The 1990s are now history. Or at least, the decade is included in the recent BBC TV programme Back in Time for School. I can’t help laughing at the puzzled looks on the kids’ faces as they listen to the internet dial-up tone.
Following a group of bright and articulate teens from Birmingham and several teachers as they experience 100 years of English educational history, this programme is both entertaining and fascinating. Playground trends, fashion, food and social attitudes are included in addition to teaching styles, discipline and classroom set-up. Here are some things I’ve learned:
In the 1890s, the official school leaving age was 11. However, the few children who were able to stay at school beyond this age could still work part time.
In the early 20th century, some girls would have played football at school. Women’s football grew in popularity during the First World War, before the FA banned it in 1921 (it would not be overturned until 1971).
The BBC started broadcasting radio programmes to schools in the 1920s-30s, meaning that thousands of schools could participate in the same lessons simultaneously. Lessons via the wireless would have seemed exciting and innovative at the time.
During the interwar period, married female teachers had to leave employment to make way for their male counterparts (this being the Great Depression era). ‘Marriage bars’ were in place for various types of jobs and were outlawed in 1944.
In 1939, children were issued with gas masks in cardboard boxes and had to carry them at all times. Their parents could be fined for letting the children go out without masks.
After the end of the Second World War, schoolchildren and teachers helped to bring in the harvest. Children were paid 9 pence an hour. The practice stopped after 1947 because of concerns over child labour.
In the 1970s, the Schools Action Union, a revolutionary group, encouraged pupils to stand up for their rights. This included strikes over issues such as corporal punishment.
Every school received a BBC microcomputer in 1982. This government scheme cost £16 million and aimed to equip pupils for technology-based careers, now that the traditional industries were in decline.
Corporal punishment was finally abolished in British state schools in 1986 – but the act was passed in parliament by just one vote (independent schools had to wait until 1998 for England and Wales, 2000 for Scotland and 2003 for Northern Ireland).
1992 saw the formation of Ofsted, establishing formal school inspections according to centralised standards. Along with the use of league table rankings and an increased load of paperwork, this is (as one of the teachers put it) “where the rot sets in”.
Education in the future will use Virtual Reality to immerse students in subjects such as history. Also, the use of Artificial Intelligence will help to tailor learning experiences to individuals.