Education has long been a political hot potato in Britain. For decades it has been the central issue that links national politics to the politics of the localities, the politics of class, and the politics of party. This might appear surprising in a society where over 90 percent of schoolchildren are educated in government schools, where the government controls the parameters within which private schools operate, and where there is only one private university.
In short, the state has won the battle for control of British education. Yet, this triumph has been a hollow one; the state has taken over educational provision only to find the resulting system become a source of acute dissatisfaction.
The nationalization of education was a long-term process that reflected the extension of the welfare state. The 1870 Education Act divided the country into school districts and required a certain level of education, introducing the school district in areas where existing parish provision was inadequate. The Education Act of 1918 designated 14 as the minimum age for quitting school. The Education Act of 1944 obliged every local authority to prepare a development plan for educational provision, and the Ministry of Education imposed new minimum standards in matters such as school accommodation and size.
This state control of education also put an end to the streamlining of children by ability into different schools after examination...