Taunton Report (1868)

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Although distant in terms of time, the Taunton Report remains significant today in that it throws light on the origins of a peculiarly English educational characteristic, which some would claim persists in various guises: the ranking of educational needs according to social class. The Report, produced as a result of the Taunton Commission into education, claimed that there were three grades of parents. In the ‘first’ grade were those who wished their children to receive schooling up to and beyond the age of 18, and who had ‘no wish to displace the classics from their present position in the forefront of English education’. Significantly, such parents were considered unwilling for their children to receive an education aimed at preparing them for work. The ‘second grade’ of parents, who wished their children to be educated to the age of 16, were thought to approve of a curriculum which included not only Latin, but also ‘a thorough knowledge of those subjects which can be turned to practical use in business’. This would include little that we would now term vocational, but rather English, mathematics, natural science, and perhaps a modern language. The ‘third grade’ of parents, whose children might be educated to the age of 14, were considered to belong to ‘a class distinctly lower in the scale’, and to desire an education for their children which included no classics but only reading, writing, and arithmetic. This uncritical grading of educational provision according to social status seems shocking to us today; but two of its underlying assumptions—that curriculum subjects acquire increasing status the further removed they are from the world of work, and that prestige is attached to, and conclusions about social status drawn from, a school education to the age of 18—can still be seen as integral to common‐sense assumptions about education and training a century and a half later. See also parity of esteem.

Subjects: Education.

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