A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 7, the City of Birmingham. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1964.
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INTRODUCTION (fn. 1)
The provision of facilities for elementary education in Birmingham ante-dated the unprecedented growth of local industry and population in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There was, however, little that was distinctive in local experience in the early 18th century, and during the late 18th century progress was slow. The educational problems of Birmingham were dealt with in the same way as those dozens of other places, bigger and smaller.
The Blue Coat School, opened in 1724 at the eastern end of St. Philip's churchyard, was a characteristic expression of early 18th-century charitable initiative. Its revenue was derived from voluntary subscriptions, augmented by two collections each year in the local churches; its curriculum was narrow, comprising reading, writing, arithmetic, and some manual training; and its discipline was strict. (fn. 2) One 17th-century endowment - George Fentham's legacy of £20 a year for teaching poor children (fn. 3) - was employed after 1741 to provide scholarships, boys holding them wearing dark green clothes instead of blue. The value of the endowment rose with the appreciation in local land values. Two 18th-century endowments of which that of William Piddock was successfully contested in 1782, (fn. 4) permitted an increase both in numbers and buildings. From 1728 to 1742 there were 64 children in the school; in 1783, 97; in 1830, 226, and in 1869, 246. The doors of the school were open, however, only to children whose parents were willing to have them given religious instruction according to the principles of the Church of England. In the middle of the 19th century this restriction of entry, copied in many other later Birmingham schools, was criticized by H.M. Commissioner for Schools, who also condemned the character of the school uniform as better suited to 1724 than to 1869. (fn. 5)
Until after 1870, however, Sunday schools of all denominations were responsible for a large share of elementary education in Birmingham. A report of 1840 on the state of education in the town made by the Birmingham Statistical Society for the Improvement of Education in Birmingham, noted that in 1838 the number of pupils enrolled on the registers of Sunday schools was greater than that on day-school registers, and claimed that 'as a moral means the value of Sunday schools cannot be too highly appreciated . . . They have the means of infusing the most powerful moral checks into the consciences of tens of thousands . . . Under existing circumstances they stand foremost among the means of acting beneficially upon the dense masses of the population'. (fn. 6) In 1868 the Birmingham Education Society found that only sixteen per cent. of a sample of adolescents had not attended Sunday school. (fn. 7)
By that time not only had the charitable impulse and the zeal for voluntary action led to the foundation of a large number of denominational schools, but the whole attitude towards education had changed. Care for scriptural education, expressed both in Sunday and day schools, had been augmented by social and economic aspirations. The small businessmen of Birmingham were anxious to develop local educational activities which would lay a foundation for the acquisition of labour skills, and the skilled artisans themselves set a high premium on education both for themselves and for their children. (fn. 8) When J. A. Fussell proposed at the opening of the People's Hall of Science (fn. 9) a toast to 'the friends of education in every class of society, and may their efforts be crowned with success', (fn. 10) both the language of the toast and the aspirations which lay behind it were far-removed from the atmosphere of 18th-century philanthropy. Schools for the poor in the 18th century, such as the Blue Coat and the 'English schools' sponsored by the governors of the Free Grammar School of Edward VI, (fn. 11) had been designed to preserve 'decorum', (fn. 12) to fit children for that station in life to which God had called them. The concept of 'decorum' also influenced the other day schools and Sunday schools. A Unitarian Sunday school required its teachers and pupils to subscribe to the following declaration: 'We engage to behave with civility and respect to each other; to consider each other as desirable companions. . . We will avoid all levity, or trifling unmanly behaviour; all finery and foppishness in our dress; all bad company and gaming'. (fn. 13) Similarly a Church of England Sunday school warned its teachers that 'no light behaviour, no needless conversation, no gathering together into groups' would be acceptable. (fn. 14)
In the 19th century, however, many of the sponsors of schools for the poor were interested in educational activities which would change the lot of the pupils who attended them. The dream of 'improvement' inspired not only adult educational endeavours, such as the Mechanics' Institute, the Polytechnic Institution, and the Midland Institute, (fn. 15) but much of the provision for school education. The leadership of Birmingham in many of the national educational movements of the 19th century derived from the challenge of educating 'all orders' (fn. 16) in a big industrial community, and from the initiative of pioneering local groups, including businessmen and artisans.
Emphasis was always placed on 'useful' knowledge. It was noted in 1838 that the working classes were willing to make some sacrifice to secure a liberal education for their children. (fn. 17) A witness before the Public Libraries Committee spoke of Birmingham workmen who themselves rose at five, working till eight for money to buy books, after which they went to their day's work. (fn. 18) About the same time employers stated that workmen frequently brought a certificate of regular attendance at a day or Sunday school. (fn. 19)
Local leadership was also, however, strongly influenced by religious considerations. In 1800, before the social and economic challenge was appreciated, there were twelve schools in Birmingham which provided elementary education, (fn. 20) and there were still far more schoolmasters engaged at that time in private educational ventures. Of the twelve only three catered for the children of Dissenters, who were a numerous group in the town, and one of the three, the Protestant Dissenting Charity School, established by Unitarians in 1760, became a school exclusively for girls in the early 19th century.
The other schools, including the oldest of them, the Yardley Free School, were closely associated with the Church of England.
The history of elementary education in the 19th century passed through three phases. The first was the period from about 1809 to 1839, when the educational ideas of Bell and Lancaster were influencing education in Birmingham. The (Royal) Lancasterian Free School, opened in 1809 was the only unsectarian school in Birmingham until 1821. Birmingham National School, was founded in 1812, and Erdington National School in the following year. James Guest who noted the similarities between the Lancasterian and Bell 'systems' remarked 'The Lancastrian School is supported mainly by Dissenters, and the National system was introduced to prevent the rapid progress the Dissenters were making'. (fn. 21)
The second period was from 1839 to 1871 when there was a growing local recognition of the need for improved educational facilities, a limited assistance from the state which did not interfere with voluntary provision, and a remarkable increase in the number of schools. In the third period, from 1871 to 1903, the Birmingham School Board, established under the Act of 1870, provided a model for school boards in other parts of the country.
The numbers of new schools opened provide some measure of the scope and intensity of local interest in education, at least in the periods before 1871 when 'voluntarism' determined the extent of provision. Forty-four new schools were opened between 1800 and 1840, many of them founded as a result of public meetings and deriving their funds from subscription rather than from endowment. Some, like St. Chad's Roman Catholic School, began as Sunday schools, many of the pupils being nominated by subscribers. Almost all charged small fees for all but a few free pupils. The first grant from the National Society was made in 1828 or 1829 to St. James's Ashted Church School, and it is indicative of the main features of the Birmingham movement for a better education that when the school expanded in 1869 a new infants' department was opened in what had previously been a working men's reading room. During the period from 1800 to 1840 there were some signs of a widening of the curriculum. One boys' school in 1839, the Ebenezer British School, taught music, grammar, history, architecture, and mechanics. Girls' schools paid attention to sewing and knitting as well as writing, and the Protestant Dissenting Charity School for Girls was especially concerned with training girls for domestic service.
Between 1840 and 1870 108 new schools came into existence, many of them opened as a result of an initial state grant, (fn. 22) sometimes in conjunction with a grant from the National Society. Old schools were often assisted with building grants from both sources, as was Harborne Endowed School in 1837. Despite this, premises were often overcrowded and working conditions poor. In 1841 it was said that 'the sun never shines on the lower room of the Bordesley and Deritend Schools'. (fn. 23) Many schools suffered from makeshift arrangements. St. Michael's National School, opened in 1862 in a borrowed room in the former Soho factory, was not the only school to be accommodated in an old factory. (fn. 24) Others were housed in converted chapels.
From the late 1850s the state began to make annual grants to schools which had been approved by H.M. Inspectors, and there was a high mortality rate among schools which failed to receive this financial transfusion. School fees ranged between 1d. and 9d. a week, and St. Paul's School introduced in 1852 a system of payments varying with the social standing of the parents. (fn. 25) The Hebrew National School remitted fees in 1852 and seems to have been the first to do so. In 1867 the newly-founded Birmingham Education Society began to pay all or part of the fees for children whose parents could not afford them, (fn. 26) and between July 1867 and March 1868 it subsidized 6,313 children. (fn. 27) It proved impossible to raise adequate funds to continue this policy after 1868, and in any case the surface of the problem was merely scratched. The demand for rate-aided education gained in intensity, even opponents of 'free and rate-supported schools' asking for 'a system of free school tickets to be issued by the town council or some other competent authority'. (fn. 28)
The deficiencies of educational provision in Birmingham were clearly demonstrated in two local surveys published in 1840 and 1870. The Birmingham Statistical Society for the Improvement of Education made a valuable investigation of local conditions in 1838, (fn. 29) and the Birmingham Education Society made a parallel survey in 1868. (fn. 30) Both surveys had a propagandist aim, being designed to urge the case for greater initiative, but their assessment of shortcomings was well-documented and realistic.
The Statistical Society claimed that out of 45,000 children in Birmingham aged from 5 to 15, less than half had attended a school of any kind. Of those who had, a large number had gone to private schools, some of which were very short-lived and inefficient commercial ventures. The society praised the work of ten infant schools and of the Sunday schools. It also spoke well of evening schools which drew more than half their 560 pupils from the 5 to 15 age group, and were therefore of particular importance in providing elementary education then and later. Many of the day schools had evening schools attached. (fn. 31)
The report of 1868, concerned with children aged from 3 to 15, showed that since 1838 there had been a substantial increase in the proportion of local children attending school. The number of children receiving no kind of schooling had fallen from over 23,000 in 1838 to about 13,000 in 1868. The average length of attendance, however, remained very short, being one year nine months for boys and two years three months for girls. Moreover only slightly more than one-third of the pupils in the existing schools were over nine years of age. The education provided was often quite inadequate to meet either industrial or civic responsibilities. Of 908 young factory workers between the ages of 13 and 21, only 41 were able to pass a simple test in reading, writing, and arithmetic given them by a member of the staff of Saltley Training College. (fn. 32) School attendance records were most unsatisfactory, the demands of the local labour market for young workers upsetting continuity and length of schooling. The report, therefore, demanded that 'the educational or half-time clauses of the factory Acts should be extended to the workshops', on the grounds that no children between the ages of 5 and 15 should be wholly absent from school. After the setting up of the school board seasonal fluctuations in attendance continued to be attributed to local economic factors and the question of whether compulsion was necessary to make education effective was considered at the series of conferences, beginning in February 1867, which preceded the establishment of the Education Society. A resolution advocating compulsion was defeated. (fn. 33)
The Birmingham Education Society was eventually founded in March 1867, the original idea being copied from the Manchester Education Aid Society established in 1864. (fn. 34) The first president was the wealthy merchant, George Dixon, who resigned the mayoralty of Birmingham in 1867 to represent the town in Parliament where he hoped to help establish a general educational system. (fn. 35) The officers and committee of the Birmingham Education Society, who included only five members of the town council, were recruited from people already keenly interested in education. They represented various interests and strongly differing points of view, many of them a few years later being bitterly opposed to each other. There were eleven clergymen including Canon O'Sullivan, the Roman Catholic priest, George Dawson, the nonconformist preacher, and such influential clergymen of the Church of England as the Hon. and Revd. Grantham Yorke, Rector of St. Philip's, a pioneer of church education in Birmingham, Charles Evans, headmaster of King Edward VI's School, and Dr. Wilkinson. O'Sullivan was anxious to safeguard the educational interests of the Roman Catholic minority in Birmingham, but Dawson was a vigorous advocate of the extension of the municipal government to cover education and social policy. Some other nonconformist ministers, notably the Baptists and the Congregationalists, such as the Revd. J. A. James of Carrs Lane Congregational chapel earlier in the century, advocated 'voluntarism'. (fn. 36) It was not until 1867 that the Congregational Union accepted the principle of grants from the government to aid denominational schools and the Baptists followed suit. (fn. 37) Dr. Dale, James's successor, whose influence in Birmingham was even greater, did not join the National Education League until 1869. (fn. 38) Dawson, however, had never believed in the case for 'voluntarism' and many influential local laymen followed his lead. One of these was William Harris, the main re-organizer of the Liberal Association in 1865, and secretary in 1850 of the short-lived Birmingham branch of the National Public Schools Association, which advocated a general rate-maintained educational system under local authorities. (fn. 39) These men now pressed for the town council to acquire a controlling voice on the board of governors of the King Edward schools, and to use some of its funds for the purposes of elementary education.
Unitarians, like Joseph Chamberlain and Jesse Collings, shared this point of view. Both made their way into national politics on the educational question. Collings, who had taught earlier in his life in a ragged school in Exeter, believed that 'if we could have an Education Society on the right lines, the very stones in the street would rise and join us'. He was the author of a pamphlet, On the State of Education in Birmingham (1868). Chamberlain had helped to found a Working Men's Institute at the Smethwick branch of his firm and was renowned for his 'blazing interest in education'. A document in his own handwriting drafted in 1867, entitled 'National Society for the Promotion of Universal Compulsory Education', is called by his biographer 'the foundation-stone of his political career'. (fn. 40)
The Church of England clergymen associated with the Education Society had a different outlook. They had been prominent earlier in the century as then, not only in the work of some of the endowed and National schools but in pioneer enterprises like the founding of such philanthropic 'industrial schools' as that in Gem Street. The Hon. and Revd. Grantham Yorke was a pioneer of industrial schools in general and had helped to found the first ragged school in Lichfield Street in 1846. (fn. 41) This was an undenominational school, and its first committee included some nonconformists, for although a Conservative, Yorke was not a bitter opponent of the nonconformists. In 1868 he supported Dixon in the view that the Blue Coat School should be open to children of nonconformists as well as of members of the Church of England. (fn. 42) The Church's influence was, however, regarded as 'exclusive' by Birmingham nonconformists, who were rich and proud enough to resent nuances of status, and the position of King Edward VI's School was always challenged. Moreover the Church of England group as a whole believed that 'the existing denominational system, with some modifications and expansion, may be made more efficient for the education of the people than any system which would tend to check the voluntary efforts of religious bodies'. (fn. 43) They were nevertheless insistent upon the need for expansion. The Revd. Charles Evans in December 1867 emphasized the case, on religious and moral as well as social grounds, for improved education and more schools stressing that not less than 20,000 children were 'growing up in the midst of us in ignorance and evil habits'. (fn. 44)
Financial and doctrinal considerations soon placed the supporters of modified voluntarism in a difficult position, and the radical majority in the Education Society decided to launch a national effort to secure a 'common school system'. In February 1869 the National Education League was founded. Its first meeting was held in Birmingham with Dixon its chairman, Collings its secretary, and Chamberlain its driving force. It was the first of a series of national movements which bore the unmistakeable stamp, 'Made in Birmingham'. (fn. 45) Its importance was local as well as national, however, for it was one of the first expressions of the aggressive liberal radicalism which transformed municipal government in Birmingham during the following few years. Although Dixon was a member of the Church of England, the league was dependent on nonconformist support, and one of its most important allies was the Central Nonconformist Committee formed in Birmingham in March 1870, with the Revd. R. W. Dale and Revd. H. W. Crosskey as honorary secretaries, F. Schnadhorst as working secretary, and W. Middlemore as chairman. (fn. 46) Middlemore had been a member of the Birmingham branch of the National Public School Association in 1850. Crosskey, minister of the Unitarian Church of the Messiah, while a staunch advocate of greater educational opportunity, believed in municipal control, seeing the case for publicly provided education in these terms: 'if the state provided for secular education, the energies of a Christian Church could be more devoted to its noble work . . . the enlargement of its spiritual and moral influence'. (fn. 47) In 1871 the subscribers of the day school of the Church of the Messiah had resolved to offer it to the school board, and if their offer were refused, to close it, (fn. 48) and the school was duly closed soon afterwards. In the same year a meeting of the managers of Birmingham nonconformist day schools, convened by the Central Nonconformist Committee, resolved that 'the passing of the Elementary Education Act, and the formation in Birmingham of a school board, relieved the religious congregations of the town from the responsibility which has hitherto rested upon them with regard to the elementary education of the people'. (fn. 49) Carrs Lane School was closed soon afterwards.
Most of the Church of England clergy in Birmingham took a diametrically opposed point of view, and joined the rival National Educational Union, founded at Manchester in August 1869. (fn. 50) There was keener educational debate in Birmingham in 1869 and 1870 than there had been at any time in its history, the strength of the National Education League being shown by the fact that by the end of 1869 it had eleven of its most active members on the town council.
The league was still growing in importance when Forster's Education Bill made education the most controversial national subject of the day. Forster was opposed to the creation of logical machinery according to the pattern suggested by the league, and advocated the foundation of board schools, run by locally elected school boards, to fill in the gaps in the existing system. The league regarded Forster's bill as feeble, hesitatory and tentative, but before it became law the Birmingham Town Council, at the instigation of Dixon, applied for a school board in Birmingham. (fn. 51) The example was immediately copied by Leeds and Sheffield.
There was great political excitement in Birmingham at the first Birmingham School Board elections of 1870 and 1873. At the first election the Church party stole a march on the Liberals and profited from the cumulative voting arrangements. By putting up fewer candidates than the Liberals, they won eight seats out of fifteen. The sole Roman Catholic candidate, Canon O'Sullivan, also benefited from the cumulative vote and was returned head of the poll. Of the four members of the town council who contested the election, only Chamberlain was returned. The first chairman of the Birmingham Board was W. L. Sargent, a prominent local Conservative who in 1872 attacked in print the minority in the board. 'Garrulity', he wrote, 'is their element'. (fn. 52) The following year saw the tables turned, when the 'Liberal eight' secured control of educational policy and Chamberlain became chairman of the board. In the meantime there had been a clash between the town council and the board and a new Liberal campaign to control the board of governors of the King Edward schools. (fn. 53)
By 1879 the period of controversy had come to an end, and the Birmingham School Board had established itself under the chairmanship of George Dixon, who assumed office in 1876 and retained it for twenty years. 'He followed his ideals in determined fashion, never discouraged by momentary failure, never unduly elated by temporary success.' (fn. 54) When in 1898, the year of his death, he was made an honorary freeman of Birmingham, special reference was made to 'his untiring energy and devotion in the interests of elementary education'. (fn. 55) The Revd. E. F. M. McCarthy, for many years vice-chairman of the board, joined it in 1875 and remained a member until its dissolution in 1903. He gave unstinted service. The first woman member, Eliza M. Sturge, was elected in 1873, and from that time onwards there was never a time when the board was without a woman member. G. B. Davis, who was appointed clerk to the first board and retained his office until 1896, provided invaluable administrative continuity.
From 1876 the board divided its work between committees, an important distinction being made in 1879 when the Education and School Management Committee was divided into two, one being concerned with school management strictly defined, the other with 'general questions and theories of education'. (fn. 56) At the same time, there was a steady increase in the number of paid officials. The first visiting officers were appointed in 1872, and by 1876 there were seventeen of them under the orders of a superintendent. During the late 1870s and 1880s inspectors and superintendents of studies in certain subjects of instruction were appointed. Care was always taken to discover what educational experiments were being carried out in other places. In 1879, for instance, the clerk prepared a report on schools in Germany and Switzerland. (fn. 57) More modestly, in the same year, the headmaster of an infant school was sent to Leeds to study experimental music teaching.
The formation of the Birmingham Board and of other school boards for Aston, Handsworth, Smethwick, and King's Norton ushered in a period of great educational expansion. More schools were opened between 1871 and 1891 than had been opened during the previous thirty years, and the decade immediately following 1871 saw the greatest rate of expansion, 61 new schools being opened. When the first Birmingham School Board began its work, it was calculated that accommodation was required in elementary schools for 59,710 children, and that the existing denominational and private schools catered for only 37,442. (fn. 58) A census of children, taken by visiting officers in 1874, confirmed this figure. It directed attention also to local variations in educational provision, particularly between middle-class and working-class districts of Birmingham. In Edgbaston no less than 59 per cent. of children obtained their education outside the denominational and public elementary school system: in the district of St. Mary's only two per cent. of the children were provided for in this way. (fn. 59)
The first board school built to meet local needs was opened without ceremony at Bloomsbury in March 1873 to accommodate 1,059 children. (fn. 60) By the end of 1876 fifteen large new board schools had been opened by the Birmingham School Board, providing accommodation for 15,370 children: 'the fittings', it was claimed, 'are of the most durable description, and are constructed according to the most modern models'. (fn. 61) By 1880 the number of new schools had risen to 28, and the number of places to 28,787. (fn. 62) Forty-nine new schools, excluding temporary ones, had been opened by the end of the century. (fn. 63) Some of the schools had to be accommodated temporarily in old, sometimes rented, premises. (fn. 64)
The income derived from a penny rate rose from £4,540 in 1870 to £10,004 in 1901, during a period of, on the whole, falling prices. This fact combined with the low rate of interest (fn. 65) and the promptings of civic gospel encouraged the board greatly to improve mid-century facilities. The new schools soon tended to follow a uniform design, comprising a central hall with adjacent classrooms. (fn. 66) The first to be built on this pattern was the Hope Street School (1880). (fn. 67) Tarred playgrounds were also a feature of the schools, and in this Birmingham schools often allowed more square feet per child than the required national standards.
Before the passing of Sandon's Education Act (1876) and a further Act of 1890 making it obligatory instead of optional for school boards to compel attendance, Birmingham had taken local measures to enforce attendance. In July 1871 by-laws were drawn up compelling attendance at school, the period of compulsion being fixed at the maximum allowed by the 1870 Act. The visiting officers were called upon to investigate irregularity of attendance, and many prosecutions were brought against parents for not sending their children to school. Fines were kept small, however, and emphasis was placed on persuasion rather than on severe penalties. (fn. 68) In 1871 average attendance of children in Birmingham schools was as low as 28 per cent. By 1878 the figure had risen to 67, and by 1899 to 85.9. Comparative figures for Leeds were 33 in 1871 and 70 in 1878, and for Newcastle, 21 and 53 respectively. (fn. 69) The fact that 'many of the working classes are continually moving from one house to another, besides which many persons move into the town and others move out of it', (fn. 70) created special difficulties in Birmingham in regard both to checking and enforcement. All were, however, overcome and the number of half-timers also fell sharply (fn. 71) from a peak of 3,874 in 1876 to 1,409 in 1880 and 100 in 1888. (fn. 72)
Birmingham was also ahead of national legislation in the attitude of the Birmingham School Board towards fees. In the first board schools the fees charged were 3d. a week for children over 7 years of age, and 2d. a week for infants below the age of seven. The government protested when the board tried to lower these fees, and there were complaints that the proposal was an attempt to discriminate against the denominational schools, most of which still charged fees. (fn. 73) In 1876, however, the board was able to establish 1d. a week fees throughout the city, (fn. 74) and in 1891 fees were abolished in all board schools. (fn. 75)
The curriculum of the schools being based on the government's code, was dominated by reading, writing, and arithmetic. That there was need for basic training in literacy was soon made abundantly clear. It was noted in the mid-1870s that 'it had been found by actual examination that from 70 to 80 per cent. of those admitted at the various schools have been so completely ignorant as to be quite unable to pass the test applied to children in the lowest standard'. (fn. 76) Nonetheless, there was some room for experiment both in basic subjects and in additional items in the curriculum. In 1878 a special report was issued on the teaching of arithmetic, and twelve lectures on the subject were given by A. Sonnenschein to Birmingham teachers. The board condemned 'dry uninteresting teaching' of arithmetic, and, more generally, 'doing everything by rote'. (fn. 77) Lessons of a kindergarten type were started for young children in 1877, the first experiments being carried out in Allcock Street Board School and Smith Street Board School. In 1876 classes in science were envisaged, where the children were sufficiently advanced, to serve as an introduction to the science examinations conducted by the Science and Art Department, (fn. 78) and in 1880 schools were encouraged to start such classes. The first cookery centres for girls were opened in 1888 at Upper Highgate Street Board School and Summer Lane Board School, and three woodwork centres for boys were started in 1892.
Above all, an attempt was made to sort out different grades of children. Classes for mentally defective children were separated from the rest, the first special class for them being at Soho Road Board School in 1894. Arrangements were made for the maintenance and education of blind children in boarding institutions. (fn. 79) Following the Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act of 1899, a school for crippled children and two for deaf children were opened in 1902. (fn. 80)
Clever children were allowed to continue their education after the elementary stage, the beginning of public secondary education being discernible in 1879 when senior divisions were first organized. (fn. 81) Then it was pointed out that 'it is reasonable to suppose that some instances must occur in which bright and intelligent scholars . . . are too poor to be able to continue at school longer than the by-laws require, and are totally unable to follow up the instruction required in an elementary school by anything of a more advanced character'. Dixon suggested that a special fund should be established, to be called the Birmingham School Board Higher Education Fund, and although the board itself lacked adequate powers, a private fund was started. By 1892, it was exhausted, (fn. 82) but in that year the Waverley Road Higher Grade School was opened and six years later the Oozells Street Board School was converted into the George Dixon Higher Grade School.
The Cockerton judgement of 1899 threatened the development of secondary education in Birmingham as elsewhere, and the Birmingham School Board was amongst others which protested against the decision. A petition from the board stressed that the higher grade schools were a natural development of the elementary schools system, and their establishment had been encouraged by government departments. (fn. 83) The 'Cockerton' Acts (fn. 84) which led up to the Act of 1902 came into operation before the judgement of 1899 had had any adverse effect on the existing higher grade and seventh standard schools in Birmingham and its environs; on the contrary the Aston Higher Elementary Board Schools, originally planned as part of the Albert Road Higher Grade Board School, were opened by the Aston School Board in 1900. In the Birmingham area the Act of 1902 in fact merely regulated an established system. The only fresh development in secondary education which took place in the opening years of the 20th century was the reorganization in 1906 of the George Dixon Higher Grade School as separate primary and secondary schools. (fn. 85)
The Birmingham Board also passed a resolution asking for a charter to be granted to the new Birmingham University. (fn. 86) The board provided scholarships and anticipated the theory of the 'educational ladder' drawing attention in one of its reports to 'the opportunities provided for boys of exceptional ability to advance, without pecuniary let or hindrance, to higher stages of learning'. It described the career of one boy, a pupil at Bristol Street Board School, who 'after passing through King Edward's Grammar School, Five Ways, and the Mason College, by the aid of exhibitions and scholarships gained in open competition, is now a scholar of his college at Cambridge, and will take a high degree in mathematics next year'. (fn. 87)
The demands of elementary education in technical subjects were also recognized, although there were insufficient resources to develop it quickly. In 1884 the board rented from George Dixon at a nominal figure a building in Bridge Street to serve as a central seventh standard school, accommodating 400 boys. (fn. 88) Manual instruction formed a large part of the syllabus, which also included solid geometry, chemistry, and freehand drawing. 'I would invite the manufacturers of the town and neighbourhood', Dixon said, 'to inspect this school, and having done so to consider whether it will not be to their interest to reserve their best places for those who have passed successfully through it. All are now agreed that if this country is to retain its commercial supremacy it is essential that our artisans should have that training and education which will best fit them for the workshop. We are seeking to carry out this idea in the Bridge Street School.' (fn. 89) The Bridge Street School was closed in 1898 when the George Dixon Higher Grade School was established.
The development of an improved system of elementary day-school education did not bring to a close the work of the evening classes. These were first sponsored in 1874 by the board which continued to support them both as a necessary means of continuing elementary education, and of attaining higher levels. (fn. 90) Although attendance figures fluctuated, they prospered as did the adult schools, originally created under Quaker influence. (fn. 91)
The new board schools did not, of course, destroy denominational school education in the town. The nonconformist schools disappeared, (fn. 92) sixteen being closed in the five years following 1871, but between 1869 and 1903 fourteen new Church of England schools were founded, and six Roman Catholic schools. Their premises were less well-planned and suitable for teaching, however, than the new board schools which set the pattern. By 1900 indeed the board schools were often social as well as educational centres. From 1875 the experiment of starting Penny Savings Banks for children in the schools was tried. The first was at Elkington Street Board School, and by 1879 there were 43 such banks in existence. (fn. 93) Two years later it was reckoned that there were 22 school cricket clubs and eighteen football clubs. (fn. 94) In the years 1878 to 1879 the schools were used in the evening for eight religious and 84 political meetings: in 1887 the respective figures were 20 and 238. (fn. 95) The school board itself sometimes strayed from educational questions, narrowly defined, to broader aspects of policy: thus, in 1901 it carried a resolution deeply deploring the conditions of the poor, 'who live in the slums of Birmingham' and 'expressing its conviction that such conditions greatly retarded the development of education in the city'. (fn. 96) From 1886 onwards a charitable organization, the Birmingham Schools Dinner Society, had provided free or cheap meals for necessitous children, (fn. 97) and the borderland between social and educational problems was often traversed. Experiments were made, for example, with special schools such as Gem Street Board School to provide for the needs of children 'too poor and dirty' to attend ordinary board schools. In 1881 a scheme was started at Dartmouth Street Board School whereby mothers might leave their children at the school at 7 a.m. on their way to work and call for them in the evening. They were cared for out of school hours by the caretaker's wife. These social experiments were accompanied by an unremitting pressure to improve the standards of teaching. A scheme was introduced for pupil teachers whereby they attended half-time at special classes to improve their own education, (fn. 98) and the number of certificated teachers employed by the board increased greatly between 1870 and 1903. (fn. 99)
So successful was the Birmingham School Board in its work that there was considerable local disapproval of the abolition of school boards as a consequence of the passing of the Education Act of 1902. Experienced educational administrators joined with disgruntled nonconformists in challenging the government. (fn. 100) The new Birmingham City Education Committee, however, was presided over by George Kenrick, who had been a member of the school board for 22 years, and there was thus a reasonable degree of continuity. John A. Palmer, who had been clerk to the board, became secretary of the new committee. The biggest difference between the old body and the new was the enforced retirement of the five clergymen who had played such a big part in the life of the old board. The core of the new committee was entirely lay, although in addition to the eighteen members of the city council who sat on it seven persons were co-opted and seven were nominated by the following bodies:- the University of Birmingham, the Governors of King Edward VI's School, the Birmingham and Midland Institute, the Church Schools Association, the Birmingham Diocesan Catholic School Association, and, later, the Birmingham Trades Council, and the Birmingham and District Association of the National Union of Teachers. The new committee, which had six sub-committees, (fn. 101) had complete control of all types of public education below the university level, and Kenrick, who remained chairman of the committee until 1921, 'helped to place firmly in the minds of the people of Birmingham the conviction that Birmingham must, at least, be in the first flight and that the members of this committee should be satisfied with nothing else'. (fn. 102)
The school board had laid it down as a working rule that the growth of population would require one school, or about 1,000 places, to be added every year. During the decade 1901 to 1911, however, only nine elementary schools were opened, five of them after the administrative changes of 1903. This deliberate slackening of the rate of growth was on the grounds of 'economy', and in consequence several temporary schools had to be opened in makeshift premises. (fn. 103) The voluntary schools were fitted into the municipal system after 1903. They continued to have their own managers appointed under their trust deeds, but the education committee was always represented on the management boards. A working agreement between the city and the managers of the voluntary schools supplemented the provisions of the 1902 Act. It was agreed that the education committee should pay the whole cost of fuel and water, should clean and repaint the interior of the schools every three years, repair the school furniture, pay the wages of caretakers and cleaners, and contribute towards the cost of cleaning materials. Since these payments were in excess of statutory requirements, the managers agreed to pay for the whole cost of gas consumed and to make good damage to furniture outside school hours. (fn. 104) One of the first acts of the new committee was to abolish all fees in the voluntary schools with the exception of Edgbaston Church of England School and the Oratory Roman Catholic School. (fn. 105) This was a sign of a new dispensation. By 1911 the number of children in voluntary schools had fallen to 28,986, at a time when 68,205 children were receiving public elementary-school education in the directly managed schools. (fn. 106)
Despite the local pressure for 'economy', the developments of the last two decades of the 19th century were continued into the 20th. There were 22 cookery centres by 1911, more science classes taken by a peripatetic staff, (fn. 107) more schools for physically and mentally defective children, and a further extension of welfare facilities. Here new legislation acted as a spur. After the passing of the Education (Provision of Meals) Act of 1906, the education committee took over the work previously carried out by the Birmingham Schools Dinner Society. Breakfast was the meal actually supplied, the sum spent continuing to reflect the local state of trade and employment. The cost of meals which never exceeded £3,052 before 1914, rose to £8,025 in 1914, as a result of the departure of breadwinners to the war and delay in the receipt of government pay. Dinners and evening meals were also provided at this time. In 1908 the committee was obliged by the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act of the previous year to introduce a system of medical inspection. After the enlargement of the city in 1911 a hygienic sub-committee was set up and one of its first appointments was that of an ophthalmic surgeon in 1912 witha staff of assistants. In 1913 a scheme for dental care was introduced and the medical aspect of child care was further recognized in 1913 when a school clinic was opened. (fn. 108)
In 1911 as a result of the extension of the city boundaries (fn. 109) the education committee was enlarged from 33 to 52. At the same time the schools were redistributed in six centres each controlled by a committee of nine managers. Forty-three provided and 23 voluntary elementary schools, accommodating 52,708 pupils, were added to the committee's responsibilities. (fn. 110) Three new council schools were opened in 1913 and 1914, and a fourth was in the course of construction when war broke out. Some secondary schools were also drawn into the Birmingham educational organization in 1911 such as Handsworth Grammar School, Yardley Council Secondary School and the higher elementary and higher grade schools started by the Aston School Board. King's Norton Council Secondary Schools were opened by the Birmingham authorities in the same year. (fn. 111)
During the years between 1918 and 1939 there was a renewed educational drive which made up for some, although not all, earlier deficiencies. An important report of the education committee in 1920 drew attention to the effects of war-time handicaps and dislocation, laid stress on the need for a revised curriculum, and expressed educational purposes in terms of conceptions of improved citizenship. (fn. 112) Dr. D. P. Innes became chief education officer in 1919, and after the retirement of Sir George Kenrick in 1921 and a brief interlude from 1921 to 1922, when A. Blackman was chairman of the committee, W. Byng Kenrick took over the position, retaining it with short breaks until 1943. Continuity of policy was thus maintained in the years between the two World Wars as much as in the period before 1914.
The educational developments which followed are best considered against the background of national educational policy, although the great growth of Birmingham laid special burdens on the education committee. Forty new elementary schools were built between 1923 and 1935, many of them in the new suburban areas, (fn. 113) for it was the policy of the Councils Estates Committee to give preference in new housing estates to young couples with children. (fn. 114) Some of the schools in such areas deviated markedly in architectural style and interior lay-out both from the early National schools and the late 19th-century board schools. 'Light construction' and 'semi-permanent' features were sanctioned by the Board of Education in several of the new schools, some of which were frankly experimental in design. The Billesley Council School, opened in 1925 had open-air classrooms fitted with screens and heating, supplied from pipes under the floor, and was the model for twelve other schools. Ten of the schools built during this period were designed to accommodate more than 1,000 children, and five of them cost more than £50,000. The financial stringencies of the early 1930s held back complete improvement of school buildings, however, and five schools, all voluntary ones, were on the 'black list' in 1938. Between 1935 and 1939 thirty new elementary schools were opened and 34 closed. There was a further improvement in design and lay-out following a Board of Education pamphlet on building standards in 1936. Teaching spaces were increased in size, rooms were included for craft work, larger assembly halls were built, gymnasia were added to the facilities of the 'senior' schools, and large reception rooms were provided in 'infant' schools. An attempt was made to transfer teaching in subjects like woodwork and domestic science from the old city centres to the schools themselves. Thus the number of handicraft centres fell from eleven in 1936 to six in 1939. (fn. 115)
Just as important as the programme of building and adaptation was the internal re-arrangement of the educational system itself. There was a systematic separation of age groups, which had already led by 1924 to a development of 'senior' elementary education. (fn. 116) Before the Hadow Report was published in 1926, Birmingham had already made provision in two new housing areas for a break in the school system, as the report recommended. Of three schools built one was for infants and juniors of 5 to 11 years, and the other two were for senior boys and girls respectively. 'Nowhere did the Hadow Report find a greater welcome or more ready response than in Birmingham.' (fn. 117) All new schools on the new housing estates were planned in terms of 'infant', 'junior' and 'senior' education, and one by one the older 'council schools' were re-organized along these lines. The re-organization had gone far by 1934, (fn. 118) but the need for increased accommodation led to the persistence of temporary arrangements. (fn. 119) Within most of the 'senior' schools 'three-stream' education was developed with emphasis on a wider curriculum, on practical work fully integrated with other kinds of work, and on outside activities. (fn. 120) Additional playing fields were acquired and by 1939 the committee managed 48 playing fields, the policy being to provide each field with a groundsman and a pavilion. (fn. 121) The first nursery school was opened for forty children at the Birmingham Settlement, Summer Lane, in 1919. There were only two in 1936, but by the outbreak of war in 1939 the way was prepared for considerable expansion, and the task of developing nursery education had been transferred from a hygiene sub-committee of the education committee to the elementary education sub-committee. (fn. 122) Special schools also were extended, and a pattern of open-air schools for the city was created. (fn. 123) The school medical service was further developed, (fn. 124) but it needed the social changes of the Second World War to modify the school meals service so that it ceased to be a form of charity and became instead an instrument of social equality. (fn. 125)
Not the least of the ancillary services Birmingham provided was the scheme for offering guidance upon questions of employment to children about to leave school. After-care work had first been made possible by the Education (Choice of Employment) Act of 1910, and in July 1911 Birmingham was the first local authority in the country to set up a central care committee. By 1914 there were 93 school care committees in existence. (fn. 126) Ten years later in 1924 the education committee, on the authority of the city council, took over dual responsibility for both employment and unemployment insurance, in so far as the latter affected juveniles, (fn. 127) and not only did the after-care committees continue their work but the education committee sponsored research on juvenile employment with the co-operation of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology. (fn. 128) In 1948 the service changed its name to the Youth Employment Service. (fn. 129)
The Education Act of 1944, which became operative in April 1945, laid down that all children were to pass from the primary to the secondary stage of education at the age of 11-12 years. Thenceforward the chief aim of the education committee was to develop the system of post-primary education in Birmingham as laid down in the Act so as to provide education of 'secondary' standard for all children of the appropriate age-group in three types of school - secondary grammar, secondary modern, and secondary technical - according to their individual abilities. The general lack of secondary school accommodation in Birmingham at the end of the First World War, (fn. 130) which had shown itself in the number of prospective pupils whose applications for admission had to be rejected and in the falling-off in school attendance after the age of 14, (fn. 131) had been partly offset by the opening of several grammar schools in the 1920s - at Erdington (girls), King's Norton (girls), Moseley (boys), and Saltley (mixed). (fn. 132) In 1945 the total number of children already catered for in grammar schools was deemed to be reasonably adequate but the ratio in them of three girls to four boys was to be adjusted by the provision of more places for girls. The new secondary technical schools were intended to give instruction in the practical subjects on the lines of the curricula in existing junior art, commercial, and technical schools. In districts where there had been little development in secondary education new 'comprehensive' schools were planned to combine 'grammar', 'modern', and 'technical' courses in one institution.
This development plan envisaged the provision of 76 secondary schools. In spite of the usual post-war problems such as the shortage of teachers, the obstacles in the way of an extensive building programme and the rapid increase in the numbers of children of secondary-school age in Birmingham, (fn. 133) 50 per cent. of these new schools had been opened by September 1958. (fn. 134)
Two aspects of the local implementation of the 1944 Act round off the story. First the surviving voluntary schools were offered greatly extended help from public funds - this did not kindle a controversy in Birmingham as it would have done in 1870 or 1902 - and the Roman Catholic schools, in particular, figured prominently in the post-war development plan. (fn. 135) Secondly, the education committee remained unchanged with an unaltered constitution. Sir Wilfred Martineau, who came from one of the families in Birmingham traditionally most interested in education, became chairman of the committee in 1943, a position he held until 1950, and Dr. Innes (knighted 1944), remained chief education officer until his retirement in 1946. Continuity was thus maintained in the middle of the 20th century as it had been in the late 19th.