Nursery Schools or Nursery Classes? An analysis of national and local policy in England 1918-1972

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis makes a contribution to the study of education policy in England by analysing decisions taken by the Board of Education and its successor bodies from 1918 to 1972 concerning whether self-governing nursery schools or nursery classes attached to infant schools should be the preferred institution for pre-school education. It draws on documentary sources from Board/Ministry of Education files at the National Archives, from Local Authority records, and from the archives of other interested organisations, offering a qualitative analysis influenced by policy and decision-making theory. It argues that these decisions were determined both by fundamental beliefs about what nursery education was for, with schools seen as more suitable for promoting physical well-being and classes as better for easing transition to formal schooling, and by the fact that nursery education was a low political priority in which the limited resources made available were not sufficient for all children to experience the ideal. It demonstrates that the Board/Ministry operated largely as a policy making elite in this area, and neither the voices of the established policy network of educationalists nor marginalised constituencies such as working parents had a significant influence on the decisions. This exclusion militated against the successful implementation of policy.

The thesis also analyses decisions made within four Local Education Authorities (LEAs): two which invested almost exclusively in nursery classes and two which established both schools and classes. These differences emerged prior to World War II and were caused by the varying values and beliefs of the education committees. Despite increased central control after the war, the established paths constrained new developments so that the original patterns largely persisted. Therefore, the local picture offers a small correction to the elitist model of policymaking as it demonstrates that some voices outside central government had an impact on the implementation process.
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton

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