Education: Rise and fall of an idea that became too expensive

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The Independent Online
1950s: Pressure grows for an end to the 11-plus, which divided children between grammar and secondary modern schools. But even sympathetic local authorities balked at the enormous cost of providing large purpose- built comprehensives to replace the small existing secondary schools.

1957: Leicestershire found a way out of the dilemma by establishing comprehensive high schools for 11- to 14-year-olds, leading on to community colleges for those aged 14-18, mainly using existing buildings. The solution proved very popular with parents.

1964: With pressure for comprehensive education growing at the grass roots, Edward Boyle, the Conservative Education Secretary, introduced enabling legislation to allow local education authorities to establish schools that bridged the primary/secondary gap. Middle schools became a legal possibility.

1965: The new Labour government began to press local education authorities to reorganise along comprehensive lines.

1967: The Plowden report on primary education concluded that there was a distinct "middle phase" to children's learning between the ages of eight or nine and 12 or 13, and that 11 was not the most appropriate age for transfer to secondary school.

1970s: Many local authorities reorganised their schools into three tiers, first, middle and upper schools, justifying the move partly on Plowden's educational grounds and partly on an economic use of existing buildings. Three tiers were particularly attractive to rural authorities which still had "all-through" schools for five- to 14- year-olds.

1980s: By the end of the reorganisation process there were 1,500 middle schools in England and Wales.

1990s: In reorganisations which have followed the massive fall in pupil numbers, the number of middle schools has halved. They have been phased out by local education authorities from Leeds to Warwickshire.

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