Secondary Education in England, 1870-1902: Public Activity and Private Enterprise

By John Roach | Go to book overview

2

Poverty, merit, and social differentiation

The argument that the commissioners’ plans deprived the poor of rights they had previously enjoyed extended far beyond the controversies over the hospital schools, though it was seen there in its most extreme form. The issue became important again in the 1880s when national figures like Joseph Chamberlain and Jesse Collings took the matter up as part of their campaign to achieve a more egalitarian society (see pp. 63-8). A book on secondary education, published in 1892, commented: ‘nothing has caused more local opposition than the proposal to apply to secondary education funds derived from charities originally intended for the poor’ (Acland and Llewellyn Smith 1892:79). ‘Poor’ is of course a very imprecise word. The master of Emanuel Hospital stated that the children came from ‘the reduced middle class’ (Ed. 27:3363, 27 April 1871), and Roby gave a similar picture. At Gloucester the Charity Commissioners’ plans for Sir Thomas Rich’s charity (1878) were opposed by the tradesmen and skilled artisans who had traditionally benefited from it, but who would not gain any advantage from the scholarships to be provided from elementary schools under the new system because they did not use those schools for their children (Balls 1968:223-5). In some cases it seems to have been such artisans and tradespeople who opposed the changes which the commissioners wished to make, though at Westminster the ‘working men’ who supported the Endowed Schools Commission probably belonged to this group. Perhaps in London political Radicalism, linked with a greater awareness of the advantages of educational reform for the children of working men, was a more active force than in the provinces.

The question whether schools should or should not be free was closely linked with debates over the policy to be adopted towards elementary education. Many of the endowed schools had over the centuries become purely elementary, and the position for them was radically changed when the Education Act of 1870 required that education should be provided everywhere as a national service. Since many endowments had mixed objectives, there was also the difficult problem of the shares to be devoted to schools and to more directly charitable objectives like apprenticeship payments for the young and almshouses and dole money for the

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