Education Act 1944

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Education Act 1944
Long title An Act to reform the law relating to education in England and Wales.
Citation 7 and 8 Geo 6 c. 31
Introduced by R. A. Butler
Territorial extent England and Wales
Royal assent 3 August 1944
Repealed 1 November 1996
Other legislation
Amended by Education Reform Act 1988
Repealed by Education Act 1996
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted

The Education Act 1944 (7 and 8 Geo 6 c. 31) made numerous major changes in the provision and governance of secondary schools in England and Wales. It is also known as the "Butler Act" after the Conservative politician R. A. Butler, who wrote the legislation after consultation with all parties. Historians consider it a "triumph for progressive reform," and it became a core element of the Post-war consensus supported by all major parties.[1]

The Act was repealed in steps with the last parts repealed in 1996.[2]


The Education Act of 1944 was an answer to surging social and educational demands created by the war and the widespread demands for social reform. It passed after Butler consulted with spokesman for all major positions by sending around a detailed confidential green book 'Education After the War,' in 1941. He worked out compromises with local authorities, and cut spending goals to assuage the Treasury. The bill reflected Butler's priorities, and incorporated proposals developed by leading specialists in the 1920s and 1930s such as R. H. Tawney and William Henry Hadow.[3] The Green Book text was drafted by his staff: Griffiths G. Williams, William Cleary, H. B. Wallis, S. H. Wood, Robert S. Wood, and Maurice Holmes.[4]

Butler wanted keep the churches involved in education but they could not on their own afford to modernize. His act left a third of the Anglican church schools in place with enhanced subsidies, increasing public and teacher control over them. It encouraged nonsectarian religious teaching in secular schools. Catholics were given extra subsidies to operate. Butler achieved his objective through skillful negotiation with Archbishop William Temple (1881-1944) and other religious leaders. [5]

It passed in 1944, but was designed to take effect after the war, thus allowing for additional pressure groups to have their influence.[6][7] In the end, it was widely praised by Conservatives because it honoured religion and social hierarchy, by Labour because it opened new opportunities for the working class, and by the general public because it ended the fees they had to pay.[8]

New policies[edit]

The law sharply distinguished between primary and secondary education at age 11 and ended the traditional all-age (5-14) elementary sector. It abolished fees on parents. It brought a more equitable funding system to localities and to different school sectors. The old national Board of Education became a ministry with extended power. It announced a future plan to extend the school leaving age from 14 to 15. It provided for nursery schools and Further Education programs. It brought in a new system for setting teacher salaries. Every school was required to begin the day with a nondenominational religious activity, and Anglican schools were continued. Butler designed the law as an expression of "One Nation Conservatism" in the tradition of Disraeli, which called for paternalism by the upper class towards the working class.[9]

The new tripartite system consisted of three different types of secondary school: grammar schools, secondary technical schools and secondary modern schools. It allowed for the creation of comprehensive schools which would combine these strands, but initially only a few were founded. It also created a system of direct grant schools, under which a number of independent schools received a direct grant from the Ministry of Education (as distinct from local education authorities or LEAs) in exchange for accepting a number of pupils on "free places".[10]

To assess which pupils should attend which school, they took an exam known as the 11-plus. The system was intended to allocate pupils to the schools best suited to their "abilities and aptitudes", but in practice the number of grammar schools, for the academically inclined, remained unchanged, and few technical schools or comprehensive schools were established. As a result, most pupils went to secondary modern schools, whether they were suitable or not, meaning that the majority of education funding went to the secondary modern schools.

One of the results of the Act was to educate and mobilise women and the working class. It opened secondary schools to girls, and the working class. One result was the percentage attending higher education trip[led from 1% to 3%.

The Act renamed the Board of Education as the Ministry of Education, giving it greater powers and a bigger budget, ended fee-paying for state secondary schools, and enforced the division between primary (5–11 years old) and secondary (11–15 years old) that many local authorities had already introduced. While defining the school leaving age as 15, it granted the government the power to raise the age to 16 "as soon as the Minister is satisfied that it has become practicable",[11] though the change was not implemented until 1973. The Act also provided for community colleges, offering education for both children and adults, a measure that was only followed through by a few LEAs such as the Cambridgeshire Village Colleges, Leicestershire Community Colleges and Coventry, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire community schools.

The Act also introduced compulsory prayer into all state-funded schools on a daily basis.[12] This clause was amended by the Education Reform Act 1988, which specified that the act of worship should be of a 'broadly Christian nature' unless such a message was deemed to be inappropriate for a particular school or group of children. The amendment also specified that the act of worship could now take place in classes, rather than the previous system of conducting worship in assemblies.

The Act was supported by HORSA (Hutting Operation for the Raising of the School-Leaving Age) a building programme to provide 'hut'-style accommodation to meet the additional educational demand.[13]

School meals and milk[edit]

The Education Act 1944 made it a duty of local education authorities to provide school meals and milk. The authority could remit the charge for the meal in cases of hardship.[14] The separate School Milk Act 1946 provided free milk – a third of a pint a day – in schools to all children under the age of 18. In 1968 Harold Wilson’s Labour government withdrew free milk from secondary schools. In 1971 Margaret Thatcher (then Secretary of State for Education) withdrew free school milk from children over seven, earning her (among her enemies) the nickname, 'Thatcher, the Milk Snatcher'.[15][16]


  1. ^ Kevin Jeffereys, "R. A. Butler, the Board of Education and the 1944 Education Act," History (1984) 69#227 pp 415–431.
  2. ^ Peter Gordon and Denis Lawton (2004). Dictionary of British Education. Routledge. pp. 74–76. 
  3. ^ Brian Simon, The Politics of Educational Reform 1920-1940 (1974) ch 7 online
  4. ^ Ron G. Wallace, "The origins and authorship of the 1944 Education Act." History of education 10#.4 (1981): 283-290.
  5. ^ S. J. D. Green, "The 1944 Education Act: A Church-State Perspective." Parliamentary History 19#1 (2000): 148-164.
  6. ^ Peter Gosden, "Putting the Act together." History of Education 24#3 (1995): 195-207. online
  7. ^ Gary McCulloch, Educational reconstruction: The 1944 education act and the twenty-first century (Routledge, 2013).
  8. ^ Paul Addison, The road to 1945: British politics and the Second World War (1975). pp 237-38.
  9. ^ Brian Simon, "The 1944 Education Act: A Conservative Measure?," History of Education. (1986) 15#1 pp 31–43
  10. ^ C. H. Batteson, "The 1944 Education Act reconsidered." Educational Review 51.1 (1999): 5-15.
  11. ^ Education Act 1944, Section 35
  12. ^ Secularists and rationalists opposed this and other provisions. See for example Brown (n.d.)
  13. ^
  14. ^ Hendrick, Harry (4 Oct 2003). Child Welfare: England 1872-1989. Taylor & Francis. p. 185. ISBN 9780203401965. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Free nursery milk to stay, but costs set to be cut. 18 June 2012". BBC News. Retrieved 25 May 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Aldrich, Richard, Dennis Dean, and Peter Gordon. Education and policy in England in the twentieth century. (1991).
  • Batteson, C. H. "The 1944 Education Act reconsidered." Educational Review 51.1 (1999): 5-15. DOI:10.1080/00131919997632
  • Dunford, John, Paul Sharp, The Education System in England and Wales, London: Longman, 1990, 17–24.
  • Gosden, Peter. "Putting the Act together." History of Education 24#3 (1995): 195-207. online
  • Goldin, Claudia, "The Human Capital Century and American Leadership: Virtues of the Past," The Journal of Economic History, 2001, Volume 61, Number 2.
  • Green, S. J. D. "The 1944 Education Act: A Church‐State Perspective." Parliamentary History 19#1 (2000): 148-164.
  • Griggs, Clive. The TUC and Education Reform, 1926-1970 (Routledge, 2013).
  • Hillman, Nicholas. "Public schools and the Fleming report of 1944: shunting the first-class carriage on to an immense siding?." History of Education 41#2 (2012): 235-255.
  • Howard, Anthony. RAB: The Life of R.A. Butler (2013) ch 10.
  • Jago, Michael. Rab Butler: The Best Prime Minister We Never Had? (2015) ch 9.
  • Jeffereys, Kevin. "R. A. Butler, the Board of Education and the 1944 Education Act," History (1984) 69#227 pp 415–431.
  • Ku, Hsiao-Yuh. "Fighting for social democracy: RH Tawney and educational reconstruction in the Second World War." Paedagogica Historica 52#3 (2016): 266-285.
  • Ku, Hsiao-Yuh. "Education for liberal democracy: Fred Clarke and the 1944 Education Act." History of Education 42#5 (2013): 578-597.
  • McCulloch, Gary. Educational reconstruction: The 1944 education act and the twenty-first century (Routledge, 2013).
  • McCulloch, Gary. "British Labour Party education policy and comprehensive education: from Learning to Live to Circular 10/65." History of Education 45#2 (2016): 225-245. online
  • Middleton, Nigel. "Lord Butler and the Education Act of 1944," British Journal of Educational Studies (1972) 20#2 pp 178–191
  • Simon, Brian. "The 1944 Education Act: A Conservative Measure?," History of Education. (1986) 15#1 pp 31–43
  • Wallace, Ron G. "The origins and authorship of the 1944 Education Act." History of Education 10.4 (1981): 283-290. DOI:10.1080/0046760810100405

External links[edit]