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

By John Roach | Go to book overview

18

Endowed schools—1

The Schools Inquiry Commission had investigated the girls’ private schools and had examined witnesses like Miss Davies, Miss Buss, and Miss Beale. In their general report the commissioners wrote that the existing girls’ schools were unsatisfactory and generally weaker than the boys’ (SIC I:546-70). One particular obstacle to improvement was the failure of middle-class parents to take any trouble over the education of their daughters. Among the subjects taught, arithmetic and mathematics were especially weak. Greek was very little taught and though Latin was suitable for girls, it was often taught badly. French was better and girls were said to achieve more in it than boys. Too much time was given to learning instrumental music and too little to any form of exercise. Girls’ schools were generally smaller than boys’, and this often made them less efficient, though there were strong arguments in favour of small schools for girls. The question was also asked: had girls similar capacity for intellectual attainment to boys? A good deal of reliance was placed upon American examples, and in general the answer was yes, though there were differences between the sexes and no complete assimilation should be attempted. The experiment of opening the Cambridge Local examinations to girls, which had recently been made, had been successful, and it was not true, in the view of the commissioners, that women were likely to suffer in health from greater intellectual effort.

Obtaining good teachers was a very serious difficulty. The report was in favour of setting up a higher college or colleges for women, though it was difficult to see how much demand there would be for such courses. It was unjust that women had hardly any share of existing endowments, though it was not likely for all sorts of reasons that girls would acquire a share of them equal to that enjoyed by boys. There was much more opposition in girls’ than in boys’ schools to the admixture of social classes. Some of the Taunton assistant commissioners commented on the problems of women’s education, prominent among them James Bryce in Lancashire. He argued that in every town there ought to be a publicly managed high school for girls ‘where a plain, sound education should be offered at the lowest prices (from 5 1. per annum upwards) compatible

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