EDUCATION IN ENGLAND (I).
Ever since the existence of man the teaching and learning process has been
an integral part of human experience. The communication of knowledge and
practical skills has always been essential to the development of
individuals, groups and wider communities. If this is true of the most
primitive of communities it is all the more so in today’s complex society
where personal fulfilment depends to a large extent on one’s social role
which is often a direct result of acquired knowledge and the ability to
make the most of it. The ability to develop one’s critical sense, the
ability to analyse, to see how things and persons relate are all skills
that are the result of education.
It was not long before communities realised that if they needed people of
ability then it had to encourage education. After all a society of any kind
is not a mere abstraction but a number of individuals that are in some way
are related and interact. The development of society as a whole depends on
the development of each constituent part.
Even the Homo Habilis of the Stone Age had to learn to make rudimentary
weapons to defend himself and to hunt for food. He had to learn how to use
the skins of the animals to make basic protective clothing. The
transmission of knowledge and skills (education) allowed him to survive. We
are the living proof that he did survive; we have built upon his
Some early schools that still survive
In Britain, during the Middles Ages, formal education was already taking
shape. Schools ranged from those organised by the local parish to those
connected to Cathedrals, chantries and monasteries.
These gave a very elementary education. Pupils were given religious
instruction and were taught to read.
We also have the first grammar schools that prepared pupils for entrance
into the colleges in Oxford. The Bishop of Winchester founded Seinte Marie
College of Winchestre (chartered in 1382 and opened by him in 1394).
Another very prestigious institution, Eton College, was founded by Henry VI
in 1440. Both Winchester College and Eton College still exist as very
Henry Fielding, the Duke of Wellington, William Gladstone and George Orwell
are among the many famous people who attended Eton.
Apart from those already mentioned there are a number of other ancient
schools that still survive: St Paul’s School founded in 1509 by John Colet
(?1467-1519). Rugby founded in 1567 and associated with the name of the
Victorian poet Matthew Arnold (1822-88).
All of these institutions provided specialised knowledge in Latin and Greek
necessary for their future studies in one of the Oxford colleges.
Apart from these academically orientated institutions there were also other
forms of formal education especially those of a vocational kind.
Apprentices learnt their trade skills in schools run by the various guilds.
Already we can see from the age of primitive man down to the Middle Ages
and the Renaissance the two essential forms of the modern system of
education in England today. From early times we have two separate systems
providing different types of education: academic and vocational.
We also see existing side by side two types of educational institutions:
secular and religious. From early times there has always been a close
association between the Church and education which has survived throughout
the ages. Schools run by religious organisations have always had a profound
influence on the development of education and still offer an invaluable
service to the nation.
EDUCATION IN ENGLAND (II)
The events that lead directly to the birth of the modern system of
education in England are to be sought mainly in the second half of the 19th-
There were certain individuals at the beginning of the 19th century who
were in favour of widespread education, however, for a number of reasons,
they did not have the backing either of the government or of the people.
Later on in the century leaders of the Chartist Movement and the Radicals
were in favour of some sort of national system of education. However, it is
safe to say that there was no widespread desire for the education of the
population as a whole. In the social legislation of this period education
did not become a real priority until the year of the first Education Act,
Obstacles in way of a national system of free compulsory education
The establishment of a national system of education came late in England
mainly because of the social, economic and religious climate of the
The higher classes of society had no interest in advocating the
cultural development of the working classes. On the contrary, the
effects of the revolutionary spirit in Europe reinforced conservative
attitudes that were certainly not conducive to advocating the
development of the critical faculties of the people as a whole.
Neither did the vast majority of the working
class have any real
interest in education. Child labour was common practice in this period
and working-class families were very reluctant to give up the earnings
of their children for the benefit of education. The employment of
children continued to increase even after 1850.
Also the effect of Protestantism, with its emphasis on individualism,
personal salvation, the private reading and interpretation of
Scripture, ran contrary to any sort of collectivist thought.
Religious conflict also delayed the establishment of a national system
of education. One example of this can be seen in the reaction to the
clauses regarding education in the 1843 Factory Bill. There was
violent opposition on the part of nonconformists and Catholics alike
because, according to the Bill, headmasters had to be of the Church of
England. Furthermore, the children were to be taught the catechism and
be present at liturgical celebrations as well as service on Sundays.
The Bill failed.
The idea of secular education had never been popular during the
century. Education had almost exclusively been under the control of
the established church. Furthermore, we should not forget the conflict
between secular and religious thought that characterised the century,
especially the latter half. Given the cultural and religious climate
of the century it became obvious that any nondenominational system of
education would be well nigh impossible. It was only in the 20th
century, with the rise of indifference towards religious teaching,
that general nondenominational schooling became possible.
Denominational education was further reinforced by the increase in the
Catholic population due to the wave of Irish immigrants during and