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History of Education: Where it began and where it’s going

Details: Written by Kate Hutchinson |

British education has come a long way over the years, evolving with every generation that passes through the corridors. As The Skills Network is always looking ahead to the future of learning, we wanted to take a trip back in time to understand where our British education history first began...

1284: Religious beginnings

In ancient times, teaching was exclusively carried out by priests and monks who generally only taught the children of rich people. Monastic schools often dedicated their time to teaching Latin and reciting the works of St Augustine, how to chant, do basic arithmetic and even how to use a sundial to read the time! By the Anglo-Saxon period (410 to 1066 AD), institutions had set up church schools for children that were not of noble birth, although it was mainly a matter of choice who attended them.

Most Anglo-Saxon children did not receive an education and instead stayed at home to help with farming and daily life. Eventually, the Roman Catholic Church took charge of teaching the children of nobles and some of their centres of learning still exist today, such as Cambridge University whose first college, St. Peters was established in 1284!

*586 years later…*

1870: The 1870 Education Act formalises national education

The 1870 Education Act was the very first piece of legislation that demonstrated a commitment to more inclusive education on a national scale, with local authority boards being formed to build schools in areas that needed them most. Between 1870 and 1880, between 3000 and 4000 schools were opened or taken over by local boards.

Whilst the 1870 Education Act has been celebrated as a progressive milestone for education, by 1890 attendance of 5–10-year-olds was still falling short at 82 percent, particularly in rural areas where it was favourable for children to be released for agricultural labour.

*74 years later…*

1944: Butler Education Act introduces post-war progressive reform

As the second world war drew closer to an end, Britain looked to launch widespread progressive social reform. The 1944 Education Act- often referred to as the ‘Butler Act’ overhauled and modernised the British state-funded school education system by increasing the number of and making all secondary state schools free.

The Butler Act implemented state support for students who were in poverty or in a state of hardship. The provision of free milk whilst in a learning environment was introduced in 1946 and was available to all children under the age of eighteen. During this period, the percentage of children attending higher education tripled from one percent to three percent.

*44 years later…*

1988: National Curriculum was founded

In 1988, the Education Reform Act sought to standardise education across Britain by introducing a national curriculum. The national curriculum set out ‘key stages’ of education and required that all schools teach the same subject content from the age of 7-16. All schools were required to teach the core subjects English, Maths and Science.

The act set out assessment arrangements for pupils at or near the end of each key stage, these would become known as GCSEs and SATS- sound familiar yet?

*34 years later…*

Now: The adoption of online learning

By the late nineties, the internet had the major advantage of incorporating text, image, and sound together with interactive components and fulfilled multiple educational roles all at once.

At the height of the Covid 19 pandemic in 2020, over a billion students were unable to access a classroom and online learning became a lifeline for learners everywhere. Fast forward almost 3 years later, there has continued to be sustained adoption of online learning and blended learning models at all ages. The Great Resignation here in the UK saw 81% of adults who have changed careers since the start of the pandemic, attribute an online learning course to helping them make their move.

The future: A blended approach to learning

The flexibility that comes with new technologies and teaching models doesn’t mean that learners are looking for a solely online experience. Instead, experts say that blended learning models– sometimes termed ‘active learning’ or ‘hybrid learning’ – are a key future approach to education. That’s why here at The Skills Network, we offer over 150 flexible online courses, with hybrid learning options available.

We know that education delivery and the learner experience are always evolving, much like this blog has outlined to you today! The Skills Network will continue to adapt and develop, to create the best learning experiences in the future.

Learn more about our flexible, online, and blended learning models here.