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The following text comes from the HathiTrust online version of the 1891 The Encyclopaedia Britannica in the New York Public Library. Using ABBY OCR software I produced the following text from HathiTrust page images. Paragraphs have been added for easier reading. — George P. Landow

Decorated initial T

he spirit of reform which made itself felt in the church bv the institution of the Church Inquiry and Ecclesiastical Commissions exhibited itself to a far more vigorous degree during the same period by promoting the cause of education. The work of educational reform began with the upper and middle class schools, and gradually went downwards, till it reached the lowest classes of the population.

Parliament began occupying itself with the condition and management of the public schools of England in 1818, when a commission made a report upon them, exposing many evils. Though little action was taken at the time, the work of inquiry continued in various forms, leading to the close inspection of more than 2000 endowed schools. Many of these were compelled to undergo extensive reforms in their mode of teaching, so as no longer to exclude science, art, and modern languages; while the revenues of nearly all of them were regulated, and made to serve larger objects than before.

It was the leading aim of the educational reformers in parliament both to deepen and widen education, giving the largest possible number the best possible instruction, and a variety of measures were passed for this purpose. From 1834 direct annual grants were voted, the first of £20,000, for the promotion of education, and in 1839 the Committee of the Privv Council on Education was instituted for the distribution of the money. An Act for the establishment of industrial schools was passed in 1807; and in the same year the universities of Oxford and Cambridge consented to undertake “middle-class examinations” in some of the chief towns of England. These local university examinations began in the summer of 1858, and proved most successful in promoting higher education. It was stimulated no less by an Act passed in 1869, 31 and 32 Vict. c. 118, reforming the government, teaching, and discipline of the seven great public schools of England,— Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester, Shrewsbury, the Charterhouse, and Westminster. This statute greatly widened their field of instruction.

While these efforts were made to improve the education of the middle and upper classes, the lower classes of the population were not altogether forgotten. Still the achievements in this direction, naturallv vastly more difficult, were for a time inconsiderable. The first impulse given towards more determined exertion was by a great educational conference, under the presidency of the Prince Consort, which took place in London in June, 1857, and passed resolutions that were soon echoed all oyer the land. Tie first result of the conference was the appointment, in the session of 1858, of a parliamentary commission to inquire into the state of popular education, the report of which was issued, rather tardily, in March, 1861. Close upon the report followed a minute of the Committee of the Privy Council on Education, establishing a revised code of regulations for elementary schools. The code, which was to come into operation on the 1st April, 1862, decreed regular examinations of the pupils, payment by results, evening schools for adults, and various other changes in elementary education, tending to make it more general. But so far from giving satisfaction, the new code raised a storm of opposition, chiefly from the clergy, and had to be altered in some of its most important provisions.

In the session of 1870 a statute of the highest importance was passed, which effected little less than a revolution in the state of national education. By this statute, 33 and 34 Viet. c. 75, entitled “An Act to provide for Public Elementary Education in England and Wales,” it was ordered that “there shall be provided for every school district a sufficient amount of accommodation in public elementary schools available for all the children resident in such district, for whose elementary education efficient and suitable provision is not otherwise made.” It was further enacted that all children attending these “public elementary schools” whose parents were unable, from poverty, to pay anything towards their education, should be admitted free, the expenses so incurred, with all others necessary to carry out the provisions of the Act, to be defrayed out of local taxation. Finally, it was ordered that the whole administration of the new system of public education should be placed under “school boards,” elected'by the suffrages of all tax-payers, including women, and invested with large powers, among them that of compelling all parents, under severe penalties, to give their children between the ages of five and thirteen the advantages of education. The statute of 1870, proving more beneficial even than expected at the outset, laid a firm basis for universal education.

The gradual progress of public elementary education during the course of a quarter of a century is shown in the following table, which gives the total number of schools under Government inspection, the total number of children for whom accommodation was provided, and the average number of children attending the schools, in eveiy fifth scholastic year, ended August 31, from 1850 to 1870, and for each year thereafter to 1876.

While the charge for elementary education under the Act of 1870, chiefly falls upon local meutarr rates, there are at the same time large and continually increasing parliamentary grants made, out of imperial funds, for promoting the education of the masses. In 1863 the annual grants for examination and attendance of pupils in elementary schools, under inspection in England and Wales, amounted to only £205; but they rose to £180,303 in 1864, to £376,367 in 1865, to £388,006 in 1866, to £429,885 in 1867, and to £431,594 in 1868. Thus regularly advancing, the grants came to over half a million in 1869, amounting then to £504,286, and over a million in 1875, when £1,093,378. In 1876 the annual grants for examination and attendance increased to £1,272,495, and in 1877 to £1,415,333.

Denominational Schools

It appears from parliamentary returns issued in the session of 1874, that at that time, when the school-board system had just begun to take root, the great mass of the pupils of elementary schools under inspection were in institutions belonging to and under the control of the Church of England. The following tabular statement gives the number of pupils present at examination in the elementary schools of England and Wales controlled respectively by the Church of England, the Roman Catholics, the schoolboards, and the British, Wesleyan, and all other schools, in the years 1871 to 1873:


The Encyclopaedia Britannica. Dictionary of Arts, Sciences. and General Literature. 9th ed. (American Reprint). Vol. VIII. Philadelphia: Maxwell Sommerville, 1894. HathiTrust online version of a copy in the New York Public Library. Web. 25 August 2022.

Last modified 24 August 2022