Nursery schools for the few or the many? Childhood, education and the State in mid-twentieth-century England

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, successive presidents and officials at the Board of Education made it clear that they believed there were three types of children in Britain - those who needed nursery schools to rescue them from degradation, those for whom a less expensive nursery class would do the job adequately and those who would be better off staying home with mother. However, by the time the 1944 Education Act was framed, national policy towards pre-school provision had undergone a major transformation: nursery schools could provide the best start in life for everyone, should be available for every child from three to five and, crucially, should be the only form of childcare provision available. This change of direction was initiated by the government's inspectorate, and heavily promoted by members of the civil service. Professional bodies, such as the Nursery School Association and teaching unions, had very little influence over the decision-making process. The needs of working mothers, who were likely to be adversely affected by the closure of wartime childcare facilities, were inadequately considered. Local Education Authorities, who generally favoured nursery classes, were, however, able to wring a last-minute compromise from central government so that classes could be provided where schools were “inexpedient”. The fact that the new policy had been written in such isolation, without consideration for potential users, and had been messily hamstrung at the last moment meant that it was never implemented and must ultimately be considered a failure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-154
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Cite this