20th Century Breakthrough

In 1931, the Hadow Report published a series of recommendations which considered the differences in levels of intelligence among individual children.  Special schools for children with severe educational challenges were proposed, while smaller class sizes for those with less severe impairments were advocated.  Improvements in the curriculum and the quality of teachers, buildings and school equipment were all promoted within the ground-breaking report, as were the proposals for continuous assessment of each child’s development with termly or annual reports to mark their progress.

The Hadow Report divided schools into ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ with the change-over taking place at age 11. These sweeping reforms were to be ratified in the 1944 Education Act, whereas the controversial debate surrounding the general school leaving age was finally raised to 15 years with the 1936 Education Act.  Exceptions were provided for children of poorer families who were permitted employment certificates at aged 14 years to ensure those families did not suffer hardship by the inevitable loss of income that would result in the child remaining in school for an extra year.  However, many of these 14 year olds were often observed begging for work on the streets and in the northern collieries which prompted calls to raise the school leaving age to 16.  All attempts at further reforms were stymied, however, with the advent of WW2. It wasn’t until 1972 when the school leaving age was finally raised again to protect such children from exploitation.

All in all, many of these reforms heralded the hallmarks which shaped the modern school system which we would clearly recognise today.

The 1960’s and 70’s saw an explosion of social reforms and freedoms on a scale never before witnessed, as youths from all classes challenged the rigidity and conformism of their predecessors and threw off the restrictions of the post-war period of austerity.  The importance of parental encouragement and home environment was recognised as a strong predictor of success or failure for very young children, and studies were published on how improvements could be implemented for the lives of gifted children from working-class backgrounds, which could be expanded through education.  One of the key questions was, how to keep gifted children from working-class backgrounds in school, thus providing them with the best advantage to improve their lot in life and to contribute their gifts to the wider world.

One of the most notable achievements to be seen since the introduction of formal education in the 14th Century, was the rise in compassion towards the emotional needs of children as the centuries progressed, particularly with the abolition of child labour and the recognition of the vast differences between children’s mental and physical abilities.

Essentially as the 20th Century arrived with all its technological advancements and innovative social reforms, the influence of religion lessened its grip on young minds and all classes of children were given the opportunity of education.  Science continued to research methods of attaining the best version of each child and education was guided towards a more holistic, child-centred approach upon which  we are continuing to expand today, in 21st Century Britain.

Education has come a long way since St Augustine, founder of the first school in Britain back in the 6th Century, began his mission to pass on knowledge, but undoubtedly there is still room for improvement!