Secondary Technical School

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A Secondary Technical School was a type of secondary school in the United Kingdom that existed in the mid-20th century under the Tripartite System of education. For various reasons few were ever built, and their main interest is on a theoretical level.

The 1944 Butler Education Act promised a secondary schooling system with three tiers. In addition to grammar schools and secondary moderns, the government intended there to be a series of ‘Secondary Technical Schools’. These would teach mechanical, scientific and engineering skills to serve industry and science.

In 1944 these schools existed only on paper, and had not yet been built. But whereas the other two branches of the tripartite system would be built over the next decade, the technical schools barely materialised. At their peak, only 2-3% of children attended one. As a result, in most LEA areas, pupils were not selected from the eleven plus as originally proposed, but from a separate, voluntary set of examinations taken at the age of 12 or 13.

Technical schools were a modest success, given their limited resources and lack of government attention. Their curriculum was well shaped for dealing with real world employment, and had a solid practical edge. The schools had good links with industry and commerce. In many ways, the technical school was the forerunner of today’s City Technology College.

Other than a simple lack of resources, three reasons have been proposed for the failure of the technical school. Trade Unions felt that technical education was their responsibility, mainly through the apprentice system. It is argued that they tried to undermine the technical school from the outset to preserve their own position. The second focuses on the difficulty of obtaining teachers who had skills in the relevant areas. The third reason is that the schools were consciously designed as being for those not suitable for high academic attainment. This meant that they had lower status than grammar schools and were seen as second best to them. They were used in many cases for borderline pass/fail results in the 11+. In any case, some people believe that the failure to create the technical schools represents lost opportunity in the history of British education.