Bryce (1895)

Bryce Report Vol. I (text)

The Bryce Report (1895)
Report of the Royal Commission on Secondary Education

London: HM Stationery Office

Background notes

Historical context

Twenty-five years after the publication of the Report of the Schools Inquiry Commission (the Taunton Report), the Royal Commission on Secondary Education, under the chairmanship of historian and Liberal politician James Bryce (1838-1922) (pictured), was appointed to review the progress that had been made.

The Commission's report, published in 1895, found that four main developments had taken place:

First, the endowments and management of the grammar schools had been widely reformed (of the total of 1,448 in England which came within the terms of the Act, the Bryce Commission found that only 546 had 'not felt the reforming hand of the Commissioners'). Secondly, and consequent upon such reforms, the curricula of the grammar schools had become subject to greater scrutiny and change. Thirdly, the middle-class character of the schools had been further strengthened, although a narrow ladder had begun to be erected for the recruitment of a small number of working-class children to the secondary system. Fourthly, secondary education for middle-class girls had made considerable strides (Lawson and Silver 1973:335).

Despite these reforms, many of the schools remained insecure, with some suffering fluctuating pupil numbers and others in a state of decline This was mainly, said the Commission, due to poverty, but other factors included geographical position, the inefficiency of some headmasters, and growing competition from higher grade schools.

However, Bryce found that some schools were now offering 'an enlarged education' and that there was 'a wider and more intelligent interest in it' (Bryce 1895:16).

Thus in 1887, Hull grammar school, despite having only about forty boys, provided

a standard course consisting of Latin, French, English, scripture, history, geography, writing and mathematics, with drill twice a week and singing for the first two forms. Greek and German were optional in the top two forms, and classes in book-keeping and shorthand were available (Lawson and Silver 1973:336).
And at Read's grammar school in Corby the timetable included 'divinity, Latin, reading, writing, mathematics, English grammar and literature, French, mechanics, geography, vocal music and drawing' (Lawson and Silver 1973:336).

Bryce found that over half of the 4,200 undergraduates of Oxford and Cambridge in 1894 came from the 89 schools represented on the Headmasters' Conference, 17 per cent came from other schools in England and nearly as many from private study or home tuition. Only two per cent came from the ranks of pupil teachers, teacher training colleges or public elementary schools. The door was not closed on a poor boy of talent, but it was not open very far. 'Jude was still likely to remain obscure' (Crowther 1959:11).

Surveys of the extent of secondary provision in seven counties, conducted on behalf of the Bryce Commission in 1894, revealed that a quarter of the pupils in all the secondary schools (excluding only those schools in which the headmaster was the proprietor) had formerly attended elementary schools, though the range of variation was very wide.

Crowther argues that

It would be wrong to picture the endowed grammar schools of England at that time as upper class or middle class preserves to which a mere handful of elementary school boys were admitted (Crowther 1959:11).
Indeed, says Crowther, the main complaint about the endowed grammar schools was not that they were socially exclusive, but that there were not nearly enough of them, so that only about five elementary school pupils in a thousand were able to gain admission to them (Crowther (1959:11).

This shortage was offset - to some extent - by the growth of the higher grade elementary schools, which provided a route into secondary, and sometimes higher, education for boys and girls who would otherwise have been deprived of it: 'At least one Nobel Prizewinner was a pupil in a higher grade elementary school' (Crowther (1959:11).

In the seven counties surveyed, only four per cent of all boys and girls aged 14 or 15 were still at school and just one per cent of those aged 16 and 17:

It is only necessary to remember that among the professional classes it was already the practice for boys and girls to stay at school at least until 16, and often to 18, to realise how small was the chance of a working man's child, especially a daughter, learning at school more than the traditional 3R's. It would appear that less than one-third of all pupils aged 14 or over were girls (Crowther 1959:11).
With regard to the provision of secondary schools, Bryce recommended that for every thousand of the population secondary education should be made available to just ten children, of whom eight would be in the 'third grade'. This meant that, out of 4,000,000 children, 64,000 would be educated in the first and second grade schools, and 256,000 in the third grade. The Commission commented that 'These distinctions corresponded roughly, but by no means exactly, to the gradations of society' (Bryce 1895:131).

It would be necessary to utilise every suitable existing school, including, for example, all those private schools (but only those) which accepted public tests of efficiency. First grade schools for boys already existed in sufficient numbers, but there was a shortage of second and third grade schools at a cost which would be within the reach of parents of limited means. The rapid growth and success of the higher grade board schools, especially in larger towns, indicated the extent of the demand for third grade secondary education at a cheap rate. These higher grade elementary schools were doing much to meet the demand in many places; but there were not enough of them, and proprietary schools could not supply a similar education unless they received state aid.

The Commissioners stressed that a literary type of secondary education should be provided alongside the scientific and technical type, and that promising pupils should be able to transfer to higher schools.

They were also concerned about the training of secondary teachers, which they argued should be 'systematic and thorough': 'At present the absence of such training is one of the causes which injuriously affect Secondary Education' (Bryce 1895:80).

They went on:

In every phase of secondary teaching, the first aim should be to educate the mind, and not merely to convey information. It is a fundamental fault, which pervades many parts of the secondary teaching now given in England, that the subject (literary, scientific, or technical) is too often taught in such a manner that it has little or no educational value. The largest of the problems which concern the future of Secondary Education is how to secure, as far as possible, that in all schools and in every branch of study the pupils shall be not only instructed but educated (Bryce 1895:80).
Perhaps Bryce's most important recommendation was for greater unity of control: both nationally, through a central education authority which, while leaving freedom of action to local bodies, could supervise the general interests of secondary education as a whole; and locally, through local authorities which would be responsible for all secondary (including technical) education within their respective areas.

Discussions about implementing these recommendations began in 1897 with a series of conferences held at the Education Department between the Incorporated Association of Headmasters and the Association of Headmasters of Higher Grade Schools and Schools of Science.

In August 1898 the Department issued a joint Memorandum on the relationship between primary and secondary schools in a national system of education, and Bryce's recommendations were effected by the 1899 Board of Education Act, which drew together the powers of the Education Department, the Science and Art Department and the powers of the Charity Commissioners over educational charities, to create a new Board of Education; and by the 1902 Education Act (the Balfour Act) which established a system of secondary education integrating higher grade elementary schools and fee-paying secondary schools, abolished the school boards and created the local education authorities.

Access to secondary schools was becoming 'a major social issue' (Lawson and Silver 1973:337). With regard to the scholarship system, Bryce warned of a 'deficiency of means for transferring pupils from one grade of education to another'. The demand, it said, 'has not yet been satisfied' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:340).

Yet there were still those who doubted the wisdom of 'over-educating' the working class. Education Committee Vice-President Sir John Gorst, for example, commented in 1901 that 'every boy and girl showing capacities above the average should be caught and given the best opportunities for developing these capacities', but he did not believe it right to 'scatter broadcast a huge system of higher instruction for anyone who chooses to take advantage of it, however unfit to receive it' (quoted in Lawson and Silver 1973:340).

There was clearly 'an acceptance of a narrow ladder from the gutter to the university, but a difficulty in reconciling its widening with old assumptions about education and social status' (Lawson and Silver 1973:340).


Crowther (1959) 15 to 18 Report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) London: HMSO

Lawson J and Silver H (1973) A Social History of Education in England London: Methuen & Co Ltd

The report online

The Report of the Royal Commission on Secondary Education was published in five volumes. Volume I, which contained the report itself, is presented here.

I have omitted the marginal section headings and, in Part III, the references to evidence from witnesses (of which there were hundreds).

I have modernised the punctuation, corrected a dozen or so typographical errors, and replaced l with . I have corrected two paragraph numbering errors (two paragraphs were numbered 61, and paragraph 126 was numbered 129).

Numbered marginal notes are shown as footnotes, unnumbered marginal notes are in [square brackets].

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 11 June 2018.