The Crisis of the Meritocracy: Britain's Transition to Mass Education since the Second World War

ISBN : 9780198840145

Peter Mandler
384 ページ
153 x 234 mm

Before the Second World War, only about 20% of the population went to secondary school and barely 2% to university; today everyone goes to secondary school and half of all young people go to university. How did we get here from there? The Crisis of the Meritocracy answers this question not by looking to politicians and educational reforms, but to the revolution in attitudes and expectations amongst the post-war British public - the rights guaranteed by the welfare state, the hope of a better life for one's children, widespread upward mobility from manual to non-manual occupations, confidence in the importance of education in a 'learning society' and a 'knowledge economy'. As a result of these transformations, 'meritocracy' - the idea that a few should be selected to succeed - has been challenged by democracy and its wider understandings of equal opportunity across the life course. At a time when doubts have arisen about whether we need so many students, and amidst calls for a return to grammar-school selection at 11, the tension between meritocracy and democracy remains vital to understanding why our grandparents, our parents, ourselves and our children have sought and got more and more education - and to what end.


List of Abbreviations
1 Meritocracy vs. Democracy
2 Before the Butler Act
3 The Crisis of the Meritocracy
4 The Transition to Comprehensive Education
5 The Robbins Principle
6 Where Have All the Students Gone?
7 The Transition to Mass Education
8 The Swing Away from Science
9 Effectively Maintained Inequality
Epilogue: More and More Education


Peter Mandler is an historian of modern Britain who teaches at Cambridge University; his books cover a range of social, cultural, political, and intellectual history subjects relating to Britain since the 18th century and also to the history of the social sciences in the wider Anglophone world. Between 2012 and 2016 he was President of the Royal Historical Society and from 2020 he serves as President of the Historical Association. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was born and raised in the USA but has spent most of his adult life in the UK; he is married to Ruth Ehrlich, a professional violinist, and has two grown-up children, who are also sadly split between the US and the UK.