Saturday, 31 May 2008

The context and nature of crime

During this period of a century and a half Britain underwent major changes. These are normally associated with the Industrial Revolution. It is important to keep the following points in mind when looking at this issue.

  1. In 1750 England had a total population of around 6 million people. By 1901 this had risen to over 30 million. In 1750 about a quarter of the total population lived in towns and cities. By 1901 this had risen to three out of every four people. This process of urbanisation put considerable strains on existing systems of law enforcement. It saw the gradual end of the face-to-face society of early modern England. Town life was more anonymous. By the mid-nineteenth century most people lived and worked in towns and cities. This concentrated population.
  2. The French Revolution, which began in 1789, created considerable fear among the ruling classes that a similar revolution would take place in Britain. The working classes did not have the vote and their demands were seen as ‘revolutionary’ even when they were reasonable. Activities, like food riots that in the early modern period were seen as crimes were now defined as revolutionary.  The authorities increasingly feared the working classes as a threat to public order. As a result even small crimes were punished harshly.
  3. There were important changes in attitude towards crime and punishment.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the ground-rules of conduct and behaviour were laid down by the Law and government policy, but the actual form and contents of the game was left to the influence of voluntary associations, local communities and often custom. The matter was one of social control. This was defined in middle class terms of 'respectability' and threats to 'public order'. The aim of this module is to explore the nature of crime in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, how it was detected and prevented and how those found guilty of offences were punished.

The nature of crime

There has been an unprecedented growth of academic research and publications in the history of crime[1]. Until recently, most books dealing with crime tended to be 'popular' rather than narrowly 'academic' and concentrated on particular, notorious events or personalities and many depended on largely anecdotal and literary sources[2]. Since the 1970s historians have increasingly turned their attention to crime and how former societies understood it and sought to deal with it.

Some historians have made a distinction between 'real crime' such as murder, rape and theft and 'social crime' or offences that had a degree of community acceptance or that can be linked with social protest. John Rule has suggested that it is useful to think of two main types of social crime during the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century:

  1. Crimes that drew collective legitimation from their protest nature. In this category he includes rioting over the high cost of food, over enclosures, recruiting for the army or navy or over turnpike tolls.
  2. Crime that, though actions against the law, were not regarded as criminal by those who committed them. 'Perks' or the appropriation of things from the workplace became increasingly the object of criminal prosecution by employers in the nineteenth century. Poaching fell into the same category. The poor did not look upon it as a crime[3]: 'they almost universally look upon game, when in a wild state, as not being the property of any individual.'

The degree to which the state criminalises certain types of behaviour and not others has always been a matter of debate. The traditional view is that humanitarian reformers like Sir Samuel Romilly and Sir James Mackintosh gradually created an awareness both inside and outside Parliament that England's Bloody Code needed drastic revision. While such men stressed the barbarity of the legal code, other reformers like John Howard paved the way for improvement in the prison system. This picture fitted well with the Whig idea of history as progress. This view implies a logic that neglects the economic, social and political context of change.

Eighteenth century Parliaments tended to pass laws for local problems but gradually the government saw crime in its national context. Sir Robert Peel's reorganisation of the criminal law during the 1820s was symptomatic of this change. Yet national laws still had to be implemented at local level by local people, whose perceptions were not always the same as those in Parliament. The law may have been seen as impartial. However, it had to be interpreted and enforced by local agents who had their own assumptions, interests and prejudices and who could be, on occasions, at odds with each other.

Offenders could be brought before three main kinds of court during the nineteenth century:

  1. The least serious offences or misdemeanours could be dealt with summarily by magistrates, sitting alone or in pairs on the bench, in petty sessions. The number of offences that could be tried summarily increased in the nineteenth century with the passage of the Juvenile Offenders Acts in 1847 and 1850 and the Criminal Justice Acts of 1855 and 1879. In the larger towns and cities stipendiary or paid magistrates, acting in what were increasingly referred to as 'police courts' took on more and more of the burdens of summary justice.
  2. More serious offences or felonies were prosecuted on indictment and were heard at Quarter Sessions that met four times a year in both counties and corporate towns.
  3. The most serious offences were tried before judges at Assizes. In the early nineteenth century there were two assizes per year held in the major county towns of most counties at Lent and during the summer. Emergencies, such as food riots or other types of public disorder, could lead to a special assize being called. The metropolitan equivalent of the assizes was the court at the Old Bailey that was holding eight sessions a year during the 1750s. In 1834 it was enlarged and re-housed in the new Central Criminal Court.

Magistrates and judges were not the only agents of the law who were called upon to interpret the law. The nineteenth century saw the creation of a new police force in Britain. The police had some discretion in identifying some behaviour as criminal or not and in deciding what action to take. It was largely victimless crimes that were open to such discretion: drunkenness, prostitution, street gaming and especially Sunday street selling.


[1]  C. Emsley Crime and Society in England 1750-1900, Longman, 2nd ed., 1997, 3rd ed., 2005 is the most recent general text and is worth reading in full.  It should be read in conjunction with C. Emsley Policing and its Context 1750-1870, Macmillan, 1983, his 'Crime in Nineteenth Century Britain', History Today, April 1988, V. Gattrell 'Crime, authority and the policeman-state' in F.M.L. Thompson (ed.) The Cambridge Social History of Britain 1750-1950: volume 3 Social Agencies and Institutions, CUP, 1900, pp.243-310 and the older study by J.J. Tobias Crime and Industrial Society in the Nineteenth Century, Penguin, 1972.

[2] The classic case of this kind in the nineteenth century was the 'Jack the Ripper' murders in 1888.

[3] A Bedfordshire JP to the Select Committee on Criminal Commitments and Convictions, Parliamentary Papers 1826-7, vi, page 34.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Grammar and public schools and universities after 1870

In the twenty-five years between the Endowed Schools Act 1869 and the appointment of the Bryce Commission to look at secondary education four main developments had taken place:

  • The endowments and management of the grammar schools had been widely reformed.
  • The curriculum of grammar schools had become subject to greater scrutiny and change.
  • The middle class character of the schools had been further reinforced though a narrow ladder had begun to be erected for the recruitment of a small number of working class children to the secondary system.
  • Secondary education for middle class girls had made considerable advances.

In spite of the reforms, however, many schools remained insecure. The Bryce Commission found in the 1890s many of them, mainly smaller schools, were prone to fluctuating numbers and decline. It was the question of access to secondary schools that was on the point of becoming a major issue. The Education Act 1902 was central to the process of change for grammar schools.

The Endowed Schools Commissioners had power to make provision for girls and was widely used by them. By the time of their demise in 1874 they had made schemes creating 27 schools for girls; schemes for another twenty were in the pipeline. The Charity Commissioners proceeded at a much slower pace but as further 45 girls’ schools had been added by 1903. Parallel to these developments went the creation of proprietary schools for girls. In 1892 a Girls’ Public Day School Company was formed and by 1880 it had opened eleven schools in London and eleven elsewhere. A handful of new girls’ schools, such as Cheltenham, Wycombe Abbey and Roedean, were boarding, modelling themselves more or less on boys’ public schools; but the vast majority were day schools.

The elementary and endowed and private school systems remained broadly defined by the criteria of social class. It is not surprising that the public schools managed to maintain their social identity though criticisms continued to be levelled against their traditions and preoccupation with games and athleticism. The public schools perpetuated an aristocratic element in English education and the proprietary and endowed schools continued to uphold it as an educational ideal. The sons of the expanding commercial and industrial middle classes were trained in the older traditions and codes of gentlemen, an education that left them ill prepared for their role in an increasingly competitive world. Modern subjects were often left optional and between 1860 and 1880 games became compulsory, organised and eulogised at all the leading public schools. There was no overall change in their structure, objectives or curriculum until after 1918.


Higher education after 1870

The vast growth in and attempt to systematise secondary education was paralleled by a significant, though relatively small, growth and innovation in the university sector. Higher education was still only accessible to a tiny minority. There were changes in the composition of the university population, in the structure of university government and in the curriculum.

  1. The 1870s saw the arrival at Oxford and Cambridge both of Nonconformists and of women. The 1871 legislation abolishing university tests untied both undergraduate places and fellowships and in the process allowed fellows to marry. The growing regiment of dons’ wives was augmented by a small file of women students. Girton and Newnham at Cambridge in the early 1870s were joined by Somerville, Lady Margaret Hall and St Anne’s at Oxford in 1879 followed by St Hugh’s and St Hilda’s in 1886 and 1892 respectively. But numbers were small: in 1900-1 296 women students at Cambridge and 239 at Oxford compared to 2,880 and 2,537 male students respectively. Women did not become full members of the university in Oxford until 1919 and in Cambridge until 1948 whereas they were admitted to all the University of London degrees in 1878.
  2. The Royal and Statutory Commissions of the 1850s had begun the process of overhauling college statutes and strengthening the central organs of university government. This was continued in the 1870s but the more ambitious plans were spoiled by the fall in colleges’ income brought about by the agricultural depression. At the same time, a reassertion of control over teaching and pastoral responsibilities by many colleges counter-balanced such trends towards centralisation very powerfully.
  3. The breaches in the dominance of Classics and Mathematics towards the end of the 1840s continued and in the early 1870s separate courses in History and Law emerged and the 1890s saw the arrival of courses in English and Modern Languages. Parallel to this was the emergence of research as a systematic postgraduate activity.

Changes in Oxbridge, however, were only a pale reflection of the changes outside it. By 1900 there were more students, women as well as men, in higher education in Great Britain outside than within Oxford and Cambridge. The sequence of foundations was as follows: Newcastle 1871; University College of Wales, Aberystwyth 1872; Leeds 1874; Mason College, Birmingham 1874; Bristol 1876; Firth College, Sheffield 1879; Liverpool 1881; Nottingham 1881; Cardiff 1883; Bangor 1883; Reading 1892; Southampton 1902.  Many of these institutions began by taking external London degree examinations before seeking Royal Charters to enable them to grant their own degrees.

Other institutions, often also exploiting the external London examining umbrella, grew in London itself: medical schools attached to the teaching hospitals; in South Kensington the Royal School of Mines, the Royal College of Science and the Central Technical College formed the great Imperial College of Science and Technology in 1907; the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1895; and the women’s colleges, Bedford [1849], Westfield [1882] and Royal Holloway [1886]. But the University of London only acquired a teaching as well as an examining role in 1899, following the University of London Act 1898 that brought all these and other institutions together in a complex and uneasy federation. By 1900-1 full-time students outside Oxford and Cambridge totalled almost 8,000 in England and a further 1,250 in Wales.

Funding the civil university movement proved problematic and most universities were operating on a shoe-string compared to the endowments of Oxbridge. In individual cases, university colleges benefited from the generosity of local business: in Birmingham, for example, the Chamberlains played a central role. But this was not enough. From 1839 the University of London had a small recurrent grants in recognition of the imperial and colonial as well as the domestic function of its examining role. In 1883-4 the Welsh parliamentary lobby succeeded in securing short-term grant aid for the three Welsh colleges; and in 1880 the Treasury finally conceded the principle of grant aid to the English institutions outside Oxbridge. By 1906 direct Treasury grants to universities amounted to £100,000.

The full-time student population in all English and Welsh universities in 1914 only accounted for one per cent of the age group. Universities still catered for an elite. The advance of the new professional middle classes gradually reduced the dominance of the landed gentry and clergy. And outside Oxbridge, by 1914, the children of the lower middle classes and skilled artisans were beginning to appear.

Some conclusions

The development of education between 1830 and 1914 was largely a reflection of the class basis of English society. The working classes, if they were schooled at all before 1870, went to elementary schools. The middle classes filled the grammar schools while the public schools remained the preserve of the upper classes. There were links between these three stages, a situation made more obvious after 1902 and the ‘free-place’ system, but movement from elementary school to grammar school was the exception rather than the rule. Children of all classes and of both sexes were better educated in 1914 than in 1830 but this did not have any real impact on the class bias of that education. Education mirrored the pyramidal nature of society rising to the one per cent who received a university education by 1914.

The growing intervention by the state, first with grants to voluntary schools and then with its school boards and local education authorities, marked a recognition that education for all was increasingly seen as a social service not something that ought to be provided by religious and voluntary organisations. The policy-making initiative moved from localities to central government. Acceptable standards were imposed from the centre and administered locally. Education was finally perceived as being too important to be left to chance.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Education and the state 1870-1914

Forster’s Education Act did not provide universal, free or compulsory education, but it did allow for the glaring deficiencies in English education to be removed[1]. Before 1870 the system was characterised as one of state subsidy of voluntary education, the period after by state supplementation of voluntary education. Board schools and voluntary schools existed side by side, in theory complementary, in practice in competition. The 1870 Act was a compromise that tried to make use of and not destroy existing educational resources. It did not solve the problem of elementary schooling overnight and it took a further thirty years to make a national system of elementary schools fully a reality.

Extending Forster

Religious squabbling continued in the elections for School Boards and in the attempts, particularly by Anglicans in county areas, to forestall the imposition of the School Boards. Initially the advantage lay with the existing voluntary schools and even by 1880 only one sixth of children were in board schools but the potential for growth lay with School Boards and by 1900 54 per cent of the elementary school population were in their schools.

  1. Many of the larger boroughs imposed bye-laws making education compulsory, that in turn increased revenue, since grants were still related to attendance, and it was partly as a means of helping the rural voluntary schools that Disraeli’s ministry turned its attention to compulsion. For these schools, Lord Sandon the Vice-President, told the Cabinet in 1875 it was a matter of ‘life or death’. The result, in 1876, was Sandon’s Education Act that set up School Attendance Committees and placed the responsibility for ensuring attendance firmly on parents. It also gave voluntary schools the right to make attendance compulsory.
  2. Various loopholes were removed by the incoming Liberal ministry that by Mundella’s Education Act 1880 made attendance compulsory for children between five and ten.
  3. This inevitably sharpened the debate about fees, that averaged about 3d per week per child and many School Boards waived the fee for needy children. The Fee Grant Act 1891 virtually established free elementary education and by 1895 only about one-sixth of the five million needy elementary children were paying fees.
  4. The availability of free education through School Boards made it easier to integrate pauper children into the general education system. An Act of 1873 had made school attendance a condition of outdoor relief for children, an option that had been open to guardians since Denison’s Act of 1855 had empowered guardians to pay school fees. By 1900 the vast majority of Unions sent children to their local board school and so the distinctive badge of pauperism was gradually removed.
  5. The pernicious effects of payment by results were removed. The system had been severely criticised by the Cross Commission that reported in 1888 and in the 1890 Code grants for examinable attainments in the 3Rs were abolished.

It is important to recognise the achievements that resulted from the 1870 Act:

  • The figures for the final decades of the century show the almost complete elimination of illiteracy as measured from parish registers. The gains were greater for women than men. Had it not been for the 1870 Act progress in literacy would have slowed down simply because illiteracy was concentrated in those classes and regions that were hardest to provide for under the voluntary system. The 1870 Act was responsible for the mopping-up operation by providing more school places and improvements in attendance and length of school life.
  • There were certainly improvements in attendance but by 1897 it was still only just over eighty per cent. Legislation helped but machinery of enforcement was necessary. The main pressure was that of the attendance officer [commonly called the ‘board man’] and ultimately a summons. This did not always prove effective and authorities were often unwilling to prosecute or convict parents especially in rural areas where cheap child labour was essential for farmers and parents. The Agricultural Children Act 1873 was intended to improve attendance, but fines were so low if imposed at all.
  • The quality of literacy was governed by things other than directly educational ones. The factory legislation of the late 1860s and 1870s encompassed children in industries not covered before. From the 1870s future patterns of leisure and holidays began to take rudimentary form. New skilled and semi-skilled occupations were being created and white-collar occupations were expanding. Literacy was essential in all of these areas.

The 1870 Act itself made access to higher-than-elementary education inevitably a more prominent issue. Apart from evening and adult education, such access became available mainly in two ways: the evolution of a higher stage within the elementary system, and the scholarship ladder from the elementary school to the grammar school.

The Education Act 1902 and after

By 1900 important factors were altering attitudes towards the pattern of education as it had evolved since 1870:

  • The elementary system had produced what seemed to many people to be pseudo-secondary features in its higher-grade schools and evening classes. The still insecure basis of very many grammar schools was in many cases being eroded by these developments.
  • The board schools were outpacing the voluntary schools. Many were in serious financial difficulties in a period of declining church attendance. The voluntary agencies were divided on the desirability of further state aid and intervention.
  • State intervention was in society generally being more actively advocated and tolerated. The 1895 Bryce Commission recommended the creation of a central authority for education and a Board of Education was created in 1899.
  • Local councils also entered the education field mainly under the Technical Instruction Acts as competitors of the school boards.

Such changes threatened the uneasy 1870 settlement. School boards came under fire before the end of the century, particularly for their higher-grade schools and what the church party considered excessive expenditure of ratepayers’ money. Leading Conservatives, especially Sir John Gorst, attacked the boards and attempted to reduce their powers or transfer their powers to the county and county borough councils. The boards themselves, nonconformist and labour bodies expressed hostility to such moves and defended their record.

Sir Robert Morant, who became Gorst’s private secretary in 1899 and permanent secretary of the Board of Education from 1903, was able to engineer a test case in which London school board expenditure on high elementary classes was disallowed by the district auditor, Cockerton, in 1899. The Cockerton judgement allowed Morant and Gorst to achieve a dual objective: the prevention of further post-elementary developments in board schools and the possibility of using the councils as all embracing educational authorities. In drafting the new education bill Morant was able to bring elementary and secondary education under one authority and at the same time bring relief to the voluntary schools.

The debate on the education bill, steered by the Prime Minister A.J.Balfour through Parliament, saw a stalwart defence of the board schools. However, the separate administration of board schools, grammar schools, Science and Art Department grants, technical instruction committees and the independent management of voluntary elementary schools were chaotic. The creation of new council education authorities would overcome this. It was, however, the notion of ‘Church schools on the rates’ that provoked the most fierce and lasting resistance especially from Nonconformists[2].

The most far-reaching effect of the 1902 Act was its influence on the structure of elementary and secondary education. It did not make it mandatory for local authorities to provide secondary education but it did require them to perform the functions previously performed by the school boards and the technical instruction committees. The result of this was a massive expansion in the physical provision of secondary schooling in the years up to 1914. The government did not neglect the question of access for elementary school pupils to the new fee-charging secondary schools. The Free Place Regulations of 1907 made available enhanced government grants to all secondary schools prepared to offer a quarter of their places without fees to ex-elementary school pupils. Would-be ‘free placers’ were expected to sit a simple qualifying examination. Pressure of numbers soon made this as ferociously competitive as any of the existing scholarship tests. By 1912 49,120 children, 32 per cent of the total population of maintained secondary schools, were ‘free placers’.

The Boer War [1899-1902] revealed the extent of ‘physical deterioration’ when a government committee investigated the causes of the poor physical condition of potential recruits. The need for developments in child health, orchestrated by Morant and Margaret McMillan, was legislation in 1906 and 1907 and in setting up a medical department of the Board of Education. Free school meals and medical inspections were a further attack on the existing poor law system as well as a major advance in the role of the state in education.


[1] B. Simon Education and the Labour Movement 1870-1920, Lawrence and Wishart, 1979 is perhaps the broadest account of developments after 1870. J.S. Hurt Schooling and the Working Class 1860-1918, Routledge, 1979 is excellent on the 1870 Education Act and after and Gillian Sutherland Policy-Making in Elementary Education 1870-1895, Oxford University Press, 1973 is fundamental on the changing nature of policy and priorities.

[2] This influenced the landslide return to power of the reforming Liberal government at the end of 1905.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

The 1870 Education Act

The Elementary Education Act 1870 created school boards for those parts of England and Wales in that there were insufficient school places for working class children. These boards possessed power to enforce the attendance of their pupils. Ten years later this power became a duty that devolved also on the school attendance committee, a body created under an act of 1876 in the non school-board areas. The idea of compulsory education was not new. Certain groups of children had been forced, under a variety of legislation that included the Factory Acts, the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Acts and the Poor Law Acts[1], to attend school before 1870 but the numbers involved were comparatively small. What was new about the legislation of the 1870s was the extent of its operation. For the first time the nation’s children had to attend school on a full-time basis for a minimum of five years, a period that extended to nine for many by 1914.

The new laws had an important effect on the working class way of life. No longer could parents take for granted the services of their children in the home and their contributions to the family budget. Traditional working class patterns of behaviour continued in defiance of the law. The state had interfered with the pattern of family life by coming between parent and child, reducing family income and imposing new patterns of behaviour on both parent and child.

Background to reform

The 1870 Act is best treated as a culmination of thirty years’ struggle. Two elements of this struggle were the religious problem and the system of payment by results. The main elements of the religious problem were as follows:

The root of the religious problem was the firm belief that any education ought to have a moral and therefore a religious base. This raised the question—which religion? There had been rivalry between Anglicans and Nonconformists since the 1810s and with the creation of the Roman Catholic Poor School Committee in 1847, this had become a three-way contest. As long as the provision of schools was considered a voluntary, charitable activity, the societies could co-exist. But any attempt to establish education as the responsibility of the state, and thus spend public money on it, created acute tensions. Anglicans, as members of the Established Church, claimed that any national system must be Anglican-based, a claim fiercely resisted by Nonconformists and Catholics. As the events of the 1830s and 1840s show, each side was able to mobilise enough support to prevent successive governments from taking any large-scale action.

Some of the conflict and bitterness was due to the social and political divisions that underlay and reinforced sectarian and theological disputes. By the 1840s the Anglican Church had become a monopoly bitterly resented by its rivals: a national institution identified with a class. Many Anglican clergymen regarded education crudely as a means of social control. In this they were at one with the bulk of a Tory party that had frustrated Whig efforts in 1839-40 to establish a national non-denominational system and that fought hard for the interests of the Church during the long debates in 1870. Paradoxically, the provisions of the 1870 Act had the effect of allying the Catholics and the Anglicans and thus, up to a point, to the Tories. Voluntary schools were to be in competition with the new board schools and Catholics were implacably opposed to this.

Nonconformists naturally ranged themselves behind the Whigs and then the Liberals. However, at no point did they constitute a majority of Whig or Liberal supported. They were never more than a vigorous pressure group within the party that, after 1867, was led by William Gladstone who in 1838 had been ‘desirous of placing the education of the people under the efficient control of the clergy’. By 1870 he was prepared to accept the need for some government action on a non-denominational basis but refused, as did the majority of the Liberal party, to act against the voluntary schools. It was impossible to devise a bill that would have satisfied both sides.

The system known as payment by results was a mid-Victorian attempt to introduce the principle of the free market into elementary education. Grants were extended during the 1840s and 1850s and schools were inspected to see that they were not abused. By 1861 they had reached £813,441 and had become a source of anxiety in some quarters. Any attempt to devise a national system of schools, and not comply aid the existing voluntary schools raised the question of whether the existing way of helping schools were not too grandiose and expensive to extend to the whole country. The Newcastle Commission recommended the creation of local boards of education in areas where the voluntary principle was weak. This proposal that would founder on the rock of the religious problem. It also recommended the power to award grants on the basis of examination performance leading to the Revised Code of 1862 and payment by results.

Reform: a central perspective

Whatever its justification, the voluntary principle did not prove a success in promoting schools. Even many of the extreme Nonconformists were coming round to the view that voluntarism had been given a fair trial and had failed. The Congregationalist Education Union, that had originated in the 1840s to oppose state education, was wound up in 1867 and the symbolic acceptance of defeated was registered when the great voluntaryist Edward Baines accepted the practical case for state education. The Newcastle Commission and the controversies over the Revised Code are important because they reinforced the public interest in the subject that had been growing since the 1850s but that was not embodied in legislation until 1870. Religion was one reason for the late growth of a national system of education but there were others:

  • There was a lack of a real parliamentary and administrative will to address the problems that did exist.
  • There was an absence of a structure of local government that would provide the indispensable local agencies. Municipal corporations had been reformed in 1835 but their powers were limited and their influence small. In the counties elected councils were not established until 1888.

There were serious administrative problems in involving the state in popular education:

  1. But local rate support would certainly bring demands for local control that was bound to raise the denominational issue
  2. There was the growing problem of expense that the Revised Code was supposed to have resolved.
  3. This was combined with the tension that, since education was a local service, it ought to be financed from the local rate. This proposal was a central feature of the National Public School Association founded in 1850.

The final problem was one of timing. The education issue took up a good deal of parliamentary time in the mid-fifties. In 1855, for example, there were three bills before Parliament. All were withdrawn. It was not a period when the state was likely to move into a major new area of social policy because the government was tending to restrict its activities in central planning. The 1850s was the decade of administrative reform with reformers planning to achieve economies rather than extend the range of government activity.

Elementary education was an area where national policies were greatly influenced by local initiatives, beginning first in Manchester and later in Birmingham. The National Public School Association formed in 1850 had the support of Richard Cobden and, among others, a young Bradford manufacturer named W.E.Forster who later carried the 1870 Act through the Commons. It campaigned for public, rate-supported, non-denominational education during the 1850s but ran out of steam after a 1857 bill failed to become law.

During the 1860s opinion in cities became increasingly concerned about the large numbers of children who were not in school. The Social Science Association argued, as a result of an extensive survey, that in every 100 children living with parents and not at work, 40 were at school and 60 were not. Their conclusion was that only compulsory education could deal with the apathy of parents and the inadequacy of the voluntary system. Education bills were introduced in 1867 and 1868. The 1868 bill was withdrawn when it was clear that a general election was imminent. When Gladstone formed his new government, Forster became Vice-President of the Committee of Council for Education, the man who spoke for education in the Commons.

Evidence of the defective educational provision was beginning to accumulate. The first and second reports of the Royal Commission on children’s employment in agriculture brought out the poor state of education in the countryside. It was clear that the half-time system could not be introduced into agricultural work. Manchester was not the only major city to reveal its deficiencies. Very similar conclusions were reached by the Birmingham Education Society, founded in 1867, and the House of Commons return on the state of education in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool in 1869 showed that many children were attending no school at all and that the private schools were very inefficient.

  1. The Reform Act 1867 enfranchised the urban working class. Both Disraeli and Gladstone accepted that self-improvement and rising levels of literacy were, in part, a justification for this development. There is, however, some debate on the degree to which reform in 1867 led to educational reform in 1870. Robert Lowe’s statement that ‘we must now educate our masters’ has to be seen as partly rhetoric but it raise the issue of parental non-consumers and the degree to which they should be coerced into sending their children to school. It has been argued that the extension of education in 1870 was a matter of social policy not one of political necessity.
  2. The leadership that had long rested with Manchester now passed to Birmingham. Education was one of the major interests of the Birmingham municipal reformers and in 1869 they created the National Education League with George Dixon as President and Joseph Chamberlain as Chairman of the committee. The League was a national movement that carried on the ideas of the National Public School Association and represented the non-sectarian and Nonconformist view of the way ahead. In November 1869 the National Education Union was founded in Manchester with the protection of the interests of denominational schools as its primary objective.

Forster introduced the bill in February 1870 and it became law on 9 August. It did not design a new national system. It left the existing voluntary schools untouched with the same committees of managers.

  • Where the existing school provision was inadequate or where a majority of ratepayers demanded it, school boards should be set up for boroughs and parishes with a single board for the whole of London, with the duty of building the schools that were necessary.
  • These boards were to be elected triennially in the boroughs by the burgesses and in parishes by ratepayers, and were given the power to issue a precept on the rating authority to be paid out of the local rate.
  • The religious question was resolved by allowing schools provided by the boards to be non-sectarian [the so-called Cowper-Temple clause] but giving parents the right to withdraw their children from any religious observance or instruction.
  • Elementary education was not made free and school boards might make it compulsory for children to attend school. This was not extended to the voluntary schools. The Act essentially filled in the gaps.

The main feature of the debate was the major division of opinion not between Conservatives and Liberals but within the Liberal majority itself. The Conservatives on the whole supported the bill, though they disagreed over some issues. The original proposals were considerably modified by the Radical Nonconformist wing of the Liberal party, many of them recently elected MPs, who wanted to go further in a number of directions that the government had planned:

  1. Some Radicals were strong Nonconformists who advocated the disestablishment of the Church of England. Prominent in this group was Edward Miall, a former Independent minister who had founded The Nonconformist in 1841 and who was a leading figure in the Society for the Liberation of the Church from State Patronage and Control [or Liberation Society for short]. A Welsh MP with similar views was Henry Richard who pointed out the particular difficulties raised by the religious situation in Wales and the dislike of the Welsh people for Anglican teaching in schools. They argued that school instruction should be entirely secular so that religious agencies would be left to do their work outside schools.
  2. The pressures were not all from the religious side. Compulsory education was strongly advocated by the Cambridge economist Henry Fawcett and by Sir Charles Dilke, whose main contribution to the final act was to propose that the ratepayers should elect the school boards. Free education, part of the programme of the National Education League, was little discussed and an amendment in favour of it soundly defeated.

Board schools with rates as well as government grants to drawn on had the resources to grow. Voluntary schools had no source of local income comparable to rates. There was no way in which they could keep pace. In this sense the settlement of 1870 carried within it the seeds of its own destruction. By the 1890s it was clear that provision for elementary education was uneven and annually growing more so. Nor was the structure one on to which any provision for secondary education could be grafted. The Education Act 1902 put the Church on the rates. School Boards were abolished and, in return for rate aid, voluntary schools’ committees of management came within the control of the new Local Education Authorities, county and county borough councils, some 140 of them.


[1] After 1832 a series of acts shored up, but did not radically modify, the voluntary school system. The Industrial Schools Acts of 1857, 1861 and 1866; the Reformatory Schools Acts of 1854, 1857 and 1866 and the Education of Pauper Children Act of 1862 all helped local authorities to tackle the problem of the education of the 'residuum', the class the voluntary schools had neglected. When these efforts of pre-1867 parliaments had failed and the voluntary system had lost credence as the means of educating the children of the nation, then and only then, did the 1870 Act belatedly and reluctantly 'fill the gaps'.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Educating Women

The education of women and girls had been an issue in England since the 1790s[1]. Certain social pressures gave the claims of writers like Mary Wollstonecraft, that equality of education with boys was a means of securing independence for women, an extra urgency by 1850:

  1. Women were still less educated than men. Female literacy rates in 1851 were still only 55 per cent compared to nearly 70 per cent for men.
  2. The proportion of women in the population was steadily rising from 1,036 females per 1,000 males in 1821 to 1,054 per 1,000 in 1871. This meant that there was a surplus of women over men and accordingly over a quarter of a million women had little expectation of marriage and the lifetime protection of husband and home. This situation was exacerbated by the rising age of marriage that also left more single women waiting for, and often not achieving, marriage.
  3. With more women detached in their expectations from reliance on parents or putative husbands and children, they were forced to think in terms of earning their own living in a career. This brought the education issue to the forefront of feminist thinking.

The education of women was a class-based as that of boys.

  1. Well-to-do girls were educated at home or in small academies in 1830. The academic content was low and, with the transformation of the grammar schools, girls found themselves excluded from establishments they had attended in the eighteenth century.
  2. Lower class girls attended the National or British schools along with boys and were destined, if not for the drudgery of a working class marriage, then for factory work or the vast army of domestic service. The education girls received before 1870 was very similar to that followed by boys, with the probable addition of some sewing and knitting. The concern to develop a more distinctive curriculum with a focus on domestic science, cooking, laundry and needlework came after 1870 and especially in the 1880s and 1890s.
  3. The problem in the 1840-70 period was largely a middle class one of finding careers for unmarried middle class ladies and of fashioning an education that would fit them for it. Existing careers were limited in 1850 and becoming a governess was the only means of earning a living for women of gentle birth. In 1851 there were some 25,000 governesses in England but they had no proper training and often an education barely above the accomplishments. Moreover there were uneasy status incongruities: hired to impart ladylike qualities to her charges, the governess by taking paid employment forfeited her own status as a lady.
  4. The gender nature of elementary education can be seen after the 1870 Education Act with the curriculum for girls stressing 'domestic skills’.

The Governesses’ Benevolent Institution was formed in 1843 to help active governesses seek positions and aged ones to live in retirement. They tackled the central problem of education by founding Queen’s College in 1848 with an academic curriculum that developed sciences and languages as well as basic subjects and accomplishments [drawing, music, dancing, and needlework]. A similar institution, Bedford College, was opened in 1849. Pupils from these colleges influenced many areas of feminist life in the 1860s and 1870s: The English Woman’s Journal, the Social Science Association, the early suffrage and married women’s property movements all stemmed from them. Ex-Queen’s students dominated many areas of feminist development, for example, Sophia Jex Blake, the first English doctor and Octavia Hill, the social work pioneer. But most important were Miss Beale and Miss Buss.

Dorothea Beale and her friend Frances Mary Buss created respectively the girls’ public boarding school and the girls’ grammar school. In 1858 Miss Beale took over the recently founded Cheltenham Ladies College and turned it into the model of the high-quality girls’ boarding school. St Leonards and Roedean were founded after 1870 based on its example. Miss Buss’ North London Collegiate School began in 1850 in Camden Town to meet the problem of the lack of education for middle class girls. She believed in the important of home life in the upbringing of girls and it deliberately remained a day school. In both institutions the curriculum included subjects like science and Latin. Both institutions might have remained unique in their own areas had not feminist educators brought two powerful factors into play:

  • Public examinations were opened to girls. Oxford and Cambridge had started Local Examinations for boys’ schools in 1858 providing an external common standard. The Victorians placed great stress on examinations as a means of raising academic performance and deciding the fitness of candidates for public office. Feminists saw that without the standard demanded of boys the new academic girls’ education would not be taken seriously. Emily Davies, the future founder of Girton College and sister of a Principal of Queen’s College, urged Cambridge to admit girls to its Locals, that it did experimentally in 1863. Miss Buss sent 25 candidates and following this success Local school examinations were formally opened to girls by Cambridge, Edinburgh and Durham universities in 1865 and 1866 and Oxford followed suit in 1870.
  • Girls’ education was strengthened and spread after it secured financial aid through endowments. In the 1860s the Taunton Commission examined the issue of endowments for grammar schools. Feminists saw this as another crucial opportunity. Emily Davies insisted the Commission should examine girls’ education and she, and Miss Beale and Miss Buss, gave evidence before it and Miss Beale edited the volume of the report devoted to girls. The result was the Endowed Schools Act 1869 and the creation of the Endowed Schools Commissioners to reform grammar school endowments. They created 47 new grammar schools between 1869 and 1875 and their successors, the charity Commission, created another 47 after 1875. The North London Collegiate gained an endowment from the reorganisation.

The early movement for higher education for girls and its outcome occupied the 1860s. The prime mover was Emily Davies. She wanted higher education for women to widen the range of occupations open to them, fit them for public life, raise the standard of teaching in girls’ schools, advance the cause of women’s suffrage and match the experience of France, Germany and Italy where women were accepted into universities. She took a house in Hitchen in 1869 to prepare girls for Cambridge examinations and in 1873 moved to Cambridge itself as Girton College. At the same time Anne Clough moved to Cambridge in 1871 to set up what was to become Newnham College. Owens College in Manchester admitted women in 1869. This was followed by London in 1878 and Oxford in 1879. These events were of great importance in their timing since when the civic university movement began in the 1870s they accepted the admission of women as a normal policy.


[1] June Purvis A History of Women's Education in England, Open University Press, 1991 covers the period between 1800 and 1914 and is the best introduction to the subject.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Universities and technical education to 1870

These were not glorious years for the ‘ancient’ universities. Cambridge and Oxford reposed in a social and curricular inertia that limited their value to society[1].

  1. The social class of intake was remarkably stable and narrow: between 1752 and 1886 51 per cent of Oxford students and 58 per cent of those at Cambridge came from two social groups, the gentry and the clergy. The future careers were even narrower: 64 per cent of Oxford and 54 per cent of Cambridge men went into the Church.  The student body was limited by its connection with the Church of England. The requirement at both universities was that graduates should subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles that excluded Nonconformists. They were thus isolated from the new potential clientele of Nonconformist business families enriched by industrialisation.
  2. High costs—a course could cost over £300 per year—also limited the social composition of courses. Oxford became socially exclusive in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. As a result many people needed scholarships, the bulk of which were in classics and mathematics. This had an impact of the school curriculum and led to a focus on and perpetuation of classical education in grammar and public schools. The provision of fellowships also had a similar effect. Most fellowships were tied to classics at Oxford and mathematics at Cambridge. In this way the whole financial scholarship-fellowship system locked the older subjects into the ancient universities.

This was also tied into the power struggle within the institutions between the university and the colleges. At Oxford and Cambridge the colleges were powerful and wealthy and the universities relatively weak as financial and administrative entities. This suited colleges who ran like private companies. They were aware the classics and mathematics were very cheap subjects to teach and did not entail research or expensive equipment or even rapidly growing libraries. The colleges were not only conservative about new subjects for financial reasons, they also feared a tilting of the balance of power in favour of the universities. More university power as, for example, in the building of common science laboratories, meant less college autonomy. Curricular conservatism was rooted in a defence of a private financial system and resistance to the growth of centralised power in the university.

The debate on the role of universities in society had several dimensions. There was an important argument about research as a function of the university. Advocates of research in the 1860s like Mark Pattison and Henry Halford Vaughan were influenced by German universities and accepted the discovery of new knowledge as part of their obligations. They wished to move Oxford and Cambridge away from being merely advanced public schools towards a more liberal education with more money on research on the sciences, history and archaeology. This viewpoint inevitably involved a clash with the established college position. The financial provision of scholarships and fellowships outside the classics and mathematics brought conflict with the curricular conservatism in college-based anti-research teaching. Until some changes were made to the autonomy of the colleges there could be no change in teaching and the colleges would continue to exert a stranglehold not just over university but also the schools that aimed to send their boys to Oxford or Cambridge.

Curriculum conservatism was defended as a positive virtue in a lively debate about ‘liberal education in relation to universities. This was an important argument against those who attacked the classics as a patently useless form of study on crudely utilitarian grounds. This argument had two basic propositions:

  • There is a distinction between ends and means. Some activities and qualities are ends in themselves and cannot be justified by reference to some ends beyond themselves. This is the essence of the ‘education for its own sake’ case.
  • As well as being ‘an end in itself’, the study of the classics fitted a man for no particular occupation thereby fitting him for all. This was a belief that was to become very influential in the 1850s when the general intellectual training given by classics was regarded as the most suitable for civil service recruitment through public examinations.

The culmination of the old liberal education ideal was expressed by John Henry Newman in his Discourses on University Education that he gave in Dublin in 1852. Liberal education made the gentlemen and was ‘the especial characteristic or property of a University and of a gentleman’. The end result of such education was ‘a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid equitable dispassionate mind’. The purpose was not vocational training but the general development of the intellect and of moral and social qualities for their own sake. This expressed what the ancient universities thought about themselves and what many others conceived the purpose of a university education to be.

From 1850 the ancient universities began a limited reform. Following Royal Commissions for both universities in 1852, an Act for Oxford in 1854 and for Cambridge in 1856 enabled Nonconformists both to matriculate and to graduate. This solved one problem but created another for graduated Nonconformists were still barred from becoming fellows of colleges throughout the 1860s and were not finally removed until the Universities’ Religious Tests Act 1871, that also obviated the need for fellows to be ordained clergymen.  There was also some curricular innovation. In 1848 Cambridge established new triposes in Natural Sciences and Moral Sciences, that included history and law. In Oxford two years later the Schools of Law and Modern history and of Natural Sciences were established. Since both universities now claimed to teach science to degree level they both built laboratories: the Oxford Museum in 1855 and the New Museum at Cambridge in 1865.

The watershed for Oxford and Cambridge came after 1870 with the Cleveland Commission of 1873 leading to the Act of 1877 and in turn to Commissioners to revise the statutes of colleges. The latter were obliged to release some of their funds for the creation of scientific professorships and university institutions. Only then, with this rebalancing of power between colleges and the universities was it possible to create an Oxford and Cambridge more oriented to research in science and scholarship, professional training, a widening curriculum and a strong professariat.

Oxford and Cambridge had considerable defects that were only beginning to be resolved in the 1850s and 1860s but there was no effective civic university movement that could serve as an alternative.

  1. The Church of England had founded Durham University in 1832 but it became virtually a clergy training college with 90 per cent of its students going into Holy Orders. By trying to ape Oxford without having the latter’s resources it had very little success either with poor students or in the eyes of local industrialists who rejected it in favour of Newcastle as a centre of urgently needed mining education.
  2. Owens College, Manchester, fared little better. It began in 1851 with £100,000 left by John Owen, a local textile manufacturer. Yet its intention was not a technological university to serve industry but a college to give ‘instruction in the branches of learning and science taught in the English universities’. It was to be the Oxford of the north! The Manchester business classes were not impressed and it was not until the 1870s when it acquired a new sense of purpose in service to industry that it began to take its place in the forefront of the civic universities movement.
  3. A more vital root of the future civic universities lay in the emergence of provincial medical schools. The Apothecaries’ Act 1815 made it illegal to practise as an apothecary unless licensed by the Society of Apothecaries. This stimulated the creation of medical schools to prepare students for the examinations and, from 1831, those of the Royal College of Surgeons. Schools were founded in Manchester [1825], Sheffield [1827], Birmingham [1828], Bristol [1828], Leeds [1830], Liverpool [1834] and Newcastle [1834].

Both Durham and Owens before 1870 were abortive provincial initiatives stifled by the ancient universities and misguided into the dead end of being deferential and unsuccessful imitations rather than challenging alternatives. The medical schools, by contrast, provided one of the strands out of which civic universities were to emerge after 1870.  The origins of the University of London, by contrast, were rooted in an open antipathy to the ancient universities and not with any concern to reproduce them. Founded in 1828, it differed from existing institutions in three respects:

  • It was free of religious tests and open to dissenters and unbelievers.
  • It was to be cheaper than the ancient universities and to cater for ‘middling rich people’.
  • There was a strong emphasis on professional training in the medical, legal, engineering and economic studies neglected at Oxford and Cambridge. It was to be useful and vocational.

The Church of England did not regard the creation of the new college [University] in ‘Godless Gower Street’ with kindness and established their own rival King’s College in 1828 as an exclusively Anglican institution but also with a focus on vocational training. From 1836 the University of London became the body managing examinations and degrees for its now constituent colleges, University and King’s. From 1858 it became the examining body dealing not only with London institutions but providing external examinations for all comers. The chief criticism levelled at universities in this period was that their neglect of science meant they could contribute little to the needs of industrialisation. Oxford and Cambridge produced clergy, gentlemen and, after 1850, civil servants. They did not appeal to the commercial classes or to the new professions. Nor did Durham and Manchester before 1870. Only the London colleges thrived on a close linkage with the new business and professional classes. Nor did the university sector as a whole keep up with rising population. By 1855-65 only one in 77,000 went to university. Higher education was still accessible to only a small minority.

Technical education

In the 1820s there was an attempt to create a scientific culture and technical education for the working classes. George Birkbeck, a Glasgow doctor who had settled in London, was instrumental with Benthamite radicals in establishing the London Mechanics’ Institute in 1823. His aim was to provide tuition in physics and chemistry for artisans and mechanics of various kinds. This was important in its own right but became the model for a provincial movement. By 1826 there were 100 mechanics’ institutes and by 1841 over 300.

In some cities, initially at least, they tried to serve a serious educative and scientific purpose. In Leeds, for example, local businessmen were strongly in favour of scientific education. Things, however, began to go wrong. Birkbeck had doubted that literacy levels in England were high enough to support further education of some rigour. His doubts were well founded and, as a result, many of the institutes took different paths in response to various other social pressures. Many concentrated on basic education in reading and writing while others became social clubs foreshadowing the working men’s club movement of the 1860s and some centres of radical political activity.

Most institutes forgot their origins and were taken over by the middle classes either as cultural centres for themselves — in Sheffield 88 per cent of members were business or professional men — or as institutions in which an attempt could be made to persuade the working classes of the virtues of temperance or classical political economy. Two things are clear about this movement:

  • The institutes were not an entire failure. They fulfilled a variety of useful roles relevant to their time and locality and whatever path away from the original intention was taken as a result of local circumstances.
  • Whatever Birkbeck had hoped, the mechanics’ institutes did not prove to be a mass movement giving working men that scientific culture that the middle classes had enjoyed since the mid eighteenth century.

In the mid-century the state became involved in the promotion of technical education in national institutions focused in London. In 1845 the Royal College of Chemistry was established and the Government School of Mines followed this in 1851. Both these institutions benefited from the Great Exhibition of 1851 whose profits of £186,000 together with a Government grant purchased the site in South Kensington where it was intended to gather various scientific institutions. In 1853 the School of Mines incorporated the nationalised College of Chemistry, the latter transferring to South Kensington in 1872 and the former joining it piecemeal thereafter.

In 1853 government created the Department of Science and Arts that controlled the School and the College. It also tried to create science schools in the provinces but with limited success. More importantly, in 1859 the new Department began a series of science examinations for schools and paid grants to such schools for successful pupils on a payment by results system. In 1860 nine schools with 500 pupils participated but by 1870 there were 799 schools with over 34,000 pupils. This represented a considerable effort to introduce science teaching into schools, its standards secured by the financial control of inspectors.

So how successful was the development of technical education? Britain had won most of the prizes at the Great Exhibition of 1851 but performance sixteen years later in Paris were poor. Despite government involvement in technical education, there was a strong feeling that we had fallen behind France and Prussia. National unease generated the civic university movement of the 1870s and 1880s but found immediate expression in the 1868 Parliamentary Select Committee on scientific education chaired by the ironmaster Bernhard Samuelson. This began twenty years of various parliamentary inquiries into science, industry and education that led to improvements in technical education especially after 1890.

Two major points emerge from this:

  1. The industrial revolution seemed to have struck an economically efficient balance in its provision of education whatever its social deficiencies. Little serious effort was made before 1830 to maintain the elementary education of the mass of the population and this did not have any real adverse effects on economic growth since most of the new occupations being created did not in any case require literate labour. After 1840 Britain was sufficiently rich to finance expensive projects like its railway building and the considerable expansion of investment in education.
  2. Expenditure on education was postponed but so too was a problem. While scientific and technical information circulated in middle class institutions, for working men the attempt to create a technical education was a failure. Apart from the central institutions in South Kensington and the introduction of technical examinations into schools in the 1860s, there was a dangerous flagging in the provision of technical education.

The roots of a great deal of anxiety about the level of education vis-à-vis Germany in the 1870s and 1880s lay in the lack of development in the 1850s and 1860s. Industrial success bred a lack of urgency to make rising literacy the basis for a higher level of working class scientific training. Britain’s economic decline from the 1870s was, in part, a result of this.


[1] R.D. Anderson Universities and Elites in Britain since 1800, Macmillan, 1992 is a very useful, and short, summary of current research on the role of universities in nineteenth century society.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

A middle class education

Before 1850 no one seriously argued the need for the state to provide schools for middle and upper class children. Here it was thought the free market was functioning admirably. Certainly it seems there was considerable activity and formal schooling appears to have been becoming the norm for boys. This sense of activity had to remain an impressionistic one. Its volume is difficult to quantify[1].

Before 1800 families who aimed to raise their sons as gentlemen and who could afford to do so employed tutors to educate their children at home. Home education was though to be more conducive to virtue than the public schools with their low moral state and harsh corporal discipline. The rising urban population and living standards brought an increase in middle class families able to afford modest fees for private day schooling in their home towns. It was these demands that were to revitalise the grammar schools and subsequently the public boarding schools.

Grammar schools responded strongly to demands for middle class education. Established in the sixteenth century, it was unclear what ‘grammar school’ meant by 1800. Many taught elementary subjects sometimes with classics, took all social classes, included girls and acted simply as the local village or parochial school. The first half of the nineteenth century saw a process of change in three areas:

  1. Grammar schools began to change their curriculums, often including commercial subjects alongside the classics.
  2. The new curriculums enabled the schools to charge fees. There was a decisive shift to a fee-paying middle class clientele and away from the poorer former free pupils. This was helped by Lord Eldon’s judgement in the Leeds Grammar School case of 1805 that decided that grammar schools could not use their endowments to teach non-classical subjects free of charge. The working classes did not want classics and they could no longer benefit from receiving a free elementary education at the grammar school.
  3. Some schools pressed further along the road and turned themselves into boarding schools — Victorian public schools in embryo.

In the mid nineteenth century, three factors revitalised even those grammar schools that had already made the change and those that had not:

  • A new breed of headmaster seemed to appear at this time, of high Victorian moral purpose and strength of personality. Such men often took over ailing or mediocre grammar schools and made them centres of academic excellence: for example, Caldicott at Bristol [1860], Jessop at Norwich [1859], Mitchinson at Canterbury [1859] and Walker at Manchester [1859].
  • The schools were stimulated by the creation of a system of ‘middle class’ examinations from the 1850s. T.D.Acland in Exeter started these as a private venture in 1856 but so great was demand that their administration was taken over by Oxford and Cambridge in 1858 and they became known as the Local examinations. For middle class boys not intending to go to university they were a valuable school-leaving qualification and gave grammar schools something to aim for, and a perception of how they measured up to a common standard. The Higher Locals began at Cambridge in 1868 and at Oxford in 1877. In 1873 the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examining Board was established[2].
  • The third factor was the Taunton Commission that investigated some 800 endowed schools between 1864 and 1867. It addressed the problem of middle class parents who could not afford to send their children to public schools but who wanted a local grammar school offering a curriculum that would provide entry to universities or to the professions for their sons. The Taunton Commission saw the solution in the abolition of free education in grammar schools. This would exclude free boys from the lower middle class, artisan and tradesman classes who had no university or professional ambitions and enable the curriculum to be determined by the market demand of fee-payers. The Endowed Schools Act 1869 established three Commissioners who, by making schemes and regulations for some 3,000 endowments, created throughout the country the middle class fee-paying academic grammar school. Their defect was in failing to provide for the tradesman-artisan class who had to resort to the new Board Schools created after 1870.

Public schools differed from grammar schools because they catered for the upper and upper-middle classes and were boarding establishments. The body of Victorian public schools were made up of various groups:

  • There were the ancient nine schools investigated by the Clarendon Commission in the 1860s [Eton, Winchester, Harrow, Charterhouse, Rugby, Westminster, Merchant Taylors, St. Paul’s and Shrewsbury]
  • To these were added certain grammar schools that had changed their status like Sedburgh and Giggleswick
  • There were also waves of new foundations: nine in the 1840s [including Rossall, Marlborough and Cheltenham] and ten in the 1860s [including Clifton and Malvern]. Most were run as commercial ventures but many had wider purposes: schools at Lancing and Hurstpierpoint promoted high Anglicanism while those at Cranleigh and Framlingham stressed science and agriculture for farmers’ sons

The schools achieved a cohesion informally by inter-school games playing and formally by membership of the Headmasters’ Conference that met first in 1869 initially comprising the non-Clarendon public schools.

Public schools also underwent a process of changing vitality after 1830:

  1. There was a decline in domestic education after 1830. Increasing numbers of middle class children survived infancy and they could no longer conveniently be taught at home. They had to be sent away to school. Improvements in transport facilities, fast road-coaches and then railways, made possible a national market in education. Newly founded schools or old town grammar schools could set out to attract a regional or even national catchment of clients who would reside as boarders.
  2. The growing empire meant that many more families lived abroad but for cultural and climatic reasons they preferred their children to be educated in England in institutions that provided a home environment. Public schools were sought by newly prospering social groups who wished to confirm their status by assimilation with existing landed and professional elites.
  3. Thomas Arnold’s reforms at Rugby and the spread of his masters into other schools raised the whole moral tone of public schools. This made them attractive to those who cared for their children’s nurture and who had shunned the violence and neglect of welfare that characterised many public schools before 1830.

Important changes took place in the content of education in public schools. Science was accepted into the curriculum, especially in the 1860s. Various factors changed this situation:

  • The introduction of science degrees in the 1850s
  • The army reforms of the 1850s that placed an emphasis on competitive examining including two papers in science
  • A new generation of headmasters with particular interests in science: for example, H.M. Butler and F.W. Farrer at Harrow, Frederick Temple at Rugby. Parallel to this was the increase in the numbers of graduate science masters

Almost as important as change in the formal curriculum was a change in the value systems of the public schools. Thomas Arnold raised the tone of the schools from the 1820s with ‘godliness and good learning’ with the aim of producing the Christian Gentleman. From the 1850s these ideals came to be replaced by a more secular and robust emphasis on manliness and character training. ‘Muscular Christianity, as advocated by Thomas Hughes and Charles Kingsley, equated virile good health with Christian values and in the 1860s was expressed in a concern for organised games, athleticism and militarism[3]. Arnold had effected a change in the ethos of public schools and the changes of the 1860s matched them with secular needs outside.  These changes made the public schools highly attractive to social groups of parents somewhat below the traditional clientele and there was a marked change in the social intake of such schools after 1850:

  1. In the first half of the century the social class of parents at eight leading public schools showed that the gentry provided 38.1 per cent of boys, titled persons 12.2, clergy 12.0 and professional parents 5.2. There was an expected and large predominance of the rural elites of gentry, titled and clerical families.
  2. From the 1850s there is clear evidence of the rise of business families beginning to send their sons to Winchester and as more businessmen’s sons went to these schools so in turn more public school boys went into careers in business and industry. At Winchester this rose from 7.2 per cent of boys born in the 1820s to 17.6 per cent of those born in the 1850s.
  3. These upward trends in businessmen sending their sons to public school and in public schoolboys entering business were to be of great importance. There was a linkage between class, public school, education and business leadership in the larger companies from the 1860s. An extended club of the public school network was to replace the older Nonconformist network that had characterised the early industrial entrepreneurs.

The strong expansion of middle class education both in grammar and public schools after 1830 was a response to the demands for education from parents. The Royal Commission under Lord Clarendon, established in 1859, looked at the nine ‘ancient institutions’ but the problem was the decaying grammar schools and in 1864 the government conceded another Royal Commission, under Lord Taunton, to look at all schools not looked at by either Clarendon or Newcastle. The two Commissions took as a given the stratification of schooling for the middle classes as it had developed in the first half of the century and formalised and systematised it into a hierarchy. At the top were the ‘first grade schools’ modelled on Eton and its eight correspondents, mostly boarding, with a classical education, sending boys to universities. Next came the ‘second grade schools’, mostly day, teaching a Latin but no Greek, whose boys would leave at sixteen. Finally there were ‘third grade schools’, all day, teaching a little Latin, sending boys into employment at fourteen. The three grades were conceived as parallel, separate tracks, only the common study of Latin allowing mobility via scholarships from one track to another for the very bright. The Public Schools Act of 1868 and the Endowed Schools Act the following year greatly helped the process.

The three-grade division proved over elaborate. The differentiation in demand was essentially a bifurcation, an increasingly clear distinction between schools for gentlemen and schools for those who aimed at respectability not gentility. The problem was not the grading but the opportunities open to the educated. Too many public schoolboys were being produced at a time when there were only very slowly growing opportunities in the Church, law and medicine between 1851 and 1871. Young men with middle class aspirations outstripped the availability of careers that would give them fulfillment. The fastest growing occupations lay in lower middle class employment like clerks and shop assistants to which ex-public schoolboys would be unlikely to be attracted. The Empire provided a safety valve as products of these new schools sought in colonial lifestyles and status they would have been denied at home.


[1] For this area of education see T.W. Bamford The Rise of the Public Schools, London 1967, still the best overall treatment, and David Allsobrook Schools for the shire. The reform of middle-class education in mid-Victorian England, Manchester University Press, 1986.

[2] All these were the origins of the present examination system.

[3] Many schools began cadet corps in the 1860s, notably Eton, Winchester, Harrow and Rugby.

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.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Elementary Education: the state intervenes

Everyone was agreed that any education worth the name had a moral and therefore a religious core. But if religious, whose denomination? Anglicans, as members of the established church, argued that any school named in law and supported by government funds should be theirs. Nonconformists and Roman Catholics hotly disputed this. It was for this reason that there were two voluntary day school societies, joined by a third, the Catholic Poor School Committee, in 1849. This was the sectarian divide that dominated developments in elementary education up to 1870 and arguably 1902.

  1. The Whig government in 1833 attempted to side step the issue by making a grant available to any voluntary school, of any or no denomination, that satisfied certain conditions of efficiency.
  2. This was the beginning of a system of ‘giving to them that hath’. Government initiatives and funding were most needed in areas of ‘educational destitution’ where there were no middle class enthusiasts to start schools.
  3. In 1839, therefore, the Whigs attempted to grasp the nettle of the ‘religious problem’ with a scheme that included grants to districts according to need and government training schools for teachers organised on a non-denominational basis. The Tories mobilised against it in both Commons and Lords and the opposition of almost the entire bench of bishops brought most of the scheme down to defeat.
  4. In 1843 the Tories attempted to take the initiative in the education clauses of Graham’s Factory Bill creating Anglican-run factory schools. They faced a comparable storm from nonconformists and Catholics and likewise retreated.  Thereafter there was a stalemate with neither side strong enough to break through to a new system. The amount of grant continued to rise but still the money when only to localities already making an effort. This was only broken by the Education Act of 1870.

Public provision for elementary education began with a grant of £20,000 in 1833 in aid of school buildings. This was channelled inevitably through the two religious societies because these alone could show any degree of efficiency. 1833 also saw the Factory Act that banned children under eight from textile factories altogether and limited the hours of children between eight and thirteen to eight daily. This was continued in the Mines Act 1842 and Factory Act 1844. The idea behind this legislation was that if there were no work for children to do lawfully, they would go to school instead. Middle class enthusiasts broadly agreed that working class children should be in school, not at work. On the question of which school they should attend and whether government aid could be deployed to ensure that there were schools within the reach of all working class children, major divisions arose because of religion.  The debacle of 1839, where non-sectarian developments were effectively vetoed by the churches, did result in the creation of the Committee of the Privy Council on Education. Opposition continued from the Church of England resulting in the celebrated Concordat’ of 1840 under which the church authorities secured control of the appointment of the inspectors of state-aided schools and the right to frame the instructions for religious education, though not over non-Anglican schools. The most positive result of the Concordat was the appointment as secretary to the new Committee of Education of James Kay Shuttleworth.[1]

Resistance to state elementary education and the sectarian conflict made it impossible to start a national system according to the Chadwickian technique of a Royal Commission followed by a governing statute. A step-by-step approach was adopted, from the small grant of 1833 to the Privy Council Minutes of 1846 that governed the mid-century expansion. However, in the 1830s and 1840s there were two other roots from which a national system of primary education might have grown: the new Poor Law and the Factory Acts.

Poor law education. Chadwick always had education on his agenda as a depauperizing influence sharing the assumption that universal education would in some unexplained way cure unemployment and render poor relief largely unnecessary. His enthusiasm was shared by several of the Poor Law Assistant Commissioners, who believed that pauperism as well as crime could be eradicated by early training.  The architect of poor law education was James Phillips Kay (Kay-Shuttleworth as he called himself after his marriage). Son of a Rochdale cotton manufacturer, trained as a physician in Edinburgh, founder-member of the Manchester Statistical Society and a writer on social questions, he was recruited as Assistant Commissioner for Norfolk and Suffolk in 1835. He found little or not education for pauper children: some were sent to local schools, but always the cheapest and worst and there was no industrial training.

Kay began by persuading the more intelligent guardians to employ young trainee teachers. He claimed in his autobiography, that this improved the workhouse schools up to a point where the Guardians would be persuaded to take more interest in pauper education, and perhaps consent to the creation of school districts.  When Kay was appointed Secretary to the new Committee of Council on Education in 1839 he selected he selected an establishment in Norwood for his experiment in pauper education. In three years he turned it into a model for the district school movement and a nursery of pupil teachers for elementary schools. After 1842, however, Peel’s government slowed down the plans for district schools as it was not prepared to coerce the Unions: the movement never achieved more than three Metropolitan School Districts and six small rural ones.

The failure of the district-school movement was partly compensated by the growth of separate schools in the more enlightened Unions. By 1857, 57 of these were listed. Some smaller workhouses had detached schools on the workhouse site. School standards greatly improved after 1846 with the beginnings of poor law school inspection and the decline in the use of untrained pauper teachers.  Poor Law education never aspired to becoming a basis or a model for state elementary education. It was on too small a scale even to fulfil its own task. It was intended for workhouse children but there were, in 1855, some 277,000 children in families on outdoor relief not provided with any education except in refuges or mission or ‘ragged’ schools. Poor Law schools were the top grade in a hierarchy catering for the very lowest levels of society.

Factory schools. The factory school was not new in 1833. It can be traced back to the 1780s and was pioneered by enlightened manufacturers like Henry Ashton at Turton Mill, the Peel family and Robert Owen. The factory master was traditionally responsible for the education of his apprentices.  The Factory Act 1833 made millowners responsible for the education of children who were not their apprentices but lived with their own parents and this annoyed them. The Act did not require employers to provide education themselves, but only to obtain a certificate of school attendance for the previous week. Many progressive millowners were alienated by the education clauses: W.R.Greg, an enthusiastic organiser of factory schools, became a leading opponent of the Act.

After 1833 much of the enthusiasm for the voluntary provision of factory schooling was lost. Millowners unable or unwilling to provide their own schools tried to obey the law by sending their children to the local day schools. These arrangements were often unsuccessful. The section of factory education in the Newcastle Commission Report was largely an indictment of their inadequacies.  Factory education might have improved, at least in small mills, if the millowners had co-operated in setting up shared schools. Factory education became embroiled in the sectarian debate over Graham’s Factory Bill of 1843 and the act eventually passed in 1844 was shorn of its education clauses.  The failures of factory education, especially its involvement in sectarian disputes, certainly delayed the spread of elementary education. Disgusted Nonconformists turned to the voluntarist movement and Anglicans too patently preferred the perpetuation of ignorance to giving up their own control of education. Faced with such attitudes, the government contribution to the development of education in the mid-century had to be made largely by stealth.


[1] R.J.W. Selleck James Kay-Shuttleworth. Journey of an Outsider, Woburn Press, 1994 is now the standard biography of this seminal figure.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Elementary Education: Social control and sectarianism

No socially conscious person of influence could leave education to chance. As a result it became enmeshed in conflicting social and political aims. When economic conflict gave rise to class consciousness, people of one class saw a means of controlling other classes by offering them education on their own terms. When there was religious and sectarian conflict, education became involved there as well[1].

Religion and social control: a rationale for education

English elementary education grew in the face of constant fear and opposition from sections of the upper and middle classes. Education, it was believed, would teach the working classes to despise their lot in life, enable them to read seditious literature and make them less deferential to their social superiors. This attitude persisted, especially among rural farmers and gentry, throughout the nineteenth century. In 1847 the Rev. John Allen, Inspector for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire wrote the following that he maintained reflected rural opinion: ‘We cannot help having a school, but we think it advisable that as little as possible be taught therein.’

Overt hostility to any education may have retreated into the backwoods of rural England but it was followed more slowly by those who wished to give the working classes just enough education so that they could read the Bible, learn their duty to God and Man, and the place in life to which Providence had been pleased to assign them.William Lovett, the Chartist leader, denounced these educationalists as[2]favourable to the securing of their prey, another portion, with more cunning, were for admitting a sufficient amount of mental glimmer to cause the multitude to walk quietly and contentedly in the paths they in their wisdom had prescribed for them.’

In time this attitude also weakened, partly through the actions of Lord Ashley who, though an enemy of secular state schools, was an enthusiastic champion of working class education. Its successor was the ‘Morals before Intellect’ line of those who demanded that working class education should be primarily religious, because its primary purpose was to inculcate good morals and obedience. This was often found among High Churchmen who believed that[3] ‘no secular knowledge really desirable for the bulk of the population could be fitly taught apart from a constant reference to religion.’  Among conservative landed gentry[4] ‘I consider those schools to be the most promising where The Commandments and the Duty of God and Man are regularly taught, because without moral and practical religious training there can be no real education.’ Secular educationalists were, until the 1860s, a small, noisy group advocating moral without religious training.

Modern historians often maintain that the purpose of early Victorian educationalists was the social control of one class by another or as Harold Silver puts it ‘Rescuing the poor for religion and a concomitant stable society’. But the concept of social control, though incontestably valid in any examination of education, is oversimplified:

  1. As a label ‘social control’ is a crude one. It covered a multitude of stances from the crudely manipulative and instrumental attitude of a man like Lord Londonderry building schools in his mining villages after the Chartist disturbances to the wholly sincere attempt to remake the working class child in the middle class image. Among middle and upper class philanthropists it was an argument for enlightened self-preservation; to Ashley and Kay Shuttleworth education would rescue the working classes from crime and sedition.
  2. The means varied. Churchmen sought to inculcate religion and morals to buttress duty and obedience while liberals attacked sedition and socialism by developing popularised versions of classical political economy.
  3. Rescue meant conversion to the moral and social imperatives of the rescuers, who represented the spectrum of attitudes and motives in contemporary society.
  4. Motives and means might have varied but there was a good deal of common ground among all educationalists. Lovett and Owen no less than Ashley and Kay Shuttleworth looked to education to rescue the working classes from vice and crime accepting the relationship between ignorance and criminality. Education as a means of ‘improvement’, embodied in the idea of the ‘march of mind’ with its roots in a very old liberal tradition, provided a counter-force to the Law and High Church preoccupation with faith, duty and obedience. The interesting question is not whether a given educational scheme was designed as social control but what sort of society it was intended to produce?

One reason why education in the 1830s appeared to be an instrument of class control was the decline of the parallel conception of education as a means of social mobility. It had declined as the professional and industrial middle classes turned to defensive measures against the working classes forming below them. Education, as a result, became involved in the class struggle. Education became politicised. By the 1830s there were Church schools teaching the Anglican catechism, Nonconformist schools teaching private morality from the Bible and public morality from readers of classical economics and Owenite schools propagating socialism. It was the dominance of the rescue motif, as interpreted by middle class enthusiasts, prevented education from permanently dividing into forms of propaganda serving conflicting social and political aims.

A sectarian divide: the emergence of the elementary day school

From the 1780s working class enthusiasts and middle class reformers alike were much concerned with what might be done to extend working class children’s encounters with schooling. Among the most successful enterprises was Sunday schools. They originated in the eighteenth century[5] and by the early 1830s it has been estimated that over a million children and adolescents were attending them. Sunday schools fitted into the interstices of working class struggles for economic survival very well:

  • Sunday was the one day when schooling did not compete with work
  • Chapel or church could be used as schoolroom; and teachers gave their services free, so that if fees were charged at all, they were very low
  • All Sunday schools taught reading and a minority writing and even arithmetic. From 1807 controversies ranged, especially among Methodists, as to the appropriateness of activities other than reading on a Sunday and the teaching of writing was usually a good guide to those schools under local and lay control rather than under religious domination

Sunday schools differed from most day schools. Regular weekday school required some sort of building and paid teachers, that in turn required an initial capital outlay, either from endowment or charitable subscription or both, as well as a reasonably regular and sizeable fee income. The promotion of day schools resulted, in the early nineteenth century, is the formation of two Religious Societies. They were designed to co-ordinate effort and spread best practice nationally. The National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church in England and Wales was formed in 1811 and three years later the British and Foreign School Society [it replaced the Lancastrian Society formed in 1808]. The sectarian divide had been established: the Anglican National Society and the broadly Nonconformist British and Foreign School Society. The attractiveness of these voluntary schools was not enhanced wither by their teaching methods:

  1. Both favoured the monitorial or mutual system of teaching, by which a teacher taught the older children [or monitors] who then passed on what they had learnt to groups of younger children[6]
  2. It was designed to enable a single teacher to cope with very large groups of children
  3. It was mechanical in its approach relying on rote learning and memorisation but it was economical and this appealed to many contemporary adult observers. The reaction of the children who endured this approach was far less positive[7]
  4. At the same time, many monitorial schools were more ambitious trying to teach reading, writing and arithmetic as an integrated package

These voluntary religious day schools offered an experience significantly different from the pattern of schooling familiar to the working class and one that many of them chose to avoid. The number and persistence of what middle class contemporaries disparagingly called dame or private adventure schools is striking. Their flexibility and informality, willingness to accept attendance on an intermittent basis, parents paying when they could, fetching their child out to do an errand or job, were part of their attraction. It is difficult to generalise about them but:

  • They were small in size, seldom more than thirty children and often as few as ten.
  • They met often in the teacher’s home, in a back kitchen, basement or living room.
  • They might simply be reading schools, taught indeed by an elderly woman or dame; but writing and arithmetic could be tackled for an additional fee.
  • They did not have the resources of the monitorial schools but they lacked the noise, numbers and barrack-room discipline. They functioned often as an extension of the child’s familiar domestic environment rather than places separated from and often alien to it.

In competing for the custom of working class parents and their children, the voluntary societies and the schools affiliated to them had one resource that the working class private day schools lacked: access to central government and thus the possibility of mobilising its power and resources in their support.

In 1833 Lord Kerry’s Returns on elementary education concluded that about 1.2 million or about a third of all children in England and Wales aged 4 to 14 were attending day schools; 1.549 million or under half were attending Sunday schools, of whom a third went to day school as well. Day schools could not copy the mushroom growth of Sunday schools. They were more expensive to run, an expense reflected in fees ranging typically from twopence to five pence per week. They also competed directly with work and work almost always won. This competition made it difficult to get a child into a day school at all and even more so to keep him or her there.


[1] The most straight-forward study of education between 1830 and 1914 is the relevant chapters of John Lawson and Harold Silver A Social History of Education in England, Methuen, 1973. The focus of much study has been on the education of the working population.  Central to the period 1830-70 are the contrasting views of E.G.West Education and the State, Institute of Economic Affairs, 1965 and Education and the Industrial Revolution, Batsford, 1975 and J.S.Hurt Education in Evolution 1800-1870, London, 1971.  The work of Harold Silver is also important especially his The Concept of Popular Education, Methuen, 1965, republished with editorial introduction in 1985 and his collection of essays Education as History, Methuen,  1983.  B.Simon The Two Nations and the Educational Structure 1780-1870, Lawrence and Wishart, 1974 and G.Sutherland Elementary Education in the Nineteenth Century, The Historical Association, 1971 are essential reading.

J. Clarke, C. Critcher and R. Johnson (eds) Working Class Culture: Studies in history and theory, Hutchinson, 1979 is valuable for the two essays by Richard Johnson especially 'Really useful knowledge: radical education and working class culture 1790-1848'.  J. Burns 'From Polite Learning to Useful Knowledge 1750-1850', History Today, April 1986 and B.Harrison 'Kindness and  Reason:  William Lovett and Education', History Today, March 1987 are interesting.  T.W. Laqueur Religion  and Respectability:  Sunday  Schools and Working Class Culture  1780-1850, Yale, 1976 is the seminal work on a major educational movement. D.G. Paz The Politics of Working Class Education 1830-1850, Manchester, 1980 is the best new analysis of state  intervention.

[2] William Lovett Life and Struggles of William Lovett, 1876, 1967 edition, page 111. This autobiography is an excellent source on the nature of working class education and the need for its reform.

[3] Rev. Alexander Watson, curate of St John's, Cheltenham in 1846.

[4] Sir Charles Anderson of Lea, near Gainsborough, Lincolnshire in evidence to the Newcastle Commission in June 1859.

[5] Robert Raikes of Gloucester has traditionally featured as pioneering Sunday schools in the 1780s but in fact teaching Bible reading and basic skills on a Sunday was already an established activity in some nonconformist and evangelical congregations.

[6] It was sometimes known as the 'Madras system' as that was where the Anglican clergyman Andrew Bell first developed it or the 'Lancastrian system' after the nonconformist Joseph Lancaster who independently developed the same system in England.

[7] Charles Dickens Hard Times, published in 1854, contains the best satirical account of the monitorial system in action under the teacher Mr McChoakumchild while in Nicholas Nickleby he caricatures the 'practical' nature of education at Mr Squeer's Dotheboys Academy.