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

XIV. Education

§ 41. The legislation of 1902

Wales preceded England in the organisation of secondary education. The Welsh Intermediate Education act of 1889 gave the principality a scheme which filled the gap between public elementary schools and her three colleges, Aberystwyth, Cardiff and Bangor; the system was completed by the incorporation of these colleges as the university of Wales in 1893. English legislation of 1889–90, dealing with technical instruction, brought about a chaos which rendered organisation imperative. The immediate consequence of the acts of parliament was to stimulate the Science and Art department’s mischievous system of examination grants, the transformation of all but the strongest grammar schools into schools of science, the entire discouragement of literary instruction and ruinous competition between new and old institutions. The great school boards, assisted by the Education department, had endeavoured to compensate for the lack of secondary education within their areas by the creation of “higher grade schools,” which, in some respects, partook of the nature of secondary schools, while, in others, they resembled the higher primary schools of the continent. These, also, became competitors, in some places, with the older schools under boards of governors, while they bred confusion in the public mind as to the respective functions of “elementary” and “secondary” instruction. The Bryce commission, appointed in 1894 to review the whole field of secondary instruction, reported in 1896, the chief measures proposed being first, the creation of a Board of Education, under a minister, to absorb the functions of the Education department, the Science and Art department and the educational side of the Charity commission, the new body thus becoming the central authority for elementary, technical and secondary education; second, the institution of a consultative committee of independent persons competent to advise the minister; and the erection in counties and county boroughs of Local Education authorities. In the meantime, “voluntary schools” had fallen into financial distress and denominational education suffered correspondingly. The general policy long before indicated by Matthew Arnold, reiterated by the Bryce commission and emphasised by the condition of the country and the menace of foreign competition was at length embodied in the Board of Education act of 1899 and the Education acts of 1902–3. The English state had, after a century of hesitation, consented to accept full responsibility for national education.