Post-War Education in Marylebone & Paddington

The Second World War had affected public ideas and expectations fundament­ally. Expectations for education is one aspect which is often ignored.

It was clear that after the Second World War, as with all wars, there would be a baby boom. A sudden spate of marriages and the completion of families delayed by separation, would make sure of that. Large numbers of children would begin to enter the Infants Schools about 1950 and move on to the Secondary Schools from 1956. The planning for new schools and extra teachers had to start immediately. For many years there had been an examination at 11 for all children in state education. About the top 20% had been offered scholarships to grammar schools.

Thus the 11+ exam was a watershed in a child's life. Everything was decided on one day. A complete future could be decided on the result of a single group of tests.

Over the years the 11+ had permitted some children from working class homes to go to grammar schools, previously reserved almost exclusively for the children of the better-off who had parents able to pay the fees. Thus the world of opportunity had been opened to the very brightest children, including some future cabinet ministers. Some of these were to become the staunchest defenders of the Grammar Schools. It had worked well for these few, but in 1944 still only about 20% were to go to grammar schools, selected by academic and intelligence tests.

The 1944 Butler Education Act had introduced a Tripartite System in which pupils were separated at eleven into three types of schools, Grammar, Vocational and Secondary Modern. There was a strong ground swell against the separation of pupils into tiers of opportunity at eleven. Many educationalists, and thousands of parents who saw their own children being discarded at this early age, were up in arms. The division of children into sheep and goats at eleven was arbitrary and unfair. They quoted cases of late developers who had gone on sometimes to brilliant futures. It was said that Einstein himself would have slipped through the net at the age of eleven.

Supporters of the grammar schools made great claims for the infallibility of intelligence tests. These were supposed to predict the academic potential of candidates at an early age and were upheld by some like holy writ. While we did not know at that time of the outright lies being concocted by Cyril Burt, the educational high priest of this cult, many others thought that his statistics about intelligence tests were misleading. In fact they were completely false, concocted, to three points of decimals! with the help of a mythical teacher on the other side of the world whom nobody could ever find, but we were not to know the details of that for years.

To return to the real world, it had been shown that the same child's performance, due to ill health and other factors, could vary on different days by as much as 17 points. This at a time when a change of score by just one or two points, might make the difference between a grammar school education for 5 or even 7 years in classes of 25, and a secondary modern one of 3 years to only the age of 14, in classes of 40. The contrast was too stark and unfair to be
acceptable, so many teachers and parents wanted instead Common Schools, which we now call Comprehensives.

 

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Updated January 24, 2011