Secondary education and social change in the United Kingdom since 1945

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: History

Abstract

The 1944 Education (Butler) Act overhauled the structure of British education. For the first time secondary schooling became a mass experience, which would have an impact upon the life course of successive generations growing-up in late 20th century Britain. By 1961 3.2 million pupils were being educated in state funded secondary schools, and over 600,000 in the independent sector. Over the ensuing 50 years, educational reform has repeatedly divided political and popular opinion as successive governments have attempted to remodel the system. Yet while this narrative of political meddling has been exhaustively told, we know very little about what pupils and parents thought mass education was for after 1945. Reform of the system occurred against a backdrop of profound social and economic transformation across British society. Traditional social structures appeared to fragment as processes including affluence, social mobility, a decline in deference, individualism and consumerism reconfigured how individuals understood their position within wider society.

Drawing on an innovative range of sources, this project will provide a new social and cultural history of postwar secondary education, embedding education in the experience of rapid social and cultural change in late 20th century Britain. This represents an indispensable contribution to the existing picture of post-1945 education by moving beyond entrenched historiographical positions, which too often treat education as a proxy for other concerns, such as national decline or class realignment. Rather than relying entirely on 'expert voices' - politicians, commentators or teachers - we ask how the everyday experience of education shapes and reflects pupils' and parents' aspirations, expectations, and sense of self, across their lives from youth to employment to parenthood. Using the original data and interview transcripts from postwar longitudinal studies and post-1950 social surveys, we will explore the intersection of national, regional, local and individual histories of education, charting how these differed across the UK and changed over time. Our findings will combine a broad national overview with a series of local case-studies to root the experience of education within specific contexts. Unlike previous studies, our research looks beyond England and Wales to consider the whole of Britain and the complete spectrum of schools (secondary modern, grammar, comprehensive and independent). We will deliver a diverse range of outputs, including two academic monographs and 5 journal articles, as well as resources aimed at a wide public audience.

We will develop an interactive website to facilitate direct collaboration between the public and the project. It will incorporate short pieces written by the research team, alongside interactive maps and a database of archives holding material on education to help interested family and community historians. We will also curate content generated by the public as part of a 'School Days' memory blog. This will combine images, material from our archival research and users' own testimonies. Our archival research will be supplemented with new material produced through oral history workshops and interviews. A number of podcasts will be hosted on the website, featuring a series of conversations about educational experience between several generations within a family. Participants will be recruited through schools and local history groups with whom we will develop relationships during our research and also by drawing upon our Project Partner organizations. By reconnecting the history of post-war education with the story of wider social change, this study will offer an important new historical perspective on phenomena that remain at the forefront of contemporary political and sociological debate.

Planned Impact

This project will generate interest amongst a diverse range of users, with our outputs designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Our research objectives are not limited by geographical location, school type, gender, or social class, meaning we can engage people across a broad age range and social spectrum. We have four core beneficiary communities: (a) former secondary school pupils and parents; (b) present secondary school pupils and teachers; (c) qualified secondary level history teachers; (d) policymakers and educational charities.

To ensure we are best able to reach these users, we have already contacted several intermediary organisations to act as Project Partners [PPs]. All PPs will have a representative on the project Advisory Board and will be involved in guiding impact initiatives. The project partners are: Historical Association [HA], History & Policy [H&P], and The Sutton Trust [ST]. We have received enthusiastic letters of support from all PPs.

Our impact initiatives and outputs are innovative and varied. We will combine the development of electronic resources with public events and workshops. Our principal public interface will be the project website and ongoing social media presence. These will maximize visibility and act as an initial point of contact with our beneficiary communities, and eventually help to generate co-production. The interactive website will include project information, a research blog written by the RAs, a 'School days' memory blog to encourage users to contribute their own memories of school, and a series of podcasts recounting personal experiences of education. It will be free to access and include mechanisms for user feedback. To ensure these outputs remain available beyond the life of the project, the website will be hosted in perpetuity by Cambridge University Library.

As the project progresses we will draw upon our archival research to develop links with local communities and schools. We will run 6 workshops on 'The History of our School and Community' with year 9 pupils in secondary schools in 6 different regions across the UK (chosen to reflect our local case studies, see 'Summary'). Pupils will engage with archival sources to produce new learning resources of their own. These workshops, and the resource packs for them, will be designed in collaboration with the HA. The packs will subsequently be made available to all teachers through the HA website.

The RAs will produce a database of useful archival holdings relating to secondary education and a corresponding interactive map. This will be published on our website and shared with the TNA to help family historians and independent researchers interested in researching school histories. During phase 4, we will organize a series of group oral history workshops in our focus regions to gather new qualitative data from participants. We will identify workshop participants through local advertising, as well as on our website. We will build feedback-gathering processes into our oral history workshops and the data from these workshops will be deposited with the UK Data Service [UKDS] for use by future researchers.

Policymakers are a key audience for this project. Throughout the grant the RAs will contribute opinion pieces to the H&P network. In conjunction with H&P we will offer an interactive source-based workshop with civil servants at the Department for Education (year 3). We will also work with the ST, to produce a co-published report on historical perspectives on secondary education (year 4). This will be extremely timely in light of the government's Social Mobility Commission and the May 2016 HE White Paper 'Success as a Knowledge Economy', as well as the recent endorsement for a revival of grammar schools. We aim to encourage our audiences to think about what increasing access to education has been thought to be for in modern Britain, and thus what its purpose might be in the future.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description "The A-Level in History: Past, Present and Future", Ashmole Academy, Southgate, London, February 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The PI Peter Mandler was asked to speak to a group of 6th-form teachers and students on '"The A-Level in History: Past, Present and Future", at Ashmole Academy, Southgate, London, February 2018. He drew on the work of the SESC project to show how A-levels had emerged and developed over the past 50 years, and also how they tend to reflect prevailing political and intellectual fashions rather than timeless pedagogical verities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Consultancy for 'Back in Time for School' TV series 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our team was asked to offer historical expertise by the production company Wall-to-Wall, in the making of the BBC2 series 'Back in Time for School', which aired January-February 2019. We offered advice and did some research on a range of topics relating to life at school in the post-1945 period, including girls' education, secondary modern schools, school dinners, and school uniforms. We were also told by the main historical presenter and researcher for the series, Polly Russell, that the resources on our website had been invaluable to her overall research process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bx7lxc
 
Description Discussion of the history of school examinations on 'The Briefing Room', BBC Radio 4, 14 Feb. 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public debate about the school examinations system has been renewed recently by proposals in Parliament to end national examinations at 16 (GCSE in England and Wales). 'The Briefing Room', a policy-oriented Radio 4 programme, invited the PI, Peter Mandler, to discuss the history of national examinations with the producers (to prepare their agenda) and for the programme. Why do we have exams at 16? Are they just an historical relic or do they still serve needs of students, schools, employers? The PI was interviewed for half an hour at the BBC Cambridge studios and his remarks edited into 10 minutes of context at the beginning of the programme. The programme thus drew deeply on the SESC project's understanding of how aspects of secondary education including examinations reflect social changes and serve multiple social and individual purposes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0002hml
 
Description Postgraduate Workshop University of London 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A reading and skills workshop for postgraduate students based at the University of London and nearby universities (e.g. Winchester). I submitted a draft of an article that the group discussed and also gave a presentation on the project's genesis and wider aims. This developed into a discussion about career development and funding opportunities in the UK for early career researchers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description SESC website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our project website hosts our blog, resources (including briefing papers on key topics), and a timeline on the history of secondary education in the UK. The intended purpose was to promote the project, make some of our early findings available open and for free, and to engage audiences beyond academic historians in our research. As of February 2019 the website has had 6,494 total views, and the best day of overall views saw 222 visitors, when we posted a blog about the educational stories of three England World Cup teams, on the eve of England's participation in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals. We have a lot of positive feedback on the website anecdotally, via email, in person, and on social media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
URL https://sesc.hist.cam.ac.uk/
 
Description School visit (Cambridge) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Talk to 6th Form College students on Education and Social Change after 1945 by Laura Carter and Chris Jeppesen. The audience primarily comprised A-level historians and sociologists. We used the occasion to talk about academic research at university level and to discuss how the students might incorporate education into their A-level studies to provide new perspectives on the material they were studying. Several students asked how to find out more about the project and were directed to the website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description School visit (Salisbury) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Talk to school 6th form on Education and Social Change after 1945. The audience primarily comprised A-level historians and we used the talk to explain the research project and discuss how the students thought education related to their study of British social and political history after 1945. Encouraged students to think differently about how they might incorporate education into their work and several showed an interest in finding out more about the project. Directed to the website and as a result of the talk we were sent a series of historic school magazines by pupils.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Seminar for the School of History, Religions and Philosophies, School of Oriental and African Studies 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The School of History, Religions and Philosophies, of the School of Oriental and African Studies invited two members of the team - the PI Peter Mandler and the RA Chris Jeppesen - to run a workshop for their staff and students to discuss the challenges of multicultural education in modern Britain. The staff are largely non-British in origin and their students are very largely British and BAME. Staff have therefore the need to develop their understanding of multicultural education in Britain and they turned to us to provide this. The event comprised a talk by Chris Jeppesen on the history of BAME education in Britain since the 1970s and then a roundtable discussion including Peter Mandler on policy issues arising from this history relevant today. The organizer commented afterwards, 'I think the questions and extent of the engagement afterward speaks to how relevant your project is to my colleagues.' She also thought the event could help contribute to their efforts to put together an alumni network for further discussion of these issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description The Enid Porter Lecture 2019: Growing up and getting on in the 1960s: three stories of education and everyday life 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was an invited public lecture at the Museum of Cambridge. The audience comprised mainly of older members of the community interested in histories of postwar education locally and relating to their own experiences. Audience members stayed for an hour afterwards to ask questions and give positive feedback, as well as to look around the museum, which received a significant number of new annual pass holders, as a result of the talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.museumofcambridge.org.uk/event/growingupandgettingon/