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Education in London: History of Education in London 1870-1990

Guide to collections held by the Archives relating to education in London

School Board for London 1870-1903

The School Board for London (SLB or LSB) was the only school board created by the 1870 Elementary Education Act and it covered the area of jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Board of Works, now known as inner London. The Board’s main aim was to provide enough elementary school places for all poor children in London and became the largest provider of education in London. The Board built new schools and renovated others it had inherited. In 1871 a bye-law was passed which made school attendance mandatory for children aged 5-13, though it was largely unenforceable until attendance was made compulsory in 1880 and was not free until 1891. The SLB dictated the administrative structure of its schools and their basic curriculum. It also developed higher grade schools for its oldest and ablest elementary pupils offering a vocational element to the curriculum and were funded by the Science and Art Department as schools of science.

In 1889 the London County Council (LCC) replaced the Metropolitan Board of Works as the principal local government body in inner London. In 1893 the LCC established the Technical Education Board (TEB) to aid the provision of technical and secondary education in the city. The TEB introduced the junior county scholarships to make it possible for pupils from elementary schools to go to secondary schools and technical institutes and set up new technical institutions such as the London Day Training College (later the Institute of Education). In 1897 the TEB became responsible for the allocation of Science and Art Department grants and clashed with the SLB over their higher grade schools.

In 1901 it was ruled that it was illegal for the Board to fund the schools as they were outside their elementary remit which partially led to the abolition of the SLB.

London County Council 1904-1965

In 1904 the LCC took over responsibility for the provision of education from the SLB and TEB under the Education (London) Act 1903. The LCC brought all the elementary schools they were responsible for under one administrative structure and carried out a large renovation and building programme to improve the educational and social conditions of the schools. The LCC also introduced welfare reforms to improve the health of their pupils, including school medical treatment centres, free school meals for delicate children and open air schools. To combat the lack of secondary school places available they opened their own County Secondary Schools and retained the higher grade schools (now central schools) and other technical schools as an alternative form of post-elementary education. They also began to improve teaching standards by investing in new teacher training colleges, creating in-service training courses, developing an education library and eliminating the need for uncertified teachers.

Due to World War I and economical restrictions of the inter-war period, the LCC limited developments during this period and saved cost by limiting scholarships, cutting school hours and postponing school improvements. Despite this the LCC opened additional central schools and new day continuation schools for employed young people in reaction to the raising of the school leaving age to 14 by the 1918 Education Act. They also organised instructional and recreational centres for unemployed youths aged 16-18 as unemployment rates rose in the 1920s. In 1934 a by-law was passed to raise the school leaving age to 15, which was to be enforced nationally by the 1936 Education Act (which was never enacted due to World War II).

In the first months of World War II around 49% of London’s school population was evacuated. Although evacuated secondary schools were often attached to other schools, there was no such links for elementary pupils and many younger children returned to London and were taught in emergency elementary schools. At the end of the War, of London’s 1200 schools only 50 schools had received no damage and 290 were destroyed or severely damaged.

The 1944 Education Act changed the system of secondary education in England and Wales by bringing compulsory education for all up to the age of 14 (raising to 15 in 1947) and officially enforcing a division between elementary (now primary) and secondary education. The LCC drew up a plan on how they would implement the Act to again take up all the powers they had been given and began to experiment with comprehensive schools. The LCC also tried to continue to improve the educational and social welfare of their pupils by investing in school libraries, clubs and societies; providing financial aid and premises for youth organisations; providing musical instruments in schools; developing sport centres; and introducing the school meals service for all children.

In 1960 the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London (also known as the Herbert Commission), which reviewed the administration of the city and the surrounding area, called for the closure of the LCC and the creation of a new body, the Greater London Council (GLC), to be responsible for the administration of the whole of what is now Greater London. The London Government Act of 1963 replaced the LCC with the GLC in 1965 and the outer boroughs were given local education authority status. Education in the former LCC area was to be the responsibility of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).

Inner London Education Authority 1965-1990

The ILEA was a ‘special committee’ of the GLC and consisted of members of the GLC from the inner London area and members delegated from the inner London borough councils. Following the work of the LCC, ILEA introduced some experimental approaches to education including the development of its own educational television network. Teachers’ Centres were established which provided education for ILEA teachers and had teams responsible for different subjects. Advisory teachers were appointed to work with each subject inspector to help develop the different subject areas. The ILEA also adopted a culturally pluralist approach towards ethnic minorities in London schools, continued to promote comprehensive education and abolished corporal punishment in its schools.

The ILEA’s work was restricted by the political problems it faced due to its status. It was possible for the ILEA to have a majority of Labour members when the GLC had a conservative majority which caused conflicts between the two bodies. Conservative politicians often claimed the organisation was over-spending and over bureaucratic. After it was announced in 1983 that the GLC would be abolished, the ILEA’s future was uncertain but it was decided that the inner London boroughs could not manage their own education provision at that time and the ILEA would continue as a directly elected body. The Authority still faced opposition and during discussions about the Education Reform Act 1988 it was proposed to allow the London boroughs to opt out of the ILEA and form their own local education authorities which later was amended to abolish the ILEA altogether. The ILEA was abolished in 1990 and provision for education was given to the local boroughs.

Subject Guide

Local London Archives

The official place of deposit for records relating to the London School Board, London County Council and Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) is the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). LMA is the place of deposit for all records relating to the greater London area. You can find out how to access their collections on their website. They also have a guide to their education collections.

In addition to the London Metropolitan Archives there are also local library and archive services for each of the boroughs. They often hold records of schools in the area. If you are looking for records relating to education provision in London please contact the archives and we will help you locate any surviving records.