History pre 1899
For most of the 19th century, only voluntary and secular schools provided elementary education in England and Wales. In 1833 sums began to be voted by Parliament for distribution by the Treasury to such bodies. In 1839 a Committee of the Privy Council on Education was formed to administer these grants, assisted by an Education Department set up in 1856 which also incorporated the Science and Art Department of the Board of Trade.
The 1870 Elementary Education Act was the effective start of state-financed education in England and Wales. Existing grants to charity schools were substantially increased and provision was made for local authorities to finance additional schools out of the rates. The 1870 Act also increased the functions of the Committee of the Privy Council and the Education Department, by co-operation with the school boards set up under the Act, and school inspections.
Subsequent legislation made elementary education compulsory and virtually free by 1891, extended the powers of school boards and brought other types of school under the department's supervision.
State control over non-elementary education was shared between the Charity Commissioners, the Education Department and the Science and Art Department, and in 1895 the Bryce Commission on Secondary Education recommended the establishment of a single central authority to deal with all aspects of education, but it was not until 1902 that secondary schools came under central control.
Board of Education, 1899 - 1944
Under the Board of Education Act 1899, the Education Department and the Science and Art Department were replaced by a Board of Education. The Act provided for the transfer to the Board by Order in Council of any powers of the Charity Commissioners or the Board of Agriculture relating to education. The board also took over responsibilities for endowed schools. The 1899 Act also provided for the creation of a Consultative Committee to advise the board and prepare a register of teachers.
The 1902 Education Act replaced the 2,568 school boards and 14,238 bodies of school managers with a system of local education authorities. It also clarified the board's powers in respect of secondary education, although provision in this field remained voluntary until the Education Acts of 1918 and 1921. Also the system of grant aid was radically reorganised and authorities were required to submit schemes for education in their areas for the board's approval.
The main responsibilities of the board, although extended by the Education Acts of 1902, 1918 and 1921, altered little, but included inspection of poor law schools (1904), powers relating to public libraries (1919) and all duties relating to local authority youth employment services and juvenile employment committees (1927). The board was also given certain powers over private schools, most importantly the power of inspection for the granting of efficiency certificates.
Certain minor functions were transferred elsewhere. In 1919 responsibility for the Geological Survey and Museum passed to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and for certain university grants to the University Grants Committee. The Ministry of Health took over aspects of child and maternal welfare and medical inspection and treatment of children. In 1926 payment of teachers' pensions was returned to the Paymaster General's Office.
Ministry of Education, 1944 - 1964
The Ministry of Education replaced the Board of Education under the 1944 Education Act. Branches dealing with different levels of education were amalgamated to form one Schools Branch and one Further Education Branch. Regional organisation also underwent modification. The Act intended that schooling should be compulsory to the age of 16 years.
The ministry took over a number of functions from other government departments. These included administration of the Camps Act 1939 (from the Ministry of Health), responsibility for education of Polish refugees under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947, and for agricultural education (from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1959). Responsibility for the Imperial Institute passed from the Board of Trade in 1949 and the Charity Commissioners handed over control of those quasi-educational bodies which it had held since 1899.
The ministry also lost some responsibilities. For example, in 1945 the Ministry of Labour and National Service took over training of handicapped adults and in 1953 the Prison Commission assumed financial control of educational facilities in prisons and borstals.
Department of Education and Science (DES), 1964 - 1992
The DES was formed following recommendations of the Robbins Committee on Higher Education. In April 1964 the Ministry of Education and the office of the Minister for Science were merged and took over other residual research functions of the Lord President together with his general responsibility for the University Grants Committee.
The DES was responsible for the encouragement and supervision of education in England and Wales and for civil science and higher education throughout the UK. It was headed by the Secretary of State for Education and Science, assisted by two junior ministers. It was divided into two sections, the independence of which was reflected in their separate votes and accounting officers.
The Secretary of State initially simply took the place of the Minister for Science as chair of the various Privy Council committees for civil science. These were later abolished and the DES's responsibilities became channelled through research councils established under the Science and Technology Act 1965. The Secretary of State administered these councils with the help of a Council on Scientific Policy.
The DES also had special responsibility for sport and the arts. In 1965 a Sports Council was created and the DES also assumed certain responsibilities for the Arts Council and various national museums, art galleries and similar institutions. In 1967 these joint functions were placed in the hands of a Minister for the Arts. In June 1970 this office was transferred to the Paymaster General.
After 1974 direct responsibility for the arts was resumed within the DES. The Minister for Arts and Crafts allocated grants to cultural bodies and supervised the work of the Arts Council and other such institutions. In 1979 these responsibilities transferred to the Office of Arts and Libraries.
In 1964 administration of the Atomic Energy Acts passed to the Ministry of Technology. In 1967 responsibility for the Commonwealth Institute passed to the Commonwealth Office. In 1970 the Welsh Office took control of primary and secondary education in Wales and Monmouthshire leaving functions relating to teachers and the appointment of inspectors with the DES.
In 1971 responsibility for education of mentally handicapped children and for junior training centres was transferred from the Department of Health and Social Security. In 1978 responsibility for all remaining Welsh education matters except universities passed to the Welsh Office.
In 1992, following the transfer of responsibility for science matters and the research councils to the Office of Science and Technology, the DES was renamed the Department for Education. In July 1995, the Employment Service, training functions, and activities concerning discrimination and equal opportunities were transferred from the Employment Department. The Department's name then changed to the Department for Education and Employment.