BOY WORK. FROM EDUCATION TO EMPLOYMENT IN ENGLAND AND WALES, 1901-1930
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This thesis follows the route British boys (aged 12-19) took from education to employment between 1901 and 1930. A period of increasing concern about issues affecting the entry of youths into work; by the start of the 1930s, this study argues, there was a distinctive change in the lives of British adolescents as employment prospects weakened. The attitudes of contemporary policy makers and social reformers are considered, and the important themes of crime, leisure and physical wellbeing are interrogated. Two contrasting regions, the largely agricultural county of Devon and industrialised, urban Birmingham provide comparative case studies on reform and implementation of new policies. This addresses an historiographic gap in early twentieth-century boyhood as scholars have tended to focus on urbanised and industrialised areas before 1914, and in relation to inter-war Britain. The challenges associated with improving boys’ education and employment were debated, inquired into, and legislated upon in parliament. Analyses by Fabian Socialists, trade unionists, sociologists and educationalists enriched the debate. Local and national newspaper commentary and correspondence gave exposure to the discussions surrounding boy labour. This official and public discourse forms the core of the primary sources alongside expert inquiry and comment in books, pamphlets and articles. Together, they helped conceived the ‘juvenile problem’ studied in this thesis. But while scholarship, from specialist monograph to articles, has studied these early-twentieth century challenges for society and the state in dealing with the employment problem (and other problems) of boyhood into adulthood, detailed work on purely rural, non-industrialised regions like Devon is limited. This dissertation draws on a rich archive of material from education authorities and employment bodies, much of it previously underused. The subject of ‘blind-alley' work is important because contemporaries related it to poor education, and international economic competitiveness. The 1902 Education Act was seen at the time as significant, and although some scholars have questioned the rate of material reform this thesis argues that while if subsequent legislative steps were limited, ongoing debate over education ultimately contributed to the watershed reforms of the 1940s. This study highlights the challenges of delivering educational improvements for agricultural communities and the implications for rural employment. While industrialisation and service-sector growth in cities like Birmingham provided new opportunities for juveniles, low-skilled, blind-alley work is shown to have persisted. The problems of working-class boys’ education and work-preparedness in the early twentieth century pose questions about policy still pressing in modern Britain.