Matthew Arnold, writing in the 1860s, had drawn a sharp contrast between the disorder of English secondary education and the effective state organization, which had been developed in France, Germany, and Switzerland. The results for the English middle classes were very harmful because in many parts of the country there were no good secondary schools at all. His criticisms remained valid until the end of the century. The state had, as we have seen, taken an active part in policy-making in many instances. The problem was that, since there was no coherent plan, the energies exhibited by a body like the Department of Science and Art were apt to add to the confusion. It has recently been argued that in Western Europe generally the more academic and less applied forms of learning enjoyed more prestige than more practical studies, and were the preserve of the higher social classes (Müller, Ringer, and Simon 1987). In Prussia the Gymnasium became more exclusive at the end of the nineteenth century in order to defend the interests of its upper-class clientele against the dangers of excessive social mobility. In France a second-grade modern curriculum and a third-grade higher primary school developed alongside the lycée with its strong, upper middle-class connections. In England the three grades of the Taunton Report reflect a similar pattern. The highest social and academic standing was enjoyed by the public schools which, unlike the lycée or the Gymnasium, were private foundations over which the state exercised no control after the passing of the Public Schools Act of 1868. Matthew Arnold had acknowledged that the best of the public schools were excellent. Their very prestige made it seem less important that the state should create a general system of secondary education for the whole country.
By 1870 the public schools had become the models which less prestigious institutions attempted to emulate. From the nine schools of the Clarendon Inquiry they had expanded to form, by 1900, a community of about 100 schools, though these varied greatly in rank and prestige among themselves. It has already been suggested that the role of the late nineteenth- early twentieth-century public school was social rather than intellectual. In their social role they were highly successful because