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By Arthur Hearnden

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The education that facilitated this advancement lay largely outside the Gymnasium. Indeed, it was a well-known phenomenon that among working-class people who were ambitious for their children the intermediate Realschule was generally more attractive than the more academic alternative. In addition, the vocational and technical education sector offered a wide range of opportunities for professional advancement. There is little doubt, too, that these areas threw up new élites which enjoyed comparable wealth, if not comparable status of the traditional kind, to that of the longer established highly placed groups.

In this assessment Sadler saw the merits of the German secondary schools, their high standards of organisation and scholarship, the clarity of their objectives, and he acknowledged the achievement of the State authorities in building up such an efficient system. But he went on to emphasise the high degree of State control of education which had developed during the nineteenth century, well in excess of what Humboldt had originally envisaged, and to point out that the characteristic English reaction was to resist such control: "those who were naturally the keenest advocates of higher [in this context, secondary] education were at the same time the 9 least anxious that it should be brought in any way under State control".

Petersen aimed above all at flexibility, breaking down the rigid system whereby the pupils of each class stayed together for all subjects throughout their school career and those who failed to reach the required standard in individual subjects were refused promotion and made to repeat the year's work. He was also opposed to arbitrary boundaries between subjects and was a pioneer investigator of the process of learning through group activity. The "Jena Plan", first put forward in 1919, reflected his concern to promote equality of opportunity which he interpreted in a meritocratic sense, guaranteeing the promotion of the interests of the more able within the comprehensive framework.

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