Thomson Report (1918)

1918 Thomson Report (text)

The Thomson Report (1918)
The Position of Natural Science in the Educational System of Great Britain

London: HM Stationery Office

Background notes

Historical context

The policies of the Board of Education - notably the ending of the special grant arrangements for 'schools of science' - had had a damaging effect on the quantity and quality of science teaching. Following the 1904 Secondary Regulations, there had been some attempts to improve it in the grammar schools (and in the public schools which had previously adhered to the classical curriculum), but the status of science remained low among the public at large; it was not seen as an important part of the secondary-school curriculum; and in the universities it did not enjoy the prestige of the traditional literary subjects.

In August 1916, in the middle of the First World War, Prime Minister Henry Asquith invited the physicist Sir Joseph Thomson to chair a Committee 'to enquire into the Position of Natural Science in the Educational System of Great Britain'.

Joseph Thomson

Thomson (1856-1940) (pictured) had shown great interest and ability in science as a child and had been admitted to Owens College (now the University of Manchester) at the unusually young age of 14.

Six years later he moved to Trinity College Cambridge, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics. He became a Fellow of the College in 1881 and was awarded his Master of Arts degree in 1883.

In June 1884 Thomson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and, in December that year, he was appointed Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge.

He was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1906 for his work on the conduction of electricity by gases. He was knighted in 1908, received the Order of Merit in 1912, and became President of the Royal Society in 1915. In 1918, he was elected Master of Trinity, holding the post until his death.

David Lloyd George replaced Asquith as leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister in December 1916, so it was to him that the Committee submitted its report on 19 February 1918.

The Committee's recommendations

The Thomson Committee made 83 wide-ranging recommendations relating to:

The status of science:

  • in schools and universities; and
  • among the public at large;
The schools:
  • the provision of science teaching for all children up to the age of 16 in both elementary and secondary schools;
  • better training for teachers; and
  • better laboratory facilities in schools.
Training for the professions:
  • medicine;
  • engineering;
  • agriculture;
  • the army; and
  • the Civil Service.
The universities:
  • changes in entrance requirements;
  • science degrees;
  • more state aid;
  • better provision for research; and
  • more scholarships for women.

The Committee's summary of its principal recommendations can be found here.

The Report online

The complete Report is presented in a single web page. I have modernised some of the punctuation and corrected a handful of printing errors; otherwise the text shown here is as in the printed version. The Appendices and Index were printed in two columns to a page: I have not reproduced this layout here.

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 7 January 2019.