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Training under articles

From the time of the incorporation of the Institute until the 1970s, prospective chartered accountants trained ‘under articles’.

This page provides an overview of the historical system of training under articles, information on its eventual replacement with a system based on training contracts, and details of materials relating to articles and articled clerks.

The system of training under articles

Combining practical experience and theoretical study, the system of training under articles aimed to imbue prospective chartered accountants with a good grounding in the main elements of public accountancy.

Under the system, those seeking to join ICAEW and pursue a career as a chartered accountant were required to serve for a set period – usually five years (or three years, for graduates of UK universities) – as an ‘articled clerk’ to an Institute member (their ‘principal’), who would provide them with practical training. During their period of service as an articled clerk, trainees were barred from engaging in any other business or occupation (except by permission of the Council).

The terms of an individual articled clerk’s service were codified in a set of ‘articles of clerkship’, and it was these which gave the system its name. These articles constituted a private contract between the clerk, the member in whose office they were to serve, and (if the clerk was not of full age) the clerk’s parent or guardian. The precise form of these articles varied from case-to-case, but ICAEW mandated the inclusion of certain compulsory clauses.

Financial arrangements were a matter for negotiation between those party to the articles, and varied from case-to-case. In some cases, a premium was payable to the member to whom the clerk was to be articled; in others it was not. Some articled clerks received renumeration for their work in the form of a salary; others did not.

Until 1963, in order to enter service as an articled clerk one was first required either to have passed the Institute’s Preliminary examination, or to have been granted exemption from it. Sample questions set for the Preliminary examination in 1882-1886 can be viewed online. The Preliminary examination was not held after November 1963; thereafter all prospective trainees were required to obtain a Preliminary Certificate, granted by the Institute to individuals who met particular criteria. These criteria were publicised via certain official channels, including some editions of the Examinations Conduct and Syllabuses.

In the early part of their service, an articled clerk would be engaged mostly in work of a routine nature. After completing half of their period of service, their progress would be tested by the Intermediate examination. Candidates who achieved success in this examination might thereafter be engaged in more advanced work. (In the later years of the system, some articled clerks who had completed certain designated university degree courses were granted exemption from the Intermediate examination.)

At the end of their period under articles, each clerk was required to sit for the Final examination. Successful candidates could then apply for admission to the ICAEW membership.

More information on historical ICAEW examinations can be found in our guide to historical examination materials, which includes pages on papers, pass lists, and syllabuses.

Transition from articles to training contracts

The system of training under articles was phased out during the 1970s and replaced with a system based on training contracts. Prospective chartered accountants commencing their training on or after 1st August 1973 entered into training contracts, rather than articles of clerkship.

A piece in the January 1974 issue of Accountancy magazine, entitled 'Is it your intention to sign a training contract soon?' (p.10), sets out some of the reasons for the transition from articles to training contracts. It states that the use of the terms 'student' and 'training contract' — as opposed to 'articled clerk' and 'articles' — is intended to make clear the intention that trainees henceforth be regarded as persons engaged primarily in study. This is contrasted with the situation that had existed under the old system, whereby articled clerks would be 'put to work' by their principal, with the assumption being that they would derive some training from this. The phrase 'training contract', it is stated, 'emphasises the Institute's new insistence on a contractual relationship binding a principal to provide proper instruction for a student'.

The article goes on to note that, in future, members taking on students for the first time will be required to show that they are willing and able to provide approved training, and authorised principals will be responsible for ensuring that each student maintains a Training Record, and that they both review it periodically. Further detail on principals' responsibilities and the standards of training required under the new system was published the same year in a 'Training Guide', copies of which are held in the Library.

Certain other motivating factors behind the change — such as the changing educational context in Britain — are covered in the foreword to a document entitled 'A policy for education and training: a statement by the Council', published in May 1972. The Library holds copies of this publication.

With the shift to a system based on training contracts came attendant changes to the examinations which candidates were required to sit. Transitional arrangements provided for the transfer of those who had entered articles before 1st August 1973 to the appropriate part of the new examination structure, although for a time the old examinations overlapped with the new.

Training contracts (also known as training agreements) remain an important part of ICAEW’s system of education and training to this day.

Relevant materials in the ICAEW Library and London Metropolitan Archives

The ICAEW Library collection includes a number of publications relating to the system of training under articles, and its eventual replacement. Details of these can be accessed via the link below:

In addition, some of the annual membership lists held in the Library collection set out the number of articled clerks registered in a given year (usually in the 'Report of Council' section). The Institute also holds some historical membership records on microfilm, including some which contain details of individuals’ articled service.

As well as the above, some materials relating to articles are held at the London Metropolitan Archives, including:

  • Registers of articles;
  • Statistics on articled clerks registered from January 1963;
  • Articled clerks committee minutes;
  • Lists of certificates of exemption from the Preliminary examination.

Please note that historical records containing personal details relating to members and articled clerks are subject to access restrictions, due to data protection regulations. Requests to view such records — whether at ICAEW Library or at the London Metropolitan Archives — should be directed to the Library enquiry team, at library@icaew.com.

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