Last winter we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT), which included 380 pamphlet boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.
Over the last year, we have checked and sorted these resources, discovering many interesting publications during the process. Among these, we have picked a few ‘gems’ and decided to share what we have learnt about each one. Today is the turn of ‘Metrication: No Turning Back. An NUT Policy Statement ‘ and ‘Going Metric. A Guide for Schools’ both from 1971.
In the late 1960s the N.U.T. set up a special committee to study the replacement of imperial units with metric units and examine the way in which the proposed changes would affect the work of schools. It was keen to ensure that those working in the education sector would be given adequate resources to carry out its work speedily and efficiently. At the time it seemed that both Parliament and the nation shared its belief that the reforms would be beneficial. “The N.U.T. did not therefore think it necessary to make any formal statement of principle.”
But subsequent debates in Parliament indicated that opposition to the changes did exist and even a desire to reverse decisions made about going metric.
“The Executive of the National Union of Teachers, on the recommendation of the Committee on Metrication, therefore issued, on 23rd February 1971, the following statement:
The National Union of Teachers has noted that suggestions have been made in Parliament and elsewhere that the present proposals to introduce metrication by 1975 should be abandoned. It therefore wishes to make clear:
- Its general support for the proposals which it believes will ultimately produce important educational benefits in our schools and
- That it strongly opposes the abandonment at this stage of existing plans. Very important steps have already been taken in the preparation of both teachers and materials for the change, and to abandon all this would not only result in an indefensible waste of valuable time and resources but would create chaos in future educational planning.
The Union repeats its regret that the previous Government, followed by the present Government, has not been willing to make special financial provision to enable local education authorities to provide the necessary resources for the educational preparation, both for the decimalisation of money and the future change to the metric system generally.”
The document puts forward the case for metrication and considers the potential impact upon schools, including the work that needed to be done by Examination Boards in the preparation for Metrication. At the time there were 14 C.S.E. Examination Boards and 8 G.C.E. Examination Boards. There was a discrepancy among the Boards as to when the changeover metric to S.I. units should take place. But there was a general consensus that all papers should be set in S.I. units from 1974 or 1975.
The provisions of one C.S. E. Board illustrate the range of subjects affected:
“West Yorkshire and Lindsey Regional Examining Board. Chemistry, general science, geography, geometrical and technical drawing, housecraft and woodwork units in papers will include either/both S.I. units and imperial measurements until 1975. Thereafter only S.I. units will be used. Maths and physics: imperial units will be replaced by metric measurements in 1972 and 1971 respectively.”
The document includes a “Selected Reading List on Decimalisation and Metrication” and this may be useful for researchers looking for additional sources in this area.
The background to the issues raised in this NUT Policy Statement contains no small amount of surprises. The idea of the UK adopting the metric system as the primary system of weights and measures was not new in the 20th century. Indeed in 1668 Bishop John Wilkins published a proposal for a universal decimal system of measurement. James Watt complained in 1783 that he could not communicate with German inventors and called for a global decimal measurement system. In the 1790s the French National Assembly created the foundations of what is now called the Système International d’Unites (SI) which is the measurement system used by most of the world. The British Parliament had been invited to participate in this pioneering work but withdrew their initial support after the French overthrew their monarchy.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 highlighted the advantages of a common international system of measurement. In 1854 The Decimal Association was set up to lobby for the decimalisation of both measurement and currency. Another pressure group was established with the formation in 1857 of a British Branch of the International Association for Obtaining a Uniform Decimal System of Measures, Weights and Coins.
Progress seemed to be made when the 1864 Weights and Measures (Metric System) Act permitted the use of metric measures for “contacts and dealings”. It had little practical effect, but in 1884 the UK becomes a signatory of The Metre Convention and joined the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM). Then, in 1895 a Select Committee of the House of Commons recommended that the metric system should be authorised for all purposes, taught in elementary schools and become compulsory within two years. In 1897 a Second Weights and Measures (Metric System) Act permits the use of the metric system for all purposes in the UK but again it had little practical effect.
Once again in 1951 The Committee on Weights and Measures Legislation (the Hodgson Committee) concluded that metric conversion was inevitable and that the long-term advantages of the change would outweigh the inconveniences of the change itself. It adds that, prior to the metric change, the currency should be decimalised and in 1966 the government announced it would be introduced in 1971. The Decimal Currency Act of 1965 allowed the Decimal Currency Board to plan and manage the change. Money was spent on preparation and publicity and Decimalisation Day (nicknamed D-day) was Monday 15th February 1971.
The difference in the government’s attitude towards metrication can be seen in the N.U.T. leaflet entitled ‘Going Metric. A Guide for Schools’ in which. The N.U.T. talking about changes in industry comments that “THERE WILL BE NO M DAY. Each firm decides its own changeover dates.”
Perhaps that is why in 2014 the U K Metric association published a report entitled ‘Still A Mess. The continuing failure of UK measurement policy.’
This item, like all the others included in this donation, is currently uncatalogued, although this will be the next step in our project. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about the contents of the donation, please check our LibGuide.