As a reward for the sacrifices made during the First World War the British government in 1918 announced that it intended to raise the school leaving age from fourteen to fifteen. However, this measure was constantly being postponed. Eventually the government promised that the new system would begin in September 1939. The outbreak of the Second World War meant that this educational reform was once more postponed.
At the sametime government also made plans for the evacuation of all children from Britain's large cities. Sir John Anderson, who was placed in charge of the scheme, decided to divide the country into three areas: evacuation (people living in urban districts where heavy bombing raids could be expected); neutral (areas that would neither send nor take evacuees) and reception (rural areas where evacuees would be sent).
As all the children and their teachers living in urban districts were expected to move to the rural areas, most schools in the towns were closed down. Of these, around two-thirds were requisitioned by the government and were handed over to the Civil Defence Services.
However, only around 50 per cent of the children living in the towns became evacuees. This meant that around a million children were now without schools. There were soon reports of increased acts of hooliganism. Public air raid shelters were often the target of their attacks and in many areas the authorities were forced to keep them locked.
As well as losing their education, children from poor families lost their free milk and school dinners. Medical inspections in schools also came to an end and as a result there was a dramatic increase in the number of children suffering from scabies and headlice.
Schools in rural areas remained open but they often had to share their facilities with the evacuees. This meant the introduction of the double shift system. This involved local children using the classrooms in the morning while the evacuees would attend school in the afternoon.
Where possible local authorities attempted to provide a full-time education by finding alternative buildings to accommodate the evacuated children and teachers. This included the use of churches, village halls and warehouses as classrooms. Berwick Sayers later wrote: "for weeks in some cases, teachers and children assembled at some agreed point and walked the country lanes until they could be housed in some suitable hall."
The government eventually accepted that evacuation had caused serious problems for education. In November 1939 Neville Chamberlain announced that some schools in industrial cities would be reopened in order to provide an education for those children who had not become evacuees.
As the war progressed young male teachers were conscripted into the armed forces. This led to a shortage of teachers and an inevitable increase in class sizes.
The universities were open throughout the Second World War. The numbers of tutors and students were dramatically reduced because of war work. In the early part of the war the conscription of young men to join the armed forces saw an increase in the number of women at university. However, the passing of the National Service Act on 18th December 1941 changed the situation. This legislation called up unmarried women aged between twenty and thirty.