The be it by default. The Royal Commissions

The establishment of a national form of education came at the end of the 19th century and is still regarded as a new system being less than 150 years old. Initially the working classes were not interested in taking education. Child labour increased post 1850 and was at the heart of Victorian families survival. Most families were not willing to take their children out of work losing income and then have to pay to send them to school.

Samuel Whitbread in 1807 suggested the links between poverty and crime with education, despite being a very liberal view these sentiments are still echoed in modern Britain and enforced in 1901 by the Criminal Registrars comment that “Since the 1840’s we have witnessed a great change in manners: the substitution of words without blows for blows with or without words; an approximation in the manners of different classes; a decline in lawlessness” Crime and pauperism however increased post 1850 as did wide spread social unrest and mob rule as previously mentioned the thought of workers rioting when they could be bolstering the flailing British economy send shocks amongst the policy makers and bookkeepers of the country.

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Amongst the riots and rebellion three were positive movements that in turn contributed to the spread of education for the working class. The increased collectivist idea amongst the working class symbolised with the Factory Acts of 1833 and 1844 had domino effects on the restrictions surrounding child labour this allowance or freeing up of children’s time contributed to wide spread education all be it by default. The Royal Commissions between 1850 and 1870 including the Newcastle act illuminated that out of 2. 5 million children there was 1. 5 million occasionally attending schools.

Other inquiries such as the Tourton Report examining the middling sorts education and the Clarendon Report looking at public schooling, took place in the 1860’s. The Newcastle Commission however had the most impact combined with the Education League and the National Education Union in 1869; the formation of the 1870 education act can be partly attributed to the importance of such bodies. The Education Act of 1870 or often labelled the Forster act after its instigator, was the birthing ground for modern nationwide education in Britain. Established initially to only “fill the gaps” that the Voluntary system left it soon emerged that there was room for a dual system of education.

Having the voluntary church run schooling and also the non-denominational system coexisting at the same time should as the act intended fill up the gaps in education. The nation was divided into School Boards and there were 2500 school districts. Despite the quest for centralized control of education the power was diluted into the Boards this, however had a more localized appeal, as there were opportunities for the ratepayers to vote on candidates to represent the board. This increased the feelings towards the schooling system and created the sense of community surrounding schools.

The 1870 act wasn’t the finale for education in this period it was still indeterminably flawed. It stated that it was compulsory for children to attend the schools up to the age of 12 although there was little or no way of this being enforced. By 1874 there were 5000 schools created and while the act encouraged the formation of new schools it also promoted the upkeep of existing ones such as converted Dame and Ragged schools. The Mundellas Act in 1880 finally addressed the issue of compulsory attendance in schooling; all children aged 5 to 10 were instructed to attend.

To enforce this compulsion the introduction of School Enforcement Officers who had the power to take parents to court arose. They could also if deemed fit expel a child form their local school whilst still under law force them to attend one at a further distance from their home. The abolition of the school fees came in 1918 Fisher Act, although increased government intervention with fee grants in 1891 made compulsory education virtually free therefore leaving working classes with no excuses but to attend.

The act was further built upon in1894 when the leaving age was increased to 11 then 12 in 1899 then 14 in 1900 before the Education Act of 1902. Education as with now reflects the social standing of the individual; furthermore it is geared at specific classes. The elite don’t share the same opportunities as the rest of the population. In Marxist terms we are governed and have our opportunities determined by those who control our social environment.

It may be argued that widespread education didn’t emerge for so long in Britain as the working class actually didn’t want to be educated, that it served little or no purpose to their social standing as it would have no relevance on how much food they could provide for their family. Similarly that the upper classes had no interest in educating their lesser beings only to have them become insightful and open to seditious and revolutionary material and beliefs; a sense that social control could be achieved by allowing education but also by withholding it.

Bibliography F Bedarida, A Social History of England 1851-1990, 1979, Rutledge. London, 2nd edition. B. Simpson, D. Muller, F. Ringer. The Rise and Fall of the Modern Education System 1870-1900. Cambridge, (1987) G. A. N. Lowndes, The Silent Social Revolution (1969) E. Evans, The Forging Of The Modern State: Early Industrial Britain, 1783-1870 Longman, (1996) J. Murphy, Church, State and Schools in Britain 1800-1970. London. Routledge,(1971).