Wood (1929)

The Wood Report (Parts I and II)

The Wood Report (1929)
Report of the Mental Deficiency Committee
A Joint Committee of the Board of Education and Board of Control

London: His Majesty's Stationery Office 1929

Background notes

The Committee

In June 1924 the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education, Sir George Newman, appointed a committee to consider the problems presented by the 'mentally defective' child. A year later the committee was asked to include 'adult defectives' in its inquiry, so the report was presented, in January 1929, both to Newman and to the Chairman of the Board of Control.

The chair of the committee was Arthur Henry Wood. Born in Reading in December 1870, he was educated at Cranbrook Grammar School and New College Oxford. The 1901 census describes him as an examiner for the Board of Education and he went on to become Assistant Secretary to the Board. He served as secretary for the Consultative Committee's 1909 report Attendance, Compulsory or Otherwise, at Continuation Schools. He married twice and had three sons (one of whom was killed in action in 1941) and two daughters. He wrote two books which were published: The History of West Clandon (a village near Guildford) and The Epic of the Old Testament. He died in December 1964. (Incidentally, he is not to be confused with the musician Arthur Henry Wood, 1875-1953).

Also on the committee was the eugenicist Cyril Burt (1883-1971) (pictured). Among other appointments he was Psychologist to the Education Department of London County Council from 1913 to 1932; Professor of Education at the University of London from 1924 to 1931; and Professor of Psychology at University College London from 1931 to 1950. His views on intelligence were influential for many years but were eventually discredited, as John Parrington points out in The intelligence fraud (Socialist Review April 1996). See also the Wikipedia Biography of Cyril Burt.

The report

The 1929 Report of the Mental Deficiency Committee contains (in Chapter III) a useful history of reports and legislation regarding 'mental defectives'.

The report was important because it argued that 'mentally deficient' children should not be isolated from the mainstream of education. Its view of special education as a variant of ordinary education advanced a principle which would later be extended to all forms and degrees of disability.

The committee's conclusions and recommendations

The committee's conclusions and recommendations can be found in Chapter IX. The following is a summary of some of the key points:


  • the real criterion of mental deficiency is a social one rather than an educational one;
  • the powers and duties of the various authorities involved with mentally defective people are unclear;
  • current provision for educable mentally defective children in England and Wales is inadequate;
  • there are far more mentally defective children than those ascertained by local education authorities;
  • the incidence of mental defect in rural areas is almost twice that of urban areas.
  • all those children hitherto known as educable mentally defective children and all those known as dull or backward should be given a similar type of education adapted to their degree of retardation and should be known as the 'Retarded' Group. They should be retained within the Public Elementary School system and LEAs should modify the organisation of the schools in their areas so as to provide suitable education for the whole group;
  • the requirement that LEAs should certify particular types of children as mentally defective before providing them with the type of education they require should be abolished. This will mean changing the legal status of Special Schools for mentally defective children;
  • in line with the Hadow Committee's recommendation of a break in schooling at 11, separate classes or departments should be established for retarded children under 11 and courses for retarded children over 11 should form part of LEA provision of Senior or Post-primary Schools;
  • retarded children under 11 should be divided into higher and lower groups, the latter consisting of those classed as idiots, imbeciles, and feeble-minded children in immediate need of public care or control. The Local M.D. Authority would be responsible for this lower group but would pay LEAs to provide for their education and training;
  • in the case of children over 11, the LEA would have the power but not the duty to make such provision at the request of the Local M.D. Authority;
  • children who are of too low a grade to attend a Day School or Centre should be sent to Residential Institutions or Colonies provided by the Local M.D. Authority;
  • the upper and lower age limits for compulsory school attendance should be the same for normal and mentally defective children;
  • LEAs should retain the duty of certifying those children whom it is proposed to notify and this should apply to all children of compulsory school age whether attending school or not;
  • Section 1(c) of the Mental Deficiency Act 1927 should be amended to make it clear that the educational criterion alone is not sufficient and that the criteria applicable to feeble-minded adults apply also to feeble-minded children;
  • all the relevant provisions of the Education and Mental Deficiency Acts should apply to mentally defective children who are in Poor Law Institutions or otherwise dealt with by the Guardians (or the Bodies that are to replace them);
  • LEAs should be consulted when children or young offenders are brought before a Court so that medical and psychological examinations may be made;
  • all children in Home Office Schools in whose case there is reason to suspect mental retardation should be examined with a view to proper educational classification and action under the Mental Deficiency Acts if necessary;
  • we would urge in the strongest terms that LEAs should leave no stone unturned in their endeavours to ascertain all children in their areas who are in need of care and control under the Mental Deficiency Acts;
  • there should be research into the causation and prevention of mental defect, the further elucidation of the difference of incidence of defect in urban and rural areas, the relationship between mental defect and other social problems, and the educational problems presented by the whole group of retarded children.

The report online

The report was published in four parts:

I General
II The mentally defective child
III The present provision for adult defectives
IV Report by Dr. EO Lewis on an investigation into the incidence of mental deficiency.
Parts I and II, including the Appendix to Part II, are presented in a single web page. The tables (which are all in the Appendix) and the foldout sheet containing a diagram (following page 169) are shown here as images.

Anything added by way of explanation is shown [in square brackets].

I have corrected a dozen or so printing errors and simplified some of the punctuation. Otherwise, the text presented here is as printed in the report.

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 13 July 2013.