Changes began to commence in the issue concerning education as firstly the population was increasing. In 1801, England and Wales consisted of about ten million; then by 1901 it had increased to over thirty two million, with children accounting for thirty to forty percent. From 1851, the majority of people lived in over crowded houses. Poverty increased in the towns owing to the immigration of the dispossessed workers from the country in search of employment, and the poor law system was strained by allowances and doles. The educational implications of this were far reaching, because the homes of the old villages ceased to exist as an educating force. Crime was rapidly increasing amongst children, who committed such acts mainly on Sundays, which was a non working day.
There was an agricultural and industrial change occurring. The disappearance of the communes, new ideas in farming and the Enclosure Acts broke up the old self-contained villages, and gradually deprived the agricultural labourer of his means of subsistence. From comparative independence, the state of labourers and small farmers changed to one of dependence, for the growth of mechanical industries, which had previously kept the villagers from want. This move required the illiterate to become literate.
The social order of agricultural times had broken the community into sharply defined divisions of society, but it was essentially a community with parallel interests, and the well-to-do classes had almost a stake in the well being of the lower classes. This morality issue led to the drastic shake up in the social services, including education.
The solution for this diversity was schooling. Child labour was criticised and once again, the solution suggested was for all children to attend school. The general opinion of the public had changed by the mid part of the nineteenth century which also implied that education was needed to be made compulsory for all children:
“I am in favour of higher grade schools being provided for the advanced scholars so that children of the poor have equal opportunities with those who are better off.”①
For upper class, girl’s education was not a necessity. The Victorian society generally believed that a girls place was at home. It was thought that the only accomplishment a girl needed was that of one which would get her a good husband and enable her to run a home. A governess taught some girls from upper and middle classes at home. The conventional role for girls was also changing as Henry Pain said that “facilities should be given for lessons in which both genders may participate in:” which showed the overall alteration in societies attitudes.
Education was regarded as entirely the concern of voluntary or private enterprise. Private enterprise in the elementary schools was the work of the National Society and the British and foreign schools society, representing the established church and the Dissenters respectively. Ratepayers were complaining about the heavy expenditure on education. The government was reluctant to appear provocative by intervening in a sphere that had long been associated with voluntary action. As voluntary schools began to loose influence attempts were made to provide a national system of elementary education on a voluntary basis, but discordant views prevented such co-operation. England in the nineteenth century was under the spell of laissez-faire and hesitated a long time before allowing the state to intervene in educational affairs.
In 1829 Catholics emancipated by law from disabilities they had long suffered, so they were able to provide voluntary schools. Other religious bodies joined in the growing need for elementary schools. However, voluntary finance would not be enough. Societies built thousands of schools without extra money and could not provide education for every child. A controversial issue about which party should control education was raised. Schemes, which were politically, morally and sociably desirable in them, were wrecked anyway to the inability of their protagonists to think socially.
The government marked the beginning of state intervention in 1833, when they handed small building grants to these societies. Its significance was that it was the first acceptance by the government of any financial responsibility for education of the poor. Central Society of Education reports (1837-39) showed that these schools filled the social controlling role more clearly. The grants were repeated year by year and were slowly increased.
In 1839, the government made two important decisions on education. First they decided to set up a committee to deal with educational matters after several changes this became in 1964 the department of Education and Science.) Secondly, it appointed inspectors to visit schools it helped. The main responsibilities passed gradually from churches and voluntary societies to the state.