Nineteenth Century

National schools and British Schools
Prior to the nineteenth century, there were few schools. Most of those that existed were run by church authorities and stressed religious education. The Church of England resisted early attempts for the state to provide secular education.

In 1811, the Anglican, National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church in England and Wales was established. Historically, the schools founded by the National Society were called National Schools (still an integral part of the state school system). The protestant non-conformist, non-denominational, or "British schools" were founded by Society for Promoting the Lancasterian System for the Education of the Poor, an organisation formed in 1808 by Joseph Fox, William Allen and Samuel Whitbread and supported by several evangelical and non-conformist Christians.

In 1814, compulsory apprenticeship by indenture was abolished. By 1831, Sunday School in Great Britain was ministering weekly to 1,250,000 children, approximately 25% of the population. As these schools preceded the first state funding of schools for the common public, they are sometimes seen as a forerunner to the current English school system.

Ragged schools
In 1818, John Pounds, known as the crippled cobbler, set up a school and began teaching poor children reading, writing, and arithmetic without charging fees.

In 1820, Samuel Wilderspin opened the first infant school in Spitalfields.

After John Pounds' death in 1839 Thomas Guthrie wrote Plea for Ragged Schools and started a ragged school in Edinburgh, another one was started in Aberdeen. In 1844 Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury formed the 'Ragged School Union' dedicated to the free education of destitute children and over the next eight years over 200 free schools for poor children were established in Britain. with some 300,000 children passing through the London Ragged Schools alone between 1844 and 1881.

Over 95% of children of elementary school age were already enrolled in schools well before it was made compulsory and free.

Government involvement
In August 1833, Parliament voted sums of money each year for the construction of schools for poor children, the first time the state had become involved with education in England and Wales (whereas a programme for universal education in Scotland had been initiated in the seventeenth century). A meeting in Manchester in 1837, chaired by Mark Philips, led to the creation of the Lancashire Public Schools' Association. The association proposed that non-denominational schools should be funded from local taxes. Also 1837, the Whig former Lord Chancellor Henry Brougham presented a bill for public education.

In 1839 government grants for the construction and maintenance of schools were switched to voluntary bodies, and became conditional on a satisfactory inspection.

In 1840 the Grammar Schools Act expanded the Grammar School curriculum from classical studies to include science and literature. In 1861 the Royal Commission on the state of popular education in England, chaired by the Duke of Newcastle, reported "The number of children whose names ought in summer 1858 in England and Wales to have been on the school books, in order that all might receive some education, was 2,655,767. The number we found to be actually on the books was 2,535,462, thus leaving 120,305 children without any school instruction whatever."

In fee-paying public schools, important reforms were initiated by Thomas Arnold in Rugby.

The Forster Act of 1870
The Forster Elementary Education Act 1870 required partially state-funded board schools to be set up to provide primary (elementary) education in areas where existing provision was inadequate. Board schools were managed by elected school boards. The schools remained fee-charging, but poor parents could be exempted. The previous government grant scheme established in 1833 ended on 31 December 1870.

The Act meant that compulsory attendance at school ceased to be a matter for local option, as children had to attend between the ages of 5 and 10, with exceptions such as illness, if children worked, or lived too far from a school. The Act empowered school boards to make byelaws for educating children between the ages of 5 and 13 but exempted any child aged over 10 who had reached the expected standard (which varied by board).

Introduction of compulsory education 1880
The Elementary Education Act 1880 insisted on compulsory attendance from 5 to 10 years. For poorer families, ensuring their children attended school proved difficult, as it was more tempting to send them working if the opportunity to earn an extra income was available. Attendance officers often visited the homes of children who failed to attend school, which often proved to be ineffective. Children under the age of 13 who were employed were required to have a certificate to show they had reached the educational standard. Employers of these children who weren't able to show this were penalised. An act brought into force thirteen years later went under the name of the "Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act 1893", which stated a raised minimum leaving age to 11. Later the same year, the act was also extended for blind and deaf children, who previously had no means of an official education. This act was later amended in 1899 to raise the school leaving age up to 12 years of age.
The 1891 Elementary Education Act provided for the state payment of school fees up to ten shillings per head.
The Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act 1893 raised the school leaving age to 11 and later to 13. The Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act of the same year extended compulsory education to blind and deaf children, and made provision for the creation of special schools.

The Voluntary Schools Act 1897 provided grants to public elementary schools not funded by school boards (typically Church schools).

In the late Victorian period grammar schools were reorganised and their curriculum was modernised, although Latin was still taught.

Funding of technical colleges
In 1889, the "Technical Institutes Act" was passed. According to D. Evans, "It gave powers to the County Councils and the Urban Sanitary Authorities to levy a penny tax to support technical and manual instruction. The curricula in technical institutions also had to be approved by the Science and Art Department. In the following year the Local Taxation Act introduced the 'whiskey tax', which made extra money available for technical instruction."
From April 1900 higher elementary schools were recognised, providing education from the age of 10 to 15.