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Education in Norfolk

Secondary education and the Education Act 1944

Development of secondary education

There was very little secondary education available during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and post-elementary provision was often varied. It included higher grade elementary, grammar, technical, and private schools.

Responsible authorities for secondary schools were also diverse and included the Charity Commission for endowed schools, the Education Department for higher grade elementary schools and the Department of Art and Science for technical schools.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a series of reforms which reorganised and gradually extended the provision of secondary education.

The Education Act 1902 set up two types of state-aided secondary schools under LEA control: endowed grammar schools and municipal or county secondary schools, some of which evolved from higher grade elementary schools.

Under this provision, which was not usually co-educational, boys were sent to state grammar schools and girls attended high schools.

The 1902 Act did not make secondary education free or compulsory, although it did allow LEAs to pay fees and award scholarships in some cases.

The Education Act 1944 (Butler's Act)

Fees for state secondary education were abolished by The Education Act 1944, under which the entire structure of education provision was reorganised.

This Act arranged the system into three stages, which are familiar today.

The first stage, primary education, consisted of two phases: up to seven years and from seven to 11.

The second stage, secondary education, was graded into modern, grammar and technical schools.

The Norfolk Education Committee's report, Education in Norfolk, 1950-1960, stated that during the past decade the number of places available for grammar school pupils had increased to more than 2,000.

It noted that traditional grammar school accommodation was provided for the county in single-sex schools at Thetford, King's Lynn, North Walsham, Dereham and Swaffham and on a co-educational basis at Diss, Downham Market, Fakenham, Wymondham College and Thorpe. There were also grammar school places in the City of Norwich and Great Yarmouth.

The third stage of the education system was further education and, from 1947, the school leaving age was raised to 15 years.

Following The Education Act 1964, which allowed transfer to higher education at ages other than 11, some LEAs chose to arrange their education system in stages of first, middle and upper or higher schools. In Norfolk, a dual system of both primary and first and middle schools developed.

Comprehensive reorganisation

By 1965, the programme of secondary school building in Norfolk was almost complete.

However, there was growing concern nationally that the system developed following The Education Act 1944 had sustained social inequalities and prevented some children from reaching their full potential. 

This led to reorganisation of education into the comprehensive system, which began when the Ministry of Education issued circular 10/65 in July 1965.

The circular requested LEAs to convert secondary schools into the new comprehensive system, which it hoped would support pupils of all abilities.

Following this request, most Norfolk comprehensive schools were built in the mid-1960s to 1970s.

Secondary/higher education committee minutes

For minutes of the education committees which had responsibility for higher, secondary and technical education during the period 1903-74, see the following records:

  • For Norwich education committee minutes, 1903-74, see N/TC 35/1/1-10. For minutes of its sub-committees see N/TC 35/2-15. These include the higher, secondary and further education sub-committee, 1903-58, see N/TC 35/5/1-14.
  • For Great Yarmouth education committee, 1903-18 and 1932-41 see Y/ED 6-9 and for 1941-65, see Y/ED 495-502.For unsigned, indexed, sub-committee minutes, 1903-41, see Y/ED 10-47 and for April 1941-54, see Y/ED 568-578. For signed sub-committee minutes, 1940-74, see Y/ED 503-552. For minutes of the higher, secondary and technical education sub-committee, 1903-41, see Y/ED 10/47 and for 1944-63, see Y/ED 539-548.
  • For minutes of the Norfolk County Council education committee, 1903-74 and its sub-committees, including the higher education sub-committee, see C/ED 16/1-47. There are also minutes of the technical education committee, 1891-1903, see C/ED 16/48-51 and for the higher education sub-committee, 1904-07, see C/ED 16/52.
  • For King's Lynn secondary/higher education committee, 1903-45, see C/ED 130/2/1-6. For details about records of the district divisional executive committee, under Norfolk County Council, see the section on education committee minutes above.

The NRO also holds records of a variety of Norfolk and Norwich secondary and comprehensive schools, for which you should refer to the card index to school archives or the online catalogue (opens new window) for details.

The following publications by the Norfolk education committee also give an insight into the development of secondary level education in Norfolk. They are available on the searchroom shelves:

  • Norfolk Education Committee, Education in Norfolk, 1950-1960 (Norfolk County Council, c1960)
  • Norfolk Education committee, Ten Years: a Review of Education in Norfolk, 1960-70 (Norfolk County Council, c1970)
  • Norfolk Education Committee, Education in Norfolk, 1970: a statement of principles (Norfolk County Council, c1970)

Holt Hall

Holt Hall, a boarding school run by the Norfolk Education Committee, was established in 1950.

At first it offered short course places to children who had attended the same village school from the age of five and who would not otherwise have had any experience of education beyond elementary level.

Later, as the educational reforms of the 1950s progressed, Holt Hall also offered places to pupils from secondary modern schools and extended the length of its courses.

It was set in more than 80 acres of land, including 50 acres of woodland and parkland and six acres of playing fields. There were also two lakes for boating and swimming.

The curriculum at Holt Hall emphasised practical training, adventure activities and the development of skills for co-operative living.

We do not hold any records at the NRO relating to pupils at Holt Hall. However, it is mentioned in the Norfolk Education Committee's report, Education in Norfolk 1950-1960, which is available on the searchroom shelves.

For a published history of Holt Hall see Theodore W Fanthorpe, The Story of Holt Hall: Medieval Manor, Victorian Country House, Boarding School and Field Study Centre (Somerset, 2007).

Wymondham College

Wymondham College was based on the site of the United States Army Air Force 231st Station Hospital. This closed in June 1945 and was used from 1947 until December 1950 as an emergency teacher training college.

When the site first opened as an educational establishment in 1951, there were two state boarding schools based there: a technical and a grammar school.

At first, pupils were accommodated in Nissen huts, but later permanent dormitory blocks were built. In 1955, the technical and grammar schools merged to create a unified Wymondham College.

The Norfolk Education Committee's report, Education in Norfolk, 1950-1960, states that Wymondham College was a residential school serving the whole of the county. It admitted pupils at the age of 11-plus and 13-plus and, at that time, had 440 boys and 325 girls in residence.

In 1971, the College merged with the County Grammar School (a day school) which had already been based on the Wymondham site for about 10 years. From 1981, it became a comprehensive school. It is now a state day and boarding school and maintains its own records.


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