The reason it still matters today, half a century on, is that it was the failure of secondary moderns that did for the Tripartite System. It was their failure that allowed the dire Wilson government to sweep away most of our grammar schools in favour of their bog standard low performance social engineering factories. And it was their failure that still reverberates down the years, poisoning any serious discussion of academic selection in today's state schools.
As you may possibly have gathered, on BOM we always follow the money. And it has long been our view that the key reason many secondary moderns failed was not some fundamental flaw in the concept of different schools for different aptitudes, but the simple fact that they were grossly underfunded. Despite having many more challenging kids than the grammars, they got much less money. The dice were loaded right from the start.
But getting the facts has proved difficult. The one estimate we've previously quoted is shocking- according to Correlli Barnett's Audit of War (repeated in Nick Timmins' Five Giants), secondary moderns only got around one-third of the resources for grammars. Could that possibly be right? Unfortunately, neither Barnett nor Timmins give any supporting data.
So off to the LSE.
The full account of my research is set out in the footnote below, but in summary, it's clear that secondary moderns were starved of resources at all levels.
Their buildings and facilities were generally old and unsuitable- many of the inner city ones being housed in decrepit elementary schools built by the Victorians. In contrast, many of the grammars had purpose built facilities, even with their own sports fields. More importantly, at a time of national teacher shortage, the operation of national teacher salary scales prevented secondary moderns paying their staff nearly as well as grammars (see footnotes). And the inevitable result of a 20-40% pay shortfall was poor quality staff and high turnover.
That much was evident at the time from a whole series of documents, including for example the influential 1963 Newsom Report, Half Our Future. But instead of tackling that specific funding problem, the Wilson government took their ideologically preferred route of chucking all schools into the same pot.
I had hoped to go further, to express all this in simple money terms, as a per capita funding gap. But sadly I'd reckoned without the arcane way in which education was organised. Funding was not just split between central government and local authorities, but also between items managed in cash terms (mainly books and paperclips), and items managed in quantitative "funny money" terms (including teachers and new buildings). That meant the schools had very little control over their total cash budgets as such, and certainly there was no concept of per capita funding to be spent as the school thought fit.
As a result, and extraordinary though it may seem, the contemporary policy debate never actually crystalised the issue of relative funding at all. In sharp contrast to all the political and philosophical knockabout, when it came to grubby details like money, nobody seemed to have a clue.
Still, the bottom line is clear. There was a significant funding gap between secondary moderns and grammars. Barnett's 3-to-1 may be slightly over-egging it, but even if it's "only" a more likely 1.5 or 2-to-1, that's still a massive gap.
Secondary Moderns never had a chance. Indeed, according to Nick Timmins in The Five Giants, right from the Butler Education Act in 1944, Whitehall's Education Commissars deliberately concentrated funding on grammar schools because they believed it was a better use of scarce national resources. Because of course, Whitehall knew best.
WARNING- this is a lengthy footnote with unexpurgated descriptions of dusty old official papers; those of a sensitive disposition may wish to avert their gaze.
As we've blogged previously, one widely trailed estimate of seconadry modern funding is that they got only around one-third of the funding of grammars (see here). In an attempt to pin down the facts, we've spent a few hours in the LSE's excellent library trawling through various dusty old education policy documents.
We started with the highly influential 1963 Newsom Report, Half Our Future. Newsom's brief was "to consider the education between the ages of 13 and 16 of pupils of average or less than average ability". And its overwhelming conclusion was that most secondary modern schools were failing catastrophically. There were a host of problems, including poor teaching, high staff turnover, poor accommodation, and bored disengaged pupils, especially in "slum areas". Something clearly had to change.
Funding? Ah. Apparently it was easier to enumerate the problems than it was to find solutions, and funding didn't really feature. Indeed, all Newsom came up with as its top three policy recommendations were, first, to raise the school leaving age from 15 to 16 (like that was going to make things better?), second, to do yet more research into better "teaching techniques", and third to set up an "inter-departmental working group"- no, honestly- to "deal with social problems in slum areas".
Now you'd think that such a report would have thoroughly investigated the funding of different types of secondary provision, wouldn't you? Given the importance of good teachers, surely anyone would wonder if money was an issue. But amazingly, on that the main Report is vitually silent. Plenty of handwringing about poor school facilities, and heart-wrenching quotes from JB Priestley, George Elliot, Charles Dickens etc, but no real focus on grubby details like money. You'd almost think it had been written by a bunch of armchair liberal education theorists who just wanted the world to be a better place. Somehow.
So even though Newsom was a key building block in the case for comprehensivisation (what a very beautiful Stalinist word that is), it sheds no light whatsoever on relative funding levels. Then as now, it seems, the foundations of state education policy were made entirely of sand.
But luckily, nestled in the LSE dust right next to Newsom, is another document that does set out in pounds, shillings, and pence, a Pretty Big Clue as to why so many Sec Mods were so bad. It's called The Scales of Salaries for Teachers in Primary and Secondary Schools, England and Wales 1963. Known as the Burnham agreement, it was thrashed out annually in a giant smoke-filled room by no fewer than 56 representatives of the local authority employers and the unions (can you imagine just how much smoke that would have involved).
And there we discover a simple truth: secondary moderns couldn't pay their teachers nearly as well as grammar schools did.
Classroom teachers across all state schools were paid according to their position on a set of incremental scales, position being determined by three main components: first, academic qualifications, with “Good Honours Graduates” (ie a first or second class honours degree from a traditional university) being paid most; second, experience; and third, whether they held a “Scale Post”.
As a teacher you couldn't do much about your qualifications or your experience. But you could chase a scale post, worth 10-20% of your salary.
So how were these scale posts allocated? Pupil numbers? No. Each school's allocation (and also the salary scale for its Head and Deputy) was determined not on the basis of straightforward pupil numbers, but on the basis of the school’s “Unit Total”. And the units were weighted according to pupil age. Take a look at the weighting scale:
- 11-13 year old – 1 unit
- 13-15 year old – 2 units
- 15-16 year old – 4 units
- 16-17 year old – 6 units
- 17 and over – 10 units
Consider two schools, each with 700 pupils. The secondary modern would have got a unit total of around 1050 (equals 350 11-13 year olds at 1 unit each, plus 350 13-15 year olds at 2 units each). But, depending on exactly how many of its pupils stayed on for A levels (certainly the vast majority at my school), the grammar might easily have got 2,500- well over twice as much. Put another way, the average secondary modern pupil was worth about 1.5 units, whereas the average grammar pupil was worth around 3.5.
And on top of that, grammar heads and deputies were also substantially better paid because their schools had higher unit totals.
Thus were the salary dice firmly loaded against the secondary moderns, made worse by the fact that in Baby Boom Britain, there was a serious national shortage of teachers. Whitehall's teacher training plans had broken down.