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Three classes – three commissions Unlike the United States, which by the 1830s was establishing a public school system based on a common education for all its citizens, England, as we have seen, had allowed a divided school system to develop in line with its class structure. 1864 Clarendon Report The Royal Commission on the Public Schools was set up in 1861 ‘to inquire into the Revenue and Management of Certain Colleges and Schools and the studies pursued and instruction given there’. Its report made recommendations relating to the government, management and curriculum of the nine ancient foundations – Eton, Winchester, Westminster, Charterhouse, St Paul’s, Merchant Taylors’, Harrow, Rugby and Shrewsbury. Efficiency, and to carry into effect the main Objects of the Founders thereof’. It created the Endowed Schools Commission and gave its members considerable powers and duties. 1861 Newcastle Report The Royal Commission on the state of popular education in England, under the chairmanship of the Duke of Newcastle, was appointed in 1858 ‘To inquire into the state of public education in England and to consider and report what measures, if any, are required for the extension of sound and cheap elementary instruction to all classes of the people.
The Commission published its six volume report in 1861. Further progress The remaining years of the 19th century saw a raft of legislation which added detail to the state education system which the 1870 Act had begun. In this respect, the two most significant Acts were the Elementary Education Act of 1880, which made school attendance compulsory, and that of 1891, which made elementary education free. 10-13 year olds were illegally employed. 1870 Act had begun, as it decreed that elementary education was to be provided free. The Newcastle Commission recommended that a grant should be paid in respect of every child who, having attended an elementary school, passed an examination in reading, writing and arithmetic.
Relaxing the Code Over the following thirty years the initial strict conditions were gradually relaxed: more freedom of classification was allowed, the tests were made more elastic and the exams were taken by sample only. From about 1892 the standards system began to fall into disuse and it was finally abandoned by the Board of Education around the turn of the century, except for a few special purposes such as examining candidates for Labour certificates. The 1876 Education Act provided for a system of certificates, which gave free education for three years to pupils who had passed the Standard IV examination at 10 years of age and held a certificate of regular attendance for five years. Infant schools One important effect of the 1870 Act was to make infant schools or departments a permanent part of the new public elementary schools. As a consequence, most of the dame schools, which had survived in large numbers up to 1870, disappeared in the following decade. Higher Grade Schools A number of children remained at school after passing the new seventh standard, and eventually central ‘higher grade schools’ were created for these children. Most of these higher grade schools had an upper portion arranged as an ‘organised science course or school’ under the Science and Art Department.
A number of school boards, especially those in large urban areas, devoted much attention to the development of these higher grade schools. The exterior remains essentially the same today. The building is now part of Wolverhampton College. The ‘head class’ was composed of boys drawn from miles around. Cross Commission on Elementary Education In the last twenty years of the 19th century there was much debate about the extent to which the elementary schools could provide an adequate education for the more able children.