Education in the UK

Preliminary pages
Introduction, Contents, Preface
Chapter 1 Up to 1500
Chapter 2 1500-1600
Renaissance and Reformation
Chapter 3 1600-1660
Chapter 4 1660-1750
Chapter 5 1750-1860
Towards mass education
Chapter 6 1860-1900
A state system of education
Chapter 7 1900-1923
Secondary education for some
Chapter 8 1923-1939
From Hadow to Spens
Chapter 9 1939-1945
Educational reconstruction
Chapter 10 1945-1951
Labour and the tripartite system
Chapter 11 1951-1964
The wind of change
Chapter 12 1964-1970
The golden age?
Chapter 13 1970-1974
Applying the brakes
Chapter 14 1974-1979
Progressivism under attack
Chapter 15 1979-1990
Thatcher and the New Right
Chapter 16 1990-1997
John Major: more of the same
Chapter 17 1997-2007
Tony Blair and New Labour
Chapter 18 2007-2010
Brown and Balls: mixed messages
Chapter 19 2010-2015
Gove v The Blob
Chapter 20 2015-2018

Organisation of this chapter


The education of the working class
1861 Newcastle Report
1862 Revised Code
1870 Elementary Education Act
   The church problem
   The school boards
   The elementary schools
Three more Acts (1873-79)
1880 Elementary Education Act
1882 Mundella Code
1891 Elementary Education Act
Two further Acts (1897, 1900)
The teachers
Infant schools
Higher elementary education
   Higher Grade Schools
   1886-8 Cross Commission

The education of the upper class
1864 Clarendon Report
   Management of the schools
   The curriculum
   Upper-class preserves
1868 Public Schools Act

The education of the middle classes
1868 Taunton Report
   Taunton's findings
   Management and administration
   The three-grade scheme
   The curriculum
   The education of girls
The reform of endowments
   1868 Endowed Schools Act
   1869 Endowed Schools Act
   The Endowed Schools Commission
   1874 Endowed Schools Act
1895 Bryce Report

Elementary education
Secondary education
The education of girls

Science and technology
1871-75 Devonshire Reports
1882 Aberdare Report
1882/84 Samuelson Reports
1889-1892 Further Acts

The education of girls

Child welfare and special educational needs
Child welfare
Special educational needs
Provision for
   the deaf and blind
   the physically and mentally handicapped
   defective and epileptic children

Higher education
New colleges
Oxford and Cambridge
   1862 Oxford University Act
   1871 Universities Tests Act

And finally ...
The government of education
   1888 Local Government Act
   1899 Board of Education Act
Mundella's legacy
Education and society
   Social conditions
   Socialism and education
   A common education for all
Education as a science


Education in the UK: a history
Derek Gillard

first published June 1998
this version published May 2018

copyright Derek Gillard 2018
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Chapter 6 : 1860-1900

A state system of education


Queen Victoria, who ruled from 1837 until her death in 1901, presided over a nation enjoying high levels of peace and prosperity. England had undergone huge political and social changes, coupled with the rapid development of industry and the expansion of a world-wide empire. The Great Exhibition of 1851 epitomised the country's new-found self-confidence. In the second half of the century the population of England and Wales almost doubled - from 16.8 million in 1851 to 30.5 million in 1901.

The two great political figures of the period were Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) and William Gladstone (1809-1898). Disraeli, a Tory favoured by the Queen, served two terms as Prime Minister, from February to December in 1868 and then from 1874 to 1880. Gladstone, a Liberal (the Whig party merged with other groups and adopted the name Liberal around 1850), was Prime Minister four times (1868-74, 1880-85, February to July 1886, and 1892-94). He had an uneasy relationship with Victoria.

England had no state education: schools belonged mostly to the churches and had been allowed to develop in line with the country's class structure. The United States, by contrast, had begun establishing a public school system based on a common education for all its citizens by the 1830s.

Many groups had campaigned for more and better education, especially for the children of the working class, but they had not been supported by the middle and upper classes, who were 'fearful of state control of education' (Chitty 1992:6) nor, at least before 1870, by the Liberal Party, which traditionally believed in freedom and diversity, and in 'the supreme virtue of limited government' (Chitty 1992:5).

By the 1860s, however, it was becoming clear that any complacency about Britain's position in the world, or the state of its education system compared with that of continental countries, was misplaced:

The Paris Exhibition of 1867 revealed a high level of industrial technique in other countries, particularly Germany, and it had been made clear that this rested not only on a high standard of technical education but also on universal elementary schooling (Simon 1974:359).
Sadly, when the British government finally began to acknowledge its responsibility for educating all its people, it not only allowed the class divisions to continue, but exacerbated them. Three national education commissions were established, the reports of each - and the Acts which followed them - relating to provision for a particular social class. In chronological order these were:
  • The Royal Commission on the State of Popular Education in England, appointed in 1858. The 1861 Newcastle Report led to the 1870 Elementary Education Act which made provision for schools for the masses;
  • The Royal Commission on the Public Schools, appointed in 1861. The 1864 Clarendon Report and the 1868 Public Schools Act dealt with the 'great' public (ie private) schools; and
  • The Schools Inquiry Commission, appointed in 1864. The 1868 Taunton Report and the Endowed Schools Act of 1869 dealt with schools for the middle classes.
Nonetheless, it is important not to underestimate the extent of the changes that took place between 1870 and 1902, as Stephens points out: 'elementary education became both free and compulsory, state elementary and secondary schools were established and central government control over education increased greatly' (Stephens 1998:77).

The education of the working class

Before 1870, elementary education was provided largely by the Church of England's National Society and the nonconformist British and Foreign School Society. The government had, however, made grants to these two bodies from 1833, and arrangements governing the distribution of the grants had been set out in an annual Code of Regulations, first published in a Committee of Council Minute of 24 September 1839.

1861 Newcastle Report

(Note: references in this section are to Volume I, which contains the main report, except where indicated otherwise.)

By the late 1850s it was clear that the churches were unable to provide sufficient school places for all children, so the Royal Commission on the State of Popular Education in England, under the chairmanship of the Duke of Newcastle, was appointed in 1858

To inquire into the state of public education in England and to consider and report what measures, if any, are required for the extension of sound and cheap elementary instruction to all classes of the people (Newcastle 1861:1).
The Commission published its six-volume report in 1861. It noted that
The whole population of England and Wales, as estimated by the Registrar-General in the summer of 1858, amounted to 19,523,103. The number of children whose names ought, at the same date, to have been on the school books, in order that all might receive some education, was 2,655,767. The number we found to be actually on the books was 2,535,462, thus leaving 120,305 children without any school instruction whatever. The proportion, therefore, of scholars in week-day schools of all kinds to the entire population was 1 in 7.7 or 12.99 per cent. Of these 321,768 are estimated to have been above the condition of such as are commonly comprehended in the expression 'poorer classes', and hence are beyond the range of our present inquiry. Deducting these from the whole number of children on the books of some school, we find that 2,213,694 children belonging to the poorer classes were, when our statistics were collected and compiled, receiving elementary instruction in day schools. Looking, therefore, at mere numbers as indicating the state of popular education in England and Wales, the proportion of children receiving instruction to the whole population is, in our opinion, nearly as high as can be reasonably expected. In Prussia, where it is compulsory, 1 in 6.27; in England and Wales it is, as we have seen, 1 in 7.7; in Holland it is 1 in 8.11; in France it is 1 in 9.0 (Newcastle 1861:293).
But it went on to warn:
We are bound to observe, however, that a very delusive estimate of the state of education must result from confining attention to the mere amount of numbers under day school instruction. We have seen that less than three years ago there were in elementary day schools 2,213,694 children of the poorer classes. But of this number, 573,536 were attending private schools, which, as our evidence uniformly shows, are, for the most part, inferior as schools for the poor, and ill-calculated to give to the children an education which shall be serviceable to them in after-life. Of the 1,549,312 children whose names are on the books of public elementary day schools belonging to the religious denominations, only 19.3 per cent were in their 12th year or upwards, and only that proportion, therefore, can be regarded as educated up to the standard suited to their stations. As many as 786,202 attend for less than 100 days in the year and can therefore hardly receive a serviceable amount of education, while our evidence goes to prove that a large proportion, even of those whose attendance is more regular, fail in obtaining it on account of inefficient teaching. Much, therefore, still remains to be done to bring up the state of elementary education in England and Wales to the degree of usefulness which we all regard as attainable and desirable (Newcastle 1861:294-5).
The Report was also critical of the quality of education provided:
we have seen overwhelming evidence from Her Majesty's Inspectors, to the effect that not more than one-fourth of the children receive a good education. So great a failure in the teaching demanded the closest investigation; and as the result of it we have been obliged to come to the conclusion that the instruction given is commonly both too ambitious and too superficial in its character, that (except in the very best schools) it has been too exclusively adapted to the elder scholars to the neglect of the younger ones, and that it often omits to secure a thorough grounding in the simplest but most essential parts of instruction. We have shown that the present system has never completely met this serious difficulty in elementary teaching; that inspection looks chiefly to the upper classes and to the general condition of the school, and cannot profess to examine carefully individual scholars; and that a main object of the schools is defeated in respect of every child who, having attended for a considerable time, leaves without the power of reading, writing, and cyphering in an intelligent manner (Newcastle 1861:295-6).
The Commissioners rejected any suggestion that attendance at school should be made compulsory or that it should be extended - the labour market required the employment of children, and
if the wages of the child's labour are necessary, either to keep the parents from the poor rates, or to relieve the pressure of severe and bitter poverty, it is far better that it should go to work at the earliest age at which it can bear the physical exertion than that it should remain at school (Newcastle 1861:188).
There was considerable disagreement between the Commissioners over the funding of education, with some (the 'voluntaryists' - see the previous chapter) believing that 'the interference of Government with education is objectionable on political and religious grounds' (Newcastle 1861:297). However, they noted that 'all the principal nations of Europe, and the United States of America, as well as British North America, have felt it necessary to provide for the education of the people by public taxation' (Newcastle 1861:297), and they proceeded to:
propose means by which, in the first place, the present system may be made applicable to the poorer no less than the richer districts throughout the whole country; secondly, by which the present expenditure may be controlled and regulated; thirdly, by which the complication of business in the office may be checked; fourthly, by which greater local activity and interest in education may be encouraged; fifthly, by which the general attainment of a greater degree of elementary knowledge may be secured than is acquired at present (Newcastle 1861:327-8).
The Commissioners commented that infant schools for children up to the age of seven were 'of great utility': they were places of security as well as of education, since they were the only means of keeping children of poor families off the streets in town, or out of the roads and fields in the country. They distinguished two types of infant school: the public infant schools, which often formed a department of the ordinary day school; and the private or 'dame' schools, which were very common in both town and country but were frequently little more than nurseries in which 'the nurse collected the children of many families into her own house instead of attending upon the children of some one family' (Newcastle 1861:28).

1862 Revised Code

The Newcastle Commission recommended that a grant should be paid in respect of every child who, having attended an elementary school, passed an examination in reading, writing and arithmetic (Newcastle 1861:545).

To achieve this, the Code of Regulations for 1862 (commonly known as the Revised Code) introduced the 'payment-by-results' system. It stipulated that every scholar for whom grants were claimed must be examined according to one of six 'standards' in the 'three Rs' - reading, writing and 'rithmetic.

The Revised Code is sometimes referred to as 'Lowe's Code', after its creator, Robert Lowe (1811-1892) (pictured), who had been appointed Vice-President of the Committee of Council on Education in 1859. Because of Lowe's opposition to religious influence in education, grants were dependent only on regular school attendance and proficiency in the three Rs: 'they were not awarded for religious instruction' (Stephens 1998:18).

Lowe told the House of Commons that he could not promise

that this system will be an economical one, and I cannot promise that it will be an efficient one, but I can promise that ... if it is not cheap it shall be efficient; if it is not efficient it shall be cheap (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:290).
Expenditure on education had risen from 125,000 in 1848 to over 800,000 in 1861. The effect of the Revised Code was to reduce this to around 600,000 in the mid 1860s, though it began to rise again later in the decade, and more so after the 1870 Elementary Education Act, partly because of greater school attendance (Lawson and Silver 1973:290).

As a result of the Code, elementary schools were organised on the basis of annual promotion. Classes in the senior department were named Standards I to VI, roughly corresponding to ages 7 to 12.

Lawson and Silver note that 'The machinery introduced by the code was narrower than that proposed by the Newcastle Commission' (Lawson and Silver 1973:290):

Each child over the age of six was to earn the school a grant of 4s. on the basis of attendance, and 8s. 'subject to examination'. Of the latter 2s. 8d. was forfeited for failure to satisfy the inspector in reading, 2s. 8d. in writing and 2s. 8d. in arithmetic. Children were to be presented in six 'standards', and not a second time in the same or a lower standard. Children under six were exempted from examination only under last-minute pressure (and these earned a grant of 6s. 6d. subject to a general report by the inspector as to the suitability of their education) (Lawson and Silver 1973:290).
The payment-by-results system was also applied to evening classes, so pupils attending cookery classes, for example, had to be tested in the standard elementary subjects. As a result, attendance at evening classes diminished.

Right from the start there was much opposition to the Code.

Teachers objected partly to the method of testing, but mainly to the principle of payment by results because it linked money for schools with the criterion of a minimum standard. Thus the higher primary work which was beginning to appear before 1861 in the best elementary schools was seriously discouraged. The curriculum became largely restricted to the three Rs, and the only form of practical instruction that survived was needlework. Furthermore, the standards themselves were defective because they were based not on an experimental enquiry into what children of a given age actually knew, but on an a priori notion of what they ought to know. They largely ignored the wide range of individual capacity, and the detailed formulations for the several ages were not always precise or appropriate. 'No system could have been better designed to limit and stultify the educational process' (Simon 1965:116):

Teachers saw it as their duty, indeed a necessity, to get as many children through the examination as possible, and the most effective way of doing this, especially with very large classes, was by rote learning and drilling. Children learned their reading books off by heart (Simon 1965:116).

TH Huxley (1825-1895) noted that 'the Revised Code did not compel any schoolmaster to leave off teaching anything; but, by the very simple process of refusing to pay for many kinds of teaching, it has practically put an end to them', while Matthew Arnold bemoaned the fact that inspectors could not 'go beyond the three matters, reading, writing, and arithmetic' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:290).

Even inspectors who supported the principle of the Revised Code

reported its deadening and disheartening effects. The need to drill the children to meet the inspection requirements was reflected in the schools' activities throughout the year. Frequent testing became common. Some of the improvements of the 1850s in curriculum and method in many schools were cut short (Lawson and Silver 1973:291)
Writing in 1911, former inspector Edmond Holmes described the process as 'that deadly system' which seemed to have been devised 'for the express purpose of arresting growth and strangling life' (Holmes 1911:vii).
Child after child stands up, reads for a minute or so, and then sits down, remaining idle and inert (except when an occasional question is addressed to him) for the rest of the time occupied by the so-called lesson. In this, as in most oral lessons, the elementary school child passes much of his time in a state which is neither activity nor rest, - a state of enforced inertness combined with unnatural and unceasing strain (Holmes 1911:125)
The result of this process, he argued, was that
The child who leaves school at the age of fourteen will have attended some 2,000 or 3,000 reading lessons in the course of his school life. From these, in far too many cases, he will have carried nothing away but the ability to stumble with tolerable correctness through printed matter of moderate difficulty. He will not have carried away from them either the power or the desire to read (Holmes 1911:128).
Edward Thring (1821-1887), head of Uppingham School, said later that the effect of the Code had been to treat children's minds like 'specimens on a board with a pin stuck through them like beetles' and he urged teachers to 'strive for liberty to teach, have mercy on the slow, the ignorant, the weak' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:292).

In 1858 Sir Charles Adderley (1814-1905), Vice-President of the Committee of Council on Education, had declared that

any attempt to keep the children of the labouring classes under intellectual culture after the very earliest stage at which they could earn their living, would be as arbitrary and improper as it would be to keep the boys at Eton and Harrow at spade labour (quoted in Simon 1965:120).
While this sort of language was seen by many as inappropriate, 'in practice it could hardly be said that the intellect of the workers' children was effectively cultivated during the brief period they remained in elementary schooling' (Simon 1965:120).

The training colleges were also badly affected by the Revised Code: 'it reduced their grant, their numbers (by decreasing the number of Queen's scholars) and their standards' (Lawson and Silver 1973:292). The number of pupil teachers fell from 14,000 in 1861 to 9,000 in 1866, with schools for the poorest children worst hit.

The payment-by-results culture became ingrained in teachers. It was 'a view of the nature of elementary education from which it took the system generations to recover' (Lawson and Silver 1973:292).

However, the Code's strict conditions were gradually relaxed over the following thirty years: more freedom of classification was allowed, the tests were made more elastic, and examinations were taken by sample only.

By the 1890s there were signs of more effective teaching in the higher standards, largely because many teachers were doing their best, 'under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, to introduce some humanity into the schools, to develop the intellectual capacities and widen the general outlook of their pupils' (Simon 1965:119). The standards system began to fall into disuse and was finally abandoned by the Board of Education around the turn of the century, except for a few special purposes such as examining candidates for labour certificates.

As for Lowe himself, he went on to oppose the extension of the franchise, warning that giving workers the vote would 'subvert the existing order of things' and 'transfer power from the hands of property and intelligence, and ... place it in the hands of men whose whole life is necessarily occupied in the daily struggle for existence'. Following the passing of the Reform Act in 1867, he said he now believed it would be 'absolutely necessary to compel our future masters to learn their letters'. He saw education as divided into two distinct branches - 'the education of the poor or primary education, and the education of the middle or upper classes' (quoted in Simon 1974:355). Both needed reform, he said.

1870 Elementary Education Act

Background to the Act

Since the late eighteenth century and the industrial revolution, demands for mass education had been closely associated with campaigns for workers' rights. These demands had been opposed by the voluntaryists led by Edward Baines (1774-1848), but the 1867 Reform Act convinced many - including Baines himself - of the need to educate the newly enfranchised working men.

In March 1869, following the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission on Trade Unions, MP Tom Hughes, with the support of Liberal MP AJ (Anthony) Mundella (1825-1897) (pictured), introduced a bill for the legalisation of the unions. In a Commons debate, MP for Carlisle Edmund Potter, a vehement opponent of the Trades Union Bill, declared:

Many of the trade unionists are uneducated men. The government must therefore not only legislate next year for trade unions; they must bring in a strong education measure; for it is only by a very strong compulsory education bill - I do not care how strong - that we can hope to make much impression on trade unions (quoted in Armytage 1951:72).
Compulsory education was supported by the unions, notably the mineworkers, and by the newly-formed Trades Union Congress, held at Birmingham in August 1869, which unanimously passed a motion declaring that 'this Congress believes that nothing short of a system of national, unsectarian, and compulsory education will satisfy the requirements of the people of the United Kingdom' (quoted in Simon 1974:362).

It was also supported by groups such as the Christian Socialists, and - for the first time - by some industrialists, partly because factories had new and more complex machinery and therefore no longer needed child labour; in fact, children of ten or twelve 'could now be more trouble than they were worth' (Simon 1974:359).

To draw all these forces together, the National Education League was formed, with George Dixon (1820-1898) as chairman, Liberal MP Jesse Collings (1831-1920) as secretary, and Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914) as Vice-President. Its inaugural meeting was held in Birmingham in October 1869. The League aimed at making education

secular (to remove it out of the hands of priests of all denominations), compulsory (to overcome the tendency of squires and small manufacturers to keep children away from school), and free (in order to overcome the artisan's objection to losing the labour of his children) (Armytage 1951:72).
The League campaigned for the provision of schools throughout the country, to be run by local authorities who would be empowered to levy a rate. Within nine months it had set up Working Men's Auxiliary Committees, mainly in the midlands and the north, enrolled forty MPs, and amassed considerable funds.

When the League sent a deputation to Westminster in 1870, the prominent trade unionist Robert Applegarth (1834-1924) described 'the great determination there is on the part of the working classes to speak for themselves on these great questions' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:352).

And a conference of miners' delegates declared

not that they wanted more wages, not that they wanted shorter working hours, or any special remedy of that sort; but the first and most important thing they have declared is, that they must have compulsory education for their children (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:352).
The Liberal MP William Forster (1818-1886) (pictured), who had been appointed Vice-President of the Privy Council in 1868, shared many of the views of the National Education League, but believed that making education compulsory would be impractical, at least in the short term, and that making it secular would risk a major confrontation with the churches which he - and the Prime Minister, Gladstone - were anxious to avoid.

Mundella himself 'kept the education question well to the forefront of parliamentary attention' (Armytage 1951:73). In his maiden speech he said he knew of one village where the parishioners had appointed a roadmender as their school teacher, only to find that he was not only incompetent, but irremovable. In a speech on the Poor Laws Mundella called for the 'better employment of those charitable funds, which are sufficient in amount to provide for the education of the whole country' (quoted in Armytage 1951:73), and he urged Forster (unsuccessfully) to empower the Endowed Schools Commission to nationalise non-educational endowments. His grim portrayal of educational provision was resented by the Conservatives but supported by MPs in industrial areas. As a result, Forster ordered statistics to be compiled for four large towns - Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.

Back in Sheffield, Mundella told his constituents:

The more you educate, the more good you have done, and the more poverty and wretchedness you put an end to. As much money has been wasted over the war in Abyssinia as would educate every child in the British Dominions at the moment. I am not a convert to the League. I have been a convert to national compulsory education for years when many of my friends thought I was going mad (quoted in Armytage 1951:73-4).
Meanwhile, Forster prepared a memorandum on an education bill for submission to the Cabinet on 21 October 1869. He outlined two options: that districts should rate themselves; or that voluntary effort should be encouraged to supply such deficiencies as there were. On 24 November he was informed that the cabinet had agreed to the preparation of an education bill on the basis of his memorandum.

Forster and Mundella met several times to discuss proposals for the bill, and Mundella conducted his own investigation into the standard of education provided for industrial workers. He found, for example, that of the 154 children employed in Stockport, 'thirty could not write at all, eighteen wrote wretchedly, and ten only moderately' (Armytage 1951:76).

The churches, objecting to the secularist policies of the National Education League, established the rival National Educational Union, which aimed at 'judiciously supplementing the present denominational system' (Armytage 1951:76) and urged that rate aid should be available only for the education of pauper children.

Edward Baines, who displayed 'consistent hostility to any form of state aid to education' (Armytage 1951:76), put forward a bill which proposed to extend the work of the Anglican National Society and the nonconformist British and Foreign School Society by providing 'such additions as may be needed to complete the education of the working classes' (Armytage 1951:77). He enlisted the support of the Earl of Shaftesbury, who, twenty years earlier, had written in his diary:

I dread, sadly dread, the schemes for national education. A scheme for local rates to maintain the education of the people is a death warrant to the teaching of the evangelical religion. It had better be called 'a water rate to extinguish religious fire among young people' (quoted in Armytage 1951:77).
Introducing the government bill on 17 February 1870, Forster acknowledged the help he had received from both Dixon and Mundella. He told the Commons:
what is the principle relied upon by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) and the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), to whom so much credit is due for stimulating educational zeal in the country? It is the education of the people's children by the people's officers, chosen in their local assemblies, controlled by the people's representatives in Parliament. That is the principle on which our Bill is based; it is the ultimate force which rests behind every clause (Hansard House of Commons 17 February 1870 Vol 199 Col 465).
Forster's bill allowed six months for the British and National societies to bid for funds for new schools. After that, school boards would be established to provide schools where they were still needed. These 'board schools' would be maintained out of local rates.

Mundella was critical of the bill for failing to make school attendance compulsory. But he was equally critical of the National Education League's demand for secularism, believing that this would result in the bill being lost. During the second reading of the bill he spoke against George Dixon's secularising amendment, calling it 'a miserable religious squabble' (quoted in Armytage 1951:78). His speech was well received and praised by both Disraeli and Gladstone. Forster also 'steadily set his face against secularism' (Armytage 1951:77) and Dixon withdrew his amendment.

When clause 65 of the bill was debated, Mundella moved the case for compulsory school attendance. He told the Commons:

Under the protection of the police I have recently explored some of the crowded parts of London, and the sights which I have seen were of the most horrible character. I saw courts in which children, poor, miserable, squalid and neglected, were as thick as flies in a sugar cask. In one court the children were so thick that I could hardly help putting foot upon them. Their parents were in the gin shop. Within a few yards of this House there are thousands of children who never come in contact with human love, who never hear a virtuous sentiment, who never have any teaching but that of the streets, whose parents are to be found in the gin-palaces and the public-houses; and yet the state neglects these children because, forsooth, it respects the 'liberty of the parents'. Yes, this is tolerated in the name of civil liberty, of paternal liberty and of paternal rights; and the results are such, in twenty districts of London, that no language can describe them, and that none can see them, except under the protection of the police. I tested dozens of these children, and I did not find one in twenty who could say the Lord's prayer, or make out words of one syllable (quoted in Armytage 1951:79).
Forster, clearly moved, said he agreed with Mundella, but that it would be impossible to enforce school attendance until there were enough schools. In the event, the 1870 Act gave school boards the power to enforce compulsion, but it did not compel them to do so.

Mundella then pressed - successfully - for the adoption of ballots for school-board elections so that nonconformists would get a share of the representation. 'It was the bitterest fight in which I was ever engaged', he wrote (quoted in Armytage 1951:79).

Educational historians have traditionally viewed the advent of compulsory state-funded and state-controlled public schooling as 'a development benevolently contrived and part and parcel of the democratization of society, bringing benefits to all'. More recently, however, historians of different outlooks 'have cast doubt both on the motives of those who supported and engineered change and on whether it was necessary or desirable' (Stephens 1998:81).

Historians of the left, Stephens suggests, have 'tended to regard compulsory education in state-controlled schools as an intensification of the use of schooling as a tool of social control'; while those on the right take the view that 'private schooling could well have coped with working-class needs' and that the deficiencies of such schools 'were exaggerated by politicians and by an Education Department whose officials and inspectors had a vested interest in public schooling and lobbied for its extension' (Stephens 1998:81).

Summary of the Act

While, with some justification, 1870 can be described as the year in which the government finally accepted responsibility for the education of the nation's children, the 1870 Act was only the start of a process which would take more than twenty years to complete.

The Elementary Education Act of 1870 was the most workable piece of compromise legislation in English nineteenth-century history. It did not introduce free or compulsory education, but it made both possible. It did not supersede the voluntary schools, it supplemented them. It brought the state into action in education as never before. It created, in the school boards, the most democratic organs of local administration of the century, but left the boards' opponents in positions of strength (Lawson and Silver 1973:314).
The 1870 Elementary Education Act (9 August) made provision for the elementary education of all children aged 5-13, and established school boards to oversee and complete the network of schools and to bring them all under some form of supervision. Such a strategy, it said, would have to be affordable and acceptable to the many sectional religious interests.

The Act required the provision of sufficient school places for all children, but it did not make education free (except in proven cases of poverty), and while it empowered school boards to frame by-laws making attendance at school compulsory for children between the ages of five and thirteen, it did not require them to do so. By the end of 1871, 117 school boards had instituted by-laws requiring some degree of compulsory attendance, but these by-laws were often subject to numerous exemptions.

Part I of the Act (sections 4-95) dealt with the local provision of schools. It began by requiring that every school district should have sufficient public schools:

There shall be provided for every school district a sufficient amount of accommodation in public elementary schools (as herein-after defined) available for all the children resident in such district for whose elementary education efficient and suitable provision is not otherwise made, and where there is an insufficient amount of such accommodation, in this Act referred to as 'public school accommodation,' the deficiency shall be supplied in manner provided by this Act (Section 5).
School boards were to be formed for areas where there was currently insufficient provision (6).

Regulations for the conduct of public elementary schools were set out in section 7. These included the right of parents to withdraw their children from religious instruction.

Sections 8-13 set out the Education Department's powers to determine whether additional school places were required, to require the formation of school boards and to requisition them to provide the extra schools.

Sections 14-36 listed the powers and duties of school boards for the management and maintenance of their schools. These included:

  • the requirement that 'No religious catechism or religious formulary which is distinctive of any particular denomination shall be taught in the school' (14);
  • the power of school boards to appoint managers (15);
  • the duty of school boards to 'keep efficient' every school provided by them, and to provide 'additional school accommodation as is, in their opinion, necessary' (18);
  • the powers of school boards to purchase land compulsorily (20);
  • paying for new schools out of the local school fund or Treasury loans to be repaid within five years (21); and
  • legal matters relating to the transfer of a school to a school board (23) and the re-transfer of a school by a school board to the managers (24).
School boards were empowered to support the education of the poor:
The school board may, if they think fit, from time to time, for a renewable period not exceeding six months, pay the whole or any part of the school fees payable at any public elementary school by any child resident in their district whose parent is in their opinion unable from poverty to pay the same; but no such payment shall be made or refused on condition of the child attending any public elementary school other than such as may be selected by the parent; and such payment shall not be deemed to be parochial relief given to such parent. (25)
If a school board satisfy the Education Department that, on the ground of the poverty of the inhabitants of any place in their district, it is expedient for the interests of education to provide a school at which no fees shall be required from the scholars, the board may, subject to such rules and conditions as the Education Department may prescribe, provide such school, and may admit scholars to such school without requiring any fee. (26)
School boards were also empowered to contribute to or establish industrial schools (27-8).

Matters relating to the operation of school boards were set out in sections 29-36. These included:

  • their constitutions (30);
  • elections (31);
  • disqualification from membership (34);
  • the appointment of officers (35); and
  • the appointment of an officer to enforce attendance at school (36).
Corresponding arrangements for the school board for London were set out in sections 37-39.

Sections 40-73 dealt with a range of administrative and financial matters including:

  • the Education Department's powers to form united school districts, other than in London (40-8);
  • the Department's powers to require a school district to contribute to the costs of another (49-52);
  • the management of school funds (53-56);
  • borrowing by school boards (57-58);
  • accounting and auditing of school funds (59-62);
  • provisions relating to school boards in default (63-66);
  • the duty of local authorities to make returns to the Education Department (67-72); and
  • the power of the Education Department to hold public inquiries (73).
In relation to school attendance (74), the Act empowered school boards to make by-laws 'Requiring the parents of children of such age, not less than five years nor more than thirteen years, as may be fixed by the byelaws, to cause such children (unless there is some reasonable excuse) to attend school'. Boards were also empowered to determine the time during which children were to attend school (with exceptions for religious observance); and to pay all or part of the school fees of any child whose parents were in poverty.

The remainder of Part I of the Act (75-95) covered various technical and administrative matters.

Part II of the Act, dealing with the parliamentary grant, stated that:

After the thirty-first day of March one thousand eight hundred and seventy-one no parliamentary grant shall be made to any elementary school which is not a public elementary school within the meaning of this Act.

No parliamentary grant shall be made in aid of building, enlarging, improving, or fitting up any elementary school, except in pursuance of a memorial duly signed, and containing the information required by the Education Department for enabling them to decide on the application, and sent to the Education Department on or before the thirty-first day of December one thousand eight hundred and seventy. (96)

Conditions for such grants - totalling not more than 'seven shillings and sixpence per child' (37½p) were laid out in sections 97-99, and included the stipulation that 'Such grant shall not be made in respect of any instruction in religious subjects'.

Finally, section 100 required the Education Department to provide an annual report to Parliament.

There were five Schedules to the Act, dealing with various administrative matters.

The church problem

The dual system - of voluntary and board schools - created by the Act was 'an untidy compromise', but it did represent 'another step towards secularization and state control' (Stephens 1998:79).

The 'Cowper-Temple clause' (pronounced 'Cooper-Temple') in section 14 of the Act ('No religious catechism or religious formulary which is distinctive of any particular denomination shall be taught in the school') was named after its proposer, Liberal MP William Cowper-Temple (1811-1888). It banned denominational teaching in the new board schools.

But in other respects, the 1870 Act failed to resolve the problem of the involvement of the churches in state educational provision. It could have begun to separate church and state, as was happening in other countries. 'That this did not happen was based on a combination of economic realism, institutional convenience and a political predisposition to enjoy religious company in spite of its irks' (Gates 2005:18).

The churches had not been able to make universal provision, so the state would now fund schools managed by locally elected and interdenominationally representative school boards. Church schools would continue to receive a maintenance grant of up to fifty per cent, but once the system was in place they would get no money for new buildings.

Some assumed that the 1870 Act would result in a gradual decline in the number of church schools and their replacement by board schools. The churches, however, were determined to strengthen and consolidate their position, so they took full advantage of the generous offer of government funds for new buildings.

In the six months allowed, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church 'moved with great alacrity to plan as many as they could' (Gates 2005:19). Two thousand requests for building grants were made by the National Society, five hundred by the Catholic and Free Churches. In just fifteen years, the number of Church of England schools rose from 6,382 to 11,864, and Catholic schools from 350 to 892. In the same period, the number of children attending church schools doubled to two million.

The cost of sustaining this expanded provision was huge. 'Knowingly or not the churches had overreached themselves' (Gates 2005:19), and 'the initial impetus given to voluntary-school building by the passing of the Act could not be maintained' (Lawson and Silver 1973:320). During the 1890s the number of voluntary schools fell by over 350 (there were 14,500 in 1900), while the number of board schools rose by almost a thousand.

Some church leaders complained about what they saw as the unfair financial advantages enjoyed by the board schools. In 1882 Roman Catholic Cardinal Manning declared that the administration of the Act was 'open to the censure of inequality and injustice' (quoted in Armytage 1951:217), while the Anglican Canon Gregory argued that the 1870 Act had

endowed with the school rate those who had done nothing and it has excluded those who have hitherto educated the people of England from participation in the school rate, to which they are also nevertheless compelled to pay (quoted in Armytage 1951:217).
The Church of England - to its shame - even sought to undermine the new system by attempting to prevent the election of school boards. 'The arguments were, as in the past, less concerned with education than with religion, politics, power and finance' (Lawson and Silver 1973:321). (For more on this issue see The School Boards below).

Mundella understood the motive behind these attacks and wrote to a friend:

I keep screwing up [ie improving] the quality of education and insist on the quantity being ample, and all this makes increased and increasing demands upon the voluntary system, and brings the poorer school gradually in the hands of the board. That is the real reason for Manning's outcry (quoted in Armytage 1951:217).
In June 1883 the National Society sent a memorandum to Gladstone asking for assistance. Mundella wrote to Lord Carlingford, Lord President of the Council, to warn him of the danger of acceding to their demands:
I have felt now for more than a year past that this demand would be made. Cardinal Manning and Canon Gregory have struck up an arrangement (in which they have endeavoured, but unsuccessfully, to include the Wesleyans) to agitate for increased grants to voluntary schools. A series of articles have appeared in the Nineteenth Century from the pens of these two ecclesiastics making out the best case they can for their claims. These have been very effectively replied to by the Rev. R. W. Dale of Birmingham, who not only showed with great force and clearness the injustice of the demand, but also the consequences likely to follow upon it, viz. a renewed agitation for the abolition of all grants to schools set up by various religious bodies.

I am sincerely anxious for educational progress and I believe we shall best secure this by the maintenance of the compromise of 1870. I am confident, however, that any attempt to depart from this compromise, any attempt to share the rates or differentiate the grants made to voluntary or board schools, would plunge us into a bitter agitation, viz. the complete severance of education from the control of the various religious bodies and the establishment of a system of national education under the management of the state. Already I find it sufficiently difficult to meet the attacks upon the weaker and less defensible portions of our present system, especially upon the training colleges. ... Still, if those who have benefited most by the act of 1870 are so unwise as to attack it, or if the Government were so ill advised as to show a doubtful mind in dealing with the present demand, I am satisfied that serious agitation would follow, and that education would in all probability suffer until a final settlement was arrived at (quoted in Armytage 1951:219-20).

In 1884 the newly formed interdenominational Voluntary Schools Association began lobbying for greater public funding for church schools. Four years later the Cross Commission (details below) reviewed the working of the 1870 Act and recommended public funding for the secular curriculum in church schools, a proposal which was eventually included in the 1902 Education Act (details in the next chapter).

The school boards

As a result of the Act, 2500 new school boards were created in England and Wales between 1870 and 1896. They varied greatly in size: London was, inevitably, the largest, while some rural boards controlled just one school.

They were directly elected and independent of existing forms of local government. All ratepayers - including women - could vote and stand for election. As single-purpose authorities they were able, in large towns, to attract candidates of high quality. In 1902, EA Knox, chair of the Birmingham School Board, argued that the success of the boards had been mainly due to

the calibre of those whom they attracted as members, especially in their earlier years. School Boards enlisted the activity and zeal of many eminent men and women of strong philanthropic instincts who, for various reasons, had not hitherto enjoyed any similar opportunity of public service. ... A seat on the School Board was a highly-coveted honour (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:318).
The boards were 'a representative social phenomenon' (Lawson and Silver 1973:323). They became 'a focus of new social pressures and of a new interest in democratic processes', though their lessons in democracy were 'not always salutary' (Lawson and Silver 1973:319):
Elections were often sectarian battles between Church of England and nonconformity, between candidates pledged to educational development and those pledged to save the ratepayers' money, or between political parties. ... Some of the smaller boards in rural areas were controlled by people who had opposed their creation, and were pledged to restrict their activities (Lawson and Silver 1973:319).
Problems arose in many towns including, for example, Chester, where local opposition delayed the setting up of a board; in Liverpool, where 'school board politics became part of the struggle between Orangemen and Roman Catholics'; in Birmingham, where 'religious and political controversy often absorbed prodigious amounts of school boards' time and money'; and in Manchester, Salford, Sheffield and Leeds, where clerical and other opponents gained control of the boards. 'In such cases parsimony often ruled' (Stephens 1998:92).

In her 1938 book A Century of City Government: Manchester 1838-1938, Shena Simon noted that the city's School Board

had a majority of Churchmen and Roman Catholics for the whole of its existence, and these members were elected primarily to see that the new Board schools which they had to manage did as little damage as possible to their own schools, in which many of them were naturally more interested (Simon 1938:240 quoted in Simon 1965:158-9).
Throughout the 1880s Anglicans and Roman Catholics, who had consistently opposed popular control of education, attacked the School Board system with increasing confidence while at the same time demanding increased support for voluntary schools from public funds.

Rural areas - especially those in which the Church of England was strong - fared just as badly, with boards consisting 'largely of local farmers and Anglican laymen and clergy, antipathetic to the education of those they regarded as future agricultural labourers' (Stephens 1998:93).

But the picture was not entirely a negative one:

the working class had at last some opportunity of exercising control over the schooling of their children. With the first school board elections working-class candidates were in the field and a few were successful. Thomas Henry Huxley, whose scientific lectures to workers had made him a popular figure since 1855, was elected a member of the first London School Board and managed to ensure that elementary science was included in the curriculum of the capital's new board schools (Simon 1974:366).
Furthermore, most of the boards were remarkably successful: they 'pursued active and progressive policies and numbered influential personalities among their elected members' (Stephens 1998:93). Many began to appoint their own inspectors who, unlike HMIs [Her Majesty's Inspectors], were recruited mainly from experienced elementary-school head teachers (Lawson and Silver 1973:322).

The London board had 55 members and controlled almost 400 schools. It was not only the largest but also the most influential, the architecture and layout of its schools being widely copied. Its leading figures, such as Huxley, 'commanded national respect' (Lawson and Silver 1973:322). It took the board just twelve years to catch up with the 250,000 or so children in voluntary schools, and by the time it was abolished it had more than 500,000 school places (Lawson and Silver 1973:320-1).

The vast scope and achievements of the London School Board made it a national institution. It erected buildings which set standards for others to emulate; it established a system of school attendance officers, known somewhat euphemistically as 'visitors', who soon provided a wealth of detailed and reliable information about the lives of the urban poor; and it appointed its own medical officer to report on air space and the ventilation of classrooms and to examine children with special needs. ... Between 1871 and 1903, the number of pupils in board schools in London rose from 1117 to 549,677, while those in voluntary schools dropped from 221,401 to 213,297 (Chitty 1992:6).
In Manchester
In 1875 the School Board was conducting five schools with an average attendance of 1,151 pupils; seven years later it was responsible for 16,849 pupils in 38 schools, 13 of which had been built by the Board, the rest having been purchased or transferred. The average number of pupils present weekly at all elementary schools in the city (both board and voluntary) rose by 20,000 in a decade - from 30,581 in 1871 to 50,855 in 1881. It was chiefly children between the ages of five and eleven, previously often running wild in the streets, who were effectively brought into school and, therefore, under the control of local authorities (Simon 1965:113).
By 1896 board schools had an average national attendance of around 1,900,000. Voluntary schools' average attendance was just over 1,200,000 in 1871 and had doubled by 1895. By 1900, nearly half the children who attended public elementary schools were in board schools: in large urban areas the proportion was often much higher.
Although the voluntary and public elementary schools were rival systems in one respect, they formed a socially coherent system in another respect: the identification of this system with the working class did not alter in the remainder of the nineteenth century and was only slowly eroded in the twentieth century (Lawson and Silver 1973:318).

When a Tory/Liberal Unionist government was returned to power in 1895, those opposing the board school system gained the upper hand. AJ Balfour (1848-1930), Leader of the House and First Lord of the Treasury, complained about the 'intolerable strain' to which voluntary schools were subjected.

In 1896 the new government introduced a bill which proposed raising the school leaving age and making new grants for secondary education. But it also offered increased aid to church schools while restricting the activities of School Boards. The Labour movement protested: the Independent Labour Party began demanding secular, as opposed to unsectarian, education, though it was not entirely united on this stance; and Trades Councils across the country declared that the bill was an attack on religious liberty and popular education (Simon 1965:159-160).

Liberals, supporting nonconformist interests, also opposed the bill, arguing against the proposed repeal of the Cowper-Temple clause; the school boards objected to the proposal that secondary education should be outside their control; and even some government supporters were against it, fearing that it would lead to higher rates for education.

In the event, the government dropped the bill, but introduced a new one a year later: the 1897 Voluntary Schools Act (8 April) was limited to providing further subsidies for church schools. 'It was in this year that the TUC first adopted a militant policy covering the whole field of education. The forces were beginning to line up for a decisive struggle' (Simon 1965:161).

The Cockerton Judgement

Hostility to the school boards continued, however, focused on the fact that some of them had 'significantly altered the legislators' original concept of elementary schooling in terms of buildings, equipment, curricula and age range' (Chitty 2007:19) by establishing 'higher tops' (advanced classes) and even separate higher grade schools for older pupils who showed ability and commitment. A few had gone still further and created a new type of evening school for adults.

Leading Conservatives, notably Sir John Gorst (1835-1916) (pictured), Conservative Vice-President of the Committee on Education, began attacking the school boards for what they regarded as inappropriate use of the rates. An influential committee was formed to 'combat the School Boards' and, in particular, to 'undermine the advanced work' they were sponsoring (quoted in Chitty 2007:19).

In 1899, Gorst's private secretary Sir Robert Morant (1863-1920) engineered a test case in which a School of Art in London complained of competition from evening classes run by the London School Board. The District Auditor - Cockerton - ruled that the London School Board could not use the rates to fund higher-grade classes in science and art. The famous 'Cockerton Judgement', as it became known, was of profound importance, because it 'sealed the fate of advanced, or secondary, teaching fostered by the more radical and enterprising School Boards' (Chitty 2007:19).

The London School Board appealed twice against the ruling, but it was upheld on both occasions. As an interim measure, the Board of Education established, by Minute dated 6 April 1900, a new system of 'Higher Elementary Schools' (of which more in the next chapter). But it was clear that a new education act was needed to regularise the situation. In the meantime, the 1901 Education Act permitted the boards to continue funding higher tops and higher grade schools for one further year.

In the Cockerton Judgement, Morant and Gorst had achieved their first objective: to prevent school boards from funding anything but elementary schools.

Their second objective - to create all-embracing local education authorities and provide much-needed public cash for the church schools - was achieved by the 1902 Education Act, which Morant drafted. (He went on to become Permanent Secretary of the Board of Education in April 1903.)

The elementary schools

The elementary schools provided by the boards

were intended to and did rest on the same central assumption as the voluntary schools which they were called on to supplement - they were for the children of the poor, providing an independent system for the lower class (Lawson and Silver 1973:318).
Blyth argues that elementary schools were 'a whole educational process in themselves and one which is by definition limited and by implication inferior; a low plateau, rather than the foothills of a complete education' (Blyth 1965:21). They
  • catered for children up to 14;
  • were for the working class;
  • provided a restricted curriculum with the emphasis almost exclusively on reading, writing and arithmetic (the 'three Rs'), largely as a result of the 1862 Revised Code;
  • pursued other, less clearly defined, aims including social-disciplinary objectives (acceptance of the teacher's authority, the need for punctuality, obedience, conformity etc);
  • used the monitorial system, whereby a teacher supervised a large class with assistance from a team of monitors who were usually older pupils.
Elementary education was widely criticised.

Scottish scientist and Liberal politician Lyon Playfair (1818-1898) complained that the poor quality of science teaching was 'impoverishing the land. It is disgracefully behind the age in which we live, and of the civilization of which we boast' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:330).

John Ruskin (1819-1900) bemoaned the lack of creativity in the curriculum:

Commiserate the hapless Board School child, shut out from dreamland and poetry, and prematurely hardened and vulgarised by the pressure of codes and formularies. He spends his years as a tale that is not told (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:330).
Other writers - notably Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) and TH Huxley - were equally concerned, and their views, coupled with the growth of public interest in education, persuaded the Committee of Council on Education to expand the curriculum of elementary schools.

The Code of 1871, for example, made provision for a special grant in respect of each individual scholar who passed a satisfactory examination in not more than two 'specific' subjects of secular instruction beyond the three Rs. At the same time the list of specific subjects was extended to include foreign languages, various branches of pure and applied science, or any definite subject of instruction extending over the classes to be examined in Standards IV, V, and VI. (The 1871 Code also introduced an infant stage - see Infant schools below).

In 1875, a further step was taken by the introduction of 'class' subjects - grammar, geography, history and plain needlework - for which additional grant was paid. Later Codes, especially that of 1880, extended the list of these class subjects which, if taught at all, had to be taught throughout the whole school above Standard I.

The curriculum of an elementary school from 1875 to the later 1890s thus consisted of three main parts:

Obligatory subjects:
   the three Rs ('the elementary subjects') plus needlework for girls;

Optional subjects:
   class subjects (for the whole school above Standard I); and
   specific subjects for individual scholars in Standards IV to VI.

The 1876 Education Act provided for a system of certificates, which gave free education for three years to pupils who had passed the Standard IV examination at 10 years of age and held a certificate of regular attendance for five years. This arrangement lasted for only five years, but several leading witnesses who gave evidence to the Cross Commission in 1888 (of which more below) spoke of the useful results of the system while it was in operation, and it seems to have helped considerably in the development of higher classes - 'tops' - to many elementary schools.


Of the school boards, Armytage argues that:

Nothing presents an apter architectural embodiment of the ideas of the Liberals of 1870 than the old board schools, which, blackened now by three-quarters of a century of soot, stand gauntly above the drab Victorian streets. Solid, stone-built structures, they are often compared to prisons. But the more discriminating will notice that the windows were many and large, and there were invariably tiles of good Hanley pottery half-way round the walls. They represented 'the order, system and cleanliness' that were to be brought to bear upon a generation that otherwise would have been dwarfed by the factories. This was the most efficient factory act yet passed, for it did bring the children into schools for part of their lives (Armytage 1951:80).
As to the significance of the 1870 Act itself, Brian Simon writes:
With the Education Act of 1870 reorganisation of the country's educational system was completed in the light of the new conditions following the extension of the franchise. It had not been originally envisaged that the workers' education should be so extended; least of all that control of schools be handed over to elected bodies and the teaching of religion made optional. But events had forced the pace and mass working-class pressure contributed to ensuring that at least the first foundations of a universal system were laid - that education was no longer a charity but a right (Simon 1974:365).

Three more Acts

The remaining years of the nineteenth century saw a raft of legislation which added detail to the state education system the 1870 Act had begun. In this respect, the two most significant Acts were the Elementary Education Act of 1880, which made school attendance compulsory, and that of 1891, which made elementary education free.

In the meantime, three Acts built on the foundation which the 1870 Act had provided.

The 1873 Elementary Education Act (5 August) made some amendments to the 1870 Act, mostly of a technical nature.

The 1876 Elementary Education Act (15 August) sought 'to make further provision for Elementary Education'. Its provisions related to:

  • parental responsibility for the education of children (section 4);
  • the employment of children under 10 (5-9);
  • the payment of school fees for poor parents (10);
  • the care of neglected children (11);
  • penalties for non-compliance with a school attendance order (12);
  • industrial schools (13-17);
  • parliamentary grants (18-20);
  • by-laws requiring school attendance (21-23); and
  • various other administrative matters.

The 1879 Elementary Education (Industrial Schools) Act (11 August) extended the powers of school boards in relation to the establishment and extension of industrial schools.

1880 Elementary Education Act

Despite these moves towards elementary education for all, the attitude of parents to schooling was still very much affected by social and occupational factors. Many working-class parents saw the value of schooling for their children, but 'there remained concentrations of those who were most unlikely ever to see that their offspring obtained an adequate education - unless compelled to do so' (Stephens 1998:86). Some of these were so poor that they could not manage without their children's work or wages; others, notably in some mining and manufacturing districts, 'were well able to afford schooling, but were indifferent to it or saw no need of more than a hasty acquisition of the rudiments, since good wages could be earned by the illiterate' (Stephens 1998:87).

It became obvious, therefore, that the achievement of universal schooling of a reasonable standard would require 'not only the provision of extra schools but the imposition of compulsory attendance' (Stephens 1998:87).

In 1880 Mundella was appointed Vice-President of the Committee in Council on Education, a post he held for five years. He immediately used his new position to push for compulsory elementary education.

The 1880 Elementary Education Act (26 August) (the Mundella Act) obliged local authorities (as designated by the 1876 Elementary Education Act) to make by-laws requiring school attendance, and provided for penalties in cases where 10-13 year olds were illegally employed. It thus effectively established in practice the universal education which the 1870 Act had declared in principle.

Hitherto compulsion had been permissive - i.e. the school boards (set up in 1870) and the school attendance committees (set up in 1876) were allowed to make by-laws enforcing attendance at school. But many of them, fearing the loss in earning power of child labour, had still not done so. Mundella's Act declared they should do so 'forthwith'. If the local authority did not comply by the end of the year 1880, the department themselves would frame the by-laws. Moreover, it made the employer of any child between the ages of ten and thirteen liable to a penalty if that child had not a certificate of education as laid down by these by-laws (Armytage 1951:204-5).
Action was swift: two days after the Act received the royal assent, circulars were sent to all the authorities which had not passed attendance by-laws.
Within five months over 1,200 sets of by-laws were sanctioned, and by January 1881 only twenty-eight unions, eighty-one school boards, one school attendance committee and one urban sanitary authority had not complied. With these minute exceptions the whole population were compelled to send their children to school (Armytage 1951:205).
The 1880 Act was 'another milestone in advance' (Armytage 1951:205). The fifth standard became the minimum standard required for the exemption of ten-year-olds from compulsory school attendance. (The 1878 Factory and Workshop Act (section 26) had empowered 'a Secretary of State, with the consent of the Education Department' to set the required standard for such exemption.)

Furthermore, the so-called 'dunce's certificate', which had allowed less-able children to leave school at ten once they had completed 250 attendances, was no longer available except for children of thirteen years and over, 'and even then the child was required to attend school half-time for another year' (Armytage 1951:205).

1882 Mundella Code

Having achieved his aim of making elementary education compulsory, Mundella now turned his attention to a consideration of what was actually being taught in the schools, and on 2 August 1880 he announced his intention of bringing in a new Code of Regulations.

It proved to be a lengthy task. A code committee, presided over by Mundella himself, spent a year considering proposals which were then submitted to parliament. Armytage argues that 'even more significant than the changes he made was the way he made them, which marked the end of the autocratic tradition of Robert Lowe' (Armytage 1951:210).

Funding for the new code was approved in March 1882. Lord Frederick Cavendish, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, wrote to Mundella:

I shall write to you to-day accepting your proposed changes in the code as satisfactory. We should have been very sorry if we had been obliged to make any difficulties about a scheme which seems to have been worked out with great care and judgement (quoted in Armytage 1951:210).
Mundella's work was recognised by the Royal Society, whose Council unanimously elected him a Fellow.

The Mundella Code 'blazed new trails' (Armytage 1951:211). Though the system of payment by results remained at its core,

a great deal was done to moderate the rigours of the ordeal that is so well described in Jude the Obscure, where an examining inspector enters the room and the teacher falls on her face in a dead faint (Armytage 1951:211).
In infant schools, ninety per cent of the grant still depended on examinations, but 'manual employments and play' were now recognised (Armytage 1951:211), and inspectors noted that this led to a huge improvement in junior schools.

At the upper end of the age range, the provisions in the 1876 and 1880 Education Acts regarding attendance by-laws had resulted in a large increase in the number of children remaining at school up to and beyond the age of 13. To meet the needs of these pupils, the Mundella Code added a seventh standard, 'with a syllabus that made possible its separation into a school of higher grade' (Armytage 1951:212).

Perhaps the most important feature of the new code, however, was the introduction of the 'merit grant'. This was designed to promote more intelligent teaching by eliminating the 'wasteful allotment of the government grant to mere elementary grind' (Armytage 1951:212). Schools were to be classified as 'fair', 'good' or 'excellent' for the purpose of allocating the grant, and inspectors were provided with instructions to guide them in their assessment:

An excellent school is characterised by cheerful yet exact discipline maintained without harshness or noisy demonstration of authority. Its premises are cleanly and well ordered, its timetable provides a proper variety of mental employment and of physical exercise; its organisation is such as to distribute the teaching power judiciously, and to secure for every scholar, whether he is likely to bring credit to the school or not, a fair share of instruction and attention.

Where circumstances permit, it also has its lending library, its savings bank, and an orderly collection of simple objects and apparatus adapted to illustrate the school lessons, and formed in part by the co-operation of the scholars themselves (Report of Committee of Council Instructions to Inspectors, 1882-3:158, quoted in Armytage 1951:212).

Three other points about the Mundella Code are worth making.

First, it made grant payments dependent on the average attendance of the whole school, rather than on that of individual children. As a result, more children were presented for examination and this 'led to a better appreciation of what was actually being taught in the school' (Armytage 1951:212).

Second, new subjects - including science and, for girls, cookery - became eligible for grants:

Elementary science was recognised throughout the school. More attention to English and physical geography was ensured by a rearrangement of the list of class subjects. Specific subjects were extended to include electricity and magnetism; heat, light and sound; chemistry and agriculture. For girls, cookery appeared as a grant-earning subject. In the teaching of these the emphasis was to be on explaining the common objects of everyday life (Armytage 1951:212).
Inspectors were to impress on managers and teachers that 'the more thoroughly a teacher is qualified for his position by skill, character and personal influence, the less necessary is it for him to resort to corporal chastisement at all' (Report of Committee of Council Instructions to Inspectors, 1882-3:158, quoted in Armytage 1951:212).

And third, 'the most essential novelty about the Mundella Code was that it was not unalterable' (Armytage 1951:213). A permanent committee was established to review aspects of the code and, for the first time, instructions to inspectors and other requirements of the department were published in one volume which became 'part of the equipment of every school' (Armytage 1951:213).

The effects of the Mundella Code were far-reaching. 'Machinery had been devised by which it could be perpetually criticised and reconstructed' and 'it profoundly affected the status and work of inspectors, teachers and children' (Armytage 1951:213).

The code placed new burdens on inspectors. As a result of their increased workload, described as 'somewhat alarming' by one inspector (quoted in Armytage 1951:213), the inspectorate was reorganised into ten districts, each with a chief inspector reporting to the department; a new class of sub-inspector was created; and the first woman inspector was appointed 'as a consequence of the introduction of cookery' (Armytage 1951:213).

The code also highlighted the inadequacy of teacher training. Some progressive school boards had already established pupil-teacher centres but had been criticised for doing so because, under the previous code, pupil-teachers were supposed to be trained in the schools. Now, central instruction was officially encouraged and within four years eleven pupil-teacher centres were open, catering for 1,636 pupils who undertook a limited amount of teaching (Armytage 1951:213). Furthermore, new local university colleges were opening, and they 'still further sapped the idea of "apprenticeship" in the training of a teacher' (Armytage 1951:214).

Not everyone was happy with Mundella's new code. The Archbishop of Canterbury was concerned about the effect on voluntary schools, especially in rural areas, of the limits on the number of pupil-teachers. Others criticised what they saw as the harshness of the code. The neurologist and psychologist Dr James Crichton-Browne (1840-1938), for example, declared:

The infantile lip, that would curl with contempt at any reference to a witch or a ghost, quivers with anxiety at the name of a government inspector, and the examination day has appropriated to itself much of the foreboding that used to belong to the day of judgement (quoted in Armytage 1951:214).
The majority of the medical profession did not agree, however. The Lancet declared that: 'The educational system is not overworking children but demonstrating that they are underfed' (quoted in Armytage 1951:214). This comment spurred Mundella into urging local authorities to follow the example of Rousden, a Devon village which provided cheap meals for its children. 'This was itself a change of great moment' (Armytage 1951:214).

The National Union of Elementary Teachers (founded in 1870, it became the NUT in 1889) conducted 'a prolonged and vigorous campaign' (Lawson and Silver 1973:329) against payment by results, and the system was further undermined by the growing acceptance of new concepts of education among administrators and by the acknowledgement that the funding of schools needed to be more firmly related to their needs.

To the delight of the teachers, the system was effectively abandoned during the 1890s. In 1895 inspection without notice was ended, as were 'mischievous deductions from the grant' (Lawson and Silver 1973:329), though a small part of the grant was still dependent on an inspector's examination. In 1898 inspectors were finally instructed that they 'should not include any of the processes heretofore employed in formal examination' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:329).

The improvement in elementary education which these changes were intended to bring about would, however, prove to be a slow process, as Edmond Holmes noted in 1911:

Having for thirty-three years deprived the teachers of almost every vestige of freedom, the Department suddenly reversed its policy and gave them in generous measure the boon which it had so long withheld. Whether it was wise to give so much at so short a notice may be doubted. What is beyond dispute is that it was unwise to expect so great and so unexpected a gift to be used at once to full advantage. A man who had grown accustomed to semi-darkness would be dazzled to the verge of blindness if he were suddenly taken out into broad daylight. This is what was done in 1895 to the teachers of England, and it is not to be wondered at that many of them have been purblind ever since. For thirty-three years they had been treated as machines, and they were suddenly asked to act as intelligent beings (Holmes 1911:111).
Nonetheless, by the beginning of the twentieth century some of the boards had responded to new ideas and made important changes. Separate classrooms had been provided and long benches had been replaced by desks. In 1903 Sidney Webb (of whom more below) noted that the London School Board had effected
the change from frowsy, dark, and insanitary rooms, practically destitute of apparatus or playgrounds, in which teachers, themselves mostly untrained, mechanically ground a minimum of the three R's required by the wooden old code into the heads of their scanty pupils, to the well-lighted and admirably decorated school buildings of the present day, with ample educational equipment ... served by a staff of trained professional teachers, encouraged to develop the growing intelligence of their scholars in whatever subjects and by whatever educational methods they find best (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:330).
But, he added, 'great as was the stride taken by the establishment of the London School Board, the dominant idea was still merely the education of the poor' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:330).

The curriculum of 1871 (reading, writing, arithmetic and, for girls, needlework) had, by 1896, expanded greatly:

the three Rs, needlework for girls, drawing (for older boys), object lessons or one class subject. In addition schools could provide (with certain restrictions) such class subjects as singing, recitation, drawing, English, geography, science, history and domestic economy. Welsh was an optional class subject in Wales. Specific subjects (again within limits) included mechanics, chemistry, physics, animal physiology, agriculture, navigation, languages and shorthand. Girls could also be taught cookery, laundry and dairy work, and boys could be taught gardening. Explicit provision was also made for manual instruction, physical exercise (including swimming and gymnastics), and visits to institutions of educational value (Lawson and Silver 1973:330-1)
There was much emphasis on the 'object lesson', sometimes involving simple demonstrations in science, sometimes using concrete examples to convey abstractions (especially in number work), and sometimes 'as a process of discrimination among colours, forms and so on' (Lawson and Silver 1973:331). Science became more widely taught, often by peripatetic teachers: by 1900 Birmingham had a 'central science staff' of one chief demonstrator, seven assistant demonstrators and seven porters to handle apparatus (Lawson and Silver 1973:331).

Despite all the improvements, however, elementary education still retained its role as 'preparation for a defined status of life' (Lawson and Silver 1973:331).

1891 Elementary Education Act

The Labour movement had always argued that education should be free and by the late 1880s 'this had become a burning issue' (Simon 1965:128). 'We hold that all education should be free for all and that everyone should be fully educated at the cost of the community so as to become useful citizens', argued the journal Justice on 9 July 1887. The middle class, it went on, opposed free elementary education and yet increasingly demanded state funds for secondary and higher education, which already benefited from educational endowments. Meanwhile the poor 'are being fined and imprisoned for being unable to pay school fees' (quoted in Simon 1965:128).

The Church of England, on the other hand, did not approve of free education. It argued that to provide free education would be 'degrading' for the working class and that it would lead to a decline in parental responsibility. The real reason for the church's opposition, of course, was that it did not want to lose the 'school pence', which was an important part of its income.

But the campaign for free schooling continued. Giving evidence to the Cross Commission in 1887, Thomas Smyth, a plasterer who appeared as a representative of the London Trades Council, argued that all education - from the elementary school to the university - should be free:

We find that it is necessary to have all the roads to education open, free, and unfettered to the people. We believe that the children of the poor ought to be able to rise from the elementary to the secondary schools, and on to the universities (Cross, third report, 1887:379-97 quoted in Simon 1965:123).

Smyth also called for education to be secular and sharply criticised large classes, the workload of teachers, and the 'vicious system of payment by results' (Simon 1965:125).

His views shocked the Commissioners: one called it 'pure communism' (quoted in Simon 1965:124).

In 1885 the TUC unanimously resolved that

the time has arrived for the government to establish a thorough system of national education, and that in order to accomplish this object the public elementary schools must necessarily be made free (quoted in Simon 1965:130).
In the same year, Joseph Chamberlain, seeking to become leader of the Liberal party, made the demand for free education a key issue in his 'unauthorised programme'. The TUC passed further resolutions in 1886 and 1887.

The cause was won: the 1891 Elementary Education Act (5 August) decreed that elementary education was to be provided free.

The Act provided for ten shillings (50p) a year to be paid as a 'fee grant' by Parliament for each child over three and under fifteen attending a public elementary school (Section 1). The schools were forbidden to charge additional fees (3) except in certain circumstances (4).

Brian Simon notes that the Act

did not bring the voluntary schools under popular control, nor did it, as is often supposed, introduce universal free education in the elementary schools. It did, however, empower School Boards to admit children freely to their schools, without entering into the question of poverty (Simon 1965:131).
In fact, fees, though reduced, continued to be levied in many public elementary and voluntary schools, and local campaigners continued to argue against them. And while the Labour movement generally welcomed the Act, the TUC regretted that evening schools had not been included and that the voluntary schools had not been brought under public control.

Socialists went further. A Fabian tract of 1891 declared: 'We want a national system of education, secular, compulsory and technical, at the public cost, for all classes alike' (Simon 1965:132); while the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) campaigned, as it had done since its inception in 1884, for 'the provision of at least one wholesome meal a day in each school' (Justice 9 August 1884 quoted in Simon 1965:133).

There was plenty of evidence to support the demand for school meals.

In 1884, Dr Crichton-Browne's Report to the Education Department upon the alleged over-pressure of work in public elementary schools, commissioned by Mundella, found that in one London board school 36 per cent of the parents were unemployed and up to 40 per cent of the children sometimes came to school without having had any breakfast. At another school a third of the 475 children were described as being half-starved.

Later that year the London School Board set up a committee of enquiry, chaired by Fabian Society leader Graham Wallas (1858-1932). It found that more than 50,000 children in their schools were hungry enough to require a free meal (Simon 1965:133-4).

Various organisations were set up to try to address the problem, including The Poor Children of Southwark Committee, which provided 150,355 free dinners and 26,780 free breakfasts during the winter of 1895-6, and the Destitute Children's Dinners Society, which provided 250,000 dinners for underfed children in 1895 (Simon 1965:134).

The SDF broadened its campaign for free meals to advocate 'complete publicly organised maintenance for all children' (quoted in Simon 1965:135).

William Morris (of whom more below) and other socialists called not only for food but for facilities such as swimming pools, gymnasia, playing-fields, school workshops and holidays for children.

Others, notably Dan Irving (1854-1924), the SDF organiser in Burnley, led campaigns for the abandonment of the half-time system, whereby children split their days between attendance at school and employment in factories, particularly those in the textile areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire. It was to prove a long struggle - the age of employment was raised to eleven in 1893 but the half-time system survived until it was abolished by the 1918 Education Act (Simon 1965:137-8).

In the 1890s the Independent Labour Party began calling for a school leaving age of fifteen. It was raised from eleven to twelve in 1899, but a leaving age of fifteen would not be attained until 1947.

One of the problems facing socialist and working-class campaigners was that their views were not shared by the staff of the Education Department, which ran Britain's school system until the creation of the Board of Education in 1899. The Department was 'a government office staffed by Oxford and Cambridge graduates with good connections; it was inspected by Her Majesty's Inspectors, also products of the ancient universities' (Simon 1965:113-4). According to George Kekewich (1841-1921), Secretary to the Education Department in the 1890s, these 'distinguished and aristocratic scholars from the Universities treated elementary education and elementary teachers with contempt' (quoted in Simon 1965:114); it did not occur to them that a child from the 'lower' classes might have brains, and most of the higher officials had probably never seen an elementary school.

Some inspectors did, however, compare the education of the poor with the better-off. One, for example, noted that in two local grammar schools, 120 pupils were taught by six or seven 'well educated adult teachers', while in a typical elementary school the same number of children would have 'one adult teacher assisted by two pupil teachers, who very possibly are raw and ignorant children of fourteen or fifteen' (quoted in Simon 1965:114-5). The 'necessary corollary was a rigid and severe discipline' (Simon 1965:115):

To look at a photograph of a class in a school of those days - hands folded on the rail in front, backs straight, eyes on the teacher - is to realise something of the iron code of authority which was in many schools a seemingly inseparable concomitant of the system, particularly where, as was frequently the case, from 70 to 120 children had to be controlled by a single teacher, or even sometimes a pupil teacher, for the allotted 5½ hours. The amount of punishment which was inflicted in the five day week must in many cases have far exceeded that now inflicted in five months or even five years in most modern schools. In boys' schools every sum wrong, every spelling mistake, every blot, every question which could not be answered as the fateful day of examination drew near, was liable to be visited by a stroke of the cane (Lowndes 1937:16-17).

Two further Acts

Two further Acts made minor administrative changes to the elementary school system: the 1897 Elementary Education Act (3 June) amended the school boards' funding arrangements; the 1900 Elementary Education Act (8 August) amended the rules regarding the calculation of attendance, contributions to expenses, provision for blind and deaf children, industrial schools and attendance byelaws.

The teachers

The school boards created by the 1870 Act 'provoked an unprecedented demand for teachers, and ... improved the security if not the status of a large number of them' (Lawson and Silver 1973:333). In 1870 there were around 12,000 certificated teachers, about half of them women. Ten years later there were over 31,000, and by 1895 there were almost 53,000, three-fifths of them women. In the same period the number of pupil-teachers increased from around 14,000 to 34,000 (Lawson and Silver 1973:332).

Until the 1890s, almost all teachers were trained by the voluntary religious agencies, who were criticised by inspectors for the weakness of their work in secular subjects. Various attempts were made to improve the quality of training: the London School Board opened its first day centres for pupil-teachers in 1885 and similar projects followed in many towns.

However, 'the social definition of the elementary teacher remained, in fact, at this late point in the century, as sharp as that of the separate system of which he formed a part' (Lawson and Silver 1973:331). As late as 1889 one headmaster could write:

I am well aware that even yet there are great differences of opinion regarding the amount of education to be expected from an elementary teacher. Some persons seem ever afraid lest the poor be instructed beyond their station (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:331).
Pupil-teachers were recruited at the age of thirteen or fourteen (raised to fifteen in 1900, sometimes with a probationary period from thirteen to fifteen). They taught for around twenty hours a week. 'Demands for secondary education for pupil teachers were one of the main pressures towards the expansion of the scholarship ladder and the system of secondary schools' (Lawson and Silver 1973:334).

Opportunities for training expanded in the 1890s with the opening of day training colleges associated with the new university colleges - Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and King's College, London, were the first. Students took combined university and college courses. These training colleges

were the first important step away from the denominational basis of training, and although in elementary education it was to be the local authority training colleges of the twentieth century that proved important, some of the foundations in the 1890s were intended to train both elementary and secondary teachers (Lawson and Silver 1973:334).
But such schemes did not result in a unitary system of training or registration:
The universities eventually developed postgraduate courses for secondary education, and local authority colleges, alongside the denominational ones, were to be engaged mainly in training elementary teachers (Lawson and Silver 1973:334).

Infant schools

One important effect of the 1870 Act was to make infant schools or departments a permanent feature of the new public elementary system. As a consequence, most of the dame schools, which had survived in large numbers up to 1870, disappeared in the following decade.

Up to the 1860s, the main objective in separating the infants had been to ensure that the teaching of the older children should not be 'unduly disturbed' by what Matthew Arnold described as 'the babies' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:31).

But by the 1870s the education of the under-sevens was beginning to be taken more seriously. The Code of Regulations of 1871 created an infant stage below Standard 1 for the 5-7 age range, so seven became the age of transfer from the infant school or department to the elementary school. (Even as late as 1930 only half of 5-7 year olds were in infant schools.)

In 1871 the first London School Board appointed a committee chaired by TH Huxley to review the system of school organisation. The Committee suggested that public elementary day schools might conveniently be classified into Infants' Schools for children below 7 years of age; Junior Schools for children between 7 and 10 years of age; and Senior Schools for older children. It recommended that infant schools should be mixed, but laid down no general rule with respect to junior schools. Senior Schools in the London area should be separate, and each board school should contain, under one management, an infant school or schools, a junior school, a senior boys' school, and a senior girls' school (Minutes of School Board for London Vol. I, pp. 155-61, referred to in Hadow 1931:11). These recommendations appear to have had little effect in practice.

The Huxley Committee was convinced of the importance of infant schools, arguing that they protected children from evil and corrupt influences and disciplined them in proper habits, and that they greatly facilitated children's progress in the more advanced schools (Hadow 1931:11).

Several of the newly established school boards began introducing Froebel's kindergarten methods into their infant schools. Thus in 1871 the London board included in its regulations for infant schools a provision that instruction should be given in object lessons of a simple character, with some exercise of the hands and eyes as recommended by the 'Kindergarten system'.

In 1873 the board appointed an instructor in kindergarten exercises, who began training teachers. Two years later she was authorised to issue certificates to teachers whose application of the method reached the required standard. In 1878 the instructor reported that she had experienced difficulty in persuading teachers that the kindergarten system was a principle to be applied across the curriculum rather than a discrete subject in itself. Her title was subsequently changed to 'Superintendent of Method in Infant Schools' (Hadow 1933:25).

In 1882 the Education Department issued a circular to HM Inspectors, pointing out that 'it is of little service to adopt the gifts and mechanical occupations of the Kindergarten, unless they are so used as to furnish real training in accuracy of hand and eye, in intelligence and in obedience' (quoted in Hadow 1933:26).

Another circular to Inspectors (6 August 1883) referred to the provision of 'appropriate and varied occupations' for infants as a requirement for the receipt of merit grant (see the section on The Mundella Code above), and stated that the exercises usually known as those of the kindergarten might be used to fulfil the purpose of this requirement, but were not indispensable.

Article 108 of the Code of 1885 stated that infants should be instructed suitably for their age, and in the Code of 1889 this phrase was expanded to read 'suitably to their age and capacity' (quoted in Hadow 1933:26).

In 1888 the London School Board asked the Froebel Society to suggest an examiner for their training classes and in the same year, the National Froebel Union was founded as an examining body.

An even more important advance was made in 1893, when the Education Department issued a special circular to HM Inspectors on The Training and Teaching of Infants (Circular No. 322, 6 February 1893), which declared that the Department wanted to see kindergarten methods used more widely. It also noted that the number of children in the lower classes of schools had increased, so a full four years' attendance at infant schools was now the rule rather than the exception. The Circular stated that:

Two leading principles should be regarded as a sound basis for the education of early childhood:

(1) The recognition of the child's spontaneous activity, and the stimulation of this activity in certain well-defined directions by the teachers.

(2) The harmonious and complete development of the whole of the child's faculties. The teacher should pay especial regard to the love of movement, which can alone secure healthy physical conditions; to the observant use of the organs of sense, especially those of sight and touch; and to that eager desire of questioning which intelligent children exhibit. All these should be encouraged under due limitations, and should be developed simultaneously, so that each stage of development may be complete in itself (quoted in Hadow 1933:27).

The Circular was re-issued in successive years and was finally incorporated almost verbatim into the first edition of Suggestions for the Consideration of Teachers, issued by the Board of Education in 1905.


On the eve of the 1870 Act, 77 per cent of spouses were able to sign marriage registers. There were wide local variations: in some Welsh counties it was only 50-60 per cent, while in Ross and Cromarty (Scotland) it was 57. In 1871 Staffordshire's overall figure of 60 per cent included Dudley with just 41, while Lancashire's 82 per cent included Wigan on 52 (Stephens 1998:85).

According to figures from the Registrar General, between 1871 and 1891 the national literacy rate for men rose from 80 to 94 per cent; that for women from 73 to 93 per cent. By 1900 the literacy rate for both men and women had reached around 97 per cent: illiteracy had been almost completely eliminated (Lawson and Silver 1973:324).

Lawson and Silver argue that 'Had it not been for the 1870 Act progress in literacy would have slowed down' (Lawson and Silver 1973:324) because the churches had found it difficult to provide schools in those areas where the problem was worst. The Act increased the number of school places and led to improvements in attendance and length of school life.

In the countryside, schools were opened where none had previously existed. In towns it was among the most depressed classes that the effects of the 1870 and subsequent Acts were most felt (Lawson and Silver 1973:324).
Stephens suggests that other factors also played a part in the spread of literacy: rising working-class incomes and better living conditions making more time available for leisure activities, including reading; the reduction in child labour and the hours of female workers; paraffin lamps replacing candles in the 1880s; the fall in the cost of reading matter; and a growing demand among the working classes for educational and entertaining literature: 'There was a voracious appetite for fiction' (Stephens 1998:150).

The growth of literacy was reflected in a dramatic increase in cheap commercial publications and the appearance of mass-circulation newspapers. 'Penny journals' proliferated in the 1880s and prepared the way for Tit-bits and the Daily Mail. This cheap reading matter 'assumed a degree of literacy that could not cope with sustained effort' (Lawson and Silver 1973:326-7).

There was also a significant increase in the provision of libraries:

In 1880, when proper records began, just over 2,000 schools had their own libraries. In 1895 the number was nearly 6,400. The commercial libraries continued to circulate fiction to a mainly middle-class audience, and the end of the century saw the foundation of Boots' library through their chain of chemists' shops (Lawson and Silver 1973:327).
By 1902, London's lending libraries held 750,000 volumes, with 150,000 more in their reference departments (Lawson and Silver 1973:327).


Before the 1870 Act, school attendance was poor and erratic. In Manchester and Salford in 1869, for example, there were around 100,000 children aged between three and twelve. Of these, only 55,000 were on school registers and the average attendance was just 38,000 (Lawson and Silver 1973:325).

There was, inevitably, a significant increase in attendance as a result of the Act, though there was still much truancy. Methods of enforcing attendance included 'truant schools', which had 'an atmosphere of deterrence intended to make regular schooling more palatable' (Lawson and Silver 1973:325); the attendance officer (usually known as the 'board man'); and, ultimately, prosecution. However,

Authorities were often unwilling to prosecute or convict parents, either because the procedure was expensive and not always successful, or because - in country areas especially - magistrates were sympathetic to farmworkers who kept their children away from schools, and with farmers who wanted the children's labour (Lawson and Silver 1973:325).
The 1873 Employment of Children in Agriculture Act (5 August) was meant to improve attendance, but the fines - when they were imposed at all - were 'often derisory' (Lawson and Silver 1973:325).

However, as schools improved in the closing years of the century, there was 'a changing climate of opinion about the value of education' (Lawson and Silver 1973:326) and attendance increased as a result. In England and Wales, attendance rates for working-class children rose from 68 per cent in 1871 to 82 per cent by 1896; in Scotland, the proportion of 8-10-year-olds at school rose from just under 90 per cent in 1871 to 97 per cent in 1891 (Stephens 1998:91).

But there were still concerns. In the mid-1890s Sir John Gorst told Parliament that twenty-five years after the 1870 Act there were still 'nearly three-quarters of a million of children whose names ought to be on the books of some elementary school, and who do not appear at all ... Of those who are on the books of the elementary schools, nearly one-fifth are continually absent' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:325).

The school leaving age was raised to 11 in 1893 and to 12 in 1899.

Higher elementary education

The 1870 Act 'made access to higher-than-elementary education inevitably a more prominent issue' (Lawson and Silver 1973:337), and provision of such education became even more of a concern when the Mundella Code of 1882 added a seventh standard and the number of children remaining in school increased as a result.

Higher Grade Schools

From their inception, the schools boards began developing ways of providing a higher stage within the elementary system itself. Some created advanced classes - 'higher tops' - in their elementary schools. Others provided separate higher grade schools which were at first regarded as elementary and later, notably by the Bryce Commission (of which more below), as secondary.

Access to higher education was also provided through evening and adult education classes, and by greater opportunities for scholarships to grammar schools.

Wolverhampton Higher Grade School, opened 1894 (from an old postcard).
The exterior remains essentially the same today.
The building is now part of Wolverhampton College.

The following descriptions of the work done in two higher grade schools in the early 1870s, written by former pupils, throw some light on the general character and aim of the curriculum:

Lancaster National School. The 'head class' was composed of boys drawn from miles around. Admission was chiefly determined by an oral examination intended to reject all but the most promising candidates. This class supplied a number of intending teachers and from it boys, usually between 15 and 16 years of age, were appointed to vacant clerkships at industrial works which frequently led to partnership in the firms later on in life. The curriculum beyond the three R's included a little Latin, and a great deal of mathematics, drawing and science.

Oswestry National School. The 'higher top' was largely composed of farmers' sons who came, after attending small country schools, particularly to acquire clear and accurate English speech. Entrance was not difficult; but pupils were expected to stay to the age of 16 or even later. Many went afterwards into merchants' offices in Liverpool and elsewhere (quoted in Hadow 1926:15).

Some in the churches objected to higher grade schools being supported out of public funds on the basis that they were not truly elementary and that they competed unfairly with the grammar schools. In London, opponents prevented the creation of higher grade schools until the 1890s (Lawson and Silver 1973:337).

By 1894 there were sixty higher grade schools outside London, of which 35 were in Durham, Lancashire and Yorkshire. Many of the higher grade schools organised their work so as to conform to the grant arrangements of the Science and Art Department. Known as organised science schools, there were almost two hundred of them by 1900 (Lawson and Silver 1973:338).

A systematic course of study in the upper grades of schools, including such subjects as physics, chemistry, mechanics, machine drawing and mathematics, encouraged their introduction in the lower standards, and in the higher-grade schools the curriculum, however broad, generally placed strong emphasis on scientific and practical subjects (Lawson and Silver 1973:338).
1886-8 Cross Commission

Concerns about the extent to which elementary schools could provide an adequate education for the more able children led to the appointment of a Commission chaired by former Home Secretary Richard (Viscount) Cross (1823-1914) (pictured), which published its Final Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the Elementary Education Acts, England and Wales in 1888.

Some witnesses to the Commission argued that the role would be better filled by secondary schools, to which children might be promoted by means of exhibitions. Others argued that the higher grade schools had been successful and popular, and that the effect of removing the more able pupils from them would be 'to injure those schools educationally by destroying a source of interest to the teachers and of ambition for the scholars' (Hadow 1926:21).

The members of the Commission were divided on the issue, but recommended that the state should recognise the distinction between elementary and secondary education to a greater extent than had as yet been attempted. (The Commission was divided on other matters, too - notably the proposal to allow public funding of the secular curriculum in voluntary schools. Eight members felt unable to sign the main report and instead submitted minority reports.)

During the next decade there was no great increase in the number of higher grade schools, but there was a distinct improvement in the general level of elementary education. Elementary schools began to be divided into junior, middle and senior departments, enabling improvements to be made in the courses of instruction for older pupils.

There was considerable public interest in the reports of the Cross Commission, and several of its recommendations were implemented from 1890 onwards: manual instruction was recognised (though no special grant was paid for it); physical exercises - swimming, gymnastics and 'Swedish drill' - were included in the curriculum; shorthand, horticulture and hygiene were made 'specific' subjects; and grants were paid in respect of laundry work, dairy work and housewifery (Hadow 1926:23). Cross also recommended public funding for the secular curriculum in church schools.


More grammar school scholarships were provided for able elementary school pupils. This was partly as a result of the establishment of entrance scholarships following the reform of the endowed schools after 1869, and partly because of a growing awareness of 'the increasing number of able working-class children being revealed in the board schools' (Lawson and Silver 1973:339) and a concern that all available talent needed to be nurtured.

However, the poor did not benefit greatly from such scholarships. In 1887 the chairman of the Manchester School Board warned that:

neither the higher-grade schools nor the scholarship ladder to the Manchester grammar school was really catering for the children of the poor, but for a slightly higher class which was now benefiting from the elementary system, including the children of the 'labour aristocracy', the better-paid 'upper strata' of the working class whose social position was very often identical with that of the lower middle class (Lawson and Silver 1973:338).
He told the Cross Commission that the 9d fee charged by the higher grade schools was 'prohibitory so far as the labouring classes are concerned. The higher grade schools are not open to the labouring classes as they ought to be' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:338). Nonetheless, the higher grade schools continued to be seen as part of the working-class elementary system.

The 1889 Technical Instruction Act (30 August) empowered county and county borough councils to make grants to secondary schools and to provide scholarships. In 1893-94 the West Riding of Yorkshire paid almost 10,000 for scholarships and around 3,000 in grants to secondary schools; Hertfordshire spent 239 on scholarships and nearly four times as much on schools. Manchester Grammar School received a corporation grant for the extension of its workshops and its art, chemistry and physics facilities to help it cater for scholarship boys.

The education of the upper class

1864 Clarendon Report

(Note: references in this section are to Volume I, which contains the main report, except where indicated otherwise.)

In 1860 two old Etonians, the journalist MJ Higgins and the high court judge Sir John Coleridge, launched stinging attacks on their old school. They complained about

the excessive powers of the provost and fellows and the concentration of a large part of the endowment in their hands; the fact that there were too few masters, that they were chosen among a very narrow circle of Kingsmen and that they were considerably overworked; the neglect of subjects like modern languages and mathematics; the idleness and extravagance of the boys (Roach 1986:279).
Such criticisms were not new, but they now became the subject of much debate which broadened to include the other public schools.

As a result, the Royal Commission on the Public Schools, under the chairmanship of diplomat and statesman George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon, (1800-1870), was set up in 1861 'to inquire into the Revenue and Management of Certain Colleges and Schools and the studies pursued and instruction given there'.

Its report made recommendations relating to the government, management and curriculum of the nine ancient foundations - Eton, Winchester, Westminster, Charterhouse, St Paul's, Merchant Taylors', Harrow, Rugby and Shrewsbury.

These schools had one thing in common - they 'had at one time or another achieved a reputation for educating the sons of the aristocracy and gentry' (Simon 1974:300) and, as such, they had come to be seen as national institutions. In other respects, they differed considerably.

Winchester and Eton were part of 'semi-ecclesiastical collegiate foundations which had escaped dissolution at the Reformation' and were 'open to much the same kind of criticism as the colleges at the universities' (Simon 1974:300). Thus the warden and fellows at Winchester

exploited the revenues for personal gain, leaving the headmaster starved of funds for the school. Not only were boys badly fed and looked after but, with only two masters in charge of the teaching of 200 pupils, none but those with a desire to learn was likely to be educated (Simon 1974:300).
Eton was no better, though as 'the recognised centre of upper-class education and training ground of statesmen ... its appeal survived all educational deficiencies' (Simon 1974:300).

Westminster and Charterhouse were in disastrous decline; St. Paul's taught all its 153 boys in one room using textbooks recommended by its founder in 1512 (Simon 1974:301); and the three schools outside London - Shrewsbury, Rugby and Harrow - had also had mixed fortunes.

If the aristocracy was to maintain its position of superiority in the modern world - and the 'respectable' middle class had no desire to do away with it - then it must, at all costs, be decently educated. In the light of this consideration, the task was to modernise and improve the 'great' schools, while at the same time bringing the lesser public schools up to a standard which met the needs of the middle class, who wished their sons to have a reasonably useful education. Thereby Eton and the rest could once more take their place at the head of a system of upper-class schools (Simon 1974:303).
This was the task which the Clarendon Commission was appointed to undertake, in the face of hostility from some of the heads of the schools, and with a membership consisting - with the exception of Clarendon himself and one other - of former pupils of the schools they were to investigate.

Despite these difficulties, the Commissioners 'conducted an extraordinarily thorough, even microscopic examination of the position in each of the schools' (Simon 1974:304).

Management of the schools

The Commissioners recommended changes in the powers and responsibilities of the governing bodies and heads of the schools. The governors' powers were to include:

the management of the property of the school, and of its revenues, from whatever source derived; the control of its expenditure; the appointment and dismissal of the Head Master; the regulation of boarding-houses, of fees and charges, of Masters' stipends, of the terms of admission to the school, and of the times and length of the vacations; the supervision of the general treatment of the boys, and all arrangements bearing on the sanitary condition of the school (Clarendon 1864:6).
Regarding the Head's responsibility for discipline and teaching, the Commissioners said:
the Head Master should, in our opinion, be as far as possible unfettered. Details, therefore, such as the division of classes, the school-hours and school-books, the holidays and half-holidays during the school-time, belong properly to him rather than to the Governing Body; and the appointment and dismissal of Assistant Masters, the measures necessary for maintaining discipline, and the general direction of the course and methods of study, which it is his duty to conduct and his business to understand thoroughly, had better be left in his hands (Clarendon 1864:6).
However, the Commissioners added an important qualification:
the introduction of a new branch of study or the suppression of one already established, and the relative degrees of weight to be assigned to different branches, are matters respecting which a better judgment is likely to be formed by such a body of Governors as we have suggested, men conversant with the requirements of public and professional life and acquainted with the general progress of science and literature, than by a single person, however able and accomplished, whose views may be more circumscribed and whose mind is liable to be unduly pressed by difficulties of detail. What should be taught, and what importance should be given to each subject, are therefore questions for the Governing Body; how to teach, is a question for the Head Master (Clarendon 1864:6).
The curriculum

With regard to the curriculum, the Commissioners' overall conclusions were damning:

If a youth, after four or five years spent at school, quits it at 19, unable to construe an easy bit of Latin or Greek without the help of a dictionary or to write Latin grammatically, almost ignorant of geography and of the history of his own country, unacquainted with any modern language but his own, and hardly competent to write English correctly, to do a simple sum, or stumble through an easy proposition of Euclid, a total stranger to the laws which govern the physical world, and to its structure, with an eye and hand unpractised in drawing and without knowing a note of music, with an uncultivated mind and no taste for reading or observation, his intellectual education must certainly be accounted a failure, though there may be no fault to find with his principles, character, or manners (Clarendon 1864:31).
However, the main preoccupation of the Commission (and many of its witnesses), says Brian Simon, 'was not so much with educational considerations as with the class issues underlying educational reform' (Simon 1974:305). Gladstone himself - an old Etonian who was about to become leader of the Liberal Party - told the Commissioners in a letter that the classics should be retained as 'the paramount matter of education' for 'that small proportion of the youth of any country who are to become in the fullest sense educated men' (Clarendon 1864 Vol II:43).

It was against this background that the leading scientists of the day - including Sir Joseph Hooker (1817-1911), Richard Owen (1804-1892), Sir George Airy (1801-1892), Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) and Michael Faraday (1791-1867) - were 'forced to frame their arguments' (Simon 1974:307). Faraday, apparently unaware that the Commission was restricted to investigating only upper- and middle-class education, was the most passionate in arguing the importance of science. Asked whether science 'trained the mind', he replied:

who are the men whose powers are really developed? Who are they who have made the electric telegraph, the steam engine, and the railroad? Are they the men who have been taught Latin and Greek? Were the Stephensons such? These men had that knowledge which habitually has been neglected and pushed down below. It has only been those who having had a special inclination for this kind of knowledge have forced themselves out of that ignorance by an education and into a life of their own (Clarendon 1864 Vol. IV:377).
The Commissioners 'were not impressed by such arguments' (Simon 1974:308), though they were convinced that 'the introduction of the elements of natural science into the regular course of study is desirable, and we see no sufficient reason to doubt that it is practicable' (Clarendon 1864:32).

When it came to the classics, many witnesses told them that the quality of teaching was often appalling. The Oxford academic Charles Neate (1806-1879), for example, described the Latin of most public school boys as 'almost invariably such as would under the old school system have subjected them to a flogging as boys of 12 years old' (Clarendon 1864 Vol. II:49). Furthermore, they were 'almost incredibly ignorant' of English, modern languages, mathematics, natural history and modern history.

The Commissioners agreed with Gladstone that the classics should be retained and reinvigorated so that the upper class could receive an education 'suitable to its station in life' (Simon 1974:309). However, they argued that more attention should be paid to the content of the works studied, and less to grammar and philology.


supported the introduction of modern studies, proposing the inclusion not only of mathematics and a foreign language but also of music, drawing, history geography, English composition and spelling and natural science ... All these should go to make up a regular course of study, in which classics (with classical history and divinity) should be allotted just over half the total time, science no more than one-eighth (Simon 1974:311).
To improve the efficiency of the schools, the Commissioners made proposals regarding the promotion of pupils, prizes, the importance of marking, entrance examinations and superannuation schemes - 'these have quite a Benthamite ring' (Simon 1974:311). But they also endorsed the traditional methods of public school discipline, including 'fagging' (with qualifications) and the prefect system. (Fagging was the system in which older boys used younger boys as their personal servants, often treating them little better than slaves.)

Upper-class preserves

Finally, in order to complete the transformation of the public schools into purely upper-class preserves, it was necessary to get rid of the places which their founders had specified should be made available for 'foundationers' - poor and deserving local scholars who received free board and education. Winchester and Eton had 70 such pupils, Westminster 40, Charterhouse 44 (Simon 1974:312).

The presence of these local boys 'lowered the social tone of a school aspiring to attract the upper classes' (Simon 1974:313), and various attempts had already been made to reduce their numbers: places had been awarded by patronage or nepotism; fees had been introduced and then increased. 'These were longstanding abuses of original statutes and intentions which had persisted through the centuries' (Simon 1974:313).

In many cases these tactics had had the desired effect, so that the head of Harrow, Montagu Butler (1833-1918), was able to assure the Clarendon Commission that 'in no instance is any son of a Harrow tradesman now a member of the great school' (Clarendon 1864 Vol. IV:159).

The Commissioners sought to complete the process by recommending that the schools should be opened up to competitive examination, as had already happened at Eton and Winchester. They ignored the protests of local residents - even denying them the opportunity of appearing as witnesses - and instead, set out how local privileges could be abolished. They proposed, for example, that the number of foundationers at Rugby should be reduced to twenty-five by 1873 and eliminated altogether by 1883 (Clarendon 1864:282).

In this way, the upper-middle class 'divested itself of all likelihood of social contamination' and the public schools, originally intended for 'all classes above that of the Elizabethan pauper', became the monopoly of one (Simon 1974:317).

All in all, by insisting on the preservation of the classics as the main core of teaching, and by ensuring the final separation of the public schools from those for other classes, the Clarendon Commission created an efficient and entirely segregated system of education for the governing class - one that had no parallel in any other country. The Commissioners had done what was required of them, and had done it well (Simon 1974:318).
The Commissioners concluded their report with 'a paean in praise of the public schools' (Simon 1974:312):
It is not easy to estimate the degree in which the English people are indebted to these schools for the qualities on which they pique themselves most - for their capacity to govern others and control themselves, their aptitude for combining freedom with order, their public spirit, their vigour and manliness of character, their strong but not slavish respect for public opinion, their love of healthy sports and exercise. These schools have been the chief nurseries of our statesmen; in them, and in schools modelled after them, men of all the various classes that make up English society, destined for every profession and career, have been brought up on a footing of social equality (Clarendon 1864:56).

1868 Public Schools Act

Clarendon's proposals formed the basis for the 1868 Public Schools Act (31 July), which did away with many of the old foundation statutes and instituted new governing bodies for the schools, 'to promote their greater Efficiency, and to carry into effect the main Objects of the Founders thereof'. (Incidentally, the Act applied to only seven of the nine schools covered by Clarendon - St Paul's and Merchant Taylors' were not mentioned.)

Section 12 of the Act empowered the new governors to make decisions relating to:

  • admissions to the school;
  • provision of board and lodging;
  • fees and charges;
  • chapel services and attendance;
  • term and holiday dates;
  • sanitary conditions;
  • new branches of study;
  • employment of masters;
  • facilities for boys whose parents wished to withdraw them from religious instruction;
  • provision of places for non-boarders; and
  • the powers of the head master.
Sections 15-19 provided for the appointment of a number of named 'Special Commissioners' who were empowered to oversee the work of the schools and to make statutes and regulations if the governing bodies failed to do so.

The Act effectively established a separate class of school whose role as upper-class preserves was strengthened by the opening of foundation scholarships to competitive examination, 'inevitably favouring boys from preparatory schools' (Lawson and Silver 1973:304).

Brian Simon argues that the changes made by the Act - particularly to Eton College and its assets - amounted to a massive privatisation of public resources (Simon 1994:71). Faced with the implications for education of the extension of the franchise in the 1867 Reform Act, the government was determined to ensure the survival of the public schools as a separate legal category - 'a new kind of school, with Eton as its model, founded on public funds but available only through fees' (Shrosbree 1988:177 quoted in Simon 1994:71). Indeed, the government was so determined that it largely confined discussion of the bill to the Lords, thus denying radical MPs the opportunity of debating it.

Colin Shrosbree describes the Act as 'a pre-emptive claim to Eton and the other great schools - a defence of political and educational advantage in the face of imminent democracy' (Shrosbree 1988:177 quoted in Simon 1994:71). It became 'an effective means of transferring public endowments, and the great educational assets of buildings and historic sites, from the community to private use' (Shrosbree 1988:221 quoted in Simon 1994:71).

Shrosbree concludes:

Public assets and public funding are adapted to serve private interests. Public assets are bought or monopolised by those who can afford to pay. Public services are both impoverished and placed in competition with private agencies which do not have the burdens of public responsibility, even though they may benefit from considerable public subsidy. Public subsidy is not only divorced from public responsibility but used to fund the pursuit of private interest and social inequality ... The history of secondary education in England since the Public Schools Acts must raise doubts about whether free, public, democratic education can survive erosion by class attitudes, financial inequalities and the neglect of public services in favour of private interest (Shrosbree 1988:222-3 quoted in Simon 1994:72).
Furthermore, the transfer of public endowments applied not just to the leading seven (or nine) 'Great' schools. Others - including, for example, Loughborough, Oundle and Repton - became 'restructured endowed schools for the middle classes' (Simon 1994:72), and new schools serving the upper classes were opened during this period: Wellington in 1859, Haileybury and Clifton in 1862, and Malvern in 1865.

The Taunton Commission (of which more below) noted that

Parents who send their sons to first grade schools appear on the whole to prefer boarding schools. This is proved by the fact that all the great schools are now full, and that within the last twelve years several others have been established and all readily filled (Taunton 1868:47).
Meanwhile, the revision of statutes by the Endowed Schools Commission (of which more below) enabled a number of local grammar schools to gain public school status.
New governing bodies were appointed including national figures, representatives of church and state. Fees were imposed, the curriculum to some extent brought up to date, obsolete restrictions swept away, laboratories and libraries provided as also the all-important chapel, and the whole paraphernalia of 'houses' and playing-fields. So grammar schools which had originated as common schools serving their locality were alienated and transformed into residential schools, serving a single class (Simon 1965:102).
Many of the proprietary boarding schools also achieved public school status in the latter half of the century. Schools such as Marlborough, Cheltenham, Rossall, Ardingley, Hurstpierpoint and Lancing were 'expressly designed for members of the middle class, if sometimes for different sections of it' (Simon 1965:102).

In 1869 Edward Thring, head of Uppingham School, invited fellow heads to meet at his house to consider the formation of a 'School Society and Annual Conference'. A dozen attended the meeting and the result was the establishment of the Headmasters' Conference, which 'cemented a sense of common purpose among the public schools; it helped them to face up to the hazards of change' (Lawson and Silver 1973:345). One of the first aims of the Conference was to organise opposition to Forster's Endowed Schools Bill: there was a determination to 'keep public schools free from outside control in an era of democracy, a fear not only of popular control but also of secularising tendencies' (Simon 1965:104).

Edward Benson (1829-1896), the first head of Wellington School, led the resistance. In a letter to Frederick Temple (1821-1902), the head of Rugby School, he wrote that he objected to

Severance from the category of public schools and union with decayed grammar schools, consolidated doles of Parish Bread, and hitherto scholarless school houses. ... Half our boys are brothers of Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Rugby boys .... The change will shock them.
Wellington College, he said, had
grander auspices, finer buildings, a finer race of boys, a more devoted and capable staff, than any of the others ('endowed' so called) and than several of the 'seven' ... and there is no justice in calling us their labelled inferiors (quoted in Simon 1965:105).

Other heads also protested - notably Harper of Sherborne and Thring at Uppingham - and Forster was forced to amend his bill. As Thring wrote later, 'The up-shot was the doctrine of non-interference and supervision was admitted and they declared themselves ready to modify all the obnoxious clauses' (quoted in Simon 1965:106).

The outcome of all this activity was to establish the public schools as independent schools, to free them from control by any elected body whatsoever; this clearly remains, as the official committee on "The Public Schools and the General Educational System" pointed out in 1944, "the most striking difference" between these and other secondary schools. That this special status should have been sought and achieved at a particular moment, when political democracy was being extended, underlines the position attained by the public school system as a cornerstone of class society, a system both reflecting and perpetuating deep social divisions but beyond the reach of the normal democratic process (Simon 1965:107).
As the public schools expanded, their connections with Oxford and Cambridge were strengthened: in the second half of the nineteenth century more than eighty per cent of students were public school boys, with just seven per cent coming from local grammar schools.
Tightly integrated institutions, the public schools and ancient universities now constituted a more or less closed system of education which played a vital part in formulating and disseminating the values and upholding the status of the upper class in a deeply divided society (Simon 1965:112).

In the latter years of the century the public schools 'made minor adaptations, acquired in some cases new buildings but in few cases new ideas'. The focus of the schools changed 'from godliness to manliness': games became 'compulsory, organised and eulogised' and the rise of imperialism led the schools to emphasise discipline, authority, and team spirit (Lawson and Silver 1973:345).

There were a few tentative changes in the curriculum: at Uppingham the curriculum devised by Thring showed that it was possible to innovate within the established tradition:

In 1880 all boys learned classics and mathematics; all learned a modern language or drawing or science; all learned some history or geography, and all 'learn singing who can'. Of 320 boys, about 25 were learning science. The 'languages or drawing or science' of Uppingham (and 'verses or science' at Marlborough at the same time) indicate the adaptability of the tradition (Lawson and Silver 1973:345).

The education of the middle classes

1868 Taunton Report

(Note: references in this section are to Volume I, which contains the main report, except where indicated otherwise.)

In 1864 the Schools Inquiry Commission, under the chairmanship of Whig/Liberal politician Henry Labouchere, Lord Taunton (1798-1869) (pictured, from the painting by Charles Baugniet), was appointed to inquire into the education provided in secondary schools as a whole: that is, all those schools which lay between the nine great public schools covered by the Clarendon Commission and 'the education of boys and girls of the labouring class' which had been dealt with by the Newcastle Commission. Its brief was

to consider and report what measures (if any) are required for the improvement of such education, having especial regard to all endowments applicable or which can rightly be made applicable thereto (Taunton 1868:iv).
Report of the Schools Inquiry Commission was the result of 'the most far-reaching educational enquiry ever to have been undertaken' (Simon 1974:319); its twenty volumes were 'so massive in scale that to do them justice would demand a book in itself' (Roach 1986:282). They consisted of
a lengthy general report and recommendations, the examination of numerous witnesses, surveys of schools in other countries, eight substantial reports by assistant commissioners on different areas of the country, and reports on the individual schools (Roach 1986:282).
Taunton's findings

The Commissioners investigated 782 grammar schools, which had a net endowment income of 195,184 and educated 36,874 pupils (9,279 boarders, 27,595 day boys). They also examined some proprietary and private schools with around 52,000 pupils. They estimated that 255,000 boys required secondary education and that therefore 'nearly 80 per cent of the whole are educated in private schools, or at home, or not at all' (Taunton 1868:434).

The Taunton reports constituted 'a massive indictment of the schools' (Lawson and Silver 1973:304). The Commissioners found that provision of secondary education was poor and unevenly distributed. Two thirds of English towns had no secondary schools of any kind and in the remaining third 'there were marked differences of quality' (Williams 1961:138). London had 'great deficiency' (Taunton 1868:340), while 73 towns in the West Midlands, the north-west and Yorkshire, with 'a united population of not less than 1,164,098', had 'no grammar school endowments' (Taunton 1868:411). There were only thirteen secondary schools for girls.

In many of the endowed schools

the teaching was ineffective, and sometimes many of their resources were committed to teaching a few boys Latin. Many of them had ceased to be classical schools and had sunk to the level of poorly run elementary schools (Roach 1986:282).
Furthermore, there seemed to be no clear conception of the purpose of secondary education, nor was there any appropriate differentiation of courses adapted to the needs of pupils who left school at different ages. These failings, said the Commissioners, were due to
untrained teachers, and bad methods of teaching, uninspected work by workmen without adequate motive, unrevised or ill-revised statutes, and the complete absence of all organisation of schools in relation to one another (Taunton 1868:139).
In contrast, Taunton considered that the newer proprietary schools had 'very largely succeeded' educationally (Taunton 1868:314), and that the popularity of private schools was proof that the middle class had lost confidence in the grammar schools.


Taunton's first priority (and the main concern of the 1869 Endowed Schools Act), was the reform of the charities on which the schools were based:

Newly constituted endowed schools commissioners (absorbed into the Charity Commission in 1874) were empowered to prepare schemes for the reorganization of governing bodies and the revision of charities, including their extension to the education of girls (Lawson and Silver 1973:304).
The Charity Commission had been set up in the 1850s to regulate the use of endowments but, from the evidence of the legal and official witnesses to the Taunton Commission, it was clear that its powers were 'still quite insufficient' (Roach 1986:284). There was also a strong feeling that endowments should be managed with fairness and common sense rather than on the basis of inflexible laws.

Any reorganisation of endowments was likely to face various problems, the most significant of which was what to do about the right to free education - as it had been in the case of the public schools.

In the 1860s the general tone of opinion was against free schooling unless it were linked with the award of exhibitions to boys of academic merit. This grammar school debate runs parallel with the controversies about foundationers' rights at Harrow, Rugby and Shrewsbury ... and is related to the mid-Victorian emphasis on competition and on examination (Roach 1986:287).
The Taunton Commission papers reveal 'a general dislike of what the men of the time regarded as indiscriminate charity' (Roach 1986:287). One witness (TH Green) claimed that the result of free admission to schools was
so to lower the general character of the school as to deprive promising boys of the humbler classes of any real benefit they might gain by entering it. It leads to the invasion of the school by a 'mixed multitude' of boys too numerous to be absorbed in a higher element than their own, who get no good from it themselves which they might not get elsewhere and prevent its doing good to others (Taunton 1868 Vol VIII:170).
Other witnesses argued in favour of free education. The corn merchant, George Griffith, for example, 'opposed the introduction of school fees, arguing that the Charity Commissioners had imposed them even when the school funds were large enough to make them unnecessary' (Roach 1986:288). Griffith had published surveys of schools in Staffordshire in 1859 and Birmingham in 1861 and had tried unsuccessfully to get himself appointed as an assistant commissioner on the Taunton Commission. As a witness, he defended the rights of local boys, criticised the admission of boarders, and argued that commercial and scientific studies should be taught instead of the classics.

The final report of the Taunton Commission, however, accepted Green's arguments and recommended that free places should be awarded by competition. And since the purpose of such competition would be to select those best able to 'make education a means of rising',

the best test of all is that the competitors should be pitted against other boys of the very class into which they are to make their way. A boy who has only beaten other boys of the same class does not prove thereby that he is fit to receive the education of another class. But if all classes have entered into the competition the selection is sure to be right. If the son of a labourer can beat the sons of gentlemen that goes a long way to prove that he is capable of using to advantage the education usually given to gentlemen (Taunton 1868:596)
Management and administration

The Commissioners made a number of recommendations regarding management and administration:

A strengthened Charity Commission would become a central authority with power to accept or reject schemes for the settlement of trusts and to submit them to Parliament. They should appoint inspectors of endowed schools, audit accounts and inquire into useless or obsolete charities. Beneath the central authority there should be provincial authorities, one for each of the Registrar-General's eleven divisions. These provincial authorities would settle the various grades of school and would draw up schemes to be submitted to the central body. There should be a general conscience clause and trustees should not be required to be members of the Church of England or masters to be Anglican clergymen. The prime charge on endowments should be for buildings (Roach 1986:288-9).
These proposals - which amounted to 'a bureaucratic structure for secondary education with tight controls at both central and local levels' (Roach 1986:289) - were, however, only partly implemented by the 1869 Endowed Schools Act.

The demand for greater public control and better management of schools was evident in much of the evidence presented to the Commissioners. DR Fearon, assistant commissioner for the metropolitan district, for example, told them:

I only wish to point out, what is apparent to all who have studied the history of English education what very inadequate results from magnificent means, what abortive creations, what mischievous or undesigned effects, in short, what a lamentable waste of power has been occasioned, by the want of any superintending and directing intelligence, by that prevailing mistrust of authority and love of independent ill-directed action which is so peculiar to Englishmen (Taunton 1868 Vol VII:271 quoted in Roach 1986:278).
And Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth (1804-1877), who had been the first Permanent Secretary of the Committee of the Privy Council on Education from 1839 to 1849, wanted to unite elementary and secondary education in a system which would provide progression from the lowest levels to the highest. He therefore proposed 'a department of public charities, working under the Privy Council on lines parallel to the existing Education Department for elementary education - or even identical with it' (Roach 1986:275). The new department, represented in parliament by the same ministers who spoke for elementary schools, would have scholastic and legal branches, with their own inspectorates.

The Commissioners were sympathetic to such views. They did not go so far as to propose a Ministry of Education, but in their final report they pointed out that the education systems of France, Prussia and Switzerland were successful because they were publicly-organised. In England, on the other hand:

There is no public inspector to investigate the educational condition of a school by direct examination of the scholars, no public board to give advice on educational difficulties, no public rewards given directly to promote educational progress, except those distributed by the Science and Art Department, hardly a single mastership in the gift of the Crown, not a single payment from the central government to the support of a secondary school, not a single certificate of capacity for teaching given by public authority professedly to teachers in schools, above the primary schools. In any of these senses there is no public school and no public education for the middle and upper classes (Taunton 1868:107).
Taunton did little analysis of the cost of its proposals, possibly because it was becoming clear that the state was about to take on a significant financial commitment to the elementary schools. 'It was not a good time to take measures making possible claims on the public purse in the interests of people who, in theory at least, could pay for the education of their own children' (Roach 1986:290).

The three-grade scheme

The Taunton Commissioners recommended the creation of a three-grade system of secondary schools, as suggested by Dudley Ryder, Earl of Harrowby (1831-1900), who went on to become Vice-President of the Committee on Education in 1874. He told them:

I should like to club the grammar schools with some relation to locality, and I should like to say, you shall be a good lower middle-class school; you shall be a middle middle-class school; and you shall be a higher middle-class school, that which is now called a grammar school (Taunton 1868:579).
There were already examples of such graded systems in operation. Liverpool College, for example, comprised three schools which 'correspond, as a matter of fact, to three divisions of society, and the scholars are kept quite apart from one another, except at the daily prayers at opening the school (Taunton 1868:317).

Other witnesses, including the Bishop of Lincoln, supported the idea, and the Taunton Commissioners adopted it on the basis that it reflected the accepted class divisions in English society at the time:

  • first-grade schools with a leaving age of 18 or 19 would provide a 'liberal education' - including Latin and Greek - to prepare upper and upper-middle class boys for the universities and the older professions;
  • second-grade schools with a leaving age of 16 or 17 would teach two modern languages besides Latin to prepare middle class boys for the army, the newer professions and departments of the Civil Service; and
  • third-grade schools with a leaving age of 14 or 15 would teach the elements of French and Latin to lower middle class boys, who would be expected to become small tenant farmers, small tradesmen or superior artisans. (The Commissioners treated these schools as secondary schools because the Elementary School Code of 1860 had fixed the leaving age for elementary schools at 12) (Taunton 1868:15-21).
The Commissioners hoped that within particular areas there could be coordination between the schools so that able boys could move from one grade of school to another:
Lord Harrowby pointed out that exhibitions or scholarships would be the proper mode of providing for the exceptional boys who now and then come up to the surface above their fellows in a small town (Taunton 1868:96).
Furthermore, if links could be established between third-grade secondary schools and elementary schools, some sons of labourers might be able to go on to secondary education, though 'education for boys of this class was to be strictly limited; none must be permitted to stay beyond the age of fourteen, or the school would tend to encroach on the work of schools of the grade above' (Simon 1974:324). Fees would also be used as a mechanism for keeping poorer boys out of higher-grade schools. After all, said Taunton, even a few working-class boys 'seem to form an obstacle to the schools becoming attractive to others' (Taunton 1868:152).

In the event, the Commissioners' recommendations for a three-grade scheme and for a restructuring of secondary school administration were both rejected.

Meanwhile, lower middle-class and nonconformist groups, especially in Wales, campaigned for the removal of Anglicans from the governing bodies and headships of grammar schools, for the retention of commercial and elementary instruction in them, and for the setting up of Taunton's third grade schools. Such campaigns 'generally failed in face of the opposition of the wealthier middle classes' (Stephens 1998:99).

The curriculum

The Taunton Commissioners appear to have been much more concerned about the class-based organisation of secondary schools than with their curriculum. However, they did suggest that 'The secular instruction prescribed by the founders is, in most cases, too narrow for the needs of the present day' (Taunton 1868:576); and that religious instruction needed to take account of

the great changes in religious opinion, discipline, and organization that have taken place in this country during the two centuries which have elapsed since many of the endowed schools were founded (Taunton 1868:585).
The Commissioners argued for the inclusion of natural science: 'We cannot consider any scheme of education complete which omits a subject of such high importance' (Taunton 1868:34), and they recommended that a start should be made with the outlines of physical geography, which 'requires no apparatus but good maps' (Taunton 1868:35).
It is clear from these recommendations that secondary schools were still regarded as designed primarily for the middle class, and that public opinion had not yet come to realise the value of physical and chemical science for the working classes nor the possibility that farmers' sons could profit by a scientific education with an agricultural bias (Hadow 1923:20).
The education of girls

Meanwhile, the women's movement, with leaders such as Emily Davies (1830-1921), Frances Buss (1827-1894), Dorothea Beale (1831-1906) and Elizabeth Garrett (1836-1917), was 'already active in promoting better education and wider professional opportunities for women' (Roach 1986:295). Davies urged the Taunton Commission to include girls in its inquiry, and it promised to do so - 'though with certain inevitable limitations, since neither domestic education nor private tuition were covered, and since few endowments were devoted to the education of girls' (Roach 1986:295).

Nonetheless, the promise was kept: the Commission's papers 'give a very valuable account of the position of girls' education at that time' (Roach 1986:295) and Chapter VI of the Report is devoted to the subject.

The Commissioners were not impressed by what they found: 'It cannot be denied that the picture brought before us of the state of Middle Class Female Education is, on the whole, unfavourable' (Taunton 1868:548).

Want of thoroughness and foundation; want of system; slovenliness and showy superficiality; inattention to rudiments; undue time given to accomplishments, and those not taught intelligently or in any scientific manner; want of organisation - these may sufficiently indicate the character of the complaints we have received, in their most general aspect (Taunton 1868:548-9).
There was much discussion about whether girls possessed the same abilities as boys and whether they should follow the same courses of study. Miss Buss told the Commissioners:
I am sure that the girls can learn anything they are taught in an interesting manner, and for which they have some motive to work (Taunton 1868 Vol V:254).
The most outspoken advocate of a common education for boys and girls, however, was Emily Davies, who told a fellow campaigner that
The Assistant Commissioners, with scarcely an exception go in for the girls, and it is most useful to have them going about stirring up and encouraging the school-mistresses (quoted in Roach 1986:301).
In their final report, the Commissioners agreed with the campaigners:
The defects in the curriculum of girls' schools were once again emphasized; too much time was often given to instrumental music and too little to any form of exercise. The schools were not solely to blame, for one major obstacle to improvement was the apathy of parents and their unwillingness to pay for sound teaching. So far as natural ability was concerned, American experience had shown that girls had similar capacity for intellectual attainment to boys, though a complete assimilation should not be attempted. The extension of the Cambridge Locals to girls had been a success, and it was not true that women were likely to suffer in health from greater intellectual effort (Roach 1986:302).
As to endowments, the Commissioners warned that
the exclusion of girls from the benefit of Educational Endowments would be in the highest degree inexpedient and unjust; and we cannot believe that in any comprehensive adjustment of these great questions it will be defended or maintained (Taunton 1868:567).
Roach argues that
The support given by the Taunton Commission to the cause of better education for women was very important. It was attuned to a major need of the time, and many of the objectives of the women's campaign had been realized by the end of the century (Roach 1986:303).
(For more on this subject, see The education of girls below.)


The Commissioners also devoted considerable attention to the subject of school examinations. Witnesses argued that academic competition, which had recently been introduced for Civil Service appointments, 'brought forward the meritorious, and ensured success to those who had both the intellectual and the moral qualities to deserve it' (Roach 1986:293).

Taunton's proposal for a national Council of Examinations, although it was never implemented, 'represented an important strand in the social thinking of the time' (Roach 1986:293).

The reform of endowments

1868 Endowed Schools Act

The 1868 Endowed Schools Act (25 June) paved the way for the more significant 1869 Act by declaring that

Every Person appointed after the passing of this Act to any Office or Emolument in or in the Gift of the Governing Body of any of the said Schools shall take and hold such Office or Emolument subject to such provisions and Regulations as may hereafter be enacted respecting the same (Section 2).
1869 Endowed Schools Act

The 1869 Endowed Schools Act (2 August) made clear that its provisions did not apply to the seven schools named in the 1868 Public Schools Act, but to all other schools 'wholly or partly maintained by means of any endowment' (Section 6).

It created the Endowed Schools Commission and gave its members considerable powers and duties. They were to draw up new schemes of government for the endowed schools and were to extend the benefits of endowments to girls 'as far as conveniently may be' (12). Parents were to be given the right to withdraw their children from religious worship or instruction and to make a complaint in the case of a teacher who 'teaches systematically and persistently any particular religious doctrine' in other lessons of the curriculum (15).

(The 1873 Endowed Schools Act (5 August) made amendments to the 1869 Act, mostly of a technical nature.)

The Endowed Schools Commission (ESC)

Within four years of its establishment, the ESC had published 317 schemes for individual schools, ninety-seven of which had been laid before Parliament, and was in the process of formulating many more (Simon 1974:328). These schemes were often highly contentious for a number of reasons.

First, they effectively abolished the free education which had been laid down in many grammar and local school statutes. Instead, the endowments - most of them given by benefactors whose intention had been to provide free schooling for those who could not afford to pay - were now to be used for the benefit of the middle classes.

Second, the reformulation of governing bodies affected the interests of both the Anglican Church and the dissenting groups. Each side accused the ESC of bias toward the other, and the protests eventually became so strident that in 1873 a Select Committee was appointed to examine the working of the Endowed Schools Act. As a result, the ESC's functions were transferred to the Charity Commission (see the 1874 Endowed Schools Act below).

Third, the reform of endowments was undertaken 'in a piecemeal fashion' (Roach 1986:303) and the provision of secondary schooling through the grammar schools therefore 'remained educationally, socially and geographically patchy' (Stephens 1998:99).

And fourth, the ESC accepted Taunton's argument that 'an application of endowments becomes increasingly needful as the education becomes higher' (Taunton 1868:167). Thus

a third-grade school would need little help from an endowment - parents could cover most of the cost; a second-grade school would require more help, a first-grade school 'requires more still'. This, as the Commission points out - true to form - is in the interests of the lower classes who might conceivably rise to these heights (Simon 1974:327).
The ESC's decisions provoked considerable anger in many towns. Brian Simon quotes the example of Loughborough, where
the whole complex of schools for the people of the town, based on earlier endowments and covering all levels of education, was broken up, the bulk of the endowments constituting the Town Estate, and under local control, went to support two middle-class schools (one for boys, one for girls), now no longer under the control of the local inhabitants. This was not achieved, of course, without massive local protests. But it was in fact carried through quite ruthlessly. These two schools incidentally, are now independent, the boys' school a member of the Headmasters Conference, so rating as a 'public' school (Simon 1994:69).
Similarly, at Sutton Coldfield, where endowments had provided free elementary education, 15,000 was now appropriated for the building of a grammar school which a parliamentary inquiry described as 'a high school for well to do children'; and a further 17,000 for a high school for girls (Simon 1994:70).

In Bedford, a new school 'for the extension of middle-class education' (Taunton 1868:535) was largely financed from an endowment intended to provide free education for local children.

And in Kendal, a scheme to transfer resources to a local grammar school caused a furore. Thousands of residents signed a petition and a public meeting in 1884 approved a report which concluded:

The interference by the Commissioners, here and in many other places, has aroused the people to action in defence of their rights, which can be maintained by united action and by using every constitutional means, which in the end cannot fail to receive justice (quoted in Simon 1994:70).
This hope, says Simon, was not to be realised.

1874 Endowed Schools Act

In response to the many complaints about the ESC, the 1874 Endowed Schools Act (7 August) transferred its functions to the Charity Commission, but this arrangement fared little better and the protests continued:

This fresh outcry was due primarily to the ruthless action of the Charity Commissioners, who, travelling the country, were evolving new schemes for the administration of endowments. These involved the transfer of these endowments from elementary to higher education, so ending all forms of 'indiscriminate gratuitous instruction'. In more and more places, the implications of the Endowed Schools Act were being forcibly brought home to the local population. As a result, working-class and other organisations were registering strong protests (Simon 1974:329).
Another Select Committee was appointed to investigate in 1887. The Commissioners who appeared before it pointed out that both the Taunton and Newcastle Commissions had been opposed to free education; they argued that the poor now had elementary schools; and that 'free' did not necessarily mean free from payment - it might mean 'free from interference'.

Jesse Collings pointed out that 'the poorer classes and the working classes are large payers of rates', so the argument that because the elementary schools were supported out of the rates, the better-off classes had a right to monopolise endowments, was not tenable.

The Commissioners responded that exhibitions provided a ladder for the poor, despite the fact that in 1882, well under half the exhibitions to higher grade schools had been awarded to children from elementary schools - and even then there was no indication as to whether these were working-class children (Simon 1974:333).

In the event, the Select Committee concluded that the Charity Commissioners had faithfully carried out the 'sound and just' requirements of the Endowed Schools Act. The reform of endowments therefore continued, with the result that

by the 1890s, the middle classes of the country enjoyed a subsidised system of secondary education; one established largely at the expense of the working class (Simon 1994:71).

1895 Bryce Report

(Note: references in this section are to Volume I, which contains the main report.)

Twenty-five years after the publication of the Taunton Report, the Royal Commission on Secondary Education, under the chairmanship of historian and Liberal politician James Bryce (1838-1922) (pictured), was appointed to review the progress that had been made.

The Commission's report, published in 1895, found that four main developments had taken place:

First, the endowments and management of the grammar schools had been widely reformed (of the total of 1,448 in England which came within the terms of the Act, the Bryce Commission found that only 546 had 'not felt the reforming hand of the Commissioners'). Secondly, and consequent upon such reforms, the curricula of the grammar schools had become subject to greater scrutiny and change. Thirdly, the middle-class character of the schools had been further strengthened, although a narrow ladder had begun to be erected for the recruitment of a small number of working-class children to the secondary system. Fourthly, secondary education for middle-class girls had made considerable strides (Lawson and Silver 1973:335).

Despite these reforms, many of the schools remained insecure, with some suffering fluctuating pupil numbers and others in a state of decline This was mainly, said the Commission, due to poverty, but other factors included geographical position, the inefficiency of some headmasters, and growing competition from higher grade schools.

However, Bryce found that some schools were now offering 'an enlarged education' and that there was 'a wider and more intelligent interest in it' (Bryce 1895:16).

Thus in 1887, Hull grammar school, despite having only about forty boys, provided

a standard course consisting of Latin, French, English, scripture, history, geography, writing and mathematics, with drill twice a week and singing for the first two forms. Greek and German were optional in the top two forms, and classes in book-keeping and shorthand were available (Lawson and Silver 1973:336).
And at Read's grammar school in Corby the timetable included 'divinity, Latin, reading, writing, mathematics, English grammar and literature, French, mechanics, geography, vocal music and drawing' (Lawson and Silver 1973:336).

Bryce found that over half of the 4,200 undergraduates of Oxford and Cambridge in 1894 came from the 89 schools represented on the Headmasters' Conference, 17 per cent came from other schools in England and nearly as many from private study or home tuition. Only two per cent came from the ranks of pupil teachers, teacher training colleges or public elementary schools. The door was not closed on a poor boy of talent, but it was not open very far. 'Jude was still likely to remain obscure' (Crowther 1959:11).

Surveys of the extent of secondary provision in seven counties, conducted on behalf of the Bryce Commission in 1894, revealed that a quarter of the pupils in all the secondary schools (excluding only those schools in which the headmaster was the proprietor) had formerly attended elementary schools, though the range of variation was very wide.

Crowther argues that

It would be wrong to picture the endowed grammar schools of England at that time as upper class or middle class preserves to which a mere handful of elementary school boys were admitted (Crowther 1959:11).
Indeed, says Crowther, the main complaint about the endowed grammar schools was not that they were socially exclusive, but that there were not nearly enough of them, so that only about five elementary school pupils in a thousand were able to gain admission to them (Crowther (1959:11).

This shortage was offset - to some extent - by the growth of the higher grade elementary schools, which provided a route into secondary, and sometimes higher, education for boys and girls who would otherwise have been deprived of it: 'At least one Nobel Prizewinner was a pupil in a higher grade elementary school' (Crowther (1959:11).

In the seven counties surveyed, only four per cent of all boys and girls aged 14 or 15 were still at school and just one per cent of those aged 16 and 17:

It is only necessary to remember that among the professional classes it was already the practice for boys and girls to stay at school at least until 16, and often to 18, to realise how small was the chance of a working man's child, especially a daughter, learning at school more than the traditional 3R's. It would appear that less than one-third of all pupils aged 14 or over were girls (Crowther 1959:11).
With regard to the provision of secondary schools, Bryce recommended that for every thousand of the population secondary education should be made available to just ten children, of whom eight would be in the 'third grade'. This meant that, out of 4,000,000 children, 64,000 would be educated in the first and second grade schools, and 256,000 in the third grade. The Commission commented that 'These distinctions corresponded roughly, but by no means exactly, to the gradations of society' (Bryce 1895:131).

It would be necessary to utilise every suitable existing school, including, for example, all those private schools (but only those) which accepted public tests of efficiency. First grade schools for boys already existed in sufficient numbers, but there was a shortage of second and third grade schools at a cost which would be within the reach of parents of limited means. The rapid growth and success of the higher grade board schools, especially in larger towns, indicated the extent of the demand for third grade secondary education at a cheap rate. These higher grade elementary schools were doing much to meet the demand in many places; but there were not enough of them, and proprietary schools could not supply a similar education unless they received state aid.

The Commissioners stressed that a literary type of secondary education should be provided alongside the scientific and technical type, and that promising pupils should be able to transfer to higher schools.

They were also concerned about the training of secondary teachers, which they argued should be 'systematic and thorough': 'At present the absence of such training is one of the causes which injuriously affect Secondary Education' (Bryce 1895:80).

They went on:

In every phase of secondary teaching, the first aim should be to educate the mind, and not merely to convey information. It is a fundamental fault, which pervades many parts of the secondary teaching now given in England, that the subject (literary, scientific, or technical) is too often taught in such a manner that it has little or no educational value. The largest of the problems which concern the future of Secondary Education is how to secure, as far as possible, that in all schools and in every branch of study the pupils shall be not only instructed but educated (Bryce 1895:80).
Perhaps Bryce's most important recommendation was for greater unity of control: both nationally, through a central education authority which, while leaving freedom of action to local bodies, could supervise the general interests of secondary education as a whole; and locally, through local authorities which would be responsible for all secondary (including technical) education within their respective areas.

Discussions about implementing these recommendations began in 1897 with a series of conferences held at the Education Department between the Incorporated Association of Headmasters and the Association of Headmasters of Higher Grade Schools and Schools of Science.

In August 1898 the Department issued a joint Memorandum on the relationship between primary and secondary schools in a national system of education, and Bryce's recommendations were effected by the 1899 Board of Education Act, which drew together the powers of the Education Department, the Science and Art Department and the powers of the Charity Commissioners over educational charities, to create a new Board of Education; and by the 1902 Education Act (the Balfour Act) which established a system of secondary education integrating higher grade elementary schools and fee-paying secondary schools, abolished the school boards and created the local education authorities. (For more on the 1899 Act, see the section on The government of education below.)

Access to secondary schools was becoming 'a major social issue' (Lawson and Silver 1973:337). With regard to the scholarship system, Bryce warned of a 'deficiency of means for transferring pupils from one grade of education to another'. The demand, it said, 'has not yet been satisfied' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:340).

Yet there were still those who doubted the wisdom of 'over-educating' the working class. Education Committee Vice-President Sir John Gorst, for example, commented in 1901 that 'every boy and girl showing capacities above the average should be caught and given the best opportunities for developing these capacities', but he did not believe it right to 'scatter broadcast a huge system of higher instruction for anyone who chooses to take advantage of it, however unfit to receive it' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:340).

There was clearly 'an acceptance of a narrow ladder from the gutter to the university, but a difficulty in reconciling its widening with old assumptions about education and social status' (Lawson and Silver 1973:340).


Scotland took a significantly different course from England and Wales. Following the reports of the Argyll Commission (1865-8), the 1872 Education (Scotland) Act (6 August) created school boards to oversee both secondary and elementary education, and made attendance compulsory. The Scottish boards quickly took over a high percentage of the existing schools (Lawson and Silver 1973:322).

Elementary education

Before the 1872 Act, the quality of Scottish parochial schools varied greatly and was 'by no means always adequate' (Stephens 1998:84). For example, only fifteen per cent of schools in the Western Isles received grants and few of their teachers were well qualified; while Glasgow's private schools served the poorest of the working class (notably the Irish) and were 'grossly inefficient' (Stephens 1998:83).

Change was effected more easily in Scotland than in England, partly because lay involvement in the running of parochial schools had been the norm since the 1803 Parochial Schools (Scotland) Act (11 June), and partly because the Church of Scotland feared disestablishment, and so was 'amenable to making concessions to smooth the way for legislation' (Stephens 1998:79). The Free Church had also come to the view that only a national system which included religious instruction would secure the continuance of a Christian society. The 1872 Act, therefore, had 'much indigenous support' (Stephens 1998:79).

Within a few years, 'virtually all state-aided church schools (except Roman Catholic and Episcopalian ones) and even some private schools were also transferred voluntarily to the boards' (Stephens 1998:80).


the acceptance of the principle of permissive sectarian teaching (rejected in England) avoided the religious difficulties experienced south of the border and a virtually unified system was created (Stephens 1998:80).
The central administration of Scotland's education system was strengthened by the establishment of the Scottish Education Department (based in London) in 1885, which assumed the educational work of the Science and Art Department in 1898-9.

Scotland's school boards remained in operation until 1918.

Secondary education

As in England, there was much debate about how secondary education should be provided.

Some, supported by the Scottish Education Department, favoured the establishment of

distinct secondary schools (with preparatory departments) characterized by a rigorous classically based curriculum serving the occupational ambitions of an élite - mainly the increasingly professionalized middle classes (Stephens 1998:106).
On the other hand, traditionalists believed that a low-cost, broadly-based secondary education should be provided by the existing board schools. This view was endorsed by several official commissions, including one in 1881 which argued that
not only is it possible to combine thorough elementary teaching with instruction in the higher branches but any separation is detrimental to the tone of the school and dispiriting to the master (quoted in Stephens 1998:106).
The tradition of board schools providing both elementary and advanced studies was strengthened in 1873 when a number of 'specific subjects' were added to the curriculum. These included classics, modern languages, mathematics and science.

However, during the 1870s and 80s many endowed boarding schools were converted into 'large prestigious middle-class fee-paying day schools' (Stephens 1998:106) with an academic bias; some burgh schools became fee-paying higher class schools; and some of the urban boards established fee-paying schools on the lines of England's higher grade schools (sometimes with the same name).

Nonetheless, it was not until the early 1900s that distinct elementary and secondary schools became prevalent in Scotland - and even then,

though a social hierarchy of secondary schools did emerge, the strength of tradition was sufficient to ensure that a much larger proportion of children received post-elementary instruction than in England, and that curricular distinctions along class lines were largely rejected (Stephens 1998:106).
In the 1890s, white-collar employment grew and the resulting demand for secondary education was met by public funding. Secondary education committees were set up to fund bursaries and subsidise the higher class, higher grade and endowed schools; some new schools were established, especially in rural areas; many private and endowed schools were absorbed into the state system; and higher or secondary departments were added to elementary schools - 'their existence alongside distinctly secondary schools keeping the parochial tradition alive' (Stephens 1998:107).

In 1892 the Scottish Leaving Certificate was opened to candidates from board schools; and in 1899 the 'specific subjects' were replaced by a syllabus for 'advanced departments' of board schools.

The Education Department's attempts to create 'a hierarchy of secondary schools with distinct curricula for different social groups' was abandoned: higher grade schools were assimilated into the secondary system, and the Department imposed 'a common curricular pattern through its control of grants and its requirement that all such schools should teach to the Scottish Leaving Certificate ... Thus all Scottish secondary-school pupils could follow courses leading to the professions and the universities' (Stephens 1998:108).

It is worth noting that almost all Scotland's schools were day schools. This 'linked even the most prestigious with the local community and made for greater homogeneity within the middle classes': it avoided 'the social gulf which separated English boarding schools from other schools and from local communities' (Stephens 1998:108).

The education of girls

Coeducation was common in Scotland, both in the burgh and parish schools of the cities and in the mixed secondary schools elsewhere. Girls therefore shared largely the same curriculum as the boys.

Scottish parents at all levels of society regarded academic attainment as a commendable attribute in wives and mothers. So, though domestic subjects for girls were injected into public secondary schools from the 1870s, many tended to look unkindly on them and to prefer academic to practical instruction, and girls took the Leaving Certificate alongside boys (Stephens 1998:113).
For the middle classes, there was a shift away from private schooling after 1870. Socially exclusive proprietary day schools for girls were established, notably in Glasgow and Edinburgh, St Leonard's College at St Andrews opened as a girls' boarding school, and the reform of educational endowments facilitated the creation of other academic girls' secondary schools, especially in the main towns. 'Smaller private schools, however, still remained significant in urban areas' (Stephens 1998:113).

Girls 'somewhat lower down the social scale' (Stephens 1998:113) gained wider access to secondary education from the 1880s through bursaries from elementary schools and the opening of higher grade schools. There was greater demand for female secondary and higher education after the 1870s as a result of the 'feminization of the traditionally male Scottish teaching profession' (Stephens 1998:113).

In 1871 almost identical proportions of Scottish boys and girls aged 14-17 were at school, but by 1901 a higher proportion of girls than boys attended. These were still mainly middle-class children, but the breadth of the Scottish system, including the continued availability of post-elementary education outside secondary schools proper, make it likely that lower middle- and upper working-class girls were better catered for than their counterparts in England (Stephens 1998:114).

Science and technology

During the 1860s there was much debate about the importance of science and technology in education, partly as a result of concerns about Britain's declining economic position relative to other countries. Stephens suggests that there were grounds for such pessimism:

British industrial supremacy was shown to be under threat as early as the international exhibitions of 1851 and 1867, and by the later decades of the century Britain no longer so manifestly surpassed its rivals in industrial output and commercial activity. It is true, too, that the incorporation of science into school and university curricula and the expansion of technical education was a slow business, and that British governments played a less dominant part in organizing such activity than did those of continental countries (Stephens 1998:126).
Others argued that science was an essential part of a complete education in its own right. In his Essays on Education, published in 1861, Herbert Spencer wrote 'What knowledge is of most worth? - the uniform reply is science. This is the verdict on all the counts' (quoted in Roach 1986:275), and TH Huxley claimed that, 'unless it provided a thorough grounding in experimental science, no education could be considered complete' (Roach 1986:275). A collection of Essays on a Liberal Education, published in 1868 by 'a group of teachers writing from within the traditional education structures' (Roach 1986:276), expressed similar views.

A science education movement emerged, supported in the 1880s by Professor of Chemistry Henry E Armstrong (1848-1937), who complained that science was being taught partly because it had become fashionable and partly because it was 'a subject in which public examinations are held; more or less under compulsion; without real belief in its worth or efficacy as an educational instrument' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:346). Armstrong advocated the use of discovery methods:

In future, boys and girls generally must not be confined to desk studies: they must not only learn a good deal about things, they must also be taught how to do things ... so that children from the outset may learn to acquire knowledge by their own efforts (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:346).
Through Armstrong, 'the science education movement was linked both to new philosophies of education and to the technical education movement' (Lawson and Silver 1973:346).

Although the debate about science and technology attracted a great deal of attention both in the press and in parliament, with many distinguished figures making contributions, its effect in the schools was less than might have been expected - indeed, in the 1860s and 70s there was an 'absence of any clearly defined core curriculum to meet the requirements of a rapidly changing world' (Roach 1986:276).

Technology was equally lacking in schools in Scotland, where the middle classes generally 'sought a liberal education suitable for careers in the churches, medicine, teaching and the law and for superior posts in commerce and banking, rather than in industry' (Stephens 1998:128). Of the 14,000 pupils in burgh schools in 1866, 92 per cent studied 'English' subjects, 75 per cent writing and arithmetic and 25 per cent Latin; science was almost entirely neglected. More attention was given to science in the secondary schools which opened from the 1870s, but even here, 'parental demand ensured that modern and commercial subjects and Latin continued to dominate' (Stephens 1998:128).

The situation in Scotland had changed little by the end of the century: very few technical schools were set up by school boards under the 1887 Technical Schools (Scotland) Act (16 September), and 'attempts from 1899 to develop new higher grade schools with a technical bias had little success' (Stephens 1998:134).

1871-75 Devonshire Reports

[Note This section was rewritten in March 2019 to include more information about the Devonshire Reports, which are now available online.]

The importance of science in schools, colleges and universities was underlined in the eight reports of the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science, appointed in 1870.

The Commission was chaired by William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire (1808-1891) (pictured), probably best known for founding the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge, where he also endowed the Cavendish Professorship of Physics.

Other members of the Commission included Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth (1804-1877), who had been the first Permanent Secretary of the Committee of Council on Education, Bernhard Samuelson (of whom more below), and the biologist TH (Henry) Huxley (1825-1895).

In their sixth report, published in 1875, the Commissioners reported that

Among the 128 Endowed Schools from which we have received returns, Science is taught in only 63, and of these only 13 have a Laboratory, and only 18 Apparatus, often very scanty. Out of the 128 Schools, definite information has been received from 87. Of these 30 allot no regular time whatever to scientific study; 7 only one hour a week; 16 only two hours; while out of the whole number only 18 devote as much as four hours to it. The neglect with which it is treated is also clearly shown by that portion of the Assistant Commissioner's Report in which the weight attached to Science in the School Examinations is stated, whence it appears that among the higher grade Schools from which information has been received, only two attach a weight to Science in the Examinations equal to that of Classics or Mathematics; while in the case of the 128 Endowed Schools from which information has been received, only 13 give any weight at all to Science in the Examinations (Devonshire 1875:1).
Lawson and Silver note that:
Some grammar and public schools, such as Dulwich College, University College school and Manchester grammar school (all of whose laboratories were illustrated in the report) had serious science programmes, although within each school science was not taught uniformly to all. At Manchester grammar school the 'classics forms' were taught mathematics but not physics or chemistry. At Harrow science was taught to all boys on the 'modern side' and to upper forms on the 'classical side' (Lawson and Silver 1973:336).
The Commissioners recommended that science should be taught for at least six hours a week and that it should form an important element in any leaving examination. In their last report, they argued that the government should include a Minister of Science or a Minister of Science and Education.

Five years later, the subject came under the spotlight again when Mundella, having achieved his long-standing aim of making elementary education compulsory, turned his attention to the provision of technical education. He secured the establishment of the Normal School of Science (despite the reluctance of the Treasury to fund the building), which opened in October 1881 with TH Huxley as Dean.

On the whole, however, government policy was to leave the provision of scientific and technical education to voluntary organisations and to exert indirect influence through syllabuses and examinations:

The well-organized syllabi devised by the Department of Science and Art were adopted in many schools of art and science, teacher-training colleges, mechanics' institutes and so on, as well as in elementary and secondary schools. Government thus ensured certain levels of achievement, without itself owning institutions, employing teachers or directly controlling students (Stephens 1998:135).
The government also put pressure on the City and Guilds of London to provide more vocational and technological examinations: the number of students who registered for these rose from 2,500 in 1880 to over 34,000 by 1900 (Stephens 1998:135).

Finsbury Technical College was founded by the City and Guilds in 1883, and by 1896 there were eleven independent polytechnics in London catering for 36,000 students. (For more on the polytechnics, see Higher education below.)

1882 Aberdare Report

Another of Mundella's achievements was the setting up of the Departmental Committee on Intermediate and Higher Education in Wales and Monmouthshire, chaired by Henry Bruce, Lord Aberdare (1815-1895) (pictured), a Welsh Liberal MP who had been Home Secretary and Lord President of the Council.

The Aberdare Committee 'produced one of the most influential reports of the decade, and its conclusions, though specifically Welsh, were applied by Mundella as part of a wider programme' (Armytage 1951:207).

Aberdare's report was in Mundella's hands within a year. Unfortunately, implementation of its proposals took much longer, partly because of government intransigence and partly because of hostility from voluntaryists and supporters of Welsh proprietary schools who, like the head of Manchester Grammar School, objected to the idea of higher grade elementary schools being supported by rate grants:

The same opposition was visible in Wales, where the 'complete model of educational organisation' was taking shape with the opening of Cardiff and Bangor university colleges, each with a government subsidy of 4,000 a year. The headmasters of all the grammar and proprietary schools in the principality met at Shrewsbury to form a provisional committee for the protection of 'the old foundation schools which have borne the heat and burden of educational work in the past'. They passed a resolution that the age of admission to these state-aided colleges should be raised to seventeen, and that there should be an entrance examination 'as would effectually protect such colleges from the necessity of undertaking elementary instruction' (Armytage 1951:224-5).
Mundella was furious at the delays. In a speech in Birmingham in January 1883 he told his audience:
I regret to say that there is nothing more meretricious in the whole of our education system than what is designated the middle class education of private venture schools, and more especially those miserable boarding schools, which are supposed to give both education and fine manners, but which turn out boys and girls utterly ignorant of what they might obtain at an elementary school at Birmingham for 2d. a week (quoted in Armytage 1951:216-17).
Nonetheless, it would be another six years before the passing of the 1889 Welsh Intermediate Education Act (12 August), which made 'further provision for the intermediate and technical education of the inhabitants of Wales and the county of Monmouth' (Section 2). Each county council was to appoint a joint education committee which was required to submit a scheme to the Charity Commissioners for such education (3). Up to half the cost of running the schools would be paid by the Treasury (8).

The Act defined 'intermediate education' as meaning:

a course of education which does not consist chiefly of elementary instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic, but which includes instruction in Latin, Greek, the Welsh and English language and literature, modern languages, mathematics, natural and applied science, or in some of such studies, and generally in the higher branches of knowledge (17).
Technical education was to include instruction in:
(i) Any of the branches of science and art with respect to which grants are for the time being made by the Department of Science and Art;
(ii) The use of tools, and modelling in clay, wood, or other material;
(iii) Commercial arithmetic, commercial geography, book-keeping, and shorthand;
(iv) Any other subject applicable to the purposes of agriculture, industries, trade, or commercial life and practice, which may be specified in a scheme, or proposals for a scheme, of a joint education committee as a form of instruction suited to the needs of the district;
but it shall not include teaching the practice of any trade, or industry, or employment (17).
As to the universities in Wales, there was no great expansion of scientific and technological education:
the general cultural atmosphere was antagonistic to industry and commerce and the university colleges concentrated on general instruction, seeing themselves as agencies of Welsh religious and cultural development rather than as contributors to economic advance (except in agriculture) (Stephens 1998:137).
In Scotland, however, standards were raised towards the end of the century: 'Science teaching was strengthened and the universities became significant centres for physics and engineering - as world-wide demand for Scottish engineers testified' (Stephens 1998:137).

Taking Britain as a whole, Stephens argues that 'governmental financial support for this area of education, though largely indirect, was considerable, while private sources contributed much more than in Germany' (Stephens 1998:138).

By 1900, Britain was considered to have caught up with Germany in technical education at the lower and intermediate levels. At university level, Germany continued to lead in chemistry, but Britain was probably superior in advanced physics and in many branches of applied science (Stephens 1998:138).

1882/4 Samuelson Reports

Meanwhile, the issue of Britain's position relative to the rest of the world was considered by the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction (1881-1884), which was established to compare technical education in England with that in other European countries.

Liberal MP Bernhard Samuelson (1820-1905) (pictured), Mundella's 'great ally in this matter' (Armytage 1951:209), was appointed to chair the Commission. 'So keen and anxious were the commissioners that they paid their own expenses on a tour of the continent that lasted for three years' (Armytage 1951:209).

In their First Report (February 1882), a preliminary one of just 30 pages (plus appendices), they reported mainly on their findings in France.

Their Second Report was published in five volumes in May 1884. The first (which is online) contained the report itself and one appendix.

The other volumes consisted of:

Vol. 2: A report on agricultural education in north Germany, France, Denmark, Belgium, Holland and the United Kingdom by HM Jenkins, and a report on technical education in the US and Canada by William Mather;

Vol. 3: Notes on technical education in Russia by William Mather, and reports on the English silk industry by Thomas Wardle, and technical instruction in Ireland by WK Sullivan;

Vol. 4. Evidence etc. relating to Ireland;

Vol 5. Foreign reports and appendices etc.

Samuelson's two reports marked an important stage in the development of public opinion on the subject of technical and secondary education. The Commissioners warned that Britain's industrial leadership was being challenged around the world by countries with well-educated populations. They argued that
The best preparation for technical study is a good modern secondary school of the types of the Manchester Grammar School, the Bedford Modern School, and the Allan Glen's Institution at Glasgow (Samuelson 1884:516),
and they warned that the middle classes in England were at a great disadvantage compared with those of continental Europe because there was a severe shortage of such schools:
the existing endowments are very unevenly distributed over the country; in many of the large manufacturing centres no resources of the kind exist; private enterprise is clearly inadequate to do all that is required in establishing such schools, and we must look to some public measure to supply this, the greatest defect of our educational system (Samuelson 1884:517).
The Commissioners recommended that there should be a clearer distinction between elementary and secondary education and their reports indirectly strengthened the position of higher grade schools and enriched the curriculum of elementary schools.

They defined technical education as including languages, mathematics, history and geography, and recommended that scholarships should be established from the higher grade schools to the technical and local colleges.

Many northern school boards adopted the Commission's recommendations, opening organised science schools which received grants from the Science and Art Department. Such developments were sometimes met with hostility:

Notable in this respect was the Manchester school board, under the chairmanship of Herbert Birley. When the Mundella Code appeared, this school board had established a seventh standard and then an extra seventh. Now they made a radical change. The two leading board schools were merged into a large new building holding 1,200 pupils, with special provision for the teaching of science and art. It was so well equipped that it immediately drew upon the reservoir of ability that had been destined for Manchester Grammar School. This new school was called the Manchester Central Higher Grade School. It was opened, together with a new museum at Queens Park, Harpurhey, by Mundella on 5 July. The Manchester Central Higher Grade School was but a forerunner; within a year others had sprung up at Ardwick, Hyde Road, St. Lukes, Waterloo Road, Birley Street, Beswick and Ducie Avenue. The drain on the Manchester Grammar School became so heavy that S. Dill, the high master, wrote to Mundella, and, receiving no satisfaction, bitterly complained in 1885 that 'there are many signs of late that our place in the educational system is little recognised, and that our capacity of service to the community is quietly ignored' (Armytage 1951:224).
Some members of the Samuelson Commission were involved in setting up a National Association for the Promotion of Technical and Secondary Education in 1886.

1889-1892 Further Acts

In the wake of the Samuelson Commission's warnings and recommendations, several Acts of Parliament aimed to expand scientific and technical education without direct government control. The 1889 Technical Instruction Act (30 August) empowered the new county and county borough councils to support technical and industrial training out of the rates; the 1891 Schools for Science and Art Act (5 August) allowed the transfer to local authorities of Schools for Science and Art; and the 1892 Technical and Industrial Institutions Act (27 June) facilitated 'the Acquisition and Holding of Land by Institutions for promoting Technical and Industrial Instruction and Training'. Scotland had its own legislation: the 1892 Technical Instruction Amendment (Scotland) Act (28 June).

Following these Acts, in 1893 London County Council set up a Technical Education Board, chaired by Sidney Webb (of whom more below), which provided scholarships to enable elementary school pupils to continue their education at secondary schools and technical institutes. The Board also established the London Day Training College (which later became the University of London Institute of Education), the Central School of Arts and Crafts, and specialist colleges for photography and photoengraving, carriage building, typography and printing, leather dyeing and tanning, and the furniture trades.

Considerable sums of public money were thus distributed to local government technical instruction committees and this 'made possible the establishment in many towns of well-financed technical colleges or institutes - under the control of local councils (or in Scotland of other bodies), but each independent of one another' (Stephens 1998:136).

In the mid-1890s evening classes were 'given a great stimulus ... by the recognition of students over twenty-one for grant purposes' (Lawson and Silver 1973:346).

The education of girls

In the early Victorian period, girls had been trained to be dependent, 'distrusting their own conclusions, and shrinking from responsibility, till they sink into mere puppets, useless to themselves and to others' (Grey and Shirreff 1850:30 quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:306). Working-class girls were mostly educated alongside boys but did not have the same opportunities for promotion:

The secondary education of working-class girls had to await a more generous view of their social position, greater job mobility, and the construction of a wider system of secondary schools to which girls could have access (Lawson and Silver 1973:341).
But as the pattern of Victorian family life changed, girls began to seek greater economic independence and educational opportunities grew. 'The focus of change was found in the governess system in the 1850s, was turned into a major campaign in the 1860s, and produced real fruits in the 1870s' (Lawson and Silver 1973:306).

Significant progress in the social emancipation of women began in the 1870s, when the first of the Married Women's Property Acts and Matrimonial Causes Acts 'reflected the beginnings of changes in the status of women in the family' (Lawson and Silver 1973:341).

In 1868 the Taunton Commission found just thirteen girls' secondary schools in England; in 1895 Bryce found eighty, and commented that 'there has probably been more change in the condition of the Secondary Education of girls than in any other department of education' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:343).

There were also some new proprietary schools for girls. The Girls' Public Day School Company (later Trust), founded in 1872 by the Women's Education Union (founded in 1871), established 'good and cheap Day Schools for Girls of all classes above those attending the Public Elementary Schools' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:343). By 1894 the Trust had thirty-six schools which provided 'some subjects appropriate to the domestic duties and possible careers open to women', but did so 'within an academic framework modelled on the boys' secondary schools' (Lawson and Silver 1973:343). In general, girls' secondary schools 'were less anxious to pioneer new curricula than to establish girls' education on the same footing as that of boys' (Lawson and Silver 1973:343).

The work of the Women's Education Union prompted a concern for the training of women teachers. It pointed out that government-supported training colleges trained only elementary teachers, while many male secondary-school teachers had university degrees. In 1878 the Union opened Maria Grey College to train teachers for higher grade girls' schools.

The secondary and higher education of girls was 'inevitably shaped as a separatist movement' (Lawson and Silver 1973:344). While coeducation at secondary level was common in Scotland, in England it was found only in a few higher grade schools and in very few of the endowed or proprietary schools. Supporters of coeducation, however, were encouraged by the Bryce Commission, which stated that:

this system has been tried with so much success in other countries, and to some extent in Great Britain itself, that we feel sure its use may be extended without fear of any undesirable consequences, and probably with some special advantages for the formation of character and general stimulus to intellectual activity (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:344).
Campaigns for girls' secondary education began to have an impact during the last years of the century and many advances were made.

(Much of the following information is taken from chapter I (pages 27-37) of the 1923 Hadow Report Differentiation of the Curriculum for Boys and Girls):

  • in 1865 a small committee, with Emily Davies as secretary, persuaded Cambridge to admit girls to its Local Examinations;
  • in 1867 the North of England Council for the Higher Education of Women was formed;
  • in 1869 London University established a general examination for women with more advanced special papers;
  • in 1869 Girton College Cambridge was founded for women by Emily Davies;
  • in 1870 girls were admitted to the Oxford Local Examination;
  • Newnham College Cambridge was founded in 1871 to prepare women for the new Cambridge Higher Local Examination;
  • in 1871 the National Union for the Improvement of the Education of Women of all Classes was founded: its aims were to promote the foundation of cheap day schools for girls and to raise the status of women teachers by giving them a liberal education and a good training in the art of teaching;
  • in 1872 the National Union formed the Girls' Public Day School Company 'to supply for girls the best education possible, corresponding with the education given to boys in the great Public Schools';
  • girls were admitted to the examinations of the Oxford and Cambridge Joint Board in 1876;
  • in 1878 the Maria Grey Training College for women teachers in higher grade girls' schools was founded;
  • in 1878 London University opened all its examinations and degrees to women: 'it was to be over forty years before Oxford and Cambridge did likewise (and seventy years before women were admitted as full members of Cambridge University and to its degrees on a completely equal footing with men) (Lawson and Silver 1973:343);
  • in 1881 Cambridge opened its Triposes to women;
  • in 1882 Westfield College London for women opened;
  • in 1884 Oxford allowed women to sit for examinations in certain of its schools;
  • in 1886 Royal Holloway College for Women was founded;
  • the 1889 Welsh Intermediate Education Act (12 August) made provision for the establishment of an organised secondary system in Wales which provided for both boys and girls - many of the new schools opened in the wake of the Act rapidly evolved into coeducational day schools; and
  • the 1895 Royal Commission on Secondary Education (Bryce - see above) was the first to include women among its members.
Furthermore, the new colleges and universities founded during this period (see Higher education below) made no distinction between men and women in respect of teaching, emoluments, or degrees.

Child welfare and special educational needs

Child welfare

During the last thirty years of the nineteenth century there was growing concern for the welfare of the child.

The Factory Acts were extended to 'cover trades which had not previously been affected and in which illiteracy was most acute' (Lawson and Silver 1973:351); the 1875 Chimney Sweepers Act (11 August) prohibited the use of boys to clean chimneys and provided the first workable enforcement machinery; and the 1879 Summary Jurisdiction Act (11 August) resulted in most child offenders appearing before magistrates rather than the assizes or quarter-sessions.

In the 1880s concerns began to be expressed about the treatment in law of reformatory and industrial schools as being 'something growing out of the prison system' (Lawson and Silver 1973:351).

From 1884, in Birmingham, the Schools' Cheap Dinner Society provided lunches for children in the poorer districts; board-school teachers contributed to various charities including the Poor Children's Boot Fund and a Country Holiday Society; and an anonymous donor provided free breakfasts for the children at a board school in the poorest part of the city (Lawson and Silver 1973:350-1).

Elsewhere, Margaret McMillan (1860-1931), who would become well-known for her books on nursery education, and London School Board member Annie Besant (1847-1933) were notable campaigners for the provision of school meals and medical inspections and treatment (Simon 1965:156-7).

When Margaret McMillan (pictured) was elected to the Bradford School Board she was the youngest member and the only woman. She immediately set about campaigning for an end to the half-time system, under which children split their days between school and factory work. 'The half-timers fell asleep at their desks, exhausted,' she wrote, 'still from streets and alleys children attended school in every stage of physical misery' (quoted in Simon 1965:157). She addressed open-air meetings and attracted vast audiences when she spoke at rallies in St. George's Hall on Sunday nights. In 1895 she led a deputation to Home Secretary Herbert Asquith, and wrote a Clarion pamphlet, Child Labour and the Half-Time System.

With Dr James Kerr, Bradford's School Medical Officer (the first appointment of its kind in the country), McMillan carried out the first medical inspection of elementary school children in Britain:

Investigations were made of children's noses, throats, ears, of children's heads and clothing (showing the need for fumigating stations for verminous children, over 100 of whom had not had their clothes off for six to eight months) and on similar matters (Simon 1965:157-8).
Their first report led to a campaign for school clinics (which was eventually successful), and for the appointment of school nurses and the first school dentist. There followed a campaign for school baths and showers, and in 1897 the first school baths in the country were opened in Bradford (Simon 1965:158).

McMillan was also concerned about the layout of classrooms, their ventilation, and the provision of appropriate furniture for small children; and she was active in arguing for a broader curriculum, the development of higher grade schools, and better training for teachers.

Special educational needs

Serious attempts to provide special education began in the 1890s. The London School Board appointed a medical officer in 1890 and Acts were passed providing for the education of the blind and deaf, for the physically and mentally defective, and for epileptic children.

Note: Much of the following information is taken from chapter 2 (pages 9-14) of the 1978 Warnock Report Special Educational Needs, which itself was largely based on DG Pritchard's 1963 book Education and the Handicapped 1760-1960.

Provision for the deaf and blind

Neither the 1870 Education Act nor the corresponding Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 specifically included disabled children among those for whom provision was to be made, but in 1874 the London School Board established a class for the deaf at a public elementary school and later began the training of teachers. By 1888 there were 14 centres attached to ordinary schools, catering for 373 children. A few other boards did the same, but most made no specific provision for the deaf.

It was much the same in respect of the blind. In 1874 fifty blind children were being taught in ordinary classes in Scottish schools, and in 1875 the London Board made the first arrangements for teaching blind children in its elementary schools. By 1888 there were 23 centres attached to ordinary schools, where 133 children were taught part-time by teachers who were themselves blind. The children received the rest of their education in ordinary classes. A handful of other boards made some arrangement for the blind.

These first efforts by a few school boards to cater for some handicapped children owed nothing to educational legislation. Concerns for the plight of the disabled, and especially of the blind, had first been expressed in the mid-19th century but these had been mainly about the relief of distress rather than about education.

But once the 1870 Act had established the principle of universal elementary education, the needs of handicapped children could no longer be ignored. The Charity Organisation Society began campaigning for the right of blind children to receive education and the duty of school boards to provide it, and later applied the same arguments to the education of the deaf. Other organisations, like the Society for the Training of the Deaf, joined the campaign.

As a result, a Royal Commission was constituted in 1886 and published its report in 1889. The Royal Commission on the Blind, the Deaf and Dumb &c recommended the introduction of compulsory education for the blind from 5 to 16. Pupils would receive elementary education to the age of 12 and then follow either a technical or an academic course. At the elementary stage, children would mostly be taught in ordinary classes by ordinary teachers, but there would need to be special boarding schools for pupils who were delicate, neglected or lived too far from the nearest day school.

The Commission also recommended compulsory education for deaf children aged 7 to 14 in separate schools or classes. Teachers of the deaf should be paid higher salaries than ordinary teachers, their training should be under government supervision, and they should have qualified as ordinary teachers before beginning their special training.

The Commission's report was followed a year later by the 1890 Education of Blind and Deaf-Mute Children (Scotland) Act (14 August), but England had to wait a further three years for the 1893 Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act (12 September), which sought 'to make better Provision for the Elementary Education of Blind and Deaf Children in England and Wales'.

Its main provisions related to:

  • parents' duty to ensure the appropriate education of their children (Section 1);
  • school authorities' duty to provide appropriate education for blind and deaf children (2-8);
  • parents' duty to contribute to the cost of such education (9-10);
  • the school leaving age for blind and deaf children to be 16 (11); and
  • the power of the Education Department to make grants to certified schools (12).
The Act required school authorities (boards, district councils or school attendance committees) to make provision for the education of blind and deaf children resident in their area who were not receiving suitable elementary education. As the Commission had recommended, blind children were to receive education between the ages of 5 and 16 and deaf children between 7 and 16. Parliamentary grants were available for certified institutions which were open to inspection. In most cases the extra places were provided by the extension of existing schools.

The larger school boards made real efforts to maintain good standards in their own schools, but many of the smaller boards struggled, and there was also the problem of the 20,000 voluntary schools over which the boards had no control. These difficulties persisted until the creation of local education authorities in 1902.

Provision for the physically and mentally handicapped

There was even less provision for the educational needs of physically and mentally handicapped children. Those who attended elementary schools profited as best they could from the ordinary teaching, while the more severely handicapped received care - and sometimes education - in institutions.

Before the 1870 Elementary Education Act the needs of mentally handicapped children were mostly ignored. The demands of everyday life in a largely uneducated and relatively uncomplicated world meant that mental disability was not seen as a substantial handicap, and there was institutional provision for those who needed looking after.

But as a result of the 1870 Act, large numbers of children of poor intellectual ability began entering the public elementary schools. This posed a range of problems:

  • many of the children made little progress and their presence hindered normal teaching;
  • there were no systematic means of assessing their capabilities and needs;
  • the range of disability was very wide and there were unresolved questions of definition;
  • instruction was based on the official Code for normal children; and
  • classes were large so there was little opportunity, even if teachers had the skills, to devise a differentiated curriculum.
Furthermore, unlike the blind and deaf, the physically and mentally handicapped had no organisations to plead their cause. Isolated examples of private provision existed in London, but across the country little had been achieved when the Royal Commission on the Blind and Deaf reported in 1889.

The Commission (whose remit covered special needs in general) distinguished between the feeble-minded, imbeciles and idiots. It argued that the feeble-minded should receive special education separately from ordinary children in 'auxiliary' schools; and that imbeciles should not be in asylums or workhouses but should attend institutions where they could, if possible, receive an education concentrating on sensory and physical development and the improvement of speech. The last group, having the greatest degree of intellectual deficiency, were considered to be ineducable.

Following the Commission's report, the Charity Organisation Society campaigned for educational provision for the mentally handicapped and in 1896 sponsored the National Association for Promoting the Welfare of the Feeble-Minded.

The campaign was supported by the findings of Dr Francis Warner, who investigated 100,000 children in district poor law schools and the London Board Schools in the early 1890s. He concluded that about one per cent of the children required special care and training in separate schools on the grounds of their mental and physical condition.

Further support came from the the Metropolitan Poor Law Schools Committee, whose Report in 1896 called for separate provision to be made for feeble-minded children.

In 1892 the Leicester School Board established a class for selected 'feeble-minded' pupils, and the London Board opened a school for the instruction of physically and mentally defective children. The emphasis was on occupational activity rather than formal education.

By 1896 there were 24 of these special schools in London attended by 900 pupils and, by the end of the century, schools for defective children had been established by six other boards.

Provision for defective and epileptic children

Socialist members of school boards called for special provision for 'defective' children. In Burnley, Dan Irving was instrumental in the creation of special classes for mentally and physically defective children; while in Reading, Social Democratic Federation members on the school board were successful in gaining an official enquiry which found 795 defective children: 'the result was the appointment of a Medical Officer in a consultative capacity - an important achievement in itself and perhaps even more important as a precedent' (Simon 1965:157).

In December 1896 the Education Department appointed a committee chaired by TW Sharpe, Senior Chief Inspector of Schools, to investigate and make recommendations. The Report of the Departmental Committee on Defective and Epileptic Children was published in January 1898.

Like the earlier Royal Commission, the Committee had to grapple with definitions. It concluded that schools would need to exercise their own judgement as to whether an individual child was capable of receiving proper benefit from special instruction. Dr Warner's study had suggested that the children could be assessed by physical examination, so the Committee recommended that a medical officer appointed by the school board would decide whether a particular child should be educated in an ordinary school, in a special school or not at all.

The Committee classed the feeble-minded with physically handicapped children under the general description of 'defective'. It recommended that, where possible, defective children of normal intelligence should attend ordinary schools and receive an ordinary education.

School authorities should be required to make special provision for defective children in their area who needed it, and should be empowered to compel attendance between the ages of 7 and 14 (16 in some cases). Classes in special schools should be small, all headteachers should be qualified, and the majority of assistant teachers should not only be qualified but should have additional training in dealing with defective children. There should be a varied programme of activities with an emphasis on manual and vocational training for senior pupils.

With regard to epileptic children, the Committee proposed that, where attacks were relatively rare, children should attend ordinary classes; otherwise school authorities should be required to provide places in residential special schools or pay for places in voluntary institutions. Attendance should be compulsory.

The Committee's proposals were far ahead of contemporary thinking, made heavy demands on the school boards and were costly.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the 1899 Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act (9 August) empowered - but did not require - school boards to provide for the education of mentally and physically defective and epileptic children. Although an enhanced rate of grant was payable for this special provision, ten years later only 133 out of 327 local education authorities had used their powers under the Act.

The Act allowed school authorities to make arrangements for identifying defective and epileptic children (Section 1) and to provide for their education:

(a) by classes in public elementary schools certified by the Education Department as special classes; or
(b) by boarding out ... any such child in a house conveniently near to a special class or school; or
(c) by establishing schools ... for defective children (2).
Parents were obliged to ensure that children over seven years of age attended such classes or schools (4).

Higher education

New colleges

University education was transformed during this period, partly in response to the demand for more and better technical education, and partly as a result of profound changes in society:

the waning influence of the Church of England and the landed gentry, the growth of a prosperous urban middle class, the merging of the great landowners and the new plutocracy into a new élite, the expansion of public services and the professions, and a modest spread of meritocracy as educational qualifications became the key to advancement (Stephens 1998:114).
New university colleges were founded at Newcastle (1871), Leeds (1874), Bristol (1876), Sheffield (1879), Birmingham (1880), Nottingham and Liverpool (1881) and Reading (1892) (Lawson and Silver 1973:348). At first, all these taught for London external degrees; some later became independent, while Leeds and Liverpool were subsumed into Victoria University.

Some of the new colleges were specifically for science: Newcastle started life as the University of Durham College of Physical Science, while Leeds began as the Yorkshire College of Science. Some (including Bristol and Reading) arose out of the university extension movement of the 1870s, during which Cambridge, Oxford and London became involved in adult education.

Some, such as Mason College, Birmingham (which became the University of Birmingham in 1900) and Firth College, Sheffield, were funded by local benefactors. Nottingham was unique in being funded by the town council.

Victoria University was founded in 1880 as an examining university on the model of London:

as a federal university it encompassed Owens College, Manchester, followed in 1884 by Liverpool and in 1887 by Leeds. The federation broke up and all three became independent universities in 1903-4 (Lawson and Silver 1973:348).
London became a teaching university in 1900.

In Scotland, the universities shed school-level work and 'gradually replaced their general humane curriculum by a more flexible system of specialized honours courses in arts, science and applied science' (Stephens 1998:116). The ancient universities admitted women from the 1860s and allowed them to graduate from 1892.

In Wales, University College Aberystwyth was founded in 1872 and, after a difficult start, revived in the 1880s, while new colleges were founded at Cardiff in 1883 and Bangor a year later. The three formed a federated University of Wales in 1893 (Lawson and Silver 1973:348).

In both Scotland and Wales, the universities had a broader social base than in England, and so 'remained basically meritocratic rather than élitist' (Stephens 1998:119).

The new university colleges had 'a variety of emphases, problems and standards': most of the colleges which undertook scientific and modern studies faced 'constant financial difficulty' (Lawson and Silver 1973:348). In 1889 the government agreed to support them and appointed a committee to advise on the allocation of funds, which became the University Grants Committee in 1919.

Oxford and Cambridge

As the new colleges and universities began to open, the restricted curriculum of the ancient institutions became an embarrassment, and Oxford and Cambridge began to offer a broader range of subjects and to cater for a wider intake:

the dominance of students from landed and clerical backgrounds diminished progressively as numbers from comfortably-off professional and business families rose, reflecting the merging of old landed and new upper middle classes into a new ruling élite. (Stephens 1998:118).
Scholarships were offered and courses and examinations in science improved, though 'the results were slow to come and the initiatives to encourage science and technology weak' (Lawson and Silver 1973:349). This was partly because the culture of the public schools - notably the cult of games and manliness - was now affecting Oxford and Cambridge, so that in the last years of the century the ancient universities 'were concerned more with the definition of moral attitudes and the improvement of standards than with the curriculum content' (Lawson and Silver 1973:349).

However, there were developments in pure science, particularly at Cambridge, where there was a considerable improvement in laboratory accommodation: the establishment of the Cavendish laboratory in 1874, with James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) as its first professor of experimental physics, 'signalled an important departure in university science' (Lawson and Silver 1973:349).

From 1869, Cambridge began to include a more advanced examination for girls over eighteen in its system of local exams. Four years later the universities became involved in extension work:

The lectures, begun in 1873 by Cambridge, were followed by similar lectures organized by London from 1876 and by Oxford from 1878. The work dovetailed with a growing interest by the labour movement in adult education, a particular demand for such lectures from groups of women in many towns, and eagerness in many communities to establish university-type educational facilities (Lawson and Silver 1973:349).
1862 Oxford University Act

The 1862 Oxford University Act (30 June) extended the powers of the university to make statutes relating to:

  • The Professorship of Political Economy;
  • The Readership in Experimental Philosophy;
  • The Sherard Professorship of Botany;
  • The Aldrich Professorship of Chemistry;
  • The Readership in Geology; and
  • The Readership in Mineralogy.
1871 Universities Tests Act

The religious exclusiveness of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham had become as problematic as their restricted curriculum. The 1871 Universities Tests Act (16 June) therefore altered the law respecting religious tests in these universities. It decreed that 'those taking lay academical degrees or holding lay academical or collegiate offices' were not to be required:

to subscribe any article or formulary of faith, or to make any declaration or take any oath respecting his religious belief or profession, or to conform to any religious observance, or to attend or abstain from attending any form of public worship, or to belong to any specified church, sect, or denomination; nor shall any person be compelled, in any of the said universities or any such college as aforesaid, to attend the public worship of any church, sect, or denomination to which he does not belong (Section 3).


In response to increasing concerns about the poor provision of technical education in England, the City and Guilds of London Institute was founded in 1880, with educational reformer and politician Sir Philip Magnus (1842-1933) (pictured) as Director, to encourage the teaching of practical subjects by conducting examinations.

Three years later the Institute opened Finsbury Technical College, which 'became a model for future technical education, and from whose laboratories [Henry] Armstrong propounded his new view of science teaching' (Lawson and Silver 1973:347).

Meanwhile, at the Royal Polytechnic Institution in Regent Street (founded in 1838 and now the University of Westminster), the philanthropist Quintin Hogg (1845-1903) was providing 'classes and leisure facilities of all kinds for the poorer sections of the community' (Lawson and Silver 1973:347) and this became the model for the London polytechnics opened by the City Parochial Foundation. By the end of the 1890s these included the People's Palace and East London Technical College (now Queen Mary College), Northern, Borough, Battersea and Chelsea polytechnics.

The polytechnics were designed to 'promote the industrial skill, general knowledge, health, and well-being of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes' of London. Some of them developed higher-level technical and scientific work which also attracted wider support, and brought them into association with the University of London (Lawson and Silver 1973:347).

And finally ...

The government of education

1888 Local Government Act

The Victorians believed in the value of local government. The 1888 Local Government Act (13 August) provided for the establishment of elected councils for the counties and county boroughs (the larger towns and cities) in England and Wales. The counties took over the administrative functions of the magistrates of the Quarter Sessions courts, and there were also urban and rural district councils based on existing 'sanitary districts'.

The Act set out the powers and duties of these new councils, which included levying rates; building and maintaining county halls, court houses and police stations; repair of roads and bridges; regulation of weights and measures etc.

The Act said little about education, but it was nonetheless an important step in the development of the state education system, since the local education authorities which would later be created by the 1902 Education Act (see the next chapter) would be based on the councils established by the 1888 Act.

The only references to schools in the Act were:

  • councils' duties in respect of 'the establishment and maintenance of and the contribution to reformatory and industrial schools' (Section 3);
  • council grants towards the remuneration of teachers in poor law schools (24);
  • the payment of school fees by councils 'for pauper children sent from a workhouse to a public elementary school outside the workhouse' (24);
  • payments by councils to district schools to which a poor law union contributed (26), with a similar provision for county boroughs (34); and
  • councils' responsibility for certain administrative matters relating to education (10).
1899 Board of Education Act

In April 1883, Forster discussed with Mundella the creation of a Ministry of Education. When the subject was debated in the Commons in June that year, Gladstone 'publicly disparaged the proposed change' (Armytage 1951:220) and Forster, to Mundella's surprise and disappointment, said that

The real objection [to a minister of education] probably was, that it was undesirable to make too much of education, that if we were to have a Minister of Education he might be pushing things on too quickly (Hansard House of Commons 29 June 1883 Vol 280 Cols 1963-4).
Nonetheless, the debate did result in a departmental committee being appointed on 9 August 1883, under the chairmanship of Chancellor of the Exchequer HCE Childers (1827-1896) (pictured), to 'consider how the ministerial responsibility under which the votes for education, science and art are administered, may best be secured' (quoted in Armytage 1951:220).

A year later, the Childers Committee recommended the appointment of a minister of education for England and Scotland, with a board or committee of privy councillors to assist him. His role would be similar to that of a secretary of state, and he would have a parliamentary secretary and a separate secretary for Scotland (Armytage 1951:223).

Lord Carlingford, Lord President of the Council, opposed the proposals. In February 1885 he wrote to Gladstone:

The change, I understand, is that in future Mundella would be called President of the Education Board, that he and I, inhabiting our separate rooms, would cease to confer together, and that the education department would lose its connection with the cabinet. I confess I fail to see what reforms this change would effect, and I am sure that a great many of those interested in education would think it a change for the worse (quoted in Armytage 1951:223).
Although Childers' proposal for a minister of education was not adopted, two changes were made: a separate secretary was appointed for the Science and Art Department at South Kensington and the administration of education in Scotland was finally separated from that of England.

The idea of an overarching education department was not forgotten, however. The 1899 Board of Education Act (9 August) established the Board of Education as the government department responsible for education (Section 1), replacing the Education Department and the Department of Science and Art (2).

It provided for the inspection of secondary schools (3) and for the establishment of a Consultative Committee to frame regulations for a register of teachers and to advise the Board on educational matters (4).

Mundella's legacy

Though in office as Vice-President of the Committee in Council on Education for only five years, Mundella's achievements were considerable, the more so because of the restrictions within which he worked:

To begin with, though he was de facto head of the department, he was not in the cabinet. In discussions on that level he had to depend on the Lord President. With Spencer this was successful, with Carlingford it was more involved, since Carlingford was cautious where Spencer was enthusiastic, weak where Spencer was adamant. Again, a further handicap was the parsimony of the treasury, inspired and regulated by the sound frugality of Gladstonian finance. ... Thirdly, with his belief in compromise, he had to balance a series of warring interests, all making strong representations, both to him and above his head. The great master-compromise, the 1870 act, he had to preserve from being itself attacked by the growing forces led by Cardinal Manning (Armytage 1951:233).
Mundella was able to overcome these handicaps because of his 'conciliatory approach to the thorniest of problems' (Armytage 1951:234) and because he understood that he was building for the future. 'He himself realised that his work had long-range effects which would not be immediately visible' (Armytage 1951:234). In a speech in November 1883 he told his audience:
We are only just on the threshold of the work. ... We cannot undo the neglect of generations in seven years. One or two generations have yet to pass before we are in possession of an enlightened and intelligent people (quoted in Armytage 1951:234).
His record is certainly impressive, as Armytage notes:
Full compulsion had been secured. A plan for Wales, which was avowedly to serve as a model for England, had been completed in all but the establishment of intermediate schools, and even here the kernel of future legislation is visible in the recognition of county committees. Moreover, in the sphere of English education the report of Samuelson's Commission was to serve as the inspiration of school boards for initiating, on their own responsibility, the establishment of higher-grade schools, and a guide to legislators in the next half of the decade.

Not only in the structure, but in the working of the system had he made profound changes. The inspectorate was invigorated by a more open recruitment. The code was more amenable to alteration now that a permanent code committee was in being to consider suggestions. His own code virtually brought a type of education that was later to be designated 'secondary' into the reach of a vast new urban class by the stimulation of 'class' and 'specific' subjects. Infant schools were now recognised, and the local colleges had taken such firm root that the pupil-teacher system was becoming an anachronism. But all was done slowly and determinedly (Armytage 1951:235-6).

Education and society

Social conditions at the end of the century

In the last twenty years of the nineteenth century public services expanded rapidly, partly due to the creation of county and county borough councils in the 1888 Local Government Act (see above): the number of males employed in 'general and local government' increased from 97,000 to 172,000, and the number of females from 7,000 to 26,000 (Lawson and Silver 1973:323).

In fact, the employment of women increased dramatically in this period: the number of female commercial and business clerks rose from 6,000 to 56,000. 'New professional institutions, the trade unionism of the unskilled, and greater job opportunities for girls were other features of the changes in social structure and organization' (Lawson and Silver 1973:323).

Working conditions were improved: Bank holidays were introduced in 1871; firms such as the chemicals producer Brunner, Mond & Co, began giving workers an annual week's holiday with pay from 1884; and half-day working on Saturdays, which had become widespread after 1850, was almost universal in industry by 1900 (Lawson and Silver 1973:327-8).

Urban and rural poverty, however, was still widespread.

In 1883 Congregational minister Andrew Mearns (1837-1925) described the appalling conditions in London's slums. His pamphlet The Bitter Cry of Outcast London 'awoke many to what was euphemistically called "the social problem"' (Simon 1965:60).

Four years later, Charles Booth (1840-1916), 'the father of the English social survey' (Lawson and Silver 1973:328), began work on The Life and Labour of the People of London. He had been convinced that socialist claims about the number of people living in poverty were exaggerated but, to his astonishment, he discovered that between a quarter and a third of the population fell within this definition.

The industrialist and social reformer Seebohm Rowntree (1871-1954) conducted the first of his three surveys of York in 1899 (the others were in 1935 and 1951), and 'came to similar conclusions ... Poverty was reflected not only in housing and health, but in education' (Lawson and Silver 1973:328).

Socialism and education

Following the 1870 Act, education became 'a vital element in the development of social policy' (Lawson and Silver 1973:323), with many of the school boards created by the Act contributing to 'a new sense of educational purpose' (Lawson and Silver 1973:320).

Many Liberals and nonconformists, however, saw the compromises of the Act as a defeat. In a pamphlet addressed to Gladstone in 1873, one nonconformist MP argued that education was now 'of more importance than the army or navy, affecting, as it does, the physical, intellectual, and moral progress of the people' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:324). Yet education, with no government department of its own, received just one-seventeenth of the funds allocated to the armed services (Lawson and Silver 1973:324).

Others called for education to be secular, a demand which was taken up by socialists in the closing years of the century. In their view,

It was necessary that men should learn the secrets, not only of nature, but also of society. If they were to do so their rational powers must be developed - the child must learn to reason, to find things out for himself. It was in the light of these views that the influence of the churches and the prevalence of religious teaching was condemned. All teaching which inculcated irrational beliefs was to be deplored and the kind of teaching given was particularly open to criticism in that it fostered the values of an inequitable society. The only way to eliminate this and ensure a true education was by freeing the schools from clerical control (Simon 1965:143).
However, the Independent Labour Party (ILP), founded in 1893, had many nonconformist members. At its inaugural conference, delegates agreed to campaign for 'free, unsectarian, primary, secondary and university education', but an amendment calling for secular education was lost. Four years later, however, secular education became party policy.

Socialists were also critical of other aspects of elementary education. In a series of articles in Justice in 1894, printworker HW Hobart noted that the history textbook used in board schools contained 160 references to war and bloodshed and only 60 to peaceful social reform; the study of geography related mainly to areas where British arms had been successful; and the teaching of writing and arithmetic was extremely limited. Board school education, he said, was aimed at developing submissiveness and acceptance of a capitalist morality: 'Honour the Queen, obey your superiors, and run away from every policeman' was the attitude inculcated by the schools (Simon 1965:145).

Socialists had been quick to take advantage of the opportunities offered by elections for the school boards, though 'working-class representatives were, of course, always in a minority' (Simon 1965:154). In 1899 the ILP claimed that 71 of its members had been elected (Simon 1965:152), including Philip Snowden (1863-1937), who went on to become Labour's first chancellor of the exchequer; ER Hartley; Margaret McMillan; Fred Brocklehurst (1866-1926), who stood for the ILP in Bolton at the 1895 general election; and Joseph Nuttall.

As members of the boards they argued for enlightened teaching, humane discipline, and respect for children as individuals; 'in this they stood in the classical tradition of the humanist educators of the past' (Simon 1965:147). They sought to have corporal punishment in elementary schools banned, and pressed for the free use of swimming baths by schoolchildren, for educational visits to museums and botanical gardens, and for the development of school libraries. They argued for improved salaries for teachers, equal pay for men and women, and for the raising of the school leaving age to fourteen and even sixteen (Simon 1965:158).

Commenting on Robert Lowe's philosophy of education, the first Labour MP, Thomas Burt (1837-1922), said 'We say educate a man, not simply because he has got political power, and simply to make him a good workman; but educate him because he is a man' (quoted in Simon 1974:367). This view, expressed in the writings of the early socialists, 'was inseparably connected with the belief that, for the chance to be men, the workers must establish a just social order' (Simon 1974:367).

The textile designer, writer and socialist William Morris (1834-1896) (pictured) gave lectures and produced pamphlets in which he contrasted existing 'civilisation' with a new state of 'practical equality' and 'expressed an overriding sense of human potentiality, human dignity, and the potentialities of "real society" to liberate men from their present degradation' (Simon 1965:52).

In the 1880s the Social Democratic Federation, the Fabian Society and other radical political movements 'gave new currency to socialist concepts of social responsibility' (Lawson and Silver 1973:320).

The Fabian Society, founded in 1884, comprised mainly 'middle-class intellectuals' who 'stood opposed to the revolutionary outlook of the other socialist organisations' (Simon 1965:33). In the 1890s its members included the trade unionist Tom Mann (1856-1941), Keir Hardie and Sidney Webb (see below for more on Hardie and Webb). Though small in numbers (739 in 1895-6), it 'played an important part in promoting education' (Simon 1965:33).

The Cooperative movement, somewhat reduced since the days of its Rochdale pioneers, was nevertheless active in sponsoring a variety of educational activities and in providing meeting places for various working-class and socialist organisations.

A Socialist Sunday School movement was founded in 1892, and brought together socialists of many faiths: 'that at Bristol, for instance, started in 1898, was sponsored by Christians, Jews, Secularists, Marxists, Theists, Theosophists' (Simon 1965:49).

Socialist leaders played a leading part in the fight for the eight-hour day. 'The demand we, as workmen, now make,' wrote Tom Mann in 1891, 'is for leisure, not idleness. Leisure to think, to learn, to acquire knowledge, to enjoy, to develop; in short, leisure to live' (quoted in Simon 1965:40).

Many in the labour movement saw the school boards as representing 'the most advanced model of democratic control available in British society' (Lawson and Silver 1973:352). Others, notably Sidney Webb (1859-1947) (pictured), co-founder of the London School of Economics and an early member of the Fabian Society, regarded ad hoc authorities as outmoded and looked instead to the multipurpose local authorities created by the 1888 Local Government Act (see above). School board supporters were disappointed when responsibility for technical education was given to the new local authorities.

The existence of the new local authorities, of people like Webb who were prepared to use them against the boards, of Tory and church opposition to the boards, and of the financial difficulties of the voluntary schools - all these provided the context for the Education Act of 1902 (Lawson and Silver 1973:352).
In 1885 Joseph Chamberlain, at the time still a Liberal, told an opponent who had called his programme socialism:
Of course it is Socialism. The Poor Law is Socialism; the Education Act is Socialism; the greater part of municipal work is Socialism; and every kindly act of legislation by which the community has sought to discharge its responsibilities and obligations to the poor is Socialism (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:320).


In the last twenty years of the century a number of initiatives were launched with the aim of improving social and educational opportunities for the working class. They included new youth organisations such as the YMCA and YWCA, the Boys' Brigade, the Church Lads' Brigade, and the Girls' Friendly Society.

Some of the public schools undertook social work. Thring at Uppingham was the first to be involved, while Winchester established a new East End Mission parish (All Hallows', London Docks) in 1876. And, despite his proud boast that there were no tradesmen's sons in his school, Montagu Butler preached in Oxford in 1883 waving a copy of Andrew Mearns's pamphlet The Bitter Cry, and the Harrow Mission was established later that year 'in a very depressed part of Notting Dale where a fine church was built, and boys' clubs, girls' clubs and an adult men's club organised' (Simon 1965:69).

There were also Adult Schools, often run by Quakers and usually held on Sunday mornings. The Rowntree and Cadbury families ran notable examples.

Handbill announcing a new adult school (Simon 1965:77)

The 'settlement movement' of the 1880s was 'primarily concerned with the relations between rich and poor, with establishing social peace and with society as an organic unity' (Simon 1965:78). One of the key figures in this movement was Samuel Barnett (1844-1913), Vicar of St Judes, Whitechapel. He appealed to students at Oxford and Cambridge to get involved in social work in London by creating settlements. The first of these, opened on Christmas Eve 1884, was at Toynbee Hall, named after Oxford student Arnold Toynbee (1852-1883), a keen supporter of the project (Simon 1965:81). His untimely death at the age of thirty may have been due to exhaustion brought on by overworking.

Another attempt at improving the education of the working class was the university extension movement. This began in 1873, when Cambridge University organised experimental courses in Nottingham, Leicester and Derby, and reached a climax in the early 1890s, by which time up to 60,000 students were attending lectures and classes, mostly organised by Oxford and Cambridge. This development of extra-mural work was 'a response not only to working-class needs but also to the demand for higher education on the part of women and of the lower middle class - both effectively excluded from the ancient universities' (Simon 1965:86).

A common education for all

By the end of the century, the concept of a common education for all was being seriously debated in Britain - 250 years after it had been advocated by Comenius (see Chapter 3). At an international conference of socialists in 1896 delegates from Europe and the US argued that all working people should receive a full education. Britain's Keir Hardie (1856-1915) (pictured) argued that this meant an education that was 'free at all stages, open to everyone without any tests of prior attainment at any age - in effect, a comprehensive "broad highway" that all could travel' (reported in the Westminster Gazette 1 August 1896, quoted in Benn and Chitty 1996:3).

It is not surprising that Hardie wanted a better deal for the working class. He had been born in Lanarkshire, the illegitimate son of a servant, and had received no education at all. At the age of eight he had become the family's sole wage earner when he was sent to work as a baker's delivery boy. Three years later he was a coal miner. But by the time he was 17 he had taught himself to read and write and in 1893 he was one of the founders of the Independent Labour Party. By 1906 he was leader of the newly-formed Labour Party in the House of Commons.

Not all socialists agreed with Hardie about a common education for all, however. Some members of the Fabian Society favoured specialised and differentiated schooling. Sidney Webb, for example, approved of the 1902 Education Act's provision for new fee-paying grammar schools offering a few free scholarship places.

Education as a science

As we saw in the previous chapter, the notion of education as a science had been developing in England since the early nineteenth century. Initially discussed by utilitarians such as James Mill, it had become, by the middle of the century, the province of phrenologists, psychologists and philosophers. After 1870 'educational thought became as never before open to international influences' (Lawson and Silver 1973:353).

In education changing approaches to social policy were signalled by the new interest in studying the child, and the concern with education as a science, the latter motivated partly by developments in psychology and partly by the desire of educationists, teachers and teachers' organizations to improve the status, not only of the teacher, but also of education (Lawson and Silver 1973:352).
By the end of the century the psychological methodology of the German philosopher JF Herbart (1776-1841) was influential in England, as were the ideas of the Italian Maria Montessori (1870-1952) on the teaching of young children, and the focus on the notion of growth by the German Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852). Although there were some similarities in their educational theories, there were also significant differences, of which contemporary commentators were aware, as JL Hughes noted in his 1897 book Froebel's Education Laws:
Herbart studied the child to find the best that could be done for it; Froebel studied it to learn how it could be aided in working out its own best development. Herbart magnified the work of the teacher; Froebel magnified the work of the child (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:354).
The desire for a scientific approach to teaching and for a deeper understanding of the processes involved led to the beginnings of the 'progressive school' and 'new education' movements, and the most significant developments in this respect were in infant education. 'It is difficult to believe', wrote PA Barnett in his 1899 book Common Sense in Education and Teaching, 'that there ever existed a prejudice against play as a waste of time' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:354).

The new methods - particularly those of Froebel - were, however, sometimes applied too rigidly, and in the early twentieth century a new school of infant educators focused on the ideas of Montessori and the American John Dewey (1859-1952) in an attempt to rescue infant education from 'the mechanical application of Froebel's ideas' (Lawson and Silver 1973:354).

An interest in the individual child had been evident in isolated cases since the 1820s - in the Hills' schools at Bruce Castle and Hazelwood, and in Thring's curriculum innovations at Uppingham, for example. Now, this interest became widespread, both in Europe and the US. It 'found direct embodiment in the early progressive schools' (Lawson and Silver 1973:355) and a Child Study Society was founded in London in 1894.

By the 1890s, then:

There were new schools and new interests in child study and child development. Music, literature, modern languages and other subjects were finding a new place in schools. Craft subjects and physical exercise, games and drill, were becoming features of education at all levels. The constraints imposed by payment by results were being removed from the elementary schools, and new approaches in the infant school were beginning to have an influence on the higher classes. Technical subjects and science were not only finding a place in schools, but were also the focus of new thinking about methods and objectives in teaching (Lawson and Silver 1973:356-7).
Whereas earlier in the century the major changes in education had related to matters of supply and structure, in the last years of the century they also focused on content and method, and on children.
The search for a new understanding of children and of educational processes was closely related to the wider changes of emphasis in discussions of the individual, society and social policy (Lawson and Silver 1973:357).
The emphasis on the duty of society to help its individual members would become even stronger in the twentieth century.


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