Girls' vocational training schools in London : a study of the inter-war years
The state education system of the inter-war years was characterised by the three crucial divisions of social class, ability and gender. It was the non-academic working class girl who was most disadvantaged by those divisions and who has been most ignored by educational policymakers and, indeed, by historians. That disadvantage was most apparent in the debate about vocational training for paid employment which marked these years. The controversy between the proponents of liberal and vocational education was of special significance for girls because of the frequently expressed argument that a girl had a single vocation - homemaking and domesticity. As the economy was restructured and women were drawn into the new consumer industries, the crucial dilemma of whether education should enable girls to enlarge their opportunities in paid employment or whether it should continue to orientate girls towards the domestic role had to be addressed. It is the educational policy and practices resulting from that tension between domesticity and productivity which this thesis will examine. Its focus will be the elementary and technical schools of London. The London County Council adopted a consciously progressive technical education programme during the inter-war years. This local study will therefore elucidate trends in the policy, practice and experience of girls' vocational schooling. It will be suggested that policy reflected the coexistence of patriarchy and capitalism. Class intersected with gender to result in a situation where schools trained girls to be cheap, unskilled workers in certain women's trades. Educational policy was constrained by the desire to preserve conventional domestic roles intact and a belief that working class girls could be defmed by their gender as a homogeneous group undistinguished by aptitude or ability. The assumption was made that girls would engage only temporarily in paid employment before returning to their true vocations as wives and mothers. Thus vocational schooling provides a concrete expression of inter-war gender ideology. The Introduction sets out the theoretical framework upon which this thesis is based. Chapter Two will provide an examination of the political, economic and social context in which educational policy was made. The third chapter analyses domestic studies' courses, the most explicit formulation of how schools prepared girls for their adult role. Chapters Four and Five focus on the Junior Technical and Central Schools, illustrating how schooling within them epitomised assumptions, prejudices and ideologies about girls' education during the inter-war years.