HMI Secondary Survey (1979)

Secondary Survey (text)

Aspects of secondary education in England
A survey by HM Inspectors of Schools (1979)

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1979
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

Background notes

Historical context

The 1967 Plowden Report Children and their Primary Schools recommended (in chapter 30, page 426, para. 1164) that surveys of the quality of primary schools should be conducted at least once every ten years.

In response, between 1978 and 1985 HMI produced five surveys covering the whole school age range:

1978 Primary education in England
1979 Aspects of secondary education in England
1982 Education 5 to 9
1983 9-13 Middle Schools
1985 Education 8 to 12 in Combined and Middle Schools

The secondary survey was planned as a series of inspections covering a ten per cent sample of maintained secondary schools. Between the autumn term 1975 and the end of the spring term 1978, 384 schools were visited: 97 secondary modern schools, 51 grammar schools, 208 comprehensives, and 28 schools which were in the process of becoming comprehensives.

The survey focused on four areas:

  • the development of language skills, written and spoken;
  • the development of mathematical understanding and competence;
  • the development of scientific skills and understanding; and
  • the personal and social development of the pupils and their general preparation for adult living.

Summary of the survey's conclusions

  • in most schools, teachers and pupils alike work hard and make solid achievements;
  • given the large measure of self determination which schools enjoy, they appear remarkably similar in their broad characteristics;
  • a large range of options does not necessarily result in either a 'balanced' programme or one which has coherence for the pupil;
  • schools need to review cross-curricular work in language development, reading skills, health, careers, social and moral education, and preparation for life in a multi-racial society;
  • a more explicit rationale of the curriculum as a whole might make it easier to see how far it is realised or realisable in particular structures;
  • there are considerable inequalities between schools in staffing ratios and in the adequacy and appropriateness of teachers' academic and professional qualifications;
  • in many schools existing science accommodation is insufficient to provide all pupils up to the age of 16 with a balanced programme;
  • many schools lack sufficient and appropriate books and library resources;
  • the style and quality of work in the fourth and fifth years (now years 9 and 10) were dominated by the requirements of public examinations;
  • pupils are not always gaining sufficient experience of organising their own learning;
  • if schools believe that their work is appreciated only as far as it is reflected in examination results, they will be tempted to subordinate all else;
  • public examinations have a part to play in the assessment and recording of achievement in the secondary school, but they cannot constitute an account of the whole educational experience, nor should they limit that experience;
  • there is room for improvement in day-to-day assessment, including more critical and constructive marking of written work;
  • regular and systematic evaluation of progress is needed if work is to be matched to pupils' capacities;
  • the ablest pupils are not always sufficiently challenged;
  • collective thinking and planning are difficult to achieve, partly because of lack of time;
  • the traditional nature of the secondary curriculum defined by subject specialisms reinforces the habit of operating in isolation;
  • pupils need a broader programme of studies with a corresponding reduction in the number of 'options' and a limitation on the range from which they are drawn;
  • teacher preparation and professional development should be a continuing process embracing initial education and training, induction and in-service training;
  • schools cannot usefully proceed far in isolation - they need the support of local education authorities, teacher training institutions and the public.

The survey online

The full text of the survey, including the Appendices, is presented in a single web page.

The tables and forms are shown as images, embedded in the text where they were in the printed version.

A correction slip, relating to page 11, paragraph 7.2, line two, was inserted in the front of the report: this correction has been made in the text presented here.

I have corrected a couple of dozen typing errors and tidied up some inconsistencies in spelling - judgement/judgment, cooperation/co-operation, for example. The former were used more often in each case and are therefore used throughout in this version. Both double and single speech marks were used in the report, and I have left these as printed.

I have added one brief note of explanation [in square brackets] in paragraph 2.20 on page 80. Elsewhere in the report, square brackets are as printed in the original.

The printed report included a wide margin which contained the sub-headings and footnotes. For this online version, sub-headings have been incorporated into the body of the text, and footnotes have been moved to their usual position at the bottom of each page. Where there was more than one footnote on a page I have used the traditional footnote symbols.

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 4 June 2006; they were revised on 6 November 2012.