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Education Theory and Policy

3. The History of British Education Policy, 1800-1979

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In this module, we explore the development of British education policy from 1800 to 1979, focusing on four key phases: (i) 1800-80, in which education was provided by a “patchwork” of private, charitable and religious institutions and many children did not attend school; (ii) the introduction and expansion of state compulsory education from 1880 to 1945; (iii) the period of the tripartite system, 1945-65, wherein students were allocated into different types of school based on examinations; (iv) 1965-79, in which students all attended the same comprehensive schools, and were allocated places by geographical catchment area.


In this course, Dr Matthew Cole (University of Birmingham) introduces some key aspects of education theory and policy. In the first module, we explore consensus theories, most notably Talcott Parson’s views on schooling as the means by which children are prepared for a meritocratic society, and the ideas of the New Right. The second module considers three sets of conflict theories of education – Marxism, Feminism, and Critical Race Theory. In the third module, we look at the historical development of education policy in Britain from 1800 to 1979 across four key phases. The final module continues this story from 1979 to the present, focusing particularly on marketisation as the key orientation of education policy in this period.


Matthew Cole is Teaching Fellow in the Department of History at the University of Birmingham. He is a historian of modern Britain with a particular interest in twentieth century constitutional and party politics, and local history.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Cole, M. (2022, January 11). Education Theory and Policy - The History of British Education Policy, 1800-1979 [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Cole, Matthew. "Education Theory and Policy – The History of British Education Policy, 1800-1979." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 11 Jan 2022,

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