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Education In Great Britain And Ireland

( Originally Published 1912 )

"Popular education in England has been a slow growth, beset by enemies, or rather by friends who were so anxious to have the good work prosper in their own way that it has come near being torn in pieces of them. . . . But from a purely educational point of view it has reached a firmly established position in which rapid changes are improbable. Popular secondary education, on the other hand, although free from political complications, is still in the making." LOWELL, " The Government of England," Vol. II, p. 295, p. 324.

THE very antithesis to France in respect to School Administration is to be found just across the Channel. In that country where " every man's house is his castle," the spirit of individual-ism has prevented the development of any such centralized system as is to be seen on the continent. To comprehend the complicated structure of the English schools is a difficult matter at best. This land of paradox with its sturdy sense of individual rights locked within a rigid mold of caste may be the better understood if we permit a few of her own writers to speak for her.

Says Mr. Graham Balfour: " We can see England businesslike and unphilosophical, some-what lethargic in her prosperity, slowly realizing first the commercial advantages of education, and then the possibility of applying scientific methods to the process : great in self-government, yet delegating to the localities only those powers which she intends them to use; making a working compromise at every step, and triumphantly disregarding consistency in details; strong in her sense of duty, greatly proud of her ancient institutions, liberal in grants once her hand is opened. There are Wales and Scotland, to whom education is far more dear : Wales, in a newly born fervor for knowledge, producing, as it were by magic, order out of chaos; Scotland, thrifty, prosperous, and wise ; with an ecclesiastical history ' the most perverse and melancholy in man's annals,' yet without a religious difficulty in her schools ; having taught her children for centuries past to mind their book and get on in the world, and to be independent and upright a lesson well learned at home and practiced with great success abroad. Last comes Ireland, poor and in subjection ; passionately attached to her faith; lovable and unreliable and helpless ; the child among nations ; the Celtic genius, mysterious and unpractical, ' always bound nowhere under full sail,' abandoned for long to obsolete methods and inadequate instruction, because reform meant the calling up of many quarrels."

And Miss Burstall : " We have never eliminated our minorities, we have preserved feudal and social distinctions into an intensely industrial and democratic era ; while the broad geographical distinctions of North or South, town and country, Celt and Saxon, are but the general indication of profound differences in the physical, intellectual, and spiritual conditions which inevitably influence educational needs. It would thus be impossible for any one type of school to satisfy the wants of the whole country."

To the American it is difficult at times to think of the unorganized English schools in terms of appreciation, but we do well to keep in mind the caution voiced by Mr. Hughes : " This system is very close to the national life. There is but little of the professional detachment of the continental school seen in England. In all these respects the system is characteristic of the people. To quarrel with it is to quarrel with the national character. In its lack of unity, its diversity, its tendency to compromise, its respect for vested interests, its remarkable variations of efficiency, it is English."

As already noted, the structure of the schools differs in the four different countries of Britain, so that we must consider each in turn.


Infant Education

England is the foremost nation in the world in its provision of educational facilities of preliminary grade. Over 2,000,000 children between the ages of three and seven are enrolled in the Infant Schools, which are "in reality ordinary schools for teaching the rudiments with some kindergarten attachments."

Elementary Education

Prior to 1870, elementary education was left entirely to the efforts of private individuals and societies. In that year, Parliament achieved a certain measure of control through the offering of public funds for school use. This control has naturally extended itself and has been more clearly defined by successive parliamentary acts. There is a broad classification of elementary schools into "provided" and "non-provided." The "provided" schools are those established by public authority and are known, too, as "board " or "council" schools, and therein " no dogmatic religious teaching may be given." The " unprovided " schools are those established by private venture, being in fact chiefly parochial. They are also, rather ambiguously, known as "voluntary." They receive State aid only upon maintaining an acceptable standard as to buildings, equipment, and pedagogic work. Of the various denominational schools, the Church of England maintains over eighty per cent.' Pupils enter the elementary school at the age of seven and pursue a course normally of seven yearly grades known as " standards." The enrollment for England and Wales exceeds six million, and the percentage of illiteracy is lower than in America.

Secondary Education

Secondary education is chiefly maintained through independent endowed schools. " The variety of the English grammar schools baffles the ingenuity of the generalizer." This diversity is due largely to the various forms of control exercised by the proprietors. The chief of these are five in number :

1. Private adventure schools, controlled by private individuals or partners.

2. Those controlled by a committee representing subscribers not registered as a company.

3. Those controlled by a Limited Liability Company.

4. Those registered by royal charter, act of parliament, scheme of court chancery, or other legal instrument.

5. Those controlled by local public authority.

Of the boys' schools the greatest number are in the fourth and first groups ; of the girls and mixed schools, two thirds are in the first group.

Secondary schools are not a link between public elementary schools and higher institutions. As Dr. Draper rather strongly puts it: " There is no educational mixing of classes, and no articulation or continuity of work. The controlling influence in English politics is distinctly opposed to universalizing education, through fear of unsettling the status and letting loose the ambitions of the serving classes. The placidity of the social organization seems of more moment than the strength of the Empire." Students enter the secondary schools at from eleven to fourteen (or preparatory departments at as early an age as seven) and remain to the age of eighteen or nine-teen, proceeding then to the army, the university, or a profession.

What are known in England as the great "public schools " are far different from those to which the term applies in America. These are the high-class secondary schools, characterized by Dr. Harris as " the conservatory of the higher caste of English society and exciting our admiration at the completeness of their equipment for this purpose." They are endowed, charge high fees, and accommodate both day and boarding students. They are some forty in number, of which seven, according to Sharpless, "would be included by the claims of history and character in every list of public schools." These seven are, with the dates of their founding : Winchester, 1387 ; Eton, 1441 ; Shrewsbury, ' 1551 ; Westminster, 156o ; Rugby, 1567; Harrow, 1571 ; Charterhouse,1609. Besides these there is a large number of modern public schools of vigorous growth.

The total enrollment in all secondary schools exceeds 140,000. This does not include a tenth as many more who attend the higher elementary schools, a form of day school continuing the work of elementary education and ranked, according to law, together with the secondary schools, as " higher " schools, as distinguished from " elementary."

Higher Education

The typical institution for higher education in Great Britain is the university, composed of a group of individual colleges or halls.' The University of Oxford dates from 1167, and was probably founded by students migrating from the famous University of Paris. It consists of twenty-one colleges and four halls, and together with Cambridge, founded in 1209 by emigration from Oxford, with seventeen colleges and one hall, enrolls some 7500 students. This enrollment is exceeded by the single university of London, founded in 1826 and reorganized in 1858. It consists of twenty-nine colleges and schools and grants the degrees of Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Science. The other universities as a rule grant only the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts. They are: Durham, Victoria (Manchester), Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham, University of Wales. " The provincial universities are quite unlike Oxford and Cam-bridge, both in aims and methods. In many ways they resemble more nearly the Scotch universities, and, no doubt from a similarity of conditions, the universities in America, especially the newer and smaller ones. In the first place, they are not collections of colleges, and do not undertake to foster the common life in an academic community which is the dominant note by the Isis and the Cam. . . . The standard of general education is not so high as at Oxford or Cambridge, and there is a more prevalent tone of direct utility."

The student's life is lived at his college, and it is around his college that his loyalty centers. Here he studies with a group of his fellows under the guidance of a tutor for a number of years, ranging from three to five according to his ability and industry. To complete his work he must pass rigid examinations at the university, and it is from the university that he receives his degree.

Vocational Education

England cannot be said to rank high in its provision of technical education. Said the Royal Commission, in 1884, " we seem particularly deficient as compared with some of our foreign competitors; and this remark applies not only to what is usually called technical education, but to ordinary commercial education which is required in mercantile houses." Much has been done in the way of evening continuation schools,' there being several thousand of these, but there is little of specialized vocational instruction given. There is, however, a growing movement toward the establishment of vocational schools of elementary and secondary rank. We may instance London, where these schools are of three types : trade schools for girls ; technical day schools for boys, giving a special training in certain trades, and preparatory trade schools for boys. The schools of the first and second groups provide a two-year course for pupils entering at fourteen or fifteen, while those of the third give a longer course, but admit the boys at a somewhat earlier age. In the plane of higher education the vocations are already well represented. The University of London supports a faculty in economics and political science, including commerce and industry, and provides courses leading to collegiate degrees. Similar courses have been developed in the Liverpool School of Commerce, in Manchester and Birmingham Universities, and in other institutions. There is also liberal provision for training in the professions, as well as in agriculture, art, and technical lines.

Education of Girls

In the elementary schools, sixty-five per cent of the classes are mixed ; in the secondary schools, separate schools are the rule, though in Wales they are largely coeducational.

In 1871 was founded the National Society for improving the Education of Women of all Classes, which later became the Women's Education Union. It had for one of its main objects the establishment of good public day schools for girls, in contradistinction to boarding schools.

The present-day secondary schools for girls, which Miss Burstall classes in four types, do not by any means give complete secondary education, the leaving age for most girls being sixteen or seventeen.

In higher education the opportunities for women are constantly increasing. The first institution to give them a thorough professional training was Queen's College, in London, established in 1848 with the special purpose of preparing teachers and governesses. Although the oldest of the English female colleges, it is not the type of the present college. It was followed by Bedford College (London) in 1849, by Girton (Cambridge) in 1873, and by several others. In 1874, the London School of Medicine for Women was founded. In 1878, London University opened all its grades to women. The older institutions are more conservative, however. At Oxford, where there are five colleges for women, and at Cambridge, where there are two, no degrees are granted women, but they receive a certificate that they have completed a course equivalent to the B.A. degree.


Some 800,000 pupils are enrolled in the elementary schools, nearly all of which are coeducational. The secondary school is, as a rule, continuous with the elementary and leads, in turn, directly to the university. Schools providing a three-year course of secondary education are called "intermediate" ; a five-year course, " secondary."

" For some years the Education Department has been steadily developing a great scheme of Secondary Education in Scotland. It has perforce proceeded slowly and gradually. Its whole aim was not apparent in the first circulars and minutes. But now the end is in sight, the full development of the scheme is at hand. It will find Scotland in the possession of means for Higher Education such as she never before could boast. Buildings and equipment are being supplied ; teachers are being educated and trained ; and the capable child in the remotest part of the country has open to him a clear path from the primary school to the University or the Technical College. All this is the result of the steadily pursued policy of the Education Department."

Much has been done in providing continuation classes for pupils above the age of fourteen, where the crafts or industries of the locality are reinforced, as well as advanced classes for commercial training. Higher education is given in four universities. These are : St. Andrews, the oldest, founded in 1411, with which Dundee College was affiliated in 1897 ; Aberdeen, on two foundations, King's College in 1494, and Marischal College in 1593 ; Glasgow, since 1893, including Queen Margaret College for women ; and Edinburgh, the largest of all, which replaces the old college, founded in 1582 by James VI. More than twice as many students, in proportion to the population, are in university attendance in Scotland as there are in England.


Ireland enrolls over 700,000 children in its elementary schools, and is steadily advancing the quality of instruction, which in the past has not been of especially high grade. The percentage of pupils' attendance and the percentage of trained teachers have both been steadily rising. In secondary education, progress has been made during the past thirty years through the work of the Intermediate Board, appointed to effect the State organization of this grade of schools. Two important services are credited to this board. " It has practically, if not actually, called into being Catholic secondary education, and it has given an immense impetus to the intermediate education of girls." In higher education, the University of Dublin is the oldest of several institutions. It is now entitled the National University of Ireland and has an enrollment, including women, of over 1000.

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