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The Conservative party’s national policy on comprehensive education, 1944-1971

Richmond, R. (1975) The Conservative party’s national policy on comprehensive education, 1944-1971. Masters thesis, Durham University.



One question which is frequently asked about this subject is whether the Conservative Party's policy on comprehensive education was merely a reaction to the Labour Party policy, or had it something positive to say? Between the years 1945 and 1951 the parties were agreed that secondary education should be selective and tri-partite, but after that their policies differed. From 1951 Labour supported comprehensive education while the Tories, now in power, persevered in their belief in selection. This was partly a reaction against Labour's egalitarian motives and partly based on a belief that selection was right. During the late 1950’s much evidence was produced by sociologists and psychologists casting doubts upon the selective system. Meanwhile Conservative Ministers of Education were allowing limited experiments with comprehensive schools, but with the proviso that the experiments be educationally sound. It was left to one of the Conservative's best education ministers, Sir Edward Boyle, to lead his party, in 1963, away from selection at 11+, on the grounds, not of equality, but of individual justice for every child to develop his talents to the full. His motives were educational, not political or social. However, he made a notable exception in his policy, namely that good grammar schools of adequate size should be preserved. For some years the Conservatives worked to try to solve their problem of reconciling the preservation of good grammar schools with the move away from selection at 11+. Co-existence of grammar schools with comprehensives was seen in the I.L.E.A. to be a failure, and after rejecting other possibilities the Conservatives came down in favour of grammar schools seeking a new role as sixth form colleges, or as upper tiers of two-tier schools. Throughout this period Boyle had the support of his leader and his cabinet colleagues, but the task of winning over Conservative M.P.'s and party members was long and arduous for him. In 1969 he decided to retire from politics, in favour of an academic post. Political chance then gave the Conservative Party an education leader who emerged with a policy similar to that held before I963. In practice however circumstances had changed and Mrs. Thatcher found herself obliged to accept the trend towards comprehensive education, a trend initiated and supported by the L.E.A.'s. It can be said therefore that the Conservatives from I963 to I969 had led the way in applying educational criteria to the comprehensive system and had endeavoured to find a new role for the grammar schools in order to try to counter-act the weaknesses that had been found in the comprehensive system - in particular the need to provide for very able pupils, and the problem of neighbourhood schools in deprived areas.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Education
Thesis Date:1975
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Mar 2014 16:21

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