Key dates in the Sociological history and development of Great Britain



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Key dates in Education 
Great Britain 1000 - 1899


1148 Death of Robert de Bethune, Bishop of Hereford, pioneer in education. At this time parish priests were expected to teach reading and writing, often holding classes in their churches.

 1187 Oxford University founded.

 1223 Cambridge University established. See 1318.

1318 Cambridge University (established 1223) given the right to confer degrees.


1385 English to be taught in the grammar schools in place of French.  

1515 First free grammar school founded at Manchester

1535 Royal Injunctions made important changes in the universities. The study of canon law was suppressed and of classical Greek, Latin and Hebrew, and mathematics and medicine encouraged.

1560 Thomas Becon advocated establishing schools for girls in his “Catechism”, a manual for teaching religion at home. 

1570 Between 1550 and 1570 many of today's famous schools and colleges were founded. 

1583 University of Edinburgh founded (see 1562). See 1726

1657 A College established in Durham “for the better advancement of learning and religion in those parts”. 

1698 Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge established, having originated from parochial libraries introduced by Thomas Bray (1656-1730, clergyman); it encouraged charity schools for children aged 7 to 11 (occasionally 14) for their education based on the Bible and emphasising moral discipline and social subordination so as to fit a man or woman for the station in life into which he or she had been born.

1780 Re-awakening of interest and concern for the Charity and Sunday schools (see 1698), where, in addition to religious instruction, literacy and numeracy were taught. See 1808. 

1785 Sunday School Union founded. See 1811. 

1789 First Sunday School opened by Hannah More (1754-1833, religious writer).

1811 National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church set up by the Church of England to provide schools.  

1814 the British and Foreign Schools Society was set up by non-conformists. See 1833. 

1833 For the first time the Government allocated a grant of £20,000 towards erecting Church of England schools (later extended to Catholic and Non-Conformist schools), provided that at least half of the cost of the building had been raised by private subscription.  

1838 A Committee of the Privy Council established to oversee elementary education and grant aid to voluntary schools. Dr James Kay was appointed secretary and the first two school inspectors were appointed.


1840 Grammar School Act gave the Chancery Court power to alter the original statutes of grammar schools to meet new needs.


1844 Ragged School Union and London School Mission formed to provide schooling for those unable to pay the “school pence” demanded by voluntary schools.


1846 The Government took on most of the costs of training school teachers, although the training colleges remained denominational. A pupil-teacher system was adopted whereby, in schools approved by an inspector, children aged 13 years could be apprenticed to a teacher for 5 years and, after passing an examination, could attend a training college for three years.


1850 Public Libraries Act enabled town councils to establish public libraries and stated that access to the libraries and museums should be free of all charge. Extended to
Scotland and Ireland in 1853


1852 Manchester City opened the first free library (see 1850). 

Report of the Royal Commission on Oxford University found that the Colleges did not
provide properly for poor students, and that their fellows did not effectively live a common life or devote themselves to learning and research. They did not recommend relaxing the rule of celibacy for fellows.  

University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne founded.

1861 Royal Commission (chairman, the Duke of Newcastle, 1811-64) on the Present State of Popular Education in England reported that many elementary subjects were badly taught; that attendance in the rural schools was extremely irregular, many children not attending at all; most boys left school at the age of ten or eleven; and there were insufficient places for all children in the country. The Commission recommended the creation of local boards of education with power to collect a school rate and to build schools. One result of its recommendations was the establishment in 1862 of a system of payment "by results" in which the amount of the grant paid by the government to each school was decided by the attendance records of all children and the number passing an annual examination in reading, writing and arithmetic conducted by a school inspector. The system was modified in 1867 and abolished in 1904. 


1862 The Senate of London University decided by a single majority vote that its powers to confer degrees on "all classes and denominations ... without any distinction whatsoever" did not extend to females. Consequently Elizabeth Garrett (1836-1917) was debarred from entering the University’s examinations. 


1864 Public Schools Act  set out conditions for the governance of such schools. 


1868 Public Schools Act concerned with the governance of Eton, Winchester, Charterhouse, Harrow, Rugby and Shrewsbury schools; and provided for the adaptation of their original charters to meet new circumstances. See 1869. 

The Taunton Commission on secondary education, recognising the lack of grammar schools in many towns, recommended the establishment of rate-aided secondary schools, and the need for secondary education for girls 

State Medicine became one of the four subjects accepted for the MD degree by Cambridge University.


1869 Girton College for women founded at Cambridge, first students entered in 1870.


1870 Education Act  (Forsters Act) attempted to provide elementary education for all children; permitted school boards to be set up where voluntary school places were insufficient; the boards could build schools and compel attendance, but many boards did not use this power; fees of a few pennies per week were charged, with exemption for poorer parents. This was the first major education act See 1876. 

London School Board set up to provide elementary schools in London.


1872 Scottish Education Act, a major act, created the Scottish Board of Education and local school boards; and made school attendance compulsory for children aged between 5 and 13 years. See 1897.


1874 Endowed Schools Act transferred schools vested in the Endowed Schools Commission to the Charity Commission.

 Report of the Royal Commission on the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, (chairman, the Duke of Cleveland) recommended the provision of more professors and lecturers and more and better equipped laboratories in order to promote research and improve teaching. These developments to be paid for from a Common University Fund maintained by contributions from the colleges in proportion to their wealth. Fellows should be allowed to marry.

London School of Medicine for Women founded


1876 Elementary Education Act (Sandon’s Act) placed a duty on parents to ensure that their children received elementary instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic; created school attendance committees, which could compel attendance, for districts where there were no school boards; and the poor law guardians were given permission to help with the payment of school fees. See 1880.


1876 Medical Act enabled every university or other body entitled to grant qualifications for registration to grant such qualifications to all persons without distinction of sex.

1878 London University accepted women for graduation in all faculties; shortly to be followed by the Scottish and then the English provincial universities. Oxford opened its degrees to women in 1920 and Cambridge in 1948. The first four women to graduate in London were awarded their degrees in 1880. At University College, London, co-educational teaching was available in all faculties except medicine.


1880 Elementary Education Act  (Mundella’s Act) extended the provisions of the 1876 act regarding compulsory school attendance for children aged five to ten years.


1889 Education of Blind and Deaf-mute Children (Scotland) Act provided for the education to be paid for by the school board of blind and deaf-mute children in approved voluntary institutions


1891 Elementary Education Act made grants available to all schools to enable them to cease charging for basic elementary education. 


1893 Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act raised the school leaving age to 11 years.

Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act enabled the provision of special schools for blind and deaf children.


1895 The Royal Commission on Secondary Education,  (chairman, Lord Bryce, 1838-1922, jurist and statesman) laid the foundations of the future administrative structure of secondary schools.


1898 University of London Act established a teaching university with a federal constitution. The original schools were University College, King’s College, Bedford College, Royal Holloway College, Royal College of Science, South Eastern Agricultural College at Wye, the Central Technical College, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the ten London medical schools. The university had eight faculties - Arts, Law, Medicine, Science, Theology, Engineering, Music and Economics with Political Science. The university retained its external work and examining role. Candidates from constituent schools obtained “Internal” degrees and those studying elsewhere “External” degrees.


1899 Board of Education Act set up the Board of Education in 1900 to co-ordinate the work of higher grade elementary schools, county technical schools and endowed grammar schools, taking over these responsibilities from the Privy Council; and to provide for a register of teachers to be set up.

 Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act (1893) Amendment Act raised school leaving age to 12 years. 

Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act empowered local authorities to set up special schools and classes for these children.

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