Kensington)
1951 Leathersellers’ (London)
1952 Food Technology (Weybridge)
1962 Agricultural Engineering (Silsoe, Bedfordshire)

* The Royal College of Art was in different category of these technological colleges but was designated a national colleges in 1949 and became a University in 1967. National Colleges later became part of the university sector.

Foundation of Colleges of Advanced Technology (CAT)
Colleges with a significant amount of advanced and post graduate work and some research were designated CATs. Their degrees were validated by the National Council for Academic Awards (CNNA). Eight in England: Battersea. (Became University of Surrey), Aston. (Became Aston University), Bradford. (Became Bradford University), Bristol. (Became University of Bath), Brunel, (Became Brunel University).Loughborough. (Became Loughborough University), Northampton. (Became City University), Salford. (Became University of Salford) and Chelsea became part of the University of London.
In Scotland Heriot-Watt. (Became Heriot-Watt University)
In Wales the Cardiff CAT became part of the University of Wales as the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (UWIST)

Note: In 1965 following the Robbins report these CATs were established as universities in their own right with titles as shown above.

Believe or not more universities were created after 2001 than at any other time; 31 so far bringing the total to 115! I fear in the current period of massive cuts and increases in student fees many universities will close or merge with others. No doubt the coalition government will encourage more private universities to be created like Buckinghamshire. Sadly in spite of this massive expansion of universities and other HE institutions the number of undergraduates and post-graduates in key subjects like engineering, built environment, mathematics, manufacturing sciences and technologies, physical science, statistics and other disciplines that require mathematics and science is still woefully poor when compared with our competitors. For example in 1971 the applications to HE for the whole of the UK reflected this sad state of affairs i.e. 1,240 applicants for 1,962 places in Engineering, 2,700 applicants for 3,571 places in the Sciences and not surprisingly 10,000 applicants for 2,200 places in Arts and Social Sciences This is a classic example academic drift which did not encourage participation in these strategically important subjects. Instead the universities are currently producing large numbers of graduates in such subjects such as media studies and overall the graduate output is not addressing the imbalance between the supply and demand equations.
Blair’s dream of 50% of young graduates also did not help the situation but did encourage the establishment of many more universities offering in the main, subjects that did little to solve the country’s problems with mathematics, science and technology and how these relate to industry and economic growth and the regeneration of society.
The hopes and ideals presented in the Percy and Barlow Reports and many reports before and since failed to solve this problem.

It is also fair to say that a number of colleges that were created as specialist institutions of science and technology when they eventually became universities inevitably lost those specialisms and it some cases their monotechnic status and became broad and generic.

Other Forms of Technical Schools in the Early 20th Century

The need for preliminary technical education and instruction for young people before entering employment in particular trades and occupations had slowly evolved and was finally accepted by the end of the 19th century. A whole variety of forms of continuative education existed whether part-time, adult or further and technical education and was provided by an equally wide variety of institutions. These included day-release, evening school, mechanics’ institutions, polytechnics (in London), schools of art, university extension lectures, tutorial classes and a range of working men’s colleges and courses. The passing of the 1902 Education Act encouraged the development of technical education and continuative education and became the responsibility of the LEAs who took over most of the evening continuation schools.

A whole series of Education Acts and new Codes were enacted throughout the first two decades of the 20th century which attempted to tidy up the secondary and technical education landscape. Even so a multitude of institutional titles persisted. The most numerous type of school that could be recognised as Further Education were known as Night Schools and later as Evening Schools, then Evening Continuation Schools and then as Evening Institutes. These were different from Day Continuation Schools because they were held after 5 p.m. and from full-time vocationally biased day schools because they were part-time schools. Eventually throughout the 20th century these schools/institutes evolved into Colleges of Further Education.

Schools proving technical and continuative education , (see below for the designations), provided courses for boys and girls over two or three years after leaving elementary schools and these had been recognised by the BoE in 1913 which resulted in the Regulations for Junior Technical Schools. The 1918 Education Act extended educational provision and gave all young workers the right to access day release from the age of 12 to 14. It further required every county and county borough to develop and provide a progressive and comprehensive organisation of education in their area. LEAs were required to ensure amongst other things:

That public elementary schools included ‘practical instruction’ in the curriculum and offered advanced instruction ‘for the older and more intelligent children’
That they co-operated with other LEAs to prepare children for further education in schools other than elementary—‘
LEAs were also required to maintain ‘a sufficient supply of continuation schools’. Note the wording: ‘required to ensure’ and ‘sufficient supply’.

As mentioned in the biography for Junior Technical Schools there were other forms of institutions that provided technical and commercial education and instruction. These could be broadly categorised as:

  • Junior Technical Schools (see biography of this website)
  • Technical Day Classes
  • Day Continuation Schools
  • Institutions in which evening instruction was given
  • Senior full-time courses in Colleges for Further Education (CFE)

It must be remembered that the majority of the institutions for further education were composite in nature in that they offered mixtures of different elements. A good example of this was the Shoreditch Technical Institution which comprised Junior Technical Schools (JTS), one for boys and the other for girls, a senior full-time course in cabinet making and evening classes in furniture and allied subjects. To help the presentation I will consider institutions offering courses for juniors less than 16 years of age and seniors over 16 years of age.

To help the presentation I will consider institutions offering courses for juniors less than 16 years of age and seniors over 16 years of age.


Full-time provision:

  • Junior Technical Schools (JTS)
  • Technical Day Classes (see more detail later under Senior)

Part-time provision:

  • Day Continuation and Work Schools
  • Evening Continuation Schools (Junior Evening Classes).
  • Juvenile/Junior Instruction Centres
  • Technical day Classes


Full-time provision:

  • Senior Courses in Colleges
  • Technical day Classes

Part-time provision:

  • Evening classes in Colleges and Institutions
  • Technical Day Classes

I will provide a brief description of each of the schools and institutions. I have already described the Junior Technical School movement in another biography.

Junior Courses

Day Continuation and Work Schools
Under the 1918 Education Act every child over 14 not in full-time education was supposed attend a day Continuation School for 320 hours per year. These schools provided a part-time general education with or without vocational or domestic instruction for students from exception age up to 18. Attendance was voluntary, or took place by permission from employers. Some of the schools became known as ‘Works Schools’ because they were provided and supported by business firms for their own employees. The 1918 Education Act made provision for compulsory day Continuation Schools but following an orchestrated mainly political campaign against their introduction coupled with a fair degree of misunderstanding the proposal was abandoned and only one was actually established in Rugby. The ones that did continue were operated and maintained on a voluntary basis following agreements and cooperation between Local Authorities and a number of companies that agreed to enforce attendance on their employees. Examples of companies who operated part-time day continuation schools were Boots, British Westinghouse, Cadbury, Metropolitan, Rowntree and Tootal Broadhurst.

In London some students would attend up to five half days while in the provinces the normal attendance was one full day a week. The curriculum was a mixture of general and vocational subjects.

Evening Continuation Schools (Junior Evening Classes)
The classes were staged in elementary school accommodation or in technical institutions. The courses were divided into Commercial, Domestic, General, Industrial and Rural. The drop out was extremely high 35% after the first year and 40% after the second year. Classes were held on average for six hours per week on three evenings. Industrial courses comprised technical drawing, workshop calculations, use of tools and communication skills. Commercial courses comprised arithmetic and English with an emphasis on commercial subjects e.g. commerce and shorthand. Rural courses comprised basic agricultural and horticultural elements and animal husbandry whilst the domestic courses comprised domestic science, cooking and housewifery. The primary aims of these courses were to progress the pupils’ elementary education and hopefully to prepare them for more advanced courses in technical schools/colleges. However the high dropout rate and general attitude of the pupils precipitated the Board of Education (BoE) to state ‘no high efficiency can be claimed for junior evening schools as an educational system’.

Juvenile/Junior Instruction Centres
These were not strictly part of the educational the system being administered by the Ministry of Labour and delivered by the Local Authorities. Their purpose was to offer provision to unemployed juveniles. The attendance was often low and varied wildly and as a result no continuous instruction/courses were possible. Subjects offered included handicrafts, organised games and physical education – it was basically about instilling discipline in young people who were perceived as being potential offenders.

Senior Courses

Senior Full-time Courses in Colleges
Junior Technical Schools were for post-elementary pupils and their courses were for post-secondary school pupils over the age of 16 years. The pupils wanted to prepare for specific occupations and/or for further studies and examinations e.g. College and National Certificates and Diplomas, professional body examinations or degrees. The courses lasted between one to three and four years and were organisated in close cooperation with commerce and industry. Sadly the numbers were low and too often employers were reluctant to employ the students leaving the senior full-time courses. Here again is a British paradox; ever since the Great Exhibition the country knew it needed to create more qualified people in commerce, engineering, science and technology and yet when it attempted to the employers did not want to recruit them – so the paradox is that although the country produced fewer scientifically and technically qualified people than its competitors the few that were produced turned out to be too many for the employers! So not only was there a general hostility to scientific, mathematical and technical education, even the employers were reluctant or suspicious of the graduates from these institutions and similar ones. Employers at that time preferred to recruit people who had learnt by ‘sitting next to Nellie’ or employ members of their own family (see more detail history of technical education on this website).
The courses were provided in such colleges as Polytechnics and Technical Colleges /Institutes. These institutions were as mentioned above composite containing in addition Day Technical and Evening Classes and even Junior Technical Schools which seldom had their own buildings (see biography on JTS on this website). From this complex mix eventually emerged Colleges of Further Education that we can recognise today.

Part-time Senior Evening Classes
In the mid-1930s the majority of technical education was provided via these classes. Students worked during the week in commercial and industrial companies and attended the courses usually three times a week for 25/30 weeks a year. These employees wished to advance their theoretical and practical knowledge and understanding of their work. The instruction could vary considerably e.g. in quality and content and was in general of a higher quality, wider in scope and level than that found in evening institutions/classes. More facilities were available to the students in these classes and in addition to laboratory work and lectures students were expected to undertake private study, writing up practical reports and assignments and complete home work tasks. The system no doubt was favoured and welcomed by the employers but did not recognise the pressures on the students and/or their life and other responsibilities in general. The strain after several years of intensive study often proved too much for many students.

Technical Day Classes
Instruction in these classes usually in domestic and technical subjects were delivered to junior and senior students in two possible attendance modes i.e. on an in-fill basis into full-time courses or in special dedicated courses depending on student number and course availability. In 1934 there were 2,589 students in 96 full-time courses and 25,427 in 1,335 part-time courses. The most popular subjects were construction, engineering, photography and printing where the employers were very supportive of this form of education i.e. day release. Typically the students attended for one or two afternoons a week. Sadly these were in the minority as most other employers were reluctant or argued they were unable to release their employees for a number of reasons but mainly the cost and the perceived disruption to their businesses.

Table below shows the number of part-time male students attending Day-Time Classes during session 1931/32 and the subjects studied:

In Senior Full-Time Courses
In Day Technical Classes
Printing and Photography
Building and Architecture
Chemistry and Chemical Trades
Food and Drink Trades
General Industrial
Carriage and Motor Body Building
Music Trades
Boot and Shoe
Clothing Trades
Rubber Trades

The numbers include students admitted to some aspects of full-time courses and those attending special classes made available to them.

The Grouped Course System
The group system was introduced after being trailed in Manchester in 1890, St Helens and Halifax in 1911. After 1907 the BoE urged all LEAs to adopt the system. The reason was very logical as in earlier times the student could make a choice and say elect to study engineering but soon realised that decision required a working knowledge of mathematics, physics and technical drawing and a greater proficiency in English. The group system recognised two categories of students e.g. those who wanted to enter a technical college or those who would enter an evening continuation school. The group system for the first category comprised five main groups: commercial, domestic, general, industrial and rural. The majority of students opted for commercial and industrial but eventually the general group became more popular and inevitably the domestic was popular with women.

Evening courses were composed of a balanced combination of subjects, (i.e. the grouped system), organised as follows:

  • Preparatory, when planned for pupils who required a repeat of elementary school work.
  • Junior, adapted to the needs of pupils from 14 to 16 who had just left the elementary school.
  • Senior, usually lasting three years, for students over 16 who had left junior course or had the equivalent of a secondary education
  • Advanced, arranged for students of about 19, who wished to reach university standard.

Commercial Education
Commercial education was run very much like technical education and was aimed at meeting the demands of two categories of workers namely: people who carry out commercial and business transactions and those who record transactions. The first group represented such occupations as accountancy, banking, insurance, law – these usually had professional Institutions to oversee them. The second group represented such occupations as book-keepers, secretaries, typists etc. Inevitably the majority of the pupils in some of the subjects were girls and women. As with technical education the provision was offered in:

  • Junior Commercial Schools (in 1934, 44 schools with 5,259 pupils) courses gave instruction in commercial subjects and ‘office arts’ with general education.
  • Senior full-time courses (in 1934, 44 with 1,447 pupils) for post-certificate students. Four types of courses could be identified namely: those providing general training for senior positions in commerce; secretarial courses for girls and women; Intermediate B. Comm. and B.Sc. (Economics) degrees and courses for specialised areas of employment such as merchandising e.g. textiles.
  • Part-time day release courses
  • Number of students released very small.
  • Evening Classes in Colleges and Institutions

In the junior courses main subjects were accounts, arithmetic, English, geography, shorthand and with an option to study a foreign language. The senior courses lasted over three years with ‘commerce’ as a compulsory subject with options on three of the following subjects: book-keeping, commercial arithmetic, correspondence, foreign language, geography, shorthand, typing and a trade subject. Advanced courses found usually in the larger schools could lead to professional qualifications offered by their relevant professional body e.g. accountancy, banking etc. London in 1934b had 23 Senior Commercial Institutes and an increasing number of private venture schools.

Examinations have always been important in the organisation and development of technical and commercial education and training and after 1920 Joint Committees comprising representatives from technical institutions, professional bodies, teachers’ organisations and the Board of Education (BoE) were created to oversee curricula and the award of National Certificates and Diplomas in vocational subjects (see history of technical and commercial examinations on this website). There were also Local Examining Unions supported by advisory committees that drafted curricula and syllabuses of examinations for their own areas and set the examinations. Finally examinations were available from external examining bodies such as City and Guilds of London Institute, the (Royal) Society of Arts and the London Chamber of Commerce.

The total number of young people leaving elementary school in 1934 for employment in commercial, domestic and industrial occupations was 268,000. The university sector was small compared with other European countries and America representing approximately 1.6% of an age group. Even more depressing statistic is that in the 1920s and 1930s only about 12% of university students were studying technology.

Most of the detail for the above account taken from a number of Board of Education (BoE) pamphlets published throughout the 1930s.

Continuative education – a commonly used term by Board of Education (Bo) and education writers at the time. Education beyond the school leaving age at the time unless exemptions were in place.

Junior Technical Schools (JTS)

Background and Scene Setting.
The Junior Technical School (JTS) movement began in the early 20th century. During the 19th century there had been previous attempts to establish similar institutions of technical and commercial education and instruction. For example the Privy Council Committee on Education as early as 1840 had advocated the creation of industrial schools and even provided grant funding for their establishment and operation. In 1860 these schools were transferred to the Home Office to provide manual and technical instruction (I deliberately use instruction as opposed to education as it was the widely accepted expression at the time) for young offenders. This unfortunately created the perception that such subjects were closely associated with crime and were intended for correction and the instilling of discipline. As mentioned in the history of technical education on the website ordinary elementary schools were not encouraged to offer practical subjects following the Revised Code of 1862. But the concerns about the parlous state of scientific and technical instruction following the Great Exhibition and the growing awareness that Britain was performing badly compared with other countries on the continent and America brought about a few positive developments.
The Science and Art Department (SAD) was created in 1853, and after this date the development of examinations for schools and the introduction of the payment by results regime helped to raise the profile of technical instruction. Gradually these developments helped to establish a state system of education. However the government continued to be reluctant to impose strict requirements on the school boards and the 1889 Technical Instruction Act again avoided any compulsion on county councils in regard to technical and manual instruction. Again the Act was permissive in nature and not mandatory.

The addresses and writings of such people as Henry Armstrong, Thomas Huxley and Philip Magnus on scientific and technical instruction also contributed in raising the importance of these subjects (see biographies on the website). In 1870 approximately 800 schools were receiving funding, offering courses and examinations to over 34,000 pupils. Gradually manual training and domestic economy subjects were introduced in elementary schools. The City and Guilds of London institute (CGLI) and the School Board for London supported by the Drapers Company brought about a change in the Code and that then allowed the introduction of manual training and instruction in elementary day schools. As a result the grant aid paid by the Science and Art Department was allowed for such instruction and towards which School Board rates could be spent. In 1891, 3,568 pupils in 68 schools were receiving manual training and by 1897 this had increased to 112,000 pupils. The grant aid accordingly increased from £600 in 1891 to £19,530 in 1896. In spite of the deterrent effects of various Education Acts and Regulations two types of technical schools were established namely the junior technical schools and trade schools.

Junior Technical Schools (JTS)
These schools were developed from the early technical classes which grow up between 1904 and 1912, and became a separate entity in 1913. Junior Technical Schools (JTS) was the generic term for these institutions but within the movement were Junior Commercial Schools and Junior Housewifery Schools as will be described later. (Titles are a bit confusing on this topic).

The consequence of the publication in 1905 of the Regulations for Technical Schools brought about the establishment of Junior Technical Schools representing the full-time provision for ex-elementary schools pupils. Their development was particularly rapid in London because of the large population, the large range of industries and the limited opportunities at the time for training opportunities for young people wanting to enter employment. By the end of 1913/14 there were 37 schools comprising 27 for boys and 10 for girls; by 1920 there were 80 schools comprising 67 schools for boys and 13 for girls and by 1930/31 there were 144 schools comprising 110 schools for boys and 34 for girls. There were also 33 co-educational schools in 1930/31. The Board of Education (BoE) in 1913 issued the Regulations for Junior Technical Schools under which they were to be managed and grants were increased from £5 per pupil to £7 per pupil in exceptional circumstances. Remember there was still a widely held belief backed up by an administrative requirement that technical education should not available to youngsters under 13 year olds. When the first schools were established under the Regulations for ‘Day Technical Classes’ the minimum age of entrance was set at 13. In 1913 when the Junior Technical Schools were recognised under their own regulations the age of admission would remain the same although an exception was made to allow entry at 12 but only in very few special cases. This requirement certainly had a negative impact on the development of technical and commercial education below the age of 13 and was only rescinded following the 1944 Education Act!

The Board of Education in a report on the Regulations for Secondary Schools for 1912-13 had expressed a view that there was sufficient flexibility in the regulations to allow considerable specialisation in the curriculum where local needs demanded. However secondary schools became more homogenous in character mainly because of the requirements of external examinations. On the plus side progress, albeit slow, was made with the gradual emergence of junior technical schools and trade schools, even some grammar schools began introducing specialised non-academic courses.

It might be helpful to describe how the Board of Education and Local Education Authorities grouped and defined, for administrative convenience, the two essentially different types of schools.

The Pre-apprenticeship school
This was a full-time school enrolling pupils aged between 13 and 14 who had decided that they wanted to enter a particular kind of industrial work e.g. engineering or construction, but not a specific occupation within an industry. The course lasted two or three years, the leaver entering an apprenticeship at around 16. The curriculum provided a preparation for industrial and commercial employment along with a continued general education. This was the normal model outside London and was basically the only provision of this kind in the provinces and these schools became known as Junior Technical Schools.

The Trade School
Unlike the Junior Technical School the Trade School prepared its pupils for specific occupations e.g. book-binding, building trades, cabinet-making, needle trades and silversmithing etc. The trade school substituted training in the school for apprenticeships in the workshop. Most of the trade schools were in London and rarely in the provinces.

A few general points need to be made at this stage about Junior Technical Schools namely their number was small – only about 1% of children attended them (see figures below in the final point), individual schools were relatively small- average on roll less than 200 because since the output was influenced by the needs of local industries. In addition they were expensive to operate, due to the generous standard of staffing, their size and costly equipment required to instruct the pupils. However they were popular from the pupils view because the leavers were placed in good employment, they were not bound by many of the academic restrictions e.g. many did not have to enter formal external examinations and the schools overall created an atmosphere conducive to hard and cheerful work and studies for the pupils.

In spite of the relatively slow progress in their development too often hindered by administrative regulations, jealousies and rivalry, the junior technical schools along with art and commercial schools achieved a great deal. Various constraints were placed on them such as they could not teach foreign languages; parents had to guarantee that their children would enter the occupation for which they had studied for at the school. The accommodation was often poor and mainly housed in technical colleges or similar institutions and as a result often under the authority and control of the college principal. In fact in 1946 85% of Junior Technical Schools were located in technical colleges. However even with these constraints they survived and sustained sturdy growth. By 1926 a number of junior commercial schools and a couple of nautical training schools and junior housewifery schools became categorised the existing junior technical schools and trade schools. In 1929 the number of recognised technical and commercial schools had reached 108 with an enrolment of 18,000 pupils including 4,600 girls.

The Board of Education Pamphlet 111 issued in 1937 listed four kinds of junior technical schools namely those: (i) preparing pupils to enter specific industries or groups of industries: (ii) preparing boys and girls for specific occupations; (iii) Preparing girls for home management and (iv) preparing boys and girls for entry into commerce. In 1935/36 the pamphlet recorded 194 JTSs with 23,844 pupils. The 194 schools consisted of 97 junior technical schools with 13,972 on roll; 37 junior technical (trade) schools with 3,278 on roll; 10 junior housewifery schools with 495 on roll and 50 junior commercial schools with 6,099 on roll. London designated three types of junior technical schools namely: Trade Schools for Girls examples include dressing making at Woolwich Polytechnic, upholstery at Shoreditch Technical Institute; Technical Day Schools for Boys examples being at Paddington and Poplar Engineering Schools and Preparatory Trade Schools for Boys with examples at the Stanley Trade School and those at Shoreditch and the Borough Polytechnic Institute. Other models of Junior Technical Schools developed outside London and partly reflected the flexibility granted to secondary education at the time. And often under different titles.

The list of available courses offered was truly amazing as given by a report in 1938. This is the full list: book production, boot and shoe manufacture, building and building trades, cabinet making, carriage building, chefs and waiting, commercial studies, constructive industries, cooks, corset making, domestic service, dress making, embroidery, engineering, general industrial studies, hairdressing, home management, laundry work, lingerie, meat trades, millinery, motor and aero-metal work, music trades, nautical, nursemaids, photo-engraving and photography, rubber trades, silversmithing and jewellery, tailoring, upholstery and vest making. On 31st March 1938 the number of junior technical and commercial schools, excluding art schools, had risen to 248 with 30,457 pupils on roll.

The junior technical and commercial schools provided offered, in the majority of cases, two year courses with two or three bias subjects see timetables below.

Typical Timetables for Junior Technical Schools (JTS)

Guidelines laid down by Ministry
Spens report recommendations
The average in reality
English subjects including history and geography
6 or 7hr
Mathematics and geometry
8 hr across maths/geometry/science and technology
5 or 6hr
Science and technology
Technical drawing
Workshop practice
Pool including foreign languages
Source: M. Sanderson
Specimen curricula and typical examples of timetables for JTS in the 1920s/30s.
Borough Road Polytechnic JTS 1925.
1 st year
2nd year
3rd year
English, geography and history
6hr 40m
5hr 50m
6hr 40m
Mechanical drawing
4hr 10m
4hr 10m
4hr 10m
Applied mechanics
2hr 30m
2hr 30m
3hr 20m
3hr 20m
3hr 20m
1hr 40m
5hr 10m
1hr 40m
1hr 40m
1hr 40m
1hr 40m
1hr 40m
Workshop materials
29hr 20m
28hr 10m
Source: M. Sanderson
A Typical London JTS 1934
1st year
2nd year
3rd year
English, geography and history
6hr 40m
5hr 50m
6hr 40m
Mechanical drawing
4hr 10m
4hr 10m
4hr 10m
Applied mechanics
2hr 30m
2hr 30m
3hr 20m
3hr 20m
3hr 20m
5hr 10m
1hr 40m
1hr 40m
1hr 40m
1hr 40m
1hr 40m
Workshop practice
1hr 40m
29hr 20m
28hr 10m
Source: Sanderson
Wandsworth Junior Commercial School 1934
1st year
2nd year
3rd year
4hr 30m
2hr 15m
1hr 30m
1hr 30m
1hr 30m
2hr 15m
2hr 15m
2hr 15m
3hr 45m
3hr 45m
4hr 30m
1hr 30m
1hr 30m
1hr 30m
1hr 30m
2hr 15m
2hr 15m
3hr 45m
5hr 15m
2hr 15m
3hr 45m
1hr 15m
1hr 30m
1hr 30m
2hr 30m
2hr 15m
2hr 30m
28hr 45
28hr 45m
28hr 45m
Source: M. Sanderson
The Junior Technical Schools made their mark and the Spens Committee in 1938 concluded in the light of that success ‘We are convinced that it is of great importance to establish a type of higher school of technical character quite distinct from the traditional academic Grammar School.’
Whilst the 1943 White Paper Educational Reform stated ‘Junior Technical Schools came into being in 1905, and their success has been remarkable. Planned to give a general education associated with preparation for entry to one or other of the main branches of industry and commerce, they have grown up in relation to local needs and opportunities of employment. But their progress in numbers has been comparatively slow, and their chances of attracting the most able children vis-a-vis the grammar schools have been adversely affected by the fact that they normally recruit at 13. With altered conditions, and with more rapid development in the future, they hold out great opportunities for pupils with a practical bent.’
Interestingly in 1951 after this worthy statement was made there were still many education authorities, including some of the largest provincial ones, where the entry to secondary technical schools took place at the age of 13 by ‘creaming’ off pupils in the local secondary modern schools – the 13+ examination. I still remember taking it and failing!
The development of the Junior Technical Schools, (including the commercial, housewifery, and nautical schools), represents a fascinating part in the history of technical and commercial education and training.
Final Point.
To assist the reader make greater sense of the Junior Technical Schools, the various titles and their relationship within the technical education landscape in 1935 I provide a brief list of the types of technical schools at the time.
Almost all the important institutions for technical education were composite in character, comprising work assignable to two or more of the official categories of recognition, namely:
·         Junior Technical Schools
·         Technical Day Schools
·         Day Continuation Schools
·         Institutions offering evening instruction
·         Senior full-time courses in Further Education Colleges.
The schools can be designated with in the following structure and I include the numbers of pupils in England and Wales in 1934/5:
Junior – under 16
Full-time courses:
·         Junior Technical Schools – 22,158
·         Technical Day Classes – see Senior over 16 given below – 1,223
Part-time courses:
·         Day Continuation and Works Schools – 15,638
·         Evening Continuation Schools (junior Evening Classes) – 205,648
·         Juvenile Instruction Centres – 23,543
·         Technical Day Classes – 2,077.
Senior-over 16
Full-time courses:
·         Senior Courses in FE Colleges – 8,799
·         Technical day Classes – 1,366
Part-time courses:
·         Evening Classes in FE Colleges and Institutions – 636,677
·         Technical day Classes – 23,350.
It might help if I provide more statistics on JTSs:

More facts on Secondary Schools and Junior Technical Schools (JTSs) between 1913 and 1938.

Numbers of Secondary Schools and Junior Technical Schools between 1913/14 and 1937/38:

Year Number of Secondary Schools Number of Pupils Number of Junior Technical Schools Number of Pupils
1913/14 1.027 187,647 37
1918/19 1081 269,887 69
1919/20 1,141 307,862 78 9,811
1920/21 1,205 336,836 84 11,235
1921/22 1,249 354,956 89 12,235
1922/23 1,264 354,165 89 12,206
1923/24 1,270 349,141 87 11,988
1924/25 1,284 352,605 89 11,954
1925/26 1,301 360,503 92 12,704
1926/27 1,319 371,493 104 19,333
1927/28 1,329 377,540 107 20,200
1928/29 1,341 386,993 112 18,877
1929/30 1,354 394,105 120 20,217
1930/31 1,367 411,309 189 21,998
1931/32 1,379 432,061 194 21,945
1932/33 1,378 441,883 203 22,470
1933/34 1,381 448,421 213 24,130
1934/35 1,380 456,783 223 25,609
1935/36 1,389 463,906 232 27,354
1936/37 1,393 466,245 243 28,747
1937/38 1,398 470,003 248 30,457

Source BoE Statistics of Public Education, England and Wales.  Annual Reports.

Number of JTSs in England and Wales 1926/27 to 1937/38:

Year Schools (England) Pupils (England) Schools (Wales) Pupils (Wales)
1926/27 101 18,704 3 629
1927/28 104 19,541 3 659
1928/29 108 18,243 4 634
1929/30 115 19,537 5 680
1930/31 177 21,066 12 932
1931/32 182 21,003 12 942
1932/33 191 21,445 12 1,025
1933/34 200 23,090 13 1,040
1934/35* 208 24,532 15 1,077
1935/36 216 26,071 16 1,283
1936/37 226 27,395 17 1,352
1937/38 230 29,036 18 1.421

Source BoE  Annual Reports.

*Schools of Nautical Training included for the first time which were then administered by the FE Regulations.

Junior Technical Schools Titles and Pupil Numbers for 1935/36 in England:

Titles Number of Schools Boys Girls Totals
Junior Technical Schools 97 13,972 13,972
Junior Technical (Trade) Schools 37 859 2,419 3,278
Junior Housewifery Schools 10 495 495
Junior Commercial Schools 50 2,184 3,915 6,099
Total 194 17,015 6,829 23,844

Source: BoE Educational Pamphlet No. 111. ‘A Review of Junior Technical Schools in England. 1937.

Multitude of institutional titles can be very confusing – sorry!
I intend to describe some of these other institutions in future biographies.
‘The Junior Technical School.’ Educational pamphlet no. 83. BoE. 1930.
Abbott. A. ‘Education for Industry and Commerce in England.’ OUP. 1933.
Sanderson. M. ‘The Missing Stratum. Technical Education in England 1900-1990.’ Athlone Press. ISBN 0 485 11442 9. 1994.
Millis. C. T. ‘Technical Education. Its Development and Aims.’ Edward Arnold. 1925.
Edwards. R. ‘The Secondary Technical School.’ ULP. 1960.

Technical and Secondary Technical Schools

‘It is therefore now clear that not only do technical schools not yet enter the picture in most cases but that they never will.’ Ministry of Education. 1960.
Background and scene setting
The current coalition government is proposing to reintroduce technical schools so it seems appropriate to describe the last major attempt to establish such institutions following the 1944 Education Act.
Since 1902 in England and Wales there had developed three distinctive groups of post primary schools namely Grammar, Junior Technical and Senior Elementary Schools. The system was complicated and confused and still favoured the academic subjects and in spite of a number of Educations Acts during the first half of the 20th century the situation showed little sign of real improvement. The perception was that the Grammar schools were held in the highest esteem providing the gateway to professional and executive ranks in employment. The Junior Technical group of schools were seen as ‘second best’ for those who had failed to gain a place at Grammar school. The Senior Elementary schools were seen for those who were not capable of, or interested in more advanced education. These views again reflect the class riddled social and economic culture that dominates this country and seems to want to rank every aspect in relation to class, education and wealth. Grammar schools were seen as superior to Junior Technical schools as they led to better paid employment. The Junior Technical schools, (see biography on this website), provided entry into skilled crafts and trades that had some advantages BUT not so highly prized economic and social advantages. The Senior Elementary schools offered none of these advantages and as a result occupied the lowest rank. Such distinctions sadly persisted within the tripartite system that was created after the 1944 Education Act.
The first significant attempt to improve the situation was the Spens Reports in 1938 which recommended three types of secondary schools. The Norwood Report (1941) took the Spen recommendations further and in 1943 the idea of a tripartite system of secondary education was firmly established organised around: Grammar, Technical and Modern. Therefore the Spens and Norwood Reports provided the foundation stones of the new post war educational system. However the government stressed that they did not want the system to be rigid and inflexible. It was therefore permissive and not compulsory stating ‘It would be wrong to suppose that they (Grammar, Technical and Modern schools) will necessarily remain separate and apart. Different types may be combined in one building or on one site —. In any case the free inter-change of pupils from one type of education to another must be facilitated.’ Put simply Grammar schools were those which had already been designated/recognised as ‘Secondary’ schools.
The Secondary Technical schools evolved from the Junior Technical, Junior Art and Junior Commercial schools. The Secondary Modern schools were elevated from the Senior Elementary schools. These proposals were heavily flawed e.g. it would continue to perpetuate a divided system, (see above description), that ranked and segmented pupils into different schools which in turn would be perceived as possessing different degrees of esteem in society. The system required a selection process namely the 11+ examination. However at the time it was difficult to see any alternative became of the massive time scale that any more radical or large scale re-organisation would have required. The post war reconstruction of homes, industry and public services etc would and did inevitably place massive constraints on any major government reorganisation.
Unfortunately Secondary Modern schools offered little in the way of commercial, technical and vocational education. In 1963 the Newsom Report observed that the schools combined a few academic subjects with some practical subjects such as art, crafts, bookkeeping domestic science, house crafts, metal work, needle work, technical drawing and woodwork. Very few offered such subjects as agricultural, horticultural, commercial and secretarial studies. Newsom also highlighted that even where technical and vocational components existed it was overall of poor quality and only, on average, occupied 20% of the fourth year timetables.
Secondary Technical Schools
In 1947 the Ministry of Education defined the features of the Secondary Technical School as follows: ‘the distinguishing feature is relationship to a particular industry or occupation or group of industries and occupations—-. (It) caters for a minority of able children who are likely to make their best response when the curriculum is strongly coloured by (industrial or commercial) interests, both from the point of view of a career and because subject-matter of this kind appeals to them.’ (1)
A relatively small number of authorities created Secondary Technical Schools in their areas. As the Crowther Report stated in 1958 there were over 1.5 million pupils in secondary modern schools and their equivalent, 683,000 in grammar schools and only 95,000 in secondary technical schools. The report sharply concluded that ’we do not now have, and never have had, a tripartite system.’ There were just over 300 secondary technical schools in 1947 and under 100 in 1970 although there were still approximately 30 bilateral Grammar-Technical schools and a few Technical-Modern schools. This last figure indicates that very few authorities exercised the freedom granted to them in 1943 to create bilateral arrangements.
Table 1 below shows Ministry of Education statistics show numbers of pupils between 1946 and 1947 in Secondary Grammar and Secondary Technical Schools’.
Table 1
Secondary Grammar
Number of pupils
Secondary Technical
Number of pupils
Number of Secondary Technical Schools or Departments
Source: Annual Returns from MoE.
The reasons why the secondary technical failed to reach a critical mass in terms of institutions and student numbers included the difficulty and cost of providing the correct specialist facilities, other appropriate physical resources and skilled, experienced, specialist staff coupled as usual with inadequate and sustained funding. The Ministry of Education had imposed cost limits which seriously restricted the building of appropriate accommodation. As Reese Edwards reported in 1952 after inspecting more than 200 secondary technical schools ‘Annexes consisted of pre-fabricated huts, private houses, old vicarages, parochial halls and even dance halls.’ Also a number were housed in Technical Colleges, using accommodation and equipment mainly intended for adult students. However in spite of all these problems many Secondary Technical schools achieved good reputations with former students going on to careers in scientific and technology occupations. (Person comment: Many went on to study for London University external degrees, Higher National Certificates and Diplomas (HNC/Ds) and Full Technological Certificates from CGLI at local colleges and were joined by a few former Secondary Modern pupils. I studied with many of these and they most certainly were committed to science and technology)). Sadly in the 1960s the Secondary Technical schools started to offer more academic courses similar to the Grammar schools – yet another example of academic drift! They also offered GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels which in turn brought about a few amalgamations usually resulting in bi-lateral Grammar- Technicals.
Table 2 shows the number of pupils taking GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels in the 1950s and 60s in Secondary Technical Schools.
Table 2
GCE ‘O’ level
GCE ‘A’ level
Source: G.F. Taylor. ‘Selection for junior and secondary technical education.’ Vocational Aspects. 20. No 47, Autumn 1968. Pages 330/331.
Secondary Technical Schools continued to exist beyond the introduction of the comprehensive system and table 3 shows the number of pupils in such schools and the comprehensives between 1950 and 1985.
Table 3
Pupils in Secondary Technical Schools in England and Wales
As a % of all pupils in maintained secondary schools in England and Wales
% of pupils in comprehensive schools
Source: B. Simon. ‘Education and the Social Order 1940-1990.’ London. 1991. Pages 583-5,
The vocational aspects of the curriculum in Secondary Technical schools were provided through so-called bias courses. The vocational options on these courses were increased as pupils progressed through their years of attendance. A general basic course was pursued for the first two or three years, (very similar to that of a Grammar school), followed by bias courses and other alternative courses with vocational and technical themes. Not all courses led to examinations but many were entered for General Certificate of Education (GCE) examinations.
Typical timetables for Secondary Technical schools for the bias courses which typically occupied a third of the weekly timetable are given below.
Girls’ School-Bias Courses:
Art, Biology, English, French, Housecraft, Mathematics, Music
Accounts, French, Office Practice, Shorthand, Typing
Biology, Chemistry, Elementary Physiology, Human Biology, Physics
Boys’ School-Bias Courses:
English, German, Mathematics, Science
Bricklaying, Building Science, Carpentry and Joinery, Design and Colour, Painting and Decorating, Plumbing,
Additional Mathematics, Engineering Drawing, Mechanics, Workshop Practice,
The proportion of time spent on these specialist courses increased in the final year of studies. The sixth form in the Secondary Technical School often differed from that offered in Grammar Schools. Pupils could take more GCE ‘O’ levels or other subjects for professional purposes including foreign languages and commercial and technical qualifications offered by such awarding bodies as RSA, CGLI, Pitman’s etc.
Eventually the 11+ began to be questioned and even in 1958 the Crowther Report stated ‘more and more people are coming to believe that it is wrong to label children for all time at 11.’ This finally led to the majority of authorities introducing comprehensive schools. So Secondary Technical Schools were absorbed into the comprehensive system along with the secondary moderns. What commercial, technical and vocational education existed in comprehensives was largely based on the residuals of provision from the secondary modern schools namely domestic science, metalwork woodwork etc. Another classic case of a false dawn and missed opportunity to introduce meaningful curriculum into secondary schools!  Spens had wanted a healthy and thriving secondary technical school sector but it was not to be and was stifled in the two/three decades after the war. The failure resonated over the subsequent decades and contributed to the continuing defects in England’s neglect of technical and vocational education and training system which is more fully described on this website. Over the past decades innumerable attempts have been made to introduce technical and vocational studies into schools e.g. the plethora of MSC schemes and programmes, TVEI, GNVQ, New Deal programmes, vocational ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels etc. – all have failed as the history of technical education and this website shows. Also included in these attempts are City Technology Colleges (CTCs), specialist schools, academies and now the new proposal to reintroduce technical schools. I fear these and other initiatives are doomed to fail or should that be doomed to succeed?
Key questions need to be asked by the government such as:
·         What is the primary purpose e.g. preparing young people for FE, HE, apprenticeships or direct entry into employment?
·         What relationship will these schools have to the economy – bearing in mind the government has indicated a desire to restructure and rebalance the manufacturing base and economy of the country -old industry/dirty jobs or new industry technologically and scientifically-driven occupations?
·         What will be the age of the students when they embark on their technical studies 11, 13 or 16?
·         What students will they attract/recruit and how will they be selected?
·         How specialised will the studies be?
·         What qualifications will be available to the students and at what level?
·         What will be the rationale of the new technical schools compared with, say, CTCs or specialist schools?
·         What will be the relationship with existing FE colleges and private providers?
·         What will be the relationships and links with apprenticeship programmes and employers?
·         Where will the specialist staff come from to teach at these technical schools?
·         In the time of austerity where will the funding come from to purchase the expensive technological facilities, equipment, workshops, laboratories and specialist staff to match the demands of the highly skilled future? *
This proposal must be carefully thought through and whatever happens it must not repeat the mistakes of the past. It will not be a cheap option and must not be about cast off equipment, facilities and staff.
*FE Colleges are already experiencing massive cuts to their budgets (in some cases 20 %+) and making many staff redundant. They will watch with great interest how these new technical schools are funded.
Picture below is in a workshop at South West Ham Secondary Technical School.
(1)   The New Secondary Education. MoE, 1947 pages 47/48.
Two excellent books on this subject:
Sanderson. M. ‘The Missing Stratum. Technical School Education in England 1900-1990s.’ Athlone Press. ISBN 0 485 11442 9. 1994.
Edwards. R. ‘The Secondary Technical School.’ ULP. 1960.