Interwar Society

  • Created by: Pip Dan
  • Created on: 20-09-17 16:14


Education was not a major priority for government in WWI. When 1916 dawned the minister in charge was Arthur Henderson, who was in the cabinet not for his knowledge of, or particular interest in, the subject, but because it was a post he could be given where there was not too much work to distract him from acting in effect as the government's adviser on labour issues. Although there were to be brief flurries of activity this lack of serious attention was to characterise education policy during the inter-war period.

It did not seen that way at first. The nineteenth-century education system had been mainly concerned with giving people a basic level of literacy and numeracy, and with social control - that is, trying to ensure that people became respectful of their betters and of the existing social order. The 1918 'Fisher' Education Act, named after the Coalition Liberal minister responsible, seemed to move away from such a limited view. It provided for a number of changes. The school-leaving age was raised from 12 to 14. After 14, most young people would go to work, but also attend 'continued schools' one day a week until they were 16, to further improve their skills. Fisher also stressed that, as soon as possible, the leaving age would be raised to 15. The Act also increased state subsidies to local education authorities.

Such moves seemed radical. However, the Act did nothing about the curriculum, church schools, or the independent sector. Universities remain wholly outside the ambit. Much of the impetus behind continuation schools was about social control, not  improving young workers' school every week. When it came to implementing the Act, many local authorities were reluctant, and acted slowly. In any case, the spending cuts suggested by the Geddes Committee soon put paid to continuation schools, and the raising of the leaving age to 15 was postponed indefinitely.

In many ways Geddes set the tone of the rest of the inter-war period. The children of social elites continued to be educated in independent schools, outside the state sector. Secondary education remained something of a privilege, with fees being charged for all but the poorest of students. Universities, of which there were only a handful, catered essentially for the better off, and there was no aspiration towards mass access to higher education. Education proved to be a less sensitive budget than others, and so was more easily cut or restricted.

There were occasional attempts at change. Sir Charles Trevelyan, Education minister in the second Labour government, did introduce a bill to increase the age to 15, but this was damaged by Catholic backbenchers anxious that not enough money would be given to that church's schools to compensate for the larger numbers that would result, and destroyed by the House of Lords. 


The inter-war years are remembered positively for the growth in housing, particularly the 1930s which saw a massive boom in accommodation being built.  • Between 1920 and 1938 millions of pounds…


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