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Lead up to the Butler Act

Key issues for reform

Demands for educational reform had been voiced during the 1930s but by 1940 the Board of Education had done nothing to answer them. Key issues were: the establishment of separate systems of primary and secondary education, the raising of the school leaving age, and the abolition of fees for secondary education.

As a result of increasing pressure for change the Board of Education appointed a consultative committee (constituted by civil servants) on post-war education, in November 1940. The committee discussed the issues that were soon to be addressed by an education bill.

Rab Butler and reform

Richard ‘Rab’ Butler (known as Rab Butler) was appointed President of the Board of Education in July 1941 and set about producing a white paper that would be the basis of the Education Bill. The Church of England and the Catholic Church were major opponents of the separation of elementary and secondary education as they would be unable to afford the building work required by the proposed reforms. They feared they would lose control of the education of older children to the Local Education Authorities (LEAs).

Butler offered church schools the choice of 'aided' or 'controlled' status. The church would continue to administer the 'aided' school, but would only need to contribute up to 50 per cent of funding. LEAs would administer 'controlled' schools, but religious content would remain in the curriculum. The White Paper of 1943 proposed the construction of secondary schools and the end of all-age elementary schools. There would be no fees payable in state schools and the school leaving age would rise in two stages from 14 to 16. School leavers under the age of 18 were entitled to day-release to attend college.

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