Classics Transformed: Schools, Universities, and Society in England, 1830-1960

By Christopher Stray | Go to book overview

7
Class, Schools and the State, 1870-1902

In this chapter I turn from the universities to the secondary schools. The period opens with Forster's Act of 1870, which introduced State elementary schooling (free after 1891), and ends with Balfour's Act of 1902, which extended the principle into secondary education. It was this intervention of the State in secondary schooling which prompted the organized defence of classics, conducted by the Classical Association, which is dealt with in Chapter 9.1 The two previous chapters were concerned with institutional and ideological changes in the relatively coherent and bounded arenas of Oxford and (especially) Cambridge. With the schools, we are dealing with a more fluid and larger-scale social and political context. The relationships on which I concentrate in this chapter are those of State intervention, class distinction, and curricular content. The educational legislation of this period was powerfully affected by the contemporary advance of social incorporation through which the working classes were admitted to civil society. In a straight- forward sense, Forster's Act of 1870 was a response to the enlargement of the franchise in 1867: in Robert Lowe's much-quoted words, 'It will be absolutely necessary to teach our future masters to learn their letters.'2 This exemplifies a dialectic of middle-class fear and containment which forms the other face, as it were, of middle-class aspiration. As always, lower-middle-class groups were fighting on two fronts; seeking to establish identity and status in relation to their superiors, and to

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1
This chapter does not attempt anything like a comprehensive picture of late 19th- century English education. The evidential basis for such a picture is vast, variable in detail, and only partially and sporadically investigated. The detailed systematic studies carried out on France and Germany have not yet been matched for England. (The relatively unsysternatized nature of the English situation, which makes investigation difficult, is also precisely what makes it an important comparative case.) A beginning has been made in the contributions of Simon, Reeder, Steedman, and Honey, in D. Müller, F. Ringer, and B. Simon (eds.), The Rise of the Modern Educational System:Structural Change and Social Reproduction 1870-1920 ( Cambridge: CUP, 1987), and by J. P. C. Roach, Secondary Education in England 1870-1902:Public Activity and Private Enterprise ( London: Routledge, 1991).
2
A. P. Martin, Life and Letters of Viscount Sherbrooke ( London: Longman, 1893), ii. 323.

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