Education in England

Preliminary pages
Introduction, Contents, Preface
Chapter 1 Up to 1500
Chapter 2 1500-1600
Renaissance and Reformation
Chapter 3 1600-1660
Chapter 4 1660-1750
Chapter 5 1750-1860
Towards mass education
Chapter 6 1860-1900
A state system of education
Chapter 7 1900-1923
Secondary education for some
Chapter 8 1923-1939
From Hadow to Spens
Chapter 9 1939-1945
Educational reconstruction
Chapter 10 1945-1951
Labour and the tripartite system
Chapter 11 1951-1964
The wind of change
Chapter 12 1964-1970
The golden age?
Chapter 13 1970-1974
Applying the brakes
Chapter 14 1974-1979
Progressivism under attack
Chapter 15 1979-1990
Thatcher and the New Right
Chapter 16 1990-1997
John Major: more of the same
Chapter 17 1997-2007
Tony Blair and New Labour
Chapter 18 2007-2010
Brown and Balls: mixed messages
Chapter 19 2010-2015
Gove v The Blob
Chapter 20 2015-2018

Organisation of this chapter

Political background
Educational background
   John Locke (1632-1704)

The schools
The grammar schools
Girls' schools
Unendowed academies
Charity schools
The workhouse
The education of the gentry
Schools in Scotland

The universities

The dissenting academies
The 1662 Act of Uniformity
The tutors
   Philip Doddridge (1702-1751)



This is the new version of Education in England: a history, which has been completely rewritten and updated. To find the period you wish to read about, please check the new chapters list in the left-hand column.

If you have any comments about this new version, or spot any errors,
please let me know. Contact details are here.

Derek Gillard
16 May 2018

Education in England: a history
Derek Gillard

first published June 1998
this version published May 2018

copyright Derek Gillard 2018
Education in England: a history is my copyright. You are welcome to download it and/or print it for your own personal use, or for use in a school or other educational establishment, provided my name as the author is attached. But you may not publish it, upload it onto any other website, or sell it, without my permission.

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Chapter 4 : 1660-1750



When the monarchy was restored in 1660, most of the reforms of the revolutionary period were lost and there was 'a virtual abandonment of the interventionist role of the state in education provision' (Chitty 2007:9).

The liberal movement was checked; the endowed grammar schools tended to become even more conservative than before; and it was only in the new 'dissenting academies' that further educational reform was pioneered. The education of the masses - such as it was - was left largely to the charity school and the workhouse.

By the middle of the eighteenth century urbanisation was gathering pace and Britain's industrial revolution was about to begin.

Political background

Disagreements between the various revolutionary factions - and in particular their inability to agree on Richard Cromwell's successor as Lord Protector - resulted in the setting up of the Convention Parliament which, in May 1660, declared Charles I's son the lawful king.

Charles II returned to London after nine years in exile abroad and the monarchy was restored, along with the House of Lords, the bishops and the Church of England. The clergy and the gentry were united 'in defence of the establishment against a resurgence of militant puritanism and republicanism' (Lawson and Silver 1973:164) and the gentry who were elected to the Cavalier parliament in 1661 were inspired by 'feelings of revenge and self-preservation' (Lawson and Silver 1973:164).

Parliament forced Charles II (1660-1685) to agree to a series of Acts (known as the Clarendon Code), which aimed to purge the church and government of puritan dissidents and strengthen the position of the re-established Church of England. One of these, the 1662 Act of Uniformity, enforced the use of a new version of the Book of Common Prayer and reinstated the requirement for episcopal ordination which the Puritans had abolished during the civil war. In 1672 Charles attempted to introduce religious freedom for Catholics and Protestant dissenters with a Royal Declaration of Indulgence, but was forced to withdraw it.

In 1679 it was revealed that James, Charles' brother and heir, was a Catholic. The 'Exclusion Crisis' which followed resulted in the birth of the pro-exclusion Whig and anti-exclusion Tory parties. Charles dissolved the English parliament in 1681 and from then on ruled alone. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church on his deathbed in February 1685.

During his reign there were two major crises. In 1665 the Great Plague forced him to flee to Salisbury with his family and court, and in the following year the Great Fire of London destroyed around 13,000 houses and 87 churches, including St Paul's Cathedral.

Charles was a notable patron of the arts and sciences. He founded the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, supported the scientists who formed the Royal Society in 1662, and was the personal patron of architect Sir Christopher Wren, who worked on the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire.

His reign saw a number of social changes: the influence of Puritanism declined; in the reopened theatres bawdy 'Restoration comedy' became popular; and Restoration literature featured the works of libertines such as John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester.

James II (1685-1688) was the last Roman Catholic to reign over England, Scotland and Ireland. He was deposed in the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688, when a group of Protestant nobles, concerned to protect the Church of England and English liberties, invited William of Orange to lead an invasion from the Netherlands. James fled and was regarded as having abdicated.

William and Mary became co-regents in February 1689 and a month later they signed the English Bill of Rights, which limited the powers of the crown and set out the rights of parliament.

Two-party politics began to develop. Although the Tories had supported the Glorious Revolution, it was the Whigs (traditionally critical of the monarchy) who were the more enthusiastic in their support of William and so consolidated their position.

Protestant dissenters were rewarded for not supporting James II: the 1689 Toleration Act gave nonconformists (but not Roman Catholics) freedom of worship.

William and Mary ruled jointly until Mary died in 1694; William then ruled alone until his death in 1702.

During Anne's reign (1702-1714) England and Scotland became Great Britain under the Acts of Union of 1707.

Party politics grew in importance as the Whigs and Tories competed for power. The Whigs, whose support came mostly from religious dissenters, were in favour of a limited monarchy and aligned themselves with commercial interests; the Tories, whose interests lay with the landed gentry, were staunch supporters of the monarchy and the Church of England. Anne, a loyal Anglican, favoured the Tories. However, the Whigs grew more powerful during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), and in 1710 she dismissed many of them from office.

Despite becoming pregnant 17 times she left no surviving children so, under the 1701 Act of Settlement (which barred Roman Catholics from the throne), the crown passed to the House of Hanover and Anne's second cousin became George I in 1714.

During George I's reign (1714-1727) the powers of the monarchy were further diminished and the modern system of cabinet government developed. From around 1721, Sir Robert Walpole, a member of the Whig party, became Britain's first prime minister. When the first of the Jacobite rebellions in Scotland collapsed in February 1716, George sought to moderate the government's response and spent some of the income from forfeited estates on schools for Scotland.

George II (1727-1760) was the last British monarch to be born abroad and the last to lead an army into battle. In 1745 he survived an attempt by Catholics to depose him in the last of the Jacobite rebellions.

Educational background

It has often been suggested that, while the Elizabethan and early Stuart years saw an increase in the quantity and quality of education, and of social accessibility to it, the post-Restoration period was one of 'stagnation and conservatism, even reaction' (O'Day 1982:196).

However, historians are divided on the extent to which education suffered during this period. Lawson and Silver, for example, argue that

The division of English society into Anglicans and underprivileged non-Anglicans makes the Restoration an event of obvious importance in the history of education. The Restoration has also been blamed for extinguishing the prospects of reform held out by the educational debate of the revolutionary era, and for producing an educational slump - a long period of stagnation after the vigorous expansion of the previous 100 years. Humanitarianism and social concern were certainly much less in evidence after 1660 but education as a whole suffered no immediate setback. What is remarkable is the educational continuity. When the slump came a generation later there were other reasons for it than the Restoration (Lawson and Silver 1973:167-8).

And Rosemary O'Day argues that the conservatism of the post-Restoration period was a continuation of pre-existing trends:

The English élite were already reacting against the idea of extending an academic education to all classes well before the Revolution: the events of that period merely strengthened their conviction that a little learning was a dangerous thing in the hands of the lower social orders (O'Day 1982:196).
As a result, the development of a system of state-funded elementary schools, which had been begun during the Commonwealth, now ground to a halt; the ideal of universal education was abandoned; and the reformers' proposals for vocational training in schools of husbandry or mechanics were 'relegated to the sphere of utopian phantasy' (Webster 1975:244).

Some argued that the role of the teacher was important. As classical education became unpopular with all but the governing elite, theories of vernacular and vocational teaching were developed and some writers began to emphasise the importance of teaching methods and to suggest that teachers needed training.

Unfortunately this view was largely ignored, and in many schools the children - with no training - were also the teachers. 'If satisfactory results could be obtained using untutored labour, how could it be maintained that a trained teaching profession was necessary?' (O'Day 1982:177).

Worse still were the workhouses, which were mostly 'motivated by purely economic considerations, rather than by a genuine humanitarian belief in the value of education' (Webster 1975:244). Thus Charles Willoughby declared that in order to achieve national prosperity, workhouses 'ought to be the next thing after the improvement of land' (quoted in Webster 1975:244).

So by the time the industrial revolution began, training had become little more than economic exploitation. The education of the lower class survived only in the charity schools, whose aim was 'to instil the basic literacy needed for moral and religious conformity' (Webster 1975:245).

Consideration of elementary education in terms familiar to Hartlib was not given widespread official expression in England until the middle of the nineteenth century, when advocates of state education again appealed for a more humanitarian attitude to universal education (Webster 1975:245).

John Locke (1632-1704)

One of the key figures of the period was the philosopher John Locke (pictured - from the portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller), who published Some Thoughts Concerning Education in 1693.

Locke attended Westminster School and studied at Christ Church Oxford where he later became a don and tutored the sons of several wealthy families.

He was important because he adapted the work of earlier classical and Renaissance writers for his own age, giving a new direction to educational thought through his insight into human understanding:

From this springs his respect for children and their natural rights, and his insistence on their special needs, interests and capabilities. From this, too, stems his conviction of the importance of the early years in the formation of character, and his view that education means less the acquisition of knowledge than the cultivation of mental and physical powers through habit, formed by precept and practice (Lawson and Silver 1973:175).
He argued strongly for the teaching of English:
Since 'tis English that an English Gentleman will have constant use of, that is the Language he should chiefly cultivate, and wherein most Care should be taken to polish and perfect his Style. ... This I find universally neglected, and no Care taken anywhere to improve young Men in their own Language, that they may thoroughly understand and be masters of it. If anyone among us have a Facility or Purity more than ordinary in his Mother Tongue, it is owing to Chance, or his Genius, or anything, rather than to his Education or any Care of his Teacher. To mind what English his Pupil speaks or writes, is below the Dignity of one bred up amongst Greek and Latin, though he have but little of them himself. These are the learned Languages fit only for learned men to meddle with and teach. English is the language of illiterate Vulgar. Though yet we see the Polity of some of our Neighbours hath not thought it beneath the publick Care to promote and reward the Improvement of their own Language. Polishing and enriching their Tongue is no small Business amongst them; it hath Colleges and Stipends appointed it, and there is raised amongst them a great Ambition and Emulation of writing correctly (quoted in Newbolt 1921:36-7).
He also stressed the importance of 'a broader intellectual training, moral development and physical hardening' (Spens 1938:13). His advice on the upbringing of children was advanced for its time. He disapproved of excessive punishments and argued that children
should be allowed to do without punishment whatever is natural for them to do at their age; their learning should be made easy and pleasurable and based on activity and curiosity rather than rule and rote, on discovery and experience rather than dictation and authority; and it should be inspired at all times by affection, not fear (Lawson and Silver 1973:176).
While these views may sound surprisingly progressive, it is worth remembering that Locke was
concerned with the education only of gentlemen - the 3 or 4 per cent of the population who constituted the ruling class ... mental culture was not for men of low condition, only for those with means and leisure (Lawson and Silver 1973:174).
He was in favour of private education at home and showed little interest in the work of the public grammar schools. As a result,
Locke's impact on grammar schools was small: Latin with some Greek continued to predominate, formal training by drill and repetition persisted and fear of the rod and the master's displeasure remained the chief incentive for learning (Lawson and Silver 1973:176).

The schools

The grammar schools

The fate of the grammar schools after the Restoration has been the subject of much debate among historians. Rosemary O'Day (1982:199) summarised some of the different opinions.

On one side, those arguing that the schools declined include:

  • AF Leach, who stated that the number of endowed free schools fell dramatically and that many of them stopped teaching classical subjects and became elementary English schools;
  • WAL Vincent, who suggested that the decay of the grammar schools was caused by the decreasing value of endowments, the lack of interest of school governors, the fall in demand for classical education, and the statutory provisions which prevented the schools from adapting their curricula;
  • Nicholas Hans, who argued that the schools suffered competition from various experimental forms of educational provision, including the private and dissenting academies; and
  • Rosemary O'Day herself, who concluded that there can be little doubt that 'the endowed grammar schools were in an unenviable position in the 1660s and beyond' (O'Day 1982:200).
Taking a middle stance is Joan Simon, who argued that these 'new' trends were in fact a continuation of old ones.

And on the other side, those arguing that the grammar schools did not suffer in the Restoration period include:

  • Richard Tompson, who suggested that the decline of the grammar schools had been exaggerated, and that the schools were in fact adapting themselves to changed demands; and
  • Lawson and Silver, who argued that, while it is difficult to generalise, the indications are that 'the endowed grammar schools flourished as much during the twenty or thirty years after the Restoration as before' (Lawson and Silver 1973:171).
What can be said with reasonable certainty is that the post-Restoration grammar schools faced two main problems.

First, after the Restoration, French replaced Latin as the language of diplomacy. Private schoolmasters 'spoke boldly of less Latin to afford time for French and other subjects' (Watson 1921a:1528). By the end of the century, 'every important department of knowledge then known was to be found in an English text-book' (Watson 1921a:1527), and in 1712 John Brightland published his Grammar of the English Tongue, 'a complete system of English education for the use of schools of Great Britain' (quoted in Watson 1921a:1528).

The practical importance of Latin had gone - it was not now the obligatory language of religion or the professions. 'Culture and knowledge were no longer enshrined in the classical languages alone' (Newbolt 1921:37). Furthermore, the humanist view of literature as the basis of education was now largely replaced with one which had no connection with humanism. This was the idea that education was essentially a discipline. The process of learning, rather than its content, was what mattered.

And second, the grammar schools were affected by an important change in the social landscape. Previously a broad spectrum of the population had used the local grammar school, which 'offered to the prosperous artisan in search of improvement the same basic classical education which it offered to the sons of the local gentry' (O'Day 1982:260). But from 1660 onwards change was brought about by the religious rift between members of the Church of England and the dissenters, and by dissatisfaction with the traditional classical curriculum of the grammar schools:

No longer did the commercial classes normally attend the same educational institutions as the landed gentry and the clergy. The value systems of the communities had diverged and this divergence tended to be confirmed through the medium of education. Whereas the gentry were groomed for leadership in the state at national or at local level, the son of the shopkeeper was groomed to make his own living (O'Day 1982:261).
In the 1670s Christopher Wase, Oxford University's printer and a former headmaster, conducted a survey of the grammar schools and published the results in his book Considerations concerning Free Schools in 1678.
Many of them were clearly as active and efficient as they had ever been, sending a succession of boys to the universities and supplying their local communities with merchants' clerks, scriveners, apothecaries, printers, attorneys and booksellers (Lawson and Silver 1973:171).
The picture was not quite so positive in country areas, however, where poor endowments and lack of demand for classical teaching was forcing some grammar schools to become little more than petty schools. Others faced competition from small private schools or from academies run by professional teachers in the towns.

Criticisms of the grammar schools continued as before. Many writers criticised the schools' concentration on words and urged the study of the real world. In 1661 the poet and physician Abraham Cowley, for example, bemoaned 'the loss which children make of their time at most schools, employing, or rather casting away six or seven years in the learning of words only, and that too very imperfectly' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:172). Others criticised severe school punishments, and parliament sought to clamp down on these in 1669 and again in 1698.

Despite the criticisms, there were few attempts to introduce new subjects into the schools during this period. The exceptions were at Christ's Hospital, which in 1673 opened a subsidiary mathematical school to teach 'the art of navigation and the whole science of arithmetic' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:172); and at Rochester, where in 1701 a school of mathematics was founded. 'In general, however, grammar schools remained firmly committed to the old classical curriculum and taught little else' (Lawson and Silver 1973:172).

The most successful grammar school of the period was Westminster in London. Under Dr Richard Busby, its pupils included Locke, Wren, Hooke, Dryden and thirteen future bishops.

Girls' schools

After the Restoration, more girls' schools opened in the provinces. Oxford had two girls' boarding schools in the 1670s. In Manchester between 1638 and 1673 Mrs Parnell Amye ran a boarding school where for 11 a year girls were taught reading and needlework and could study additional subjects - writing, dancing and music - for an extra fee. Between 1680 and 1714 Mrs Frankland ran a boarding school, also in Manchester, for the daughters of dissenters. There was a girls' school at Exeter in 1641. And in Leicester in 1687 the grammar school master's wife, Mrs Angell, was teaching 'gentlewomen scholars' (O'Day 1982:187).

References to such schools only occur incidentally in collections of correspondence, diaries and autobiographies but they do occur in sufficiently great numbers for us to suspect that every town of any size had a girls' academy by the mid seventeenth century (O'Day 1982:187).
The boarding schools had their critics, some of whom drew up 'Utopian schemes for religious schools for girls' (O'Day 1982:187). In her Serious Proposal, Mary Astell argued for better training for female teachers.

Several prominent men, including John Locke and William Law, were also critical of the type of education offered to gentle- and middle-class women. They stressed the importance of the education of women because 'it was the woman who, for the first eight to ten years of the child's life, would educate the children' (O'Day 1982:188). Others adapted this view to apply to the female school teacher. 'From now on, a few young women would receive a more academic education to fulfil a particularly academic vocation' (O'Day 1982:188).

Coeducational grammar schools began to appear in the 1680s. These included Waitby and Smardale in Westmorland; Haydon Bridge in Northumberland; and Kingsbury in Warwickshire.

Unendowed academies

Some unendowed academies had opened in the early 1600s, but there were more after the Restoration, when the growth of commerce and manufacturing encouraged schools to teach commercial, mercantile and navigational skills. They taught a mixed curriculum and were often owned and run by individual teachers.

By the end of the century there were five types of curriculum on offer: grammar, naval, military, commercial and technical.

In most cases this specific curriculum would be superimposed upon a common core curriculum for all pupils at the academy. Some academies, such as the Tower Street Academy and Islington Academy in London, might offer all five curricula; others would offer a combination of three or more; still others would specialise in only one course (O'Day 1982:208).
These unendowed schools, most of them in London, 'openly criticised the teaching methods and curricula of the free grammar schools' and stressed the advantages of 'individualised learning, merit promotion, small numbers and direct methods' (O'Day 1982:208).

Some of the private academies became 'increasingly fashionable' (Lawson and Silver 1973:172). In 1657 the Earl of Westmorland sent two sons to a private school in Twickenham, paying 100 a year for their board, tuition and servants. A school in Tottenham in the 1670s claimed to teach geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and geography, with gardening, dancing, singing and music, in addition to Latin. Fees ranged from 20 a year for 'ordinary persons' to 30 a year for 'persons of greater quality' (Lawson and Silver 1973:172). The schools' pupils were said to include the grandsons of the Earl of Anglesey.

Charity schools

Increasing urbanisation was beginning to create new problems and exacerbate existing ones - including widespread poverty - which few seemed very keen to to do anything about.

In the early Stuart period (1603-49) the Privy Council had been reluctant to enforce the Elizabethan Poor Law, and administration of the law 'sank to a new low, with parish overseers in town and country failing to apprentice poor children' (O'Day 1982:248).

Furthermore, the civil wars had resulted in 'serious disruption in both the administration of the poor law and in private giving' (O'Day 1982:248). Between 1641 and 1647 the number of children at Christ's Hospital had fallen from 900 to 682; Dorchester Hospital had been forced to close down between 1643 and 1646 for lack of finance; and there were more vagrants begging in London (O'Day 1982:248).

The first significant attempt to meet the needs of poorer children in the growing towns and cities was that of the Charity School movement, which began at the end of the seventeenth century and greatly expanded during the eighteenth. 'Schools which clothed as well as taught their pupils were the peculiar contribution of the eighteenth century to the education of the poor' (Salmon 1921:294).

Around 1685 local committees began setting up charity schools financed by subscription. The idea spread quickly and many London parishes opened schools, paid for by dissenters as well as Anglicans, and managed by committees of subscribers.

The charity schools were, however, something of a mixed blessing, partly because their main aim was 'the moral rescue as opposed to the moral instruction of the poor' (Williams 1961:135) and partly because they established the notion that elementary education was that appropriate to a particular social class.

In 1691 Thomas Tryon persuaded the common council of London to set up twenty free schools for the education of poor children. These day schools were supported by subscription, though some also had a permanent endowment. They were open only to poor children, unlike the parish schools which served the whole community.

Many charity schools (though probably not as many as was previously believed) were set up by the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK), founded in 1699. The Society also made some provision for the training of teachers.

The SPCK encouraged the foundation of subscription schools - and the adaptation of existing schools -

for the education of poor children in the knowledge and practice of the Christian Religion, as professed and taught in the Church of England ... and for teaching them such other things as are most suitable to their condition (quoted in O'Day 1982:254).
The SPCK was only incidentally concerned with the relief of poverty:
Its priorities were different from those of the founders of the Blue Coat Charity schools and subscription schools. Its members bewailed the decline of religion among the poor. It was this decline which they wished to arrest. Academic learning was peripheral in their scheme (O'Day 1982:254).
The main aim of the SPCK in setting up schools 'was to counter nonconformist influence in elementary education, to support high church doctrinal positions and to play the game of high church politics' (O'Day 1982:255).

The model rules of the SPCK required that the master (or mistress) must be

a member of the Church of England, of a sober life and conversation, and not under the age of 25 years; one that frequents the Holy Communion; one that hath a good government of himself and passions; one of a meek temper and humble behaviour; one of a good genius for teaching; one who understands well the grounds and principles of the Christian religion; ... one who can write a good hand, and who understands the grounds of arithmetic; one who keeps good orders in his family (quoted in Salmon 1921:294).
School hours were 7 to 11 and 1 to 5 during the summer; 8 to 11 and 1 to 4 in the winter.

The master was to instruct his pupils in the principles of the Christian religion

as they are laid down in the Church Catechism, which he shall first teach them to pronounce distinctly and plainly, and then in order to practise, shall explain it to the meanest capacity ... and this shall be done constantly twice a week (quoted in Salmon 1921:294).
The pupils were also to be taught 'to spell and read well in the Bible, and afterwards to write and cast accompt as they are capable in order to qualify them for service or apprenticeship' (quoted in Salmon 1921:294).

There was much criticism of the charity schools, often from those who objected to the very idea of educating the masses: 'proponents of liberal political economy objected to all forms of education for the poor - and particularly Charity Schools - as dangerous and misconceived prototypes of benevolence' (Chitty 2007:14). Too much schooling, they believed, 'would simply make the working poor discontented with their lot' (Chitty 2004:4).

One such critic was Bernard Mandeville who, in 1714, published The Fable of the Bees; with an Essay on Charity and Charity Schools. The second edition, in two volumes, had run to six editions by 1732, indicating that 'a good many others shared the opinions of the author' (Salmon 1921:294).

Mandeville argued that the charity schools would not promote religion because 'the most knowing and polite part of a nation have everywhere the least of it', and 'ignorance is, to a proverb, counted the mother of devotion'. Neither would they promote good manners, because 'the master is not greatly qualified, as may be guessed by his salary; and, if he could teach ... manners, he has not time for it'. As to reading and writing, these were 'acquirements which only unfit the poor for their proper work, and puff them up with conceit' (quoted in Salmon 1921:294).

Despite the objections, the number of charity schools grew. By 1746 there were around 1,500 schools with almost 30,000 pupils; by the end of the eighteenth century more than 1,600 schools were teaching around 40,000 children. Salmon (1921:294) gives the following figures for 1709, 1720 and 1746:

In London and Westminster88131140
In England2541,0971,258
In Wales255771

In London and Westminster

In England
Total-19,87422, 258

In Wales

Total number of pupils

The workhouse

Rosemary O'Day argues that the education of the poor warrants detailed consideration 'if only because it demonstrates the use of education as a social cement rather than as an agent for change' (O'Day 1982:238).

As apprenticeships in the humbler trades declined, new workhouses were established in London and some larger towns in the 1690s. Some had industrial schools attached where pauper children received vocational training.

Many believed that poverty was the result of idleness and that the problem could be solved by the 'institutionalisation of the poor away from reinforcing influences' (O'Day 1982:248).

But the main motive of those who favoured the provision of workhouses was financial: they were 'swayed excessively by the desire to remove the burden of poor relief from the rates' (O'Day 1982:248). They also hoped that the workhouse would 'make poverty appear as undesirable to the poor as it did to the rich' (O'Day 1982:248). A humanitarian desire to help the poor 'was often a secondary concern' (O'Day 1982:248).

Thus John Locke was 'struck both by the rise in the number of over-large poor families and also by the idle habits inculcated in the children of such households' (O'Day 1982:248), and in his Report to the Board of Trade (1697) he recommended the establishment of workhouse schools for children aged three to fourteen.

Clerkenwell Workhouse, founded under the 1662 Act of Settlement, was designed to house six hundred able-bodied and one hundred impotent poor, but by 1687 half its inmates were parish orphans. The governor, Middlesex Justice of the Peace Sir Thomas Rowe, urged London parishes to send some of their poor children to the College or Nursery of Infants in the interests of 'making them capable of getting an honest livelihood by their labour' (quoted in O'Day 1982:248), but the expense was too great for some of the parishes.

In 1698 a new London Corporation of the Poor set up a workhouse 'which seems to epitomise the attitude of the better sort of workhouse to the plight of the poor child and the appropriate rehabilitative environment' (O'Day 1982:249). It aimed to provide a thousand of the able-bodied poor with short training courses in spinning, plus warmth, shelter and food. Unfortunately, the scheme collapsed 'when it became clear that the poor, having been taught to work, could not find employment' (O'Day 1982:249).

A workhouse in Bishopsgate focused on the plight of the poor child as being the original cause of adult poverty:

The initiators of the scheme blamed neither the economy nor the attitude of society as a whole but the environmental influences on the poor from childhood onwards. Vagrant and poor children of seven years and upwards were taken in, educated in basic literacy and numeracy, taught a skill and encouraged to support themselves by making their own clothing and shoes. Physically the children were well provided for: staff who engaged in indiscriminate whipping were dismissed; the children were housed separately from the adults and lame children were sent to a house in Bunhill fields where they might benefit from the country air and undertake relatively light work (O'Day 1982:249).
How typical such enlightened attitudes were is difficult to judge. Some workhouses made no attempt to reform or rehabilitate and simply aimed to provide for the poor as cheaply as possible. Thus in 1722 the Governor of St Giles' Workhouse in Bloomsbury was told to 'maintain the poor as cheap as may consist with reason' (quoted in O'Day 1982:250). Others were even worse - their children were poorly fed, clothed and housed and surrounded by the evil influences which the workhouse was meant to counter.

Infants suffered particularly badly. They were often boarded out with foster mothers; neglect was common and there was little supervision. Jonas Hanaway observed that of the 122 children under the age of three who had been admitted to St Giles in 1765, 40 per cent had died within a month. A similar picture emerged at St George's, Middlesex. As a result of these findings, Hanaway and Thomas Coram established the Foundling Hospital and campaigned for better supervision of foster mothers.

The education of the gentry

At the other end of the social scale, the households of many of the nobility and gentry continued to employ private tutors:

the tutor was often a young man fresh from the university, who was paid 20 or so a year, had his own room in the house, dined with the family, and provided intellectual conversation for his employer as well as tuition for his son (Lawson and Silver 1973:174).
Thus after graduating from Cambridge in 1662, Samuel Taylor was licensed by the Archbishop of York to instruct the sons of Sir Roger Langley at Sheriff Hutton in North Yorkshire. And in 1673 Obadiah Walker, an Oxford don who had been a private tutor and travelling companion, published an influential book recommending traditional studies but 'attaching more importance to virtue, urbanity and good breeding than to learning: a gentleman needed to be well informed but not erudite' (Lawson and Silver 1973:174).

Following a period of private tuition, many sons of the aristocracy were sent to knightly or courtly academies on the continent, where they received 'a training foreign both in aims and in means' (Spens 1938:11). These academies taught young nobles not only horsemanship and the use of arms, but also modern languages, history, geography, and the application of mathematics to military and civil engineering.

Despite Sir Humphrey Gilbert's proposal in 1572, no academies of this type had been established in England. But now there were renewed calls - from writers including Cowley, Locke and Defoe - for the setting up of such schools. Others contributed their own ideas about the education of the gentry.

While in exile in France around 1670, the Earl of Clarendon 'reflected on gentlemen's education at home and school, at the university and the Inns of Court and through travel abroad, discussing opposing views in dialogue form but revealing his own conservative, traditionalist sympathies' (Lawson and Silver 1973:172-3).

The Gloucestershire squire James Boevey recommended 'not only grammar, logic and rhetoric but also arithmetic, accounts, geometry, geography and astronomy' (Lawson and Silver 1973:173). Some of his ideas 'clearly recall the child-centred, sense-perception theories of Comenius and his followers' (Lawson and Silver 1973:173).

In his Idea of Education, written between 1669 and 1684, John Aubrey, a 'friend of so many cultivated gentlemen of his time' (Lawson and Silver 1973:173) set out his plans for a number of aristocratic academies across England and Wales. He was 'clearly influenced by Baconian-Comenian ideas, and particularly by the mathematician John Pell, once one of Hartlib's close associates' (Lawson and Silver 1973:173).

Aubrey regarded the teaching of Latin, Greek and other traditional subjects as essential, but his curriculum also included arithmetic and geometry, civil law, politics and economics. After these studies, young gentlemen were recommended to undertake foreign travel or to study chemistry. Good manners and knowledge of the world were as important as book learning.

Like the Comenians, Aubrey was opposed to severe punishments:

there should be nothing here of terror or gehenna to fright youths from the love of learning ... no such thing as the turning up of bare buttocks for pedants to exercise their cruel lusts (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:173).
The increasing popularity of the courtly academies among members of the governing class 'was one of a number of movements which reflected the maladjustment between the classical grammar schools and the needs of contemporary life' (Spens 1938:10).

Schools in Scotland

Education in Scotland had previously been dominated by religious matters, but from the 1660s onwards there was a 'gradual adaptation of the education system to an increasingly secular society' (O'Day 1982:237). 'In this respect developments in Scotland closely paralleled those in England although often ... in a distinctively Scottish fashion' (O'Day 1982:231).

In 1696 a further attempt was made to establish a nationwide system of schools. The Act for Settling of Schools required that in every parish 'there be a school settled and established by advice of the heritors and minister of the parish' (quoted in Dickson 1921:1496). The system would cover the whole of Scotland and would be 'sufficient for the education of the whole people' (Dickson 1921:1496). Dickson describes this Act as 'the great charter of Scottish education' (Dickson 1921:1496).

But progress was still slow and patchy and, as in England, there was 'considerable dissatisfaction with the educational system as it stood' (O'Day 1982:231).

There were continuing calls for more practical education - especially for the poor. The unsuccessful apprenticeship schemes of the 1640s were revived in 1661 but again failed to take root. However, burgh councils often appointed - and sometimes paid - sewing mistresses. Glasgow, for example, did so in 1674. During the 1700s industrial education was promoted by the Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge and the Board of Trustees for Scottish Manufactures and supported by funds from the forfeited estates of Jacobites.

England and Scotland were united in 1707. It would take the Westminster parliament almost a hundred years before it could find time to consider the state of Scottish schools.

The universities

Some historians argue that the Restoration period saw a decline in the fortunes of the two universities (see, for example, the views of Shaw and Crewe in the section on The dissenting academies below). Lawson and Silver, however, note that the number of entrants peaked at around 850 in 1670, a level which had last been seen in the 1620s and which would not be surpassed until the mid-nineteenth century. Furthermore, the intellectual standards of the universities were sustained by men such as Wren and Locke and there were no drastic purges of dons. 'For some colleges this was a period of prosperity and academic distinction' (Lawson and Silver 1973:168).

There was, however, little change in the curriculum for undergraduates, with studies consisting of 'the Latin, and to a lesser extent the Greek, poets, orators and historians, with rhetoric and Aristotelian logic and philosophy, mainly from Latin commentators' (Lawson and Silver 1973:168). There were good reasons for the continued predominance of Latin. Although it was no longer the obligatory language of religion or the professions,

it remained the international language of learning, necessary not only for scholars but also for gentlemen of culture, as Locke and others insisted. It lost something of its practical utility only as translations and writings in the vernacular became more common in the eighteenth century, making knowledge of European languages more important (Lawson and Silver 1973:168).
There was less criticism of this focus on classical studies and scholastic philosophy than might have been expected, but concerns were expressed about other matters.

At Oxford, Anthony Wood bemoaned the decay of learning among the new generation of 'cavalier' students who 'lived like gentlemen, keeping dogs and horses and turning their rooms and coalholes into places for storing bottles' (Lawson and Silver 1973:168).

And Locke criticised the form of the degree exercises and particularly the 'disputations', on the basis that they 'lead not men so much into the discovery of truth, as into a captious and fallacious use of doubtful words' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:168). Others criticised the relaxation of the statutes regarding residence and exercises, especially for higher degrees, which made them much less stringent than had been intended.

However, outside the official studies the universities' increased activity in scholarship and research 'invalidates the accusation of decline' (Lawson and Silver 1973:169). This was particularly true in relation to science and history.


The interest in scientific experiment which had been 'so marked a feature of Cromwellian Oxford' (Lawson and Silver 1973:169) continued after the Restoration. The Ashmolean Museum of natural history opened in 1683 as a base for experimental science.

Among the notable figures of the Restoration period at Oxford were Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, John Wallis (professor of geometry from 1649 to 1703) and Christopher Wren, who was professor of astronomy from 1661 to 1673 'with interests in mechanics, medicine and anatomy before he took up architecture' (Lawson and Silver 1973:169).

Meanwhile, the newly-formed Royal Society flourished with the support of Charles II:

The Society's royal charter in 1662 and its wide membership drawn from the landed and professional classes illustrate the new influential standing of science in fashionable society in Restoration England. One of the aims of the Royal Society's journal, Philosophical Transactions, begun in 1665 and edited by Henry Oldenburg, was to publicize scientific discoveries and to attract the support of the leisured classes (Coward 1980:427).
Richard Lower and Thomas Willis, both Fellows of the Royal Society, pursued medical studies based on empirical observation; while John Locke's study and practice of medicine led to his election as a Fellow in 1667, and 'thus to his close connection with the scientific movement and to his conviction of the importance of science in a liberal education' (Lawson and Silver 1973:169).

But it was Isaac Newton (1642-1727) who was 'incomparably the greatest scientist of the age' (Lawson and Silver 1973:169). Born into a relatively poor family, Newton had been a pupil at the local grammar school in Grantham. He became a sizar (an undergraduate receiving an allowance to enable him to study) at Trinity College Cambridge, where he stayed from 1661 to 1696.

His work on the binomial theorem and differential and integral calculus in his early twenties led to his election to the recently established Lucasian chair of mathematics in 1669 when he was twenty-seven. Although he at first experimented with optics and telescopes in the manner of the time, he soon turned to abstract mathematics and the explanation of the physical world by mathematical concepts (Lawson and Silver 1973:169-70).
As a result of his work, mathematics achieved a much higher status at Cambridge and eventually came to dominate the arts course. 'An unprecedented amount of scientific investigation and publication between 1660 and 1690 was the work mainly of university-educated scientists' (Lawson and Silver 1973:170).


The Restoration period also saw significant developments in methods of historical research, as the ideas underpinning experimental science spilled over into historical scholarship, which now became 'founded on the systematic collection and critical study of manuscript remains' (Lawson and Silver 1973:170).

While history was not recognised as part of university studies, the notable scholars of the period - Anthony Wood, George Hicks and Thomas Hearne, for example - 'were all university men, some of them dons or librarians' (Lawson and Silver 1973:170), and it was the presses of the two universities which published their work.

'The Restoration began an epoch in English scholarship as surely as it marked a change in English politics' (Douglas 1939:26 quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:170). Lawson and Silver conclude that 'the universities' part in this activity further refutes charges of reaction and decadence' (Lawson and Silver 1973:170).

The dissenting academies


Following the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the Puritans' ambitious plans for new schools and universities were lost and state financing of education dried up. 'Educational expansion or innovation was thenceforward dependent on private initiative' (Webster 1975:242).

Fortunately, 'the educational impetus established during the Puritan Revolution was sufficiently strong for its influence to continue after the restoration' (Webster 1975:242) and, as academics were ejected from their posts, the educational theories which had underpinned the proposals for Durham College were now put into practice through the creation of dissenting academies. 'Not surprisingly the Puritans ... played a leading part in the foundation of these institutions' (Webster 1975:242).

Rosemary O'Day argues that the dissenting academies were not just about supplying education for dissenters but about providing a 'dissenting' education - 'an education which became much broader than that in the universities and in the schools established by the law and controlled by the church' (O'Day 1982:212). The dissenters' interest lay in developing 'a realist education such as that prescribed earlier by Samuel Hartlib, Hezekiah Woodward, William Petty and Comenius' (O'Day 1982:212).

The 1662 Act of Uniformity

The 1662 Act of Uniformity required all clergy, dons, schoolmasters and tutors to subscribe to a declaration of conformity to the Articles of the Church of England and to 'repudiate any obligation to change the government in church or state' (Lawson and Silver 1973:164). Schoolmasters found to be teaching without a bishop's licence would be liable to fines or imprisonment. The 1665 Five Mile Act imposed even stricter regulations: nonconformist ministers were not allowed within five miles of a corporate town and were banned from teaching in public or private schools. The 'repressive legislation of the Cavalier Parliament' (Lawson and Silver 1973:165) had a profound effect on the social, religious and political life of England for more than two hundred years.

For the first time protestant nonconformists, like Roman Catholics, were cast out, isolated and persecuted, and community life in town and village was split as never before. England became a divided society, and nonconformists second-class citizens (Lawson and Silver 1973:165).
Around 1,800 clergy and 150 dons and schoolmasters who refused to comply with the Act of Uniformity - the 'Dissenters' - were evicted from their posts.
The refusal of legal recognition to those who thus left the English Church and became Dissenters, by regarding them as still subject to ecclesiastical jurisdiction, though deprived of their preferments, and, therefore, as requiring the bishop's licence if they taught school (though possessed of every intellectual and moral qualification), at once deprived the grammar schools of their services, and made even the establishment by the ejected clergy of private schools an illegal act, and rendered such as attempted it liable to vexatious suspicion, and sometimes of imprisonment (Watson 1921a:1528).


Some of the dissenters turned to industry and commerce, and nonconformity 'came to be identified with the trading middle classes of the towns' (Lawson and Silver 1973:165). But many 'were driven by sheer necessity to teaching and school-keeping as their sole remaining means of livelihood' (Shaw 1921:467). They began setting up schools, and were often persecuted for doing so.

Life became a little easier for them following the 1689 Toleration Act. As a reward for their support for William III in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, nonconformists (but not Catholics) were allowed to have their own places of worship and their own teachers, provided they accepted certain oaths of allegiance. 'The penalties against teaching, though unrepealed, became largely inoperative' (Lawson and Silver 1973:167).

And when, in 1700, 'the episcopal power of licensing teachers was by legal decision limited to the Grammar School, Dissent flung itself into the work of education with astonishing zeal' (Shaw 1921:467).

However, there were renewed threats of persecution in the early 1700s, when the Anglican clergy and the squirearchy - the 'twin mainstays of Toryism' (Lawson and Silver 1973:167) - sought to clamp down on dissent.

In 1702 the convocation of Canterbury warned that 'the numbers of non-licensed schools and seminaries are multiplied and the dangers arising from their daily increase' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:167); and in 1709 Henry Sacheverell, a Tory high-church parson, attacked the dissenting academies as 'illegal seminaries' and 'schismatical universities' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:167).

In the 1714 Schism Act, the new Tory ministry 'aimed to destroy the nonconformists' educational system and re-establish the Anglican monopoly by means of subscription and licensing' (Lawson and Silver 1973:167). Tutors in noblemen's households and teachers of reading, writing, arithmetic or mathematics relating to navigation were exempted - 'because this would plainly have operated against the nation's commercial interests' (Lawson and Silver 1973:167). However, the Act was not enforced after the Whigs returned to power in 1715 and it was repealed in 1719. 'Thereafter the licensing of schoolmasters became an empty and apparently optional formality, and Nonconformists were able to teach their own schools unmolested' (Lawson and Silver 1973:167).


In addition to the academies, dissenters also opened charity schools which were 'elementary in scope and secular in range' (Shaw 1921:467). In 1674, for example, George Fox set out plans for a boys' school at Waltham and a girls' school at Shacklewell, and insisted on 'instruction in whatsoever things were civil and usefull in the creation' (quoted in Shaw 1921:467).

Shaw argues that

there is a thin thread of demonstrable connection between these earlier denominational schools and the late eighteenth century institution of Sunday schools. Raikes, indeed, derived his idea of the Sunday school from William King, a Dissenting card maker at Dursley; and Joseph Lancaster, the founder of the Lancastrian schools - later, the British and Foreign School Society - was a Quaker. If these later institutions have the credit of first spreading the idea of general elementary education, it still remains true that they inherited the conception itself from the earlier Dissenters' charity schools (Shaw 1921:467).
Dissenters also played an important role in the development of secondary education. Many of the schools founded after the Restoration (and a few before it) were commercial schools which provided education for a mercantile career. Hanserd Knollys's school, for example, founded in 1658, was located in the old Artillery Ground in Spitalfields and was frequented by the sons of City merchants. The school provided a commercial education but also taught Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

Indeed, 'However specifically commercial or mathematical any of these schools might be, the movement never lost its hold and insistence on Latin' (Shaw 1921:468). At Samuel Jones's school at Tewkesbury and at John Ward's school in Highgate and Clerkenwell, the teaching was in Latin, though these were probably extreme cases. The Quakers taught Virgil, Horace, Juvenal and Terence in their fifteen schools until around 1700, when they reformed their curriculum and removed these authors. In doing so, 'they stood practically alone for the first half of the century' (Shaw 1921:468).


There was no strict line of demarcation between these schools and the dissenting or nonconformist academies, which were established in considerable numbers from 1670 onwards. At first they were intended for the education of ministers of religion, but as they became well known they attracted laymen as well as ministerial candidates and the teaching changed to reflect secular needs. They often provided a wide curriculum, including (in addition to the traditional Latin and Greek), English, modern languages, mathematics and a certain amount of natural science, principally physics. They were influenced indirectly by educational developments in Scotland, Holland, Germany and the Protestant cantons of Switzerland (Spens 1938:12).

Compared with the traditional universities, the dissenting academies served 'a different class' (Williams 1961:133) and offered teaching at a higher secondary or university level, combining 'the functions of grammar school and university for those excluded by the law' (Lawson and Silver 1973:166). They provided 'a liberal type of education more in harmony with the needs of the professional, commercial, or industrial life of the rising middle class, from which most of their pupils were drawn' (Crewe 1921:30). By the end of the seventeenth century they were also educating some Anglicans who preferred their teaching to that of the traditional schools.

Most of the academies were short-lived, but a few survive to this day: the oldest is Bristol Baptist College. Several Oxford University colleges (Harris Manchester, Mansfield, and Regent's Park) also began life as dissenting academies. The need for the academies finally disappeared in the nineteenth century as the religious tests for university entry were abolished. The University of London, founded in 1836, was the first to be open to dissenters.

The tutors

The academies were 'small, domestic, private establishments' (Lawson and Silver 1973:166) in which up to twenty or so boys and young men lived with the tutor's family.

Ashley Smith divides the tutors into three groups:


those tutors who had experience of Oxford or of Cambridge, and whose aim was therefore to give their pupils an equivalent - often with improvements - of the good things which they had enjoyed in one of the ancient universities (Ashley Smith 1954:4-5);
second, those who
although not themselves conversant with Oxford or Cambridge, were still - so far as can be judged - attempting to continue the traditions of those universities; by ignorance or by design, however, they often departed in notable ways from those traditions, frequently importing ideas which they themselves had picked up in universities abroad (Ashley Smith 1954:4-5);
and third, those who
seem to have tried to construct the ideal curriculum, with necessary consideration of, but no unnecessary deference to, the traditional ideas (Ashley Smith 1954:4-5).
Samuel Jones was one of the third group. In 1711, Thomas Seeker (who would later become Archbishop of Canterbury) was a student at Jones's academy in Gloucester, where he wrote the following notes on the method of instruction:
Our logic comprehends all Hereboord, the greater part of Mr. Locke's essay, and the art of thinking. What Mr. Jones dictated was but short, containing references to places where it is more fully treated of, and explications when required. At our next lecture, we gave an account both of what the author quoted and our tutor said, who commonly then gave us a larger explication of it and so proceeded to the next thing in order. He took care, as far as possible, that we understood the sense as well as remembered the words of what we had read, and that we should not suffer ourselves to be cheated with obscure terms which had no meaning. Though no great admirer of the old logic, he has taken a great deal of pains in explaining and correcting Hereboord, and has, for the most part, made him intelligible or shewn that he is not so ...

We are obliged to rise at five of the clock every morning, and to speak Latin always, except when below stairs with the family. The people where we live are very civil, and the greatest inconvenience we suffer is that we fill the house rather too much, being 16 in number besides Mr. Jones. But I suppose the increase of his Academy will oblige him to remove next Spring. We pass our time very agreeably betwixt study and conversation with our tutor, who is always ready to discourse freely of any thing that is useful, and allows us all imaginable liberty of making objections against his opinion and prosecuting them as far as we can. In this and everything else he shows himself so much a gentleman, and manifests so great an affection and tenderness for his pupils as cannot but command respect and love. I almost forgot to mention our tutor's library, which is composed for the most part of foreign books, which seem to be very well chosen and are every way of great advantage to us (quoted in Shaw 1921:468).

Richard Frankland, a former Cambridge don who had been evicted from Bishop Auckland, opened his academy at Rathmell near Settle in 1668. It lasted for thirty years and had up to eighty students. Frankland and his two assistants taught the classics, theology, philosophy and science. Most of his students were prepared for the Presbyterian ministry, but some went into other occupations, including medicine, after further training at Edinburgh, 'where, as at the other Scottish universities, there was no religious bar to admission' (Lawson and Silver 1973:166).

Philip Doddridge (1702-1751)

Another tutor who attempted to construct the ideal curriculum was Philip Doddridge, whose father had been rector of Shepperton, Middlesex, until he was ejected from his living following the 1662 Act of Uniformity.

In 1719 Philip entered the dissenting academy at Kibworth in Leicestershire where he was taught by John Jennings. Four years later he was chosen to run a new academy at Market Harborough. This moved many times and became known as Northampton Academy.

The importance of Doddridge, argues Ashley Smith, was threefold:

He, to a far greater extent than any of his predecessors, seems to have attempted to justify every item in his curriculum without admitting as justification either educational tradition or the example of the universities. Secondly, his friendship with [Isaac] Watts made him at once a contributor to the final working out of Watts' ideas and a pioneer in putting them into practice. Thirdly, Doddridge trained several men who were to become tutors and use his methods in a surprisingly varied assortment of subsequent academies (Ashley Smith 1954:129-130).
Doddridge's early course was described by a former pupil, Job Orton:
... at Midsummer, 1729, he opened his Academy: His first Lecture to his Pupils was of a religious Kind; shewing the Nature, Reasonableness and Advantages of acknowledging GOD in their Studies. The next contained Directions for their Behaviour to him, to one another, to the Family and all about them: Then he proceeded to common lectures (quoted in Ashley Smith 1954:130).
A significant feature of Doddridge's academy was his use of English as the teaching medium. His curriculum included natural science and he felt that his method of teaching it was modern. In 1745 he wrote 'We do little more than make the experiments, with a short account of the purposes they are intended to explain' (quoted in Ashley Smith 1954:134). He was involved in the foundation of a society in Northampton for scientific experiment and discussion.

Despite regarding himself as knowing 'but very little of the mathematics' (quoted in Ashley Smith 1954:136), he taught Euclid, algebra, trigonometry and conics (geometry relating to cones). His curriculum also encompassed some French, history and English essay writing, and he gave lectures on 'pastoralia and homiletics, and training in elocution and deportment' (Ashley Smith 1954:137). He was particularly proud of his course in Christian Evidences: 'the Proof of Christianity ... I think I may venture to say is here more largely and accurately exhibited than in any other place of education I have ever heard of' (quoted in Ashley Smith 1954:138). In his lectures on theology he made a point of presenting his students with opposing views.

Doddridge was important because of his influence on succeeding generations of tutors, which was exercised 'both through those tutors whom he trained and through the use of his Lectures on Divinity as the basis of courses in theology, psychology and ethics in many academies' (Ashley Smith 1954:144).


The dissenting academies adapted the traditional subjects of higher education and added new ones, notably the study of English language, literature and elocution, modern languages, modern history and political theory.

They also led the way in developing new methods of teaching. Ashley Smith suggests that there were three radical ways in which the academies departed from standard university methods:

First, some tutors in the earliest academies gave up the traditional lecture course consisting of comment on one standard text, and instead constructed their own courses to suit the special needs of themselves and their students ... Secondly, the tradition of free discussion in the academies contrasted with university practice ... In the third place, the academies led the way in the introduction of the use of the vernacular for teaching purposes (Ashley Smith 1954:263-4).
Ashley Smith adds: 'It is doubtful whether these three innovations by themselves would have achieved results comparable with those claimed for the academies had they not been reinforced by, fourth, an intense seriousness of outlook' (Ashley Smith 1954:264).

It is possible to argue, he says, that the dissenting academies 'anticipated modern university and sixth-form practice', and played 'the principal role in creating modern English higher education' (Ashley Smith 1954:265). On the other hand, it could be pointed out that 'the academies were merely a little earlier in the field with developments which were bound to come ... No doubt the truth lies between these extremes' (Ashley Smith 1954:265-6).

Shaw argues that 'The abiding claim of the Dissenting Academies to historical recognition rests on ... the high standard of academic education which they maintained during a century in which the English universities were nearly as palsy-stricken as the Church itself' (Shaw 1921:469). The ultimate essence of the dissenting movement, he says, was intellectual freedom - 'and the boon of achieving this freedom for the modern world is in great measure due to Dissent' (Shaw 1921:468).

But impressive though many of the nonconformist academies were, they also had their limitations: 'Enlightened education was only available to limited sections of the middle classes, and it was confined to certain regions where particularly resourceful tutors were active' (Webster 1975:244).

Meanwhile, the grammar schools and universities remained aloof - 'untouched by any liberalising movement' (Crewe 1921:30), so that by the latter half of the eighteenth century 'their teaching had to a great extent become purely traditional and formal, and they were rapidly losing their hold on the national life' (Crewe 1921:30-31).

It was in the dissenting academies, therefore, that the curriculum began to take on its modern form:

in the best of them, in the eighteenth century, a new definition of the content of a general education was worked out and put into practice. Here, for the first time, the curriculum begins to take its modern shape, with the addition of mathematics, geography, modern languages, and, crucially, the physical sciences (Williams 1961:134).
Which was just as well, because the industrial revolution was about to change the face of England. It would finally force the state to take seriously the provision of education, because industry would require 'much more than limited reading skills acquired through moral catechism' (Benn and Chitty 1996:1). However, progress in establishing a public education system in England would prove to be painfully slow.


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Williams R (1961) The Long Revolution London: Chatto and Windus

Chapter 3 | Chapter 5