Education for the Masses

In order to understand more fully the history of St. Stephen’s School, it is necessary to know something of the history of the national system of education that brought the school into being. In this short history of the development of a national system of education, I have outlined briefly the beginning of public education for the masses through to the foundation of St. Stephen’s School in 1880.

The first successful attempt to cover the country with a network of elementary schools was a voluntary body sponsored by the church, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge founded in 1698. Through local groups this body established thousands of charity Schools in which children from poor families were taught to read and some were fed and clothed.

The industrial revolution in the second half of the 18th century was seen to be sweeping children along with adults into the factories. This caused the charity school movement to loose ground, so Robert Raikes and others, started the Sunday School Movement, Sunday being the children’s only free day. The Sunday School Movement had the support of the established church and nonconformity.

At the beginning of the 19th century, two men, Dr. Andrew Bell, a church of England clergyman, and Joseph Lancaster, a Quaker, almost simultaneously, but independently, developed a system of education that would be cheap enough to allow a national system of 5 day-a-week schools. They demonstrated that large numbers of children could be taught with few teachers, by using pupils as teaching monitors. Voluntary societies were formed to provide elementary schools run on Bell and Lancaster lines. These were the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, and the British and Foreign Society. Their sectarian rivalry prevented the immediate formation of a national system.

In 1833 the Government was induced to give the National and British Societies a grant of £20,000. Previous proposals for a state system of elementary education had all failed. The grant was repeated in successive years and in 1839 the Government established a Committee of Privy Council on Education to supervise its distribution.

The committee under the leadership of St. James Kay Shuttleworth, inspected all grant aided schools, creating Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Schools. Ecclesiastical opposition prevented it forming a state training college for teachers. In time however, grant aided denominational training colleges were set up, modelled on Kay’s own college at Battersea.

In 1846 Kay launched the “Pupil Teacher” scheme where able elementary school pupils were apprenticed at 13, for 5 years. These pupils taught during school hours, what they were taught by the head teacher out of school hours. At the end of the five years, they sat the Queen’s Scholarship Examination and if successful, were eligible for grant-aided places in training colleges, emerging as teachers, or qualified to take posts in schools as “uncertified” teachers, dependent upon examination successes.

From the 1908 Wolverhampton Red Book.

In 1861 the Newcastle Commission found both the quality and quantity of elementary education inadequate, yet upheld the voluntary system. By this time the annual government grant had risen to £840,000, an amount which alarmed an economically minded government.

Robert Lowe was at this time, Vice-President of the Committee of Council. He declared that “if this system is not to be cheap it shall be efficient, and if it is not efficient, it shall at least be cheap” and this resulted in the issue of a “revised code”. This code imposed upon schools a yearly examination in reading, writing and arithmetic, and made the teacher’s salary for the following year, dependent upon his pupil’s results. This system of payment by results was slowly relaxed, although not abolished until 1897. It virtually restricted the curriculum to the three R’s which often made school a monotonous grind, creating bad feeling between the teachers and H.M. Inspectors, who conducted the examination. It did reduce the government grant to £600,000 in the mid sixties, but even this was temporary, since it rose again in the late sixties.

The Reform Act of 1867 extended the franchise, giving the vote to every male householder and this invoked immediate pressure for a new system of education for the voters.

From the 1908 Wolverhampton Red Book.

The first Education Act for England and Wales was Passed in 1870. It was a compromise because of sectarian pressures. The state proposed a system whereby school boards were to be elected to provide elementary schools at public expense.

These did not replace voluntary schools, but supplemented them. If the supply of places was inadequate, the voluntary societies were to be given 6 months the make good the deficiencies.

In areas where this proved impossible, School Boards were elected to fill the gaps by supervising the erection and maintenance of the required schools. The 1870 Act laid the foundation of a national system of public education. In 1876 Lord Sandar’s Act banned employment of children below the age of 10, and between 10 and 14, only when proficiency in the three R’s at Standard Four of the revised code had been reached.

This was followed in 1880 by Mundella’s Act, compelling all school boards to make use of the compulsory attendance clauses in the 1870 Act, with the minimum leaving age being established as 10.

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