University of Leicester
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Education, the economy and occupational change.

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posted on 2015-11-19, 08:55 authored by Allen John. Wright
Between 1872 and 1896 there was a depression of prices and profits in manufacturing industry. The successful industrialization of the United States and Germany eroded British confidence in the workings of laissez faire. The Royal Commissions of the 1880's on the 'Great Depression' and Technical Instruction both considered that education has a crucial role in the successful restructuring of British industry. Government through the Department of Science and Art fostered scientific and technical studies. The Technical Training Act of 1889 increased the use of government funds for forcing scientific syllabuses on higher grade elementary and organized science schools. These syllabuses were of vocational value to school leavers becoming apprentices, draughtsmen and engineers. Education was used to improve industrial efficiency in the face of intensifying foreign competition. Many science higher grade elementary schools became local authority secondary schools under the 1902 Education Act. Within five years of the 1902 Act applied science and technical studies were phased out of state secondary schools. These schools now followed arts and pure science courses. Ninety per cent of secondary school leavers became black-coated or white-bloused workers. Schools ceased to play an effective role in educating workers for industrial employment. Education in the first decade of the (20 reacted to economic and occupational change. Britain's recovery from the 'Great Depression' owed much to a dynamic tertiary sector. Her decline from industrial pre-eminence was compensated by becoming the world's leading commercial nation. Britain dominated international shipping, banking, insurance and the provision of investment capital in developing countries. Earnings from these activities provided large surpluses on the balance of payments, profitable outlets for British capital and expanding occupational opportunities. The functional relationship between education and the tertiary sector continued throughout the 1920's. and 1930's. In the (20 government ceased to intervene in the curriculum. Power devolved away from government to teachers, their professional associations and University Examining Boards. The Second World War shattered much of the complacency about the structure of the economy. The tertiary sector made little contribution to the war effort. Most of Britain's overseas assets were sold to purchase essential raw materials. The Government recognized that postwar reconstruction required a massive switch of resources into manufacturing industry. This happened and in the 1940's and 1950's industry achieved unprecedented importance in the national economy. Changes in the economic and occupational structure evoked little response from education. Although the earnings of many clerical and professional workers fell behind those of craftsmen in industry, it had no effect on the syllabuses of secondary schools. The grammar schools continued to provide an education suitable for clerics and professionals. Teachers freed from government interference in 1907, now foiled an effective veto group pursuing its own interests even where they were inimical to economic recovery. The failure of secondary and higher education to respond positively to postwar reconstruction was a significant factor in shortages of skilled industrial workers and engineers. These shortages retarded economic expansion and contributed to manpower productivity growth rates which were the lowest in the industrialized world. The failure of education to respond to postwar reconstruction had paradoxical results. The relative decline in manufacturing forced governments to increase the size of the public sector to mop up unemployment. Education increased its bias towards the arts, social and pure sciences. These subjects provided school leavers with threshold qualifications for public sector white collar work. These trends were based upon stagnating productive industry. The developments of the 1960's and 1970's heightened the contradictions between education and the economy. The contradictions could only be resolved by an acceptance of permanent economic decline or a fundamental change in the role of education in the proposed regeneration of manufacturing industry.


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University of Leicester

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  • Doctoral

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  • PhD



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