Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Professor H.W. McCready




This study examines the role of the state in the field of English education over the first two decades of the twentieth century, and, in particular, its development under the impact of the First World War. It is therefore part of the much wider historiographical concern with how far war contributed to advances in social policy and, more generally, to social change in an egalitarian direction. After outlining the role of the state in English education during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the thesis demonstrates that prior to 1914, despite advances in certain areas, there was an increasing awareness of deficiencies and weaknesses in the English educational system. Demand for reform and change arose from certain sections of all political parties, but initiative rested mainly in the hands of the bureaucracy at the Board of Education. On the eve of war, the Asquith Liberal Government had announced plans for the development of English education. These plans included an education bill, drawn up by the Board, the terms of which sought to develop and expand but not to alter the existing structure of English education. Yet, political commitment to such a programme was not strong and agreement was further hindered by sectional interests and the religious conflict in education. The impact of the War acted in a number of related ways. First, it demonstrated the national importance of education, and particularly the claims of scientific and technical instruction. Secondly, the War had an overall destructive effect upon the educational system thereby highlighting pre-war deficiencies and weaknesses. Thirdly, the War created a new concern and demand for 'reconstruction' throughout the whole social and economic fabric. As an important area of social policy, education was therefore accorded a high place in national priorities. Finally, through the formation of the Lloyd George Government in December 1916, the events of war provided the political commitment to change. Despite these new forces and influences, the educational programme initiated during the War demonstrated a significantly high degree of continuity with pre-war policy and plans. This was due in part to the fact that H.A.L.Fisher, the wartime appointed political head of education, was a conservative reformer. However, of some significance was the continuing and important influence of the bureaucrats at the Board of Education. It was their views which counted most in the formulation of educational policy during the War and immediate post-war period. War thus acted as the catalyst rather than the formulator of change. The 1918 Education Act, the most important piece of wartime educational legislation was essentially an expansion of the pre-war education bill. The actual enactment of this measure also demonstrated the continuing significance of sectional interests, despite the sense of national unity engendered by war. The immediate period of post-war re-adjustment led to certain developments, particularly in the areas of secondary, technical and university education. But pressures for wide-ranging advances were resisted. The major theme of policy was still continuity and not change. The transition from war to peace raised new political and economic priorities with little concern for social policy. Further, continuing sectarian conflict and sectional interests hindered educational progress. The general results was that important parts of the reform programme arising out of the War failed to develop. Where change had occurred, it was of a limited nature. The work is based upon a wide variety of sources, both published and unpublished. Particular use is made of the archives of the Board of Education and the available personal papers of the political heads of education during the period under study.

McMaster University Library

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

History Commons