Saturday, 24 May 2008

Elementary Education: Towards 1870

Government intervention in education was made more difficult by the sectarian conflict engendered. Grants provided the first form of intervention but during the 1840s and 1850s other forms of central control over education were instituted largely through the work of Kay-Shuttleworth whose period as secretary of the Committee of Council for Education lasted between 1839 and 1849.  He believed that the key to better standards was better-paid and trained teachers. He set out to change the monitorial system into a sound preliminary to a professional training and to attract teachers of the right class and calibre by raising salaries.

By the Minutes of 1846[1] selected pupils would be apprenticed at the age of 13 to their teachers and would receive a grant of £10 increased annually to £20 when they were 18. They were taught by the master for 90 minutes a day and had to pass the annual Inspector’s examination. They were to assist the master in teaching and he would train them in class management and routine duties and would be paid according to their level of success in the examinations.  This system was not new. Kay-Shuttleworth had used it at Norwood. Although the first pupil-teachers came from pauper schools, he intended that the bulk of them should form a social link between the children of labourers in elementary schools and the school managers, who were clergy or gentry. They would therefore be mostly from the upper working and lower middle classes.  The upper section of this ladder of recruitment and training was formed by the teacher training colleges. In 1839 there were four training colleges with model schools in the United Kingdom that took students through very inadequate courses of six weeks to three or four months. Beginning with the Battersea Training College in 1840, by 1858 there were thirty-four colleges partly financed by the Education Department through Queen’s Scholarships.

The Minutes of 1846 had brought to birth the trained elementary teacher but did it really improve the standard of teaching? To some degree any response to this question is subjective. Much school teaching was mechanical, overloaded with ‘facts’ for memorisation. The Teacher Training Colleges did provide a little teaching material, method and possible much-needed self-confidence. They were, however, severely criticised by the Newcastle Commission for their long hours, vast syllabuses, and addiction to textbooks and the superficial nature of many of their courses.

  1. The main causes of poor teaching in elementary schools was generally considered to be the low wages of teachers and the low esteem that they reflected. The Minutes of 1846 attempted to solve the problem by state grants but the basic variations and inequities were left untouched. Salaries varied from area to area and school to school depending on endowments, contributions and school fees.
  2. By 1855 the average annual pay of a certificated schoolteacher was assessed at £90. Higher pay would have removed elementary teachers too far from the class of their pupils and weakened the sympathy and understanding supposed to be felt between them
  3. The reality was often different. Elementary teachers were educated above their station and in the 1850s began to demand promotion of the Inspectorate, to leave the schools for better jobs, or to climb into the church

The growth of grants to elementary schools increased dramatically from the original £20,000 of 1833 to £724,000 by 1860. From 1856 the Committee of Council on Education had a Vice-President to represent it in parliament. Yet the 1850s were considered a period of comparative educational stagnation. This was partly because all reformers (except the voluntarists) were not convinced that a national school system could not be completed without support from the rates. In addition, continuing sectarian bitterness defeated all attempts to secure rate support: bills in 1850, 1852, 1853 and 1862 all failed as did the recommendation of the Newcastle Commission in 1861.  The continuation of central grants ensured the survival and increase of the Inspectorate. From 2 in 1840, they had become 23 with 2 Assistant Inspectors in 1852, 36 with 25 Assistants in 1861 and 62 with 14 Assistants in 1864. Grants and inspectors came together with the introduction of the payment by results principle in the reconstruction of the government grant in the Revised Code of 1862-3. The bulk of a school’s grant, roughly half its income, was to be dependent upon satisfactory performance by each child over seven in examinations conducted by HMIs. It was unwelcome to those who thought that government should be doing more but was praised by those who though expenditure was mushrooming out of control and who doubted that the grants were giving value for money. Grant aid to education fell almost by a quarter and the levels of 1861 were not reached again until 1869. In effect, payment by results was a piece-rate system, putting teachers in the position of factory operatives.

Kay Shuttleworth had, through the central government department, established an inspectorate and a system of training teachers. Under his successor Ralph Lingen [1849-1869] the work of the Education Department, as it became in 1856, steadily expanded but on more formal and bureaucratised lines. The age of creative innovation was over. The department’s objective was to work the system as efficiently and economically as possible. Lingen saw his job as being to ‘stem the growth of a system of subsidies and to control the expansionist tendencies of inspectorate and educational public’.

A Royal Commission on Elementary Education, chaired by the Duke of Newcastle was appointed in 1858 and reported in 1861. In general, it considered that the system of state aid had worked well, but argued that the objectives had been set too high for the majority of children who attended the schools. It was desirable that results should be tested to ensure that schools were providing value for money, a recommendation used by Robert Lowe, the minister who spoke for the education department in the House of Commons, to establish payment by results. It also recommended involving local as well as central government in the provision of schools, allowing local government agencies to offer rate support to supplement government grants and suggested that this rate support should be dependent on the school’s results, in effect a series of incentive payments.

Until the late 1850s much of the schooling of the working classes was still informal or semi-formal. Efforts to bring government resources to bear had so far been hampered by the ‘religious problem’ and it took another twenty years to cut through this knot. Elementary education in the 1860s entered a period of some regression. The Newcastle Commission set low intellectual targets for the education of the poor and this can be compared with the hardening of Poor Law attitudes in the 1870s[2]. A national system of elementary education had to await the legislation of 1870 and 1880.


[1] These were the minutes of the Committee of Council on Education of August and December 1846.

[2] Several areas of social administration went through these periods of regression in the third quarter of the nineteenth century: education in the 1860s and the poor law and public health in the 1870s.

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