A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

42 43 1 44 2 45 3 47 5 49 7 52 10 53 11








1. School-leaving age

2. Equality of opportunity

3. Status, pay and qualities of teachers

4. Size of classes

5. School meals

6. Types of school

7. Secondary School fees

8. General and vocational education

9. School buildings

10. Nursery schools

11. Examinations

Appendix. Scottish opinion


In June, 1943, the President of the Board of Education asked the Minister of Information if a small investigation could be made to find out the main subjects of interest among the public in connection with education, and their main attitudes to these subjects. In addition, the President wished to know whether the public was in favour of working out postwar educational plans now, and what degree of priority people thought educational reform should occupy vis-a-vis other aspects of reconstruction.

The following report has been prepared in answer to this request.


Reports have been received from Intelligence Officers in all Civil Defence Regions except the Southern and South Eastern. * The large measure of agreement on main aspects suggests that reports from these two Regions would not materially have affected the conclusions.

Since the Scottish educational system is so different, the views of Scottish people are not included in the main report, but are summarised in an Appendix.

While making use of their usual contacts, who represent as far as possible all sections of the community, Intelligence Officers were careful not to approach any contacts known to be directly connected with the teaching profession. As a result, the following report may be taken to represent the views of the general public.

Several Intelligence Officers would have welcomed an opportunity for a more prolonged and thorough investigation than was allowed by the present enquiry, which called for only a short report.


Reports differ as to the extent of public interest in education; some say that it is fairly widespread, others that there is not a great deal. They agree, however, in saying that interest is to be found in “a thinking minority” in all classes ; there is particular interest “among wage earners who have themselves had some degree of education”, the skilled worker especially, and among those who belong to or are associated with organised bodies - active political party members, those in “local government circles”, and members of Women's Institutes, Townswomen's Guilds, Co-operative Guilds, etc. Interest is said now to be “greater in degree and more widespread than ever before”, having been stimulated by the Education White Paper and references to it in the Press, and by the “deficiencies in our educational system revealed by the war” (e.g. “evacuee mothers and children, illiteracy in the Forces, and juvenile delinquency”).

Interest is said to be greater in urban and industrial than in rural and agricultural areas, where - according to one report - it is largely confined to women.

This does not, however imply that country people are satisfied with their educational facilities. On the contrary, many of them feel that town children have more and better opportunities than those enjoyed by country children.

In reading this report, it must constantly be borne in mind that a great part of the public express no spontaneous views about education. Past experience suggests, however, that when this “unvocal majority” do express opinions, they follow closely the lines of their more articulate fellow citizens.

The words majority and minority are used throughout only to cover those expressing opinions. They must not be taken as applying to the population as a whole.


Working out plans now

The majority appear to be in favour of working out plans for educational reform now, “to save time when the opportunity comes to act”. Many, however, feel that such planning should be “on broad principles only, as future conditions must surely govern many details”. It is also felt that “the war effort must not be hindered” by any present planning, but that the Board of Education, “not being closely involved in the war, should be able to formulate plans now, without damaging the war effort”.

Two minority opinions are:

  1. “Let's get the war over and done with before we start making plans for the future.”

  2. “It'll be a long time before any plans can be carried out.” Some doubt whether there will be enough money after the war to pay for them.

The Education White Paper

The present enquiry did not seek to discover people's reactions to the Board of Education's White Paper, though incidental comment seems on the whole to have been very favourable. *

The degree of priority which should be given to education in relation to other aspects of reconstruction .

The view of the majority seems to be that, however important educational reform is, economic security heads the list of priorities - “Security from want comes first”. Housing is an easy second on the list. Health Services come third. Most people place education fourth. This does not mean that educational reform is not considered important - merely, that the other problems are thought even more pressing.

Two minority views must be mentioned:

  1. Those who consider that “education is an absolute priority”, because “the process of social reconstruction needs to be dealt with at the roots, and our future as a nation depends to a great extent on the kind of education we give our youth”...... “Children ought to come first; then other social reforms.”

  2. Those who, while admitting that economic security and housing are the most urgent problems, see no reason why these should not be simultaneously tackled with education. They point out the inter-connection of such questions as housing and school buildings; and economic security and the postponed earning power in poor families which may result from the raising of the school-leaving age.


The following subjects - and the sub-headings in each section - are arranged in order of the interest they appear to arouse. The school-leaving age , and equality of opportunity are said to cause easily the most discussion; there is a good deal, too, on teachers . There seems to be more limited interest in the other subjects, though each has its enthusiasts (e.g. Denominational Schools, among religious people; Secondary School fees, among “those who find them burdensome”.)

1. School-leaving age

This is the most discussed of all educational topics. “Mention the subject of educational reform to any individual or group, and the school-leaving age immediately comes to the fore.”

The great majority appear to be in favour - at least in theory - of the school-leaving age being raised to 15: most of them favour a subsequent raising to 16. Those most in favour are the town dwellers, the middle classes and particularly skilled workers.

Approval for raising the leaving age is seldom free from provisos. It is felt that, if children are to remain longer at school, there must be:

  1. Some form of compensation - preferably in the form of money - to offset the loss of family income resulting from deferring the age at which children start earning. This feeling appears to be widespread among the poorer classes, some of whom “definitely look on their offspring as sources of income and feel the only time they get any benefit from them is between the ages of 14 to 21”. In addition to loss of income, increased expenditure on food and, particularly, clothing is feared. A figure of 8s. a week is mentioned.

  2. Technical rather than academic training . Many hope that the extra years at school will be spent in vocational training. It is thought that the great majority would benefit most if “the last year or two were to be a special training period for commerce or industry”. The extra years at school should also, it is thought, include instruction in citizenship and sex, and - for girls - in motherhood, hygiene and domestic science.

  3. Improvement in educational facilities , both as regards:

    1. The curriculum . It is said to be “a fairly common criticism that present curricula are ideal neither for fitting people for their jobs, for their leisure, nor for their responsibilities of citizenship”.

    2. The supply of teachers . “Until well-trained and suitable teachers are available”, people feel it is not much good talking of raising the leaving age. The improvement in country schools is particularly advocated, as it is thought that “otherwise, the children will just be wasting their time staying on at the present village schools” where in some cases, “the teaching staff is of wretched quality”.

Finally, some people feel that exceptions should be made for children who show no special aptitude. They should be allowed to leave at 15, or even 14, steps being taken against the exploitation of backward children as cheap labour.

Opposition to raising the school-leaving age seems to come chiefly from rural districts, also from those on the lowest wage levels with large families, whether in town or country. Though much of this opposition might be overcome by the provision of compensation for loss of earning and maintenance allowance for the child at school, there are also objections on the grounds that:

  1. Practical experience makes the best training . It is particularly felt that for youths going in for farming to stay on at school would “reduce the training in practical work which is considered much more useful”. An apprenticeship in a workshop is thought by many to be more practical than “an extended school life at a Technical School”.

  2. Prolonged schooling can only benefit a few . The idea that it is absurd to train highly those who will in after life only do unskilled work exists both among uneducated people themselves and among “those who believe that the idea of educating the working class is a modern fad”. Many feel that “for the type of child who has no academic brain, but is clever in some special direction, apprenticeship at 14 or 15 to a particular trade is more useful than a continued general education”.

  3. “What was good enough for me is good enough for my children” . This is particularly the view of agricultural workers who want their children to leave school early and “start on their own, as they did”.

  4. It would create a shortage of cheap youthful labour . This objection is attributed to businessmen and employers, though some of these would welcome “the withdrawal of potential labour from the market as a help in solving postwar employment problems”.

2. Equality of opportunity

There is almost complete unanimity in favour of equal educational facilities for all children, though not everyone interprets the idea in the same way.

The great majority seem to think that equality of opportunity will only be achieved when “ability, not means,” is the true test. They consider that the only limit should be the child's ability to profit by education; that there should be “no barriers, economic or otherwise, to the progress of a child from the nursery school to the University” - many miners, it is said, “would like to see their sons at Ruskin College”; and that real equality also means that “entrance to superior establishments of any kind should be open only to those successful in competition tests”.

Some advocate “free education for all to University standard”, with adequate maintenance grants so that scholarship winners from poor families can afford to go to public school or university. Another suggestion is that “education should be a national charge, and people would then pay according to their taxable income”.

Those who favour a unified state system of education, with compulsory attendance for all children, seem to be outnumbered by those who feel that “true equality involves provision for all types”.

A minority think that equality of opportunity already exists.

The only people reported to be opposed to equal opportunity are those who fear that it may mean compulsion or uniformity, and “those, of whatever class, who believe in people remaining in that station to which it has pleased God to call them”.

3. Status, pay and qualities of teachers

The present

The general view of teachers seems to be that they are “a group apart from the common herd”, “narrow in outlook”, “out of touch with the world” and “without practical experience”. By working-class people especially, the school teacher is looked upon as “a privileged person who earns a large salary” (some say “too large”), “for short hours of work and long holidays”.

Socially, they are said to fall rather between two stools. They are “regarded as socially inferior by the parson, doctor and landed gentry” while themselves looking down on many of the village people, who in turn accuse them of being bad mixers; working-class people in the towns also “criticise them for thinking themselves socially superior to the artisan group”.

Nevertheless, for many, “teacher still has a halo of learning”, and the working class are said to be proud if one of their children becomes a teacher. “By some of the more thinking of the public, too, teachers are on the whole considered to be hard working and conscientious”, and “the encouragement, widening of horizons and good example which a great many teachers have given their pupils are highly praised”.

The future

Many opinions are expressed as to the future of the teaching profession; discussion chiefly centres round the following points:

(a) Teachers' qualities, training and conditions : “All the virtues and all the talents are thought to be desirable assets in the teaching profession”.

The following points are stressed:

  1. Academic knowledge is less important than “character and moral and social qualities”, or teaching ability. The greatest care should be taken in selecting candidates for the teaching profession, and aptitude and a sense of vocation should be the criteria.

  2. Teachers should have the widest possible experience and knowledge of the world, should maintain contacts outside the teaching profession and have “a wider outlook on life than school”, to prevent them becoming “a race apart”. Practical experience of work other than teaching is thought specially valuable, and “the teacher who has done some other job is said to command more respect and be regarded as more normal and interesting”. Some feel that teachers should be “sent into factories, on farms, etc., to give them a view of other people's lives”.

  3. Teachers should specialise in certain subjects rather than “attempt to cover all lessons”. Longer courses at training colleges and postgraduate courses are advocated.

  4. Teachers should all be certificated or have a teaching diploma; some consider a University education essential.

  5. Refresher courses for teachers are strongly advocated; some think they should be annual and compulsory.

  6. Foreign travel is thought important by some, whether achieved by “exchange schemes” or by paying the teachers enough to enable them to travel if they wish.

  7. A knowledge of psychology, particularly child psychology, is considered most necessary, and training in this is advocated.

  8. Teachers in country schools should be “every bit as good” as town teachers - at present many seem to feel that this is far from the case. Country teachers, too, should live in the village and be part of the community; though it is not always thought to be desirable that they should be natives of the locality to begin with.

  9. Teachers should be able to speak good English and pronounce it correctly. “Children must be taught to express themselves in good English if equality of opportunity is to be achieved.”

  10. Teachers should seek more contact with the pupils' parents.

  11. Married women are preferred to single.

(b) Recruiting for the teaching profession : It is widely felt that one of the most urgent educational problems is to “attract the very best young people into the teaching profession”. It is felt that “education as a career must be ‘sold’ to youth in a much more attractive way than hitherto”. Many believe that the only solutions are:

  1. Raising the teacher's pay . Although this strikes the working class as high in relation to hours of work done, the more thoughtful consider that “the present rates of pay, particularly for Elementary School teachers, compare very badly with those of other occupations and do not allow the teacher sufficient money or opportunity for general culture, continuation of his or her own education, etc”. There is also discussion as to whether equality of pay between all teachers is desirable or not, but some people feel that the only way to improve the quality of teachers in rural Elementary Schools - considered “awful” at present - is to bring their pay[Text Missing] into line with the Burnham Scales.

  2. Improving the teacher's status . There are few suggestions as to how this would be done - apart from raising their pay. Opportunities for promotion and the “sacking of failures” are both mentioned.

4. Size of classes

It seems to be generally agreed that the size of classes is at present too large - particularly in Elementary Schools - and should be reduced. The great disadvantage of a large class is felt to be that the teacher cannot give any individual attention to the pupils, one of the results of which is that “the shy or less bright pupil” gets overlooked.

Opinions vary considerably as to the ideal size for an average class. Between 25 and 30 is the size most often suggested; next comes 20.

Many people, however, feel that the size should vary according to the age of the pupils and the subjects taught, and suggest that the numbers should decrease for:

  1. Senior classes and those where practical instruction is given. Some suggest a progressive reduction as the age of pupils advances, with 10 - 20 in the highest classes.

  2. Younger children. A considerable number think: “The younger the pupils, the smaller the class”, and advocate 10 - 15 for nursery classes.

At the same time, while some consider classes should be “as small as economically possible”, others object that “when the number falls below 20, the class spirit is difficult to maintain”.

The village school : Dissatisfaction is expressed with the village school, “with one teacher for all pupils”. Some suggest these schools would be better abolished; others suggest that several might be amalgamated and special buses run to serve each village.

5. School meals

The vast majority of people wholeheartedly approve the provision of school meals, and many hope that the present arrangements will be continued after the war. They are believed to be specially valuable in winter and bad weather and for children travelling long distances, particularly in rural areas. Other points in their favour are felt to be:

  1. The good social training they give to children.

  2. Safeguarding the child's health by ensuring at least one adequate meal a day.

  3. The help to mothers who are working, or ill.

The minority who criticise school meals, feel that:

  1. “They allow no proper break from the school atmosphere”, and “reduce the home contact”.

  2. “They reduce parental responsibility.”

  3. “Income Tax should not be spent on this.”

Even among the few who fear the threat to home life and parental responsibility, there are some who approve school meals as a “wartime convenience”, and others who favour their retention after the war for children travelling long distances.

Payment : Opinions vary considerably over payment, and many people advocate “a free midday meal available to all”. Some favour payment according to means, while others condemn the “means test”, which is thought to “accentuate class distinction”, and suggest reducing the cost for all.

Preparation and serving : Many people feel that teachers should not have to organise and supervise the serving of meals, and suggest that in peace time a special staff be appointed for the purpose. It is also considered very important that the food should be “well served and dietetically correct”.

6. Types of School :

(a) Denominational Schools and religious instruction . Only “keen Church people”, particularly Roman Catholics, appear to take much interest in this question or to feel very strongly about it.

Though there is said to be “due recognition of the part they have played in education in the past”, and there is no particular objection to them on religious grounds, the view of the majority appears to be that Church Schools, of whichever denomination, have little to recommend them and might as well be scrapped; this view is naturally more strongly held by those in favour of a unified system of state education. Objections to Church Schools are chiefly on the grounds that (i) their “educational standard is lower than that of the average elementary school”, particularly as regards the teachers; and that (ii) the buildings are frequently “dark, airless and insanitary”.

Some would be content if Church Schools could be better supervised, and “retained only if their amenities reach the same standard as those of Council Schools”.

Three groups, particularly, are said to favour their retention, the first very strongly:

(i) “Those whose religious feeling is intense, Catholics especially.”

(ii) Those who make use of them. Some “cling to the traditional link between the clergy and schools, or imagine that a Church School is more genteel than a Board School - a term still current”. Others feel they have “a friendly atmosphere not always to be found in provided schools”. “Loyal traditions in generations of the same family centre round the best of them”, it is said.

In the country, especially, they may be favoured merely because they happen to be nearest.

(iii) Those who feel that parents should have the right to choose whether to make use of them or not.

Religious instruction in schools : The fact that the majority seem to be against Church Schools does not, however, mean that most parents are not anxious for their children to be taught the Scriptures and the elements of Christianity in school. They mostly believe that “this should be able to be done without imposing any one Church's dogmas”, and “it is widely thought that denominational instruction should be given by the Churches outside school hours”.

Only one report refers to “a minority from among the ‘intelligent working class’ who feel that no religious instruction in schools is necessary”.

(b) Public Schools

Recent publicity is thought to have stimulated the small amount of interest which the future of the Public Schools appears to arouse among the public as a whole. Most people know little about them; and many workers' only knowledge is confined to that gained from papers of “The Magnet” type.

Public Schools are regarded primarily as being one or more of the following:

  1. “Snobbish institutions of class distinction and privileges, providing a species of education which perpetuates social inequality.”

  2. Valuable institutions, producing “the best type of educated Englishman”, and at which “the best and broadest kind of education is available”.

  3. “Bottlenecks to professional and influential positions”.

The widespread belief that a Public School confers certain advantages - whether absolute or relative - has resulted in the following points of view:

  1. Public Schools should be made more public, and thrown open to all “on merit” - “whatever one's family and whatever one's finance”. This, in one form or another, is by far the most general suggestion. This does not seem to imply that all parents want their children to go to Public Schools, but they want them to be able to go if they are likely to profit by it - and with sufficient clothing and cash allowances to eliminate feelings of social inferiority.

  2. Public schools should be abolished . There is reported to be very little demand for their abolition; where it exists, it is reported to come from those who want to see a unified compulsory state system, from “extreme ‘left’ opinion”, and from “the envious”. To close them would, in the opinion of many, be “cutting off one's nose to spite one's face”.

  3. Retained in more or less their present state . This view comes from those who at present make use of them. Some parents of this class “fear being compelled to send their children to schools where they will have to mix with those of very different ideals and undesirable ideas”.

(c) Boarding Schools : There appears to be a demand for an extension of the boarding school system “to include children from all income groups”, so that “children of the working class can gain some of the benefits that these schools provide for inculcating independence and a sense of community values”. Notwithstanding, among many working-class people there is said to be “no very great fondness for the idea of a boarding school; they prefer to keep their children at home”.

7. Secondary School fees

The abolition of Secondary School fees is favoured by the majority , and especially by working-class people who cannot afford school fees, the uniform and other expenses, including the loss of potential income. The chief reasons given in favour of the abolition of fees are:

  1. Secondary School education must be made free and available to all, if there is to be any equality of opportunity, and “entrance should be by merit alone”.

  2. “The existence of free and fee-paying scholars is thought to encourage snobbishness.”

The minority in favour of retaining school fees feel that “more value is placed on things for which payment is made”, even if this sometimes involves a sacrifice. They variously suggest that payment should be made:

  1. According to means.

  2. Out of a subsidy to the parents in the form of family allowances, or income tax rebates.

  3. On a reduced scale, but the same for all.

  4. As at present.

8. General and vocational education

General education

There appears to be some diversity of views on the purpose of education. While the majority, particularly working-class people, look on it as “something which fits you for a certain type of job”, others feel it should be “a cultural broadening process”, and one which fits the pupil to be a useful citizen.

Many people think that general education should be broadened by the inclusion of the following subjects in the school curriculum:

  1. Housecraft, cooking and other domestic subjects, for girls, and - according to some people - for boys, too.

  2. Government, both central and local.

  3. Health, hygiene and sex.

  4. Current affairs.

Vocational education

Many people have no “clearly formulated views or wishes”, but the majority seem agreed that vocational training should be given to children at some stage, though “not before a certain standard in general education has been reached”. Those who believe in a broad and cultural education would like to see specialisation delayed as long as possible.

Selection for vocational training : Most people believe that vocational training should start somewhere between 12 and 16 years of age, and that 11 plus is too young for specialisation. There is some feeling that specialisation should start earlier for “non-academic children”.

People feel that the specialised training of each child should be decided jointly by parents and teachers with, if possible, the help of a psychologist; and the importance of a specially selected and trained teaching staff for this work is stressed.

Vocational training : People think that the curricula for vocational training need overhauling, and that increased facilities should be given. Technical training particularly, it is felt, should be developed and given a better status, though not to the neglect of the cultural side. The extension of part-time education and the apprenticeship system would be welcomed for potential industrial workers. It is also suggested that there should be the closest link between the school and the Labour Exchange to ensure the child taking up suitable employment.

There is some feeling that training for business life needs revision, particularly in the Universities.

Country people are anxious to see the same vocational facilities for training as are available to townspeople, with the emphasis laid on agricultural and horticultural training.

9. School buildings

There is general condemnation of the old “black-listed schools” whether in town or country, and people would like to see them scrapped and replaced as soon as possible by modern schools. It is felt, too, that many of the older types of school are inadequate and should “be brought up to date”. At the same time some appreciation is expressed of improvements which have taken place since the last war, and where new schools have been built they have met with full public approval.

The kind of schools the public would like to see : There is a general desire that “modern and cheerful school buildings situated in open surroundings, away from main roads and industrial areas”, should be the aim for the whole country. Schools should be “light and airy”, “spacious in layout, and combining architectural beauty with practical use”. A few feel that buildings should be of a semi-permanent character, so that they can be altered or abandoned, according to changing needs. Others stress the importance of small school units and single-storied buildings.

Provision and equipment : The importance of providing the following is stressed (the first three strongly):

  1. Good playing fields.

  2. Adequate sanitary arrangements, including hot water laid on.

  3. Proper heating arrangements.

  4. A large assembly hall for school meetings.

  5. Equipment for handicrafts and other specialised subjects.

  6. Facilities for drying wet clothes.

  7. Gymnasia and physical training facilities.

  8. Flower gardens.

  9. Swimming pools.

  10. Theatres and cinemas.

10. Nursery schools

Opinions are divided on the value of nursery schools. The majority , especially workers in industrial areas, “are warm in their praise”, because

  1. They “promote the health and wellbeing of children”, particularly “neglected” children, and those from very poor and overcrowded homes.

  2. They are a training ground for good social habits.

  3. They provide relief to mothers and also enable them to take a job. Many would welcome their extension and continuation, provided that:

(i) There is no question of compulsory attendance; (ii) They are “carefully supervised, with a specially trained staff”; (iii) They are “linked up with primary education” - though it is also suggested that they should be incorporated into the Health Services.

Of the considerable minority who are opposed to nursery schools, many make an exception for wartime needs. Some even feel that they may be necessary in peace for “mothers who have to work”. Opposition appears to be mainly on the grounds that:

  1. “they are another link in the chain destroying home influence”.

  2. The State is “encouraging mothers to shirk their responsibilities”.

  3. They increase the danger of children catching infectious diseases.

Rural areas : In the country there is said to be little interest in, knowledge of, or demand for nursery schools.

11. Examinations

The great majority of people feel that the present school examination system is not entirely satisfactory; but only a small minority are in favour of abolishing examinations altogether. The majority feel that they are “helpful”, but should not form the sole test of ability, and would like to see the child's past school record and his teacher's recommendations taken into account as well; both of these should, in the opinion of many, be the deciding factors. Others feel that psychological and oral tests should be given in addition to examinations. Examinations in general are felt to handicap nervous children and those who happen to be sick at the time of the examination.

The special place examination at eleven plus is particularly criticised for taking place at too early an age, and not giving a fair chance to “the late developers”. Some people feel that examinations later in the child's school career would be more indicative of their ability, and that at least a second chance should be given to the children who wish to take advantage of it.

No criticism comes from a small minority who still attach great prestige to the School Certificate, and regard it as “an entree to better jobs, and the be-all and end-all of their child's education”.

Home Intelligence Division

September, 1943.

[2] No report was asked for from Northern Ireland

[3] (This is confirmed by spontaneous comment referred to in Home Intelligence Weekly Reports Nos. 146 July 22nd to 149 August 8th inclusive).

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