House of Commons Library

Education: Historical statistics

Published Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The organisation of every stage of education has undergone significant change over the last century. These changes have fundamentally altered most aspects of education. Historical indicators are therefore particularly interesting, but also problematic. Very few series are consistent over more than a few decades. The definition/size of different stages of education (primary, secondary, further/higher), school leaving ages and examinations have changed markedly as have state organisation and funding. As key concepts in education change so do the types of statistics collected. The increased role of the state in the first half of the 20th century also widened the scope of official education statistics.

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The organisation of every stage of education has undergone significant change over the last century. These changes have fundamentally altered most aspects of education. Historical indicators are therefore particularly interesting, but also problematic. Very few series are consistent over more than a few decades. The definition/size of different stages of education (primary, secondary, further/higher), school leaving ages and examinations have changed markedly as have state organisation and funding. As key concepts in education change so do the types of statistics collected. The increased role of the state in the first half of the 20th century also widened the scope of official education statistics.

This note presents a small number of long-term education indicators. Most start in the early 20th century and all have a number of breaks. While these make interpretation of trends more difficult, the breaks themselves highlight the changes in the sector. Where possible UK figures are given, however with different departments being responsible for education in England and Wales and Scotland and latterly all four home countries, this is not possible for many series. Northern Ireland figures are included in UK data from the early 1920s onwards.

Commons Briefing papers SN04252

Author: Paul Bolton

Topics: Adult education, Further education, Higher education, Schools, Students, Teachers

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