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

By John Roach | Go to book overview

4

Academic policies and the curriculum

Much of the commissioners’ work was dominated by the administrative, political, and religious issues which were examined in the last chapter. But schools are primarily teaching institutions, and the Endowed Schools Commissioners had very clear views about the curriculum and the ways in which it should be developed. Basic to all their thinking was the concept of the three grades, each with a programme appropriate to the ages at which the pupil was to leave school. In the later decades of the century the Charity Commissioners tended to think in terms of two grades rather than of three—a first grade up to the age of 18 or 19, a second grade to 15 or 16 (PP 1886 IX:112:1118 (J.G. Fitch)). The third-grade work had in many cases been taken over by the higher-grade schools managed by the school boards. Traditionally, the curriculum of the first-grade schools had been classical, because both Latin and Greek were essential for university entrance. In second- and third-grade schools Latin formed an important element in the curriculum because it was regarded both as a valuable discipline in itself and as a basic introduction to the study of language. Greek was much less prominent or even disappeared entirely, and more time was given to mathematics and English subjects. By the 1860s more attention was being paid to the claims of the natural sciences, though, as yet, they had not been incorporated into the curriculum of the endowed or the public schools (HSE: 275-6).

One reform which the commissioners strongly supported was the provision of more schools for girls, a major topic, which will be discussed in detail later (see pp. 201-14). For all young people there was strong pressure towards expanding the range of subjects taught. More attention was to be given to modern languages, to history and, above all, to natural sciences. It was not only a question of finding more time. Much thought was also given to new methods of teaching so that the new subjects might offer an intellectual training comparable in rigour with their older rivals. The royal commission on scientific instruction (1870-5) sought information from 202 endowed schools. Of the 128 schools that replied, only 63 taught science. Of 87 schools giving definite information only 18 devoted as much as four hours a week to the subject. The

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