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The Fisher Act

The Fisher Act

From 1902 onwards, technical colleges and adult education centres were funded and maintained by Local Education Authorities (LEAs), and the bulk of courses were taught through evening classes. The President of the Board of Education, Herbert Fisher, was instrumental in forming the Education Act of 1918, also known as the 'Fisher Act'. Section 10 of the act made provision for school leavers between the ages of 14 and 18 to attend day continuation schools for vocational training.

Britain falls behind

Although the Board of Education established a system of national qualifications during the 1920s, little progress was made in technical education during the interwar period, marked as it was by strained economic and financial circumstances. In 1934, as President of the Board of Education, Lord Halifax noted that government policy over the previous years had aimed at reducing expenditure. In 1935 the Cabinet Committee on Educational Policy pointed out that Britain was falling behind her continental competitors in technical education.

Demand for technical personnel

The Second World War disrupted technical education while simultaneously increasing the demand for technologically trained personnel. The technical branch of the Board of Education increased the number of short courses for students to learn specific skills, particularly in engineering. The treatment of technical provision in the 1943 Education White Paper was, however, conservative. It proposed that Local Education Authorities (LEAs) be required to provide some form of adequate technical education, and recommended that school leavers attend compulsory day continuation schools. The latter provision was never carried through, and only permissive or voluntary powers were incorporated into the Butler Education Act 1944.

Technology became increasingly important to Britain's economy in the post-war period, and competition from technologically advanced countries (such as Germany) intensified. During the 1950s policy makers became increasingly concerned about the inadequacies of British technical education.

Although the Butler Act had envisaged a 'tripartite' schools system made up of grammar, secondary and technical schools, the number of technical schools remained small. Outside the universities, post-school technical education was provided by technical colleges, and administered by Local Education Authorities (LEAs). These colleges were patchy in distribution but had expanded with demand, so that by 1951 more than two million students, mostly part-time, were enrolled in technical colleges.