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

By John Roach | Go to book overview

15

Private schools: policies and practices

Though the defenders of the private school praised their readiness to take up new ideas, they showed, in fact, much less keenness to innovate in the final third of the nineteenth century than in earlier decades. The only real exception to that statement is the small group of progressive schools, beginning with Cecil Reddie’s foundation of Abbotsholme in 1889 (see pp. 189-90). Where new ideas like the kindergarten method or the Swedish ‘slÖjd’ method of manual training came in, they influenced the work of younger rather than of older children. As the endowed schools were gradually reformed, they took up the subjects like mathematics and modern languages which had earlier been left to the private schools, and all the secondary schools approximated more and more closely to a single model. This was an important process because it was only in this way that a common secondary school curriculum, which hardly existed in 1850, could come into existence. However, as it developed, the former distinctiveness of the private schools was reduced.

One major force for change was the public examinations, which dated from the 1850s. The College of Preceptors were the pioneers, followed quickly by the Local Examinations of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and later by the Oxford and Cambridge Joint Board. At the same time it became common to use the matriculation examination of London University as a leaving examination for abler pupils. The numbers who took it were small, but it was the most formidable hurdle which a boy or girl of the period had to face. Finally the growing popularity of science led to many pupils being entered for the examinations of the Department of Science and Art (Roach 1971).

The private schools entered pupils for the new examinations from the beginning, and girls participated as well as boys from an early date. At the Cambridge Locals centre at Wolverhampton in 1866, for example, there were sixty-nine successful candidates. It is difficult to be certain about the types of school from which they came, but the most likely division is forty-two from grammar schools and twenty-seven from private and proprietary schools and from private tuition (Cambridge University Library, Univ. Papers 1820-67 (Archives UP 5)). Table 15.1 gives an

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