The explosion in sixth-form numbers
Secondary education after 1944 In 1944 the provision of secondary education for all became the urgent task of education authorities. What forms this second stage should take were not defined beyond the broad directive of schooling suited to 'age, aptitude and ability'. Argument and experiment were therefore invited. But the new Ministry of Education did not leave the debate open for long. Although the 1945 Labour Party conference demanded that new secondary schools should be multilateral wherever possible, official circulars advised local authorities to plan for three types of school. A pamphlet on The Nation's Schools (1945) was withdrawn after protests that it took tripartitism for granted. But this was only a tactical retreat, for The New Secondary Education (1947) described a system of schools clearly differing 'in what they teach and how they teach it', in length of course and in the balance between 'books and activities'. Multilateral schools might work best where population was scattered, but their virtues were described far more curtly than were their disadvantages. 'Past experience suggests that schools with a limited and well-defined aim are the most likely to succeed in reaching and maintaining the highest standards within the particular field they serve'. The grammar 48
schools, then, were to be highly selective, taking the top 15 per cent or so of the age group.