The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

XIV. Education

§ 31. Royal Commissions

The Newcastle commission of 1858–61 on the education of the poorer classes was followed by the Clarendon or Public Schools commission of 1861–4 and the Taunton or Endowed Schools commission of 1864–7; during the last named period, also, the Argyll commission investigated the condition of Scottish schools. The Clarendon commissioners frankly recognised the improvements, moral and material, which had been made in the daily life of the nine schools to which their reference restricted them; they praised their adherence to humane letters, their discipline, moral and religious training, though they thought the schools were too tender to idlers. But the curriculum lacked breadth and variety; every boy should be taught mathematics, a branch of natural science and a modern foreign language. The Public Schools act of 1868 recast the governing bodies and gave them power to make new regulations for the management of their schools, including the provision of new studies; but, so far as the state was concerned, Winchester, Eton, St. Paul’s, Westminster, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Merchant Taylors’ and Charterhouse were left very much as they were before. The Taunton commission was appointed to discover measures “for the improvement of secondary education.” Though the endowed school foundations numbered about three thousand, more than two thousand of them fell outside the purview of the commission, as they were giving purely elementary instruction. The commissioners reported a great lack of secondary schools and much inefficiency in the existing teachers, school buildings and governing bodies. They recommended a comprehensive scheme of national and local provision for, and control of, the whole sphere of education between the elementary and the public school; but parliament was content to appoint, under the Endowed Schools acts, 1869–74, commissioners with power to initiate, or amend, the schemes which controlled the operations of individual schools. This power was freely exercised until the functions of these commissioners were transferred, in 1874, to the Charity commission, with which body they remained down to 1900. Speaking generally, school schemes dealt with by both these bodies make the benefits of the school widely accessible, provide for the inclusion of modern studies, for exemption of certain pupils from religious instruction and (where necessary) for the abolition of the ancient jurisdiction of the bishop of the diocese.