Selected Subjects: Education

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4.7 Education

4.7.1 1851 - 1921

1851 - 1911

Proposals made to conduct an enquiry into education as part of the census of 1851 met with considerable opposition in the House of Lords and it was decided to pursue it on a voluntary basis. The procedure adopted was that the enumerator enquired, on his first visit to every house for the purpose of delivering the householder's schedule, whether any school was carried on there. If there were, a form of enquiry proper to the type of school was left for completion. Separate forms were provided for day schools, Sunday schools, evening schools and literary and scientific institutes. The enumerator then made a list of all the schools at which schedules had been left and forwarded it to the Registrar. This served as a guide to the number of returns to be expected from each enumerator and later assisted the Census Office in ascertaining how far returns had in fact been made. Schedules were issued to the heads of upwards of 70,000 schools in England and Wales, and the final sorting of returns showed that none had been made in the case of 1,206 day schools (107 public and 1,099 private) and 377 Sunday schools.

The results of the enquiry were published in 1854 in a special Report, printed in a different format from that of the official series of reports on the 1851 Census, entitled Education: England and Wales. Report and Tables. It contained a wealth of information on matters of interest to those concerned with the progress of education. It indicated the number of children to whom education was afforded in 1851 compared with the number at earlier periods for which records were available; the number of day schools and the number of scholars on the books of each, compared with actual attendance on 31 March 1851, in each large town; the income of the schools and the sources from which it was obtained; the quality of instruction given; the number of teachers, distinguishing adults; the remuneration of teachers in public schools; the ages of scholars; the dates at which the schools were established and the number of schools in each classified type. Similar information was given for Sunday schools. The number of evening schools for adults in each county, the period during which they were open, the number of scholars, their occupation, the amount they paid in fees and the courses of instruction they covered were also given.

The report for Scotland was published in 1854 in the same volume as that on the enquiry into religious worship, entitled Religious Worship and Education in Scotland. The tables were drawn up to give broadly the same information as those for England and Wales and a brief commentary was given on the results of the enquiry.

At the census of Scotland in 1861 children between the ages of 5 and 13 years who attended school during the week preceding census day had to be identified on the householder's schedule. The wording of the question was amended in 1871 in order to achieve more accurate results. On each occasion the results were given in the first volume of the Census Reports for Scotland. In the first instance this was done by the addition of a column to the population tables for portions, registration divisions, civil counties, parishes and sub-divisions of parishes. Tables in the corresponding Report for 1871 compared the number and proportion of children attending school with the child population of Scotland in that age-group and the number of children at each year of life between 5 and 15 compared with the number who were attending school or receiving regular instruction at home in the counties and registration districts of Scotland.

It will be seen from the table on page 38 that information about education was obtained on the English schedules from 1851 to 1911 and on the Scottish schedules from 1871 to 1911. During this period the question took the form of requiring those attending school or receiving regular instruction at home to be described as scholars in the occupation column.


A question relating to children attending school and scholars engaged in whole or part-time further education was placed in a separate division of the occupation column in the schedule used in England and Wales in 1921. The question was designed to ascertain the number and ages of persons receiving school or institutional education of any kind, distinguishing those attending 'whole-time', that is during the full day school hours so as to leave no reasonable time for employment, and those attending for 'part-time' only, that is day continuation schools or evening classes or any other partial or intermittent attendance which would permit other regular employment. The question was asked in response to representations that such statistics were not available in a similar form from any other source, and that they were desirable with a view to affording education authorities and others interested in the subject some knowledge of the total demand for public and private education facilities for persons of various ages resident in each area.

The results were published in respect of every area with a separate local education authority. In the General Tables, Table 43 showed for England and Wales, the number of males and females at each year of age under 25 and total 25 years and over attending educational institutions whole time and part time, while Table 44 gave the same information without an age breakdown for county boroughs, administrative counties, and areas of separate local education authorities. In the County Parts the same information (no age-groups) was given for administrative county and local education authority areas in Table 15 . Sex and age statistics of the two classes of education (ie whole or part time) and the proportion each age-group bore to the corresponding age-group in the total population of the country were given in a table in the General Report .

The postponement of the 1921 Census brought the enumeration within the summer term, during which evening classes and many special courses of technical and other instruction were either curtailed or suspended. In respect of part-time instruction, therefore, the census figures provided little guide to the maximum attendance which might be reached in the winter and spring terms of the year.

4.7.2 1951 - 66


The subject was revived for the census of 1951, having last appeared in 1921. It was not included in the list of questions for the 1931 Census which was taken at a time of considerable economic depression and was therefore restricted in scope and size.

The 1951 Census schedule contained two questions - the first:

'N. for all persons attending a school, university or other educational establishment for the purpose of receiving instruction, write "Full-time" or "Part-time" as the case may be.'

which was similar to that asked in 1921 and, in the instructions, "Full¿time" was defined as being such time as leaves no reasonable opportunity for substantial regular employment during term time.

New question

The second question was new, and asked:

'0. for persons not now receiving full-time education at an educational establishment state age at which such full-time education ceased.'

and the instructions asked for age when full-time education ceased even if still attending part-time. No reply was required for retired persons, for those not following or seeking to follow an occupation for payment or profit, or for those National Servicemen who intended to resume full-time education on their release.

This was the first occasion on which age at which full-time education ceased (terminal education age) had been asked in England and Wales, and the analysis of the answers was used to ascertain the type of work undertaken by people who completed full-time education at different ages, what proportion of those engaged in particular occupations had the benefit of full-time education beyond the compulsory school leaving age and to what extent there was variation between different sections of the community in the total of full-time education received.

Quality of response

Question N was answered satisfactorily as regards full-time education, but the response on part-time education was seriously defective, a lack of definite instruction probably raising doubts as to whether evening classes should be included, doubts which may have been increased by the fact that the census was held when evening classes were not in session throughout the country. The results were such that, apart from the education section of the One per cent Sample Tables , tabulations from this question have been confined to full-time attendance.

Appreciable numbers did not answer question 0, and it seems likely that the non-response was to a large extent attributable to the linking of question 0 with question N on the schedule. Of the occupied who failed to answer, the non-response rate was around six per cent up to age 45 for males, but only up to age 30 for females; it then increased with age, rather more rapidly for females than for males, until in the 75 and over age-group 40 per cent of occupied females did not reply compared with 26 per cent of occupied males.

Publications - England and Wales

In addition to the sample tables (Great Britain), tabulations giving numbers of people in full-time education and the occupied population by terminal education age are shown in the County Report series, the Report on Greater London and the Five other Conurbations, and the education section of the General Tables. There is also one table in the Fertility Tables for women aged 45-49, married once only and enumerated with their husbands by the terminal education age and socio-economic group of the husband.

Publications - Scotland

There was no publication for Scotland containing numbers of people in full-time education and the only references to terminal education age are in the Occupation and Industry Tables .


For 1961 there were a number of changes. The question on attendance at an educational establishment was dropped as an education question but on the ten per cent sample form the section 'T', relating to persons aged 15 and over not in employment, seeking employment or wholly retired, called for 'student' as a response where applicable. Thus the marital condition and age distribution of students could be tabulated and are given in the Occupation Tables and Economic activity leaflets .

The question on terminal education age was retained, again only on the sample form, and was linked with a new question on persons holding qualifi¿cations in science and technology. See 4.7.3.

Sampling and bias

All tabulations are based on the ten per cent sample and therefore subject to sampling error and bias. See 7.2 and 7.3.

Quality of response

The results of the post-enumeration survey for terminal education age, indicated that there was over-statement of between two and four per cent in the numbers returned with terminal education age 14 and slight understatement of less than two per cent in the numbers with a terminal education age of 17-19. Information is not available as to whether there was any signifi¿cant variation by area, age at census, socio-economic group or occupation.

Publications - England and Wales

The main volume was the Education Tables but tables giving terminal education age also appeared in the Commonwealth Immigrants in the Conurbations, and Great Britain Summary Tables. In addition, as in 1951, the Fertility Tables contained one table which for certain women gives the terminal education ages of husband and wife in combination.

Publications - Scotland

The main Scottish volume was called Terminal Education Age, and a table also appears in the Fertility Report .


For 1966, again as part of the group of economic activity questions persons aged 15 and over not in a job on Monday 18 April were asked to give 'student' as a response where applicable.

Changes in questions

The question on terminal education age was dropped but there was a separate question, similar to 1951, asking people aged 15 and over whether they would be a student 'attending full-time at an educational establishment during the next term'. And, for all people aged 18 and over, whether any professional qualifications were held. See 4.7.3 and 4.7.4.


There were no publications on the broad subject of education. Figures for 'students in educational establishments', by definition aged 15 and over, are given as a line in the economically inactive sections of the Economic Activity Tables .

4.7.3 Qualified Manpower (Science and Technology), 1961 - 66


While the planning of the 1961 Census was in progress a request was received from the Minister of Science for the inclusion of a question on scientific and technological qualifications based on the need of the Committee on Scientific Manpower of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy for more comprehensive statistics in this field than had hitherto been available. The question was included on the ten per cent sample form and limited to persons aged 15 and over with qualifications in science and technology. They were asked to:

'State at (i) the academic and/or professional qualifications held.

State at (ii) the main branch of science or technology in which the qualifications are held'.

A summary of Note 13, which explained the question in detail, was that information was required, irrespective of present occupation, from all persons:

  • holding one or more first degree qualifications in certain branches of science and technology excluding medical subjects and certain other subjects which were listed;
  • with university degree or diploma of equivalent standard; or associateship or diploma of university degree standard awarded by an educational establishment other than a university; or graduate or corporate membership of a professional institution.

Processing the data

In view of the small numbers involved (28,800 persons), and to expedite the results, the data were separately processed outside the computer system.

Sampling error and bias

It was known that the results would be subject to sampling error which at the time of publication had not been measured, but the degree of bias was not known.

Quality of response

No questions on qualifications were included in the post-enumeration survey but the findings of the economic activity section of the survey may have some bearing and are detailed in Chapter 3 of the General Report .


The volume was published for Great Britain as a whole but separate tabulations for Scotland are available. A table also appears in the Commonwealth Immigrants in the Conurbations volume .

1966 Changes in coverage, etc

For the 1966 Census the question on qualifications was restricted to persons aged 18 and over rather than 15 and over; the level of qualification was widened to include, for example, Higher National Certificate; and the question was extended to cover all subjects.

The question

The actual question was:

'For people aged 18 and over

23(a) Has the person obtained any degrees, diplomas, associate-ships or other professional or vocational qualifications after attaining the age of 18? (See Notes). Write 'Yes' or 'No' at I.
(b) If 'Yes' state at II all such qualifications obtained, followed by the major subject or group of subjects in which each was obtained. (See Notes).'

The notes explained the question in detail and can be briefly summarised as:

  1. the exclusion of qualifications obtained at school and others equivalent to or lower than Ordinary National Certificate;
  2. that the qualifications were to be listed in the order they were obtained.

Comparability with 1961

The extension of the 1961 question to that used in 1966 made it necessary to establish rules for the selection of persons to be included in the tabulations on scientific and technological qualifications which would ensure as close comparability between the results of the two censuses as possible. In 1961 the population to be tabulated was in a sense self-defining since persons were asked to record if they held a first degree or equivalent qualification in science or technology and it was only necessary to reject those whose stated qualifications were not of the required level or were in a subject outside the defined field.

In 1966, in addition to this group, details were obtained of qualifications in all subjects, of certain qualifications obtained after the age of 18 but not of degree level, and of all qualifications obtained (not as in 1961, for example, omitting later degrees once a first degree had been recorded), and it was necessary to exclude these from the tabulations.

A person was therefore included in these specific tabulations only if he stated on his census form an acceptable qualification, of at least first-degree level, in a scientific, engineering or technological subject, and in most of the tables he was tabulated according to the first such qualification reported. The exception to this is in Tables 14-21 of the publication, which are new, and which include characteristics of those who also have post-graduate qualifications. A person was included in these tables if he reported a qualification which would require further study or research after obtaining a first degree, or which was accepted as equivalent to such a qualification. The standards of acceptability of qualifications at different levels and of the subjects in which they were obtained were agreed throughout with the Ministry of Technology.

Comparison with other surveys

Studies were made by the Ministry of Labour in 1956 and 1959, of persons with degrees or equivalent qualifications in engineering, technology and science, but at the time of the publication of the 1961 census results it was not considered possible, for a number of reasons, to make useful comparisons.

Since then three more manpower surveys have been carried out and comparisons have been made using the two census benchmarks (1961 and 1966) and data from manpower surveys 1959 and 1962, 1965 and 1968 occurring respectively either side of the census points. The results are published in Persons with Qualifications in Engineering, Technology and Science 1959 to 1968 [i] .

It should be noted that the estimates for 1961 used in the study are not those published in the census volume but are from a later analysis after some receding and incorporating corrections for bias; the estimates used for 1966 are those as published but incorporate age-sex correction factors which were produced as part of a particular statistical assessment.


As in 1961 one volume, Scientific and Technological Qualifications , was published for Great Britain as a whole.

Unpublished tabulations

Unpublished extended versions of the tables at Great Britain level and unpublished versions of the tables as published but for Scotland only are available. For details see main volume.

4.7.4 All Qualified Manpower, 1966 only

The wider scope of information available from the question on qualifications was not, by definition, covered by the report on Scientific and Technological Qualifications, and a further set of tables was published as Qualified Manpower Tables .

Subject classification

A new subject classification was in the course of preparation by the Department of Education and Science in consultation with the Scottish Education Department, other Government Departments, education interests and other bodies, from a study of a number of classifications previously in use in the United Kingdom for purposes of education statistics and statistics of highly qualified manpower and classifications recommended by UNESCO and OECD. The classification was designed to apply both to qualifications awarded and the courses of study leading to them. A main objective of the new subject classification was to make provision for qualifications and courses embracing a combination of two or more subjects. The subject classification of qualifications recorded in the 1966 Census made use of a provisional classification that was available at the time the coding was carried out. This classification consisted of 86 primary subjects condensing into ten subject groups; a full list of these is given in Appendix A to the tables. There are minor differences of treatment in a small number of cases between the classification used and the final Department of Education and Science standard subject classification which are also shown in Appendix A.

Classification of qualifications

The qualifications included were those not normally obtained at school, but gained at age 18 or over and entailing study at a level above that required for GCE - A level or SCE. Throughout the tabulations qualifications were divided into three levels as follows:

Level 'a' higher university degrees
Level 'b' first degrees and all other qualifications of the standard of a first degree or of higher standard than a first degree, other than higher university degrees.
Level 'c' qualifications that generally satisfy the three requirements that they are: obtained at 18 or over, above GCE - A level or SCE, below first degree level.


In the tabulations, except Text table A, individuals have been counted once only and by the highest qualification, ie the last stated qualification at the highest level.

Differences in statistics

This caused a change in classification of some people with degree level and above qualifications (levels 'a' and 'b') in scientific, technological and engineering subjects, and therefore a difference between the numbers of people tabulated in these categories in Qualified Manpower Tables and the numbers in similar categories in Scientific and Technological Qualifications. Secondly there were minor differences in the subjects included in Science, Engineering and Technology. Thirdly, certain qualifications, regarded as of first degree standard in the analysis of all qualified manpower, were not regarded as acceptable qualifications in the analysis for Scientific and Technological Qualifications .

Full details of the differences between the two sets of statistics are given on pages xv and xvi of the All Qualified Manpower volume.

Quality of Response

The only evidence available on the quality of the answers given by heads of household to the question on qualifications is that obtained in the course of the 5,000 interviews carried out after the census by the Government Social Survey. Since the households to be interviewed were a random sample the number of qualified persons involved was small, and it is not possible to use these results to give quantitative estimates of error in the recording of qualifications. Certain general conclusions can however be drawn with some confidence.

There was some uncertainty as to which qualifications should be reported. It was to be expected that a considerable proportion of qualifications recorded would be rejected at the coding stage; this was because the question was framed more widely than qualifications above a particular threshold level. Almost one-third of the total qualifications recorded were excluded at coding. Though this caused a heavy load on the processing, it would have no effect on validity of the results. There is however evidence of the converse, omission of acceptable qualifications. The clearest indi¿cation of under-recording is in the case of qualifications which were not relevant to the person's occupation at the time of the census, and of qualifications held by the economically inactive (in particular, housewives and retired persons). This was most marked in the (c) level qualifications, where for example there appears to be serious under-recording of nursing and teaching qualifications.


The volume was published for Great Britain as a whole but does give, in Table 5, figures for England and Wales, Scotland and Regions of England and Wales.

[i] Persons with Qualifications in Engineering, Technology and Science 1959 to 1968. Department of Trade and Industry, Studies in Technological Manpower No 3 HMSO 1971.

Office of Population Censuses and Surveys/General Register Office, Guide to Census Reports: Great Britain 1801-1966 (London: HMSO, 1977) Crown Copyright. The Office of National Statistics has granted the Great Britain Historical GIS Project permission to computerise this publication and include it in this web site. All other rights reserved.

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