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The Whig Educational Scheme of 1839

Annual Register, 1839, pp. 141-2

Taken from Norman Gash, The Age of Peel (London, Edward Arnold, 1973), with the kind permission of Professor Gash. Copyright of this document, of course, remains with him.

In 1833 the government had started an annual parliamentary grant of £20,000 for education to be administered through the two great voluntary societies, the Anglican National Society and the Dissenting British and Foreign Society. The inadequacies of the system and the unequal allocation of the grant between the two societies led to criticism and by 1838 the government was under pressure from radical and liberal supporters to exert a greater measure of state control. The Whig scheme put forward in stages during 1839 provided for

  1. the establishment of a Committee of the Privy Council to supervise the distribution of an increased educational grant with a system of state inspection for schools benefiting from it.
  2. the abandonment of the policy of making state grants only when a comparable amount was raised from voluntary sources (a system which gave an advantage to the Anglicans)
  3. the institution of 'normal' (i.e. teacher training) schools under state inspection and on a non-confessional basis with provision for general (i.e. collective) as well as special (i.e. denominational) religious instruction.

The scheme was in general welcomed by Dissenters as a large step towards religious equality.

The lords of the committee recommend by their report, that the sum of £10,000 granted by parliament in 1835 towards the erection of normal or model schools be given in equal proportions to the national society and the British and Foreign school society; that the remainder of the subsequent grants of the years 1837 and 1838 yet unappropriated, and any grant that may be voted in the present year, be chiefly applied in aid of subscriptions for buildings, and in particular cases for the support of schools connected with these societies. That the rule hitherto adopted of making a grant to those places where the largest proportion is subscribed, be not invariably adhered to, should applications be made from very poor and populous districts, where subscriptions to a sufficient amount cannot be obtained.

The committee do not feel themselves precluded from making grants in particular cases, which shall appear to them to call for the aid of government, although the application may not come from either of the two mentioned societies.

The committee are of opinion that the most useful applications of any sums voted by parliament would consist in the employment of those monies in the establishment of a normal school under the direction of the state, and not placed under the management of a voluntary society. The committee, however, experience so much difficulty in reconciling conflicting views respecting the provisions which they are desirous to make in furtherance of your majesty's wish that the children and teachers instructed in this school should be duly trained in the principles of the christian religion, while the rights of conscience should be respected, that it is not in the power of the committee to mature a plan for the accomplishment of this design without further consideration, and they therefore postpone taking any steps for this purpose until greater concurrence of opinion is found to prevail.

The committee recommend that no further grant be made now or hereafter for the establishment or support of normal schools, or of any other schools, unless the right of inspection be retained in order to secure a conformity to the regulations and discipline established in the several schools with such improvements as may from time to time be suggested by the committee. A part of any grant voted in the present year may be usefully applied to the purposes of inspection, and to the means of acquiring a complete knowledge of the present state of education in England and Wales.

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