Clarendon (1864)

The Report (Vol. I)

Clarendon Report (1864)
Inquiry into the Revenues and Management of Certain Colleges and Schools
and the Studies Pursued and Instruction Given Therein

London: HM Stationery Office

Notes on the text


Clarendon was the second of three Royal Commissions appointed between 1858 and 1864 to examine education in England and Wales and to make recommendations. Each dealt with the education of a particular social class:

  • the Royal Commission on the State of Popular Education in England, under the chairmanship of the Duke of Newcastle, was appointed in 1858 and published its report in 1861. It made recommendations regarding the education of the working class;
  • the Royal Commission on the Public Schools, chaired by the Earl of Clarendon, was appointed in 1861 and reported in 1864. It focused on the nine 'great' public (ie private) schools for the upper class; and
  • the Schools Inquiry Commission, chaired by Lord Taunton, was appointed in 1864 and reported in 1868 on schools for the middle classes.

Membership of the Commission

George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon (1800-1870) (pictured). After gaining his MA degree at St John's College Cambridge at the age of 20, Clarendon joined the diplomatic service, serving first as attaché to the British embassy in Saint Petersburg, and later campaigning for an end to slavery in Spanish colonies.

He held several government posts, including those of Lord Privy Seal, President of the Board of Trade and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1853, as Britain was 'drifting' into the Crimean War (his own description), he was appointed Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

He married Katherine Foster-Barham in 1839; the couple had eight children.

William Courtenay, Earl of Devon (1807-1888). Educated at Westminster School and Christ Church Oxford, Courtenay was a lawyer and politician who served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and President of the Poor Law Board. Heavily involved in local affairs and charitable causes, he was known as 'the good earl'.

George (Baron) Lyttelton (1817-1876). Educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge, Lyttelton was an aristocrat and Conservative politician who took his seat in the House of Lorsd at the age of 21. He married twice, producing a total of eleven children, and committed suicide at the age of 59.

Edward Twisleton (1809-1874). Educated in Oxford at Oriel, Trinity, and Balliol, Twisleton was a lawyer who served on several government commissions.

Stafford Northcote (1818-1887). Educated at Eton and Balliol College Oxford, Northcote was a lawyer and Conservative politician (leader of the party in the Commons for almost ten years) who held several senior ministerial posts between 1866 and 1887, including that of Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1875 and Rector of Edinburgh University in 1883. He married Cecilia Farrer in 1843; the couple produced ten children.

William Thompson (1810-1886). Thompson was privately educated before entering Trinity College Cambridge in 1828. He was a noted classicist with a particular interest in Plato. As Master of Trinity from 1866 he was progressive in outlook, taking an active part in the abolition of religious admission tests and in the reform of university studies and college statutes.

Henry (Harry) Vaughan (1811-1885). Vaughan was Regius Professor of History at Oxford between 1848 and 1858. In 1856 he married Adeline Jackson; the couple had one son.

Proceedings of the Commission

The Commissioners were appointed on 18 July 1861 and held their first meeting two days later. Questionnaires were sent to the schools in October 1861, and the Commissioners visited them during 1862:

Rugby (11-13 May);
Shrewsbury (22-23 May);
Winchester (29-30 May);
Harrow (2-3 June);
Charterhouse (16 June);
Westminster (21 June);
Merchant Taylors' (28 June);
St. Paul's (2 July); and
Eton (3 July).
The Commissioners held 127 meetings and interviewed 130 witnesses.

The Clarendon Report

(References are to Volume I except where otherwise shown.)

The Commissioners recommended changes in the powers and responsibilities of the governing bodies and heads of the schools. The governors' powers were to include:

the management of the property of the school, and of its revenues, from whatever source derived; the control of its expenditure; the appointment and dismissal of the Head Master; the regulation of boarding-houses, of fees and charges, of Masters' stipends, of the terms of admission to the school, and of the times and length of the vacations; the supervision of the general treatment of the boys, and all arrangements bearing on the sanitary condition of the school (Clarendon 1864:6).
Regarding the Head's responsibility for discipline and teaching, the Commissioners said:
the Head Master should, in our opinion, be as far as possible unfettered. Details, therefore, such as the division of classes, the school-hours and school-books, the holidays and half-holidays during the school-time, belong properly to him rather than to the Governing Body; and the appointment and dismissal of Assistant Masters, the measures necessary for maintaining discipline, and the general direction of the course and methods of study, which it is his duty to conduct and his business to understand thoroughly, had better be left in his hands (Clarendon 1864:6).
However, the Commissioners added an important qualification:
the introduction of a new branch of study or the suppression of one already established, and the relative degrees of weight to be assigned to different branches, are matters respecting which a better judgment is likely to be formed by such a body of Governors as we have suggested, men conversant with the requirements of public and professional life and acquainted with the general progress of science and literature, than by a single person, however able and accomplished, whose views may be more circumscribed and whose mind is liable to be unduly pressed by difficulties of detail. What should be taught, and what importance should be given to each subject, are therefore questions for the Governing Body; how to teach, is a question for the Head Master (Clarendon 1864:6).
With regard to the curriculum, the Commissioners' overall conclusions were damning:
If a youth, after four or five years spent at school, quits it at 19, unable to construe an easy bit of Latin or Greek without the help of a dictionary or to write Latin grammatically, almost ignorant of geography and of the history of his own country, unacquainted with any modern language but his own, and hardly competent to write English correctly, to do a simple sum, or stumble through an easy proposition of Euclid, a total stranger to the laws which govern the physical world, and to its structure, with an eye and hand unpractised in drawing and without knowing a note of music, with an uncultivated mind and no taste for reading or observation, his intellectual education must certainly be accounted a failure, though there may be no fault to find with his principles, character, or manners (Clarendon 1864:31).
However, the main preoccupation of the Commission (and many of its witnesses), says Brian Simon, 'was not so much with educational considerations as with the class issues underlying educational reform' (Simon 1974:305). Gladstone himself - an old Etonian who was about to become leader of the Liberal Party - told the Commissioners in a letter that the classics should be retained as 'the paramount matter of education' for 'that small proportion of the youth of any country who are to become in the fullest sense educated men' (Clarendon 1864 Vol II:43).

It was against this background that the leading scientists of the day - including Sir Joseph Hooker (1817-1911), Richard Owen (1804-1892), Sir George Airy (1801-1892), Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) and Michael Faraday (1791-1867) - were 'forced to frame their arguments' (Simon 1974:307). Faraday, apparently unaware that the Commission was restricted to investigating only upper- and middle-class education, was the most passionate in arguing the importance of science. Asked whether science 'trained the mind', he replied:

who are the men whose powers are really developed? Who are they who have made the electric telegraph, the steam engine, and the railroad? Are they the men who have been taught Latin and Greek? Were the Stephensons such? These men had that knowledge which habitually has been neglected and pushed down below. It has only been those who having had a special inclination for this kind of knowledge have forced themselves out of that ignorance by an education and into a life of their own (Clarendon 1864 Vol. IV:377).
The Commissioners 'were not impressed by such arguments' (Simon 1974:308), though they were convinced that 'the introduction of the elements of natural science into the regular course of study is desirable, and we see no sufficient reason to doubt that it is practicable' (Clarendon 1864:32).

When it came to the classics, many witnesses told them that the quality of teaching was often appalling. The Oxford academic Charles Neate (1806-1879), for example, described the Latin of most public school boys as 'almost invariably such as would under the old school system have subjected them to a flogging as boys of 12 years old' (Clarendon 1864 Vol. II:49). Furthermore, they were 'almost incredibly ignorant' of English, modern languages, mathematics, natural history and modern history.

The Commissioners agreed with Gladstone that the classics should be retained and reinvigorated so that the upper class could receive an education 'suitable to its station in life' (Simon 1974:309). However, they argued that more attention should be paid to the content of the works studied, and less to grammar and philology.


supported the introduction of modern studies, proposing the inclusion not only of mathematics and a foreign language but also of music, drawing, history geography, English composition and spelling and natural science ... All these should go to make up a regular course of study, in which classics (with classical history and divinity) should be allotted just over half the total time, science no more than one-eighth (Simon 1974:311).
To improve the efficiency of the schools, the Commissioners made proposals regarding the promotion of pupils, prizes, the importance of marking, entrance examinations and superannuation schemes - 'these have quite a Benthamite ring' (Simon 1974:311). But they also endorsed the traditional methods of public school discipline, including 'fagging' (with qualifications) and the prefect system. (Fagging was the system in which older boys used younger boys as their personal servants, often treating them little better than slaves.)

Finally, in order to complete the transformation of the public schools into purely upper-class preserves, it was necessary to get rid of the places which their founders had specified should be made available for 'foundationers' - poor and deserving local scholars who received free board and education. Winchester and Eton had 70 such pupils, Westminster 40, Charterhouse 44 (Simon 1974:312).

The presence of these local boys 'lowered the social tone of a school aspiring to attract the upper classes' (Simon 1974:313), and various attempts had already been made to reduce their numbers: places had been awarded by patronage or nepotism; fees had been introduced and then increased. 'These were longstanding abuses of original statutes and intentions which had persisted through the centuries' (Simon 1974:313).

In many cases these tactics had had the desired effect, so that the head of Harrow, Montagu Butler (1833-1918), was able to assure the Clarendon Commission that 'in no instance is any son of a Harrow tradesman now a member of the great school' (Clarendon 1864 Vol. IV:159).

The Commissioners sought to complete the process by recommending that the schools should be opened up to competitive examination, as had already happened at Eton and Winchester. They ignored the protests of local residents - even denying them the opportunity of appearing as witnesses - and instead, set out how local privileges could be abolished. They proposed, for example, that the number of foundationers at Rugby should be reduced to twenty-five by 1873 and eliminated altogether by 1883 (Clarendon 1864:282).

In this way, the upper-middle class 'divested itself of all likelihood of social contamination' and the public schools, originally intended for 'all classes above that of the Elizabethan pauper', became the monopoly of one (Simon 1974:317).

All in all, by insisting on the preservation of the classics as the main core of teaching, and by ensuring the final separation of the public schools from those for other classes, the Clarendon Commission created an efficient and entirely segregated system of education for the governing class - one that had no parallel in any other country. The Commissioners had done what was required of them, and had done it well (Simon 1974:318).
The Commissioners concluded their report with 'a paean in praise of the public schools' (Simon 1974:312):
It is not easy to estimate the degree in which the English people are indebted to these schools for the qualities on which they pique themselves most - for their capacity to govern others and control themselves, their aptitude for combining freedom with order, their public spirit, their vigour and manliness of character, their strong but not slavish respect for public opinion, their love of healthy sports and exercise. These schools have been the chief nurseries of our statesmen; in them, and in schools modelled after them, men of all the various classes that make up English society, destined for every profession and career, have been brought up on a footing of social equality (Clarendon 1864:56).

The report online

The Clarendon Report was published in four large-format Volumes. Volume I contained the Report itself; Volume II the Appendix; Volumes III and IV the Evidence (the written submissions and transcripts of interviews with witnesses).

The full text of Volume I is presented here in a single web page. I have omitted the marginal headings, modernised much of the punctuation, and corrected a handful of printing errors.

I have added explanations of a few archaic words and Latin phrases: these are shown in [square brackets].

Some of the longer quotations from witnesses were printed in small type: in the online version, these are shown as indented paragraphs.

There is a great deal about money in the Report. Britain's pre-decimal currency consisted of pounds (I have replaced the archaic l with ), shillings (20 to the pound) and pence (12 to the shilling). Occasionally there is also mention of guineas, which were worth 21 shillings.


Simon B (1974) The Two Nations and the Educational Structure 1780-1870 London: Lawrence & Wishart

Note I am indebted to Wikipedia for much of the biographical information.