The Liberal victory in the general election of 1868 began a new period in British political history. Among the major reforms of Gladstone’s first government (1868-74) was the Education Act of 1870, which created the nucleus of the modern state system of education. It looked for a brief period as if state intervention in secondary education would also achieve major changes. The report of the Schools Inquiry Commission (1868) had shown both the importance of the grammar school endowments and the many abuses which needed reform. The report had made radical recommendations for change: a system of graded schools; a central body with provincial authorities; and a national council for examinations with power to examine teachers.
When W.E. Forster, vice-president of the committee of council on education, introduced the second reading of the Endowed Schools Bill on 15 March 1869, he emphasized many of the same points. Free education should not be given unless it was the reward of merit. The poor should benefit from endowments, not by favour but as the reward of their own achievements. The interests of the middle classes, who needed good education for their children, should be carefully preserved. The ideal of the future should be that no one class should guide the destiny of England, ‘but that England for the future is in truth to be self-governed; all her citizens taking their share, not by class distinctions, but by individual worth’ (Hansard 194:1382). The task of reform was put into the hands of three Endowed Schools Commissioners, chaired by Lord Lyttelton. They achieved a great deal and set on foot a major process of change, but in so doing they raised massive opposition, and their work was brought to an end, in its original form, by Disraeli’s Conservative administration in 1874. Progress continued to be made, though at a slower rate, by the Charity Commissioners, first created in 1853, who inherited important powers under the Endowed Schools Acts. Much was done to improve individual foundations, but the objective of a new national structure disappeared from sight until it was revived under the very different conditions of the early twentieth century.
Forster told the House of Commons that the proposed reorganization