Newcastle Report (1861)

1861 Newcastle Report (text)

Statistics and Index (pdf file)

The Newcastle Report (1861)
The State of Popular Education in England

London: HM Stationery Office

Background notes

Historical context

Before 1870, elementary education was provided largely by the Church of England's National Society and the nonconformist British and Foreign School Society. The government had, however, made grants to these two bodies from 1833, and arrangements governing the distribution of the grants had been set out in an annual Code of Regulations, first published in a Committee of Council Minute of 24 September 1839.

By the late 1850s it was clear that the churches were unable to provide sufficient school places for all children, so the Royal Commission on the State of Popular Education in England, under the chairmanship of the Duke of Newcastle, was appointed in 1858

To inquire into the state of public education in England and to consider and report what measures, if any, are required for the extension of sound and cheap elementary instruction to all classes of the people (page 1).

Newcastle was the first of three Commissions appointed between 1858 and 1864 to examine education in England and Wales and to make recommendations. Each dealt with the education of a particular social class:

Henry Pelham

Henry Pelham (1811-1864) (pictured) was educated at Eton and Christ Church Oxford, where he took his BA degree in 1832.

He served as MP for South Nottinghamshire from 1832 to 1846, and then as MP for Falkirk Burghs until 1851, when he succeeded his father as Duke of Newcastle. He held various government posts, including that of Secretary of State for the Colonies in Lord Palmerston's Liberal administration between 1859 and 1864.

The Report's findings

The Commission published its six-volume report in 1861. It noted that

The whole population of England and Wales, as estimated by the Registrar-General in the summer of 1858, amounted to 19,523,103. The number of children whose names ought, at the same date, 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. The proportion, therefore, of scholars in week-day schools of all kinds to the entire population was 1 in 7.7 or 12.99 per cent. Of these 321,768 are estimated to have been above the condition of such as are commonly comprehended in the expression 'poorer classes', and hence are beyond the range of our present inquiry. Deducting these from the whole number of children on the books of some school, we find that 2,213,694 children belonging to the poorer classes were, when our statistics were collected and compiled, receiving elementary instruction in day schools. Looking, therefore, at mere numbers as indicating the state of popular education in England and Wales, the proportion of children receiving instruction to the whole population is, in our opinion, nearly as high as can be reasonably expected. In Prussia, where it is compulsory, 1 in 6.27; in England and Wales it is, as we have seen, 1 in 7.7; in Holland it is 1 in 8.11; in France it is 1 in 9.0 (page 293).
But it went on to warn:
We are bound to observe, however, that a very delusive estimate of the state of education must result from confining attention to the mere amount of numbers under day school instruction. We have seen that less than three years ago there were in elementary day schools 2,213,694 children of the poorer classes. But of this number, 573,536 were attending private schools, which, as our evidence uniformly shows, are, for the most part, inferior as schools for the poor, and ill-calculated to give to the children an education which shall be serviceable to them in after-life. Of the 1,549,312 children whose names are on the books of public elementary day schools belonging to the religious denominations, only 19.3 per cent were in their 12th year or upwards, and only that proportion, therefore, can be regarded as educated up to the standard suited to their stations. As many as 786,202 attend for less than 100 days in the year and can therefore hardly receive a serviceable amount of education, while our evidence goes to prove that a large proportion, even of those whose attendance is more regular, fail in obtaining it on account of inefficient teaching. Much, therefore, still remains to be done to bring up the state of elementary education in England and Wales to the degree of usefulness which we all regard as attainable and desirable (pages 294-5).
The Report was also critical of the quality of education provided:
we have seen overwhelming evidence from Her Majesty's Inspectors, to the effect that not more than one-fourth of the children receive a good education. So great a failure in the teaching demanded the closest investigation; and as the result of it we have been obliged to come to the conclusion that the instruction given is commonly both too ambitious and too superficial in its character, that (except in the very best schools) it has been too exclusively adapted to the elder scholars to the neglect of the younger ones, and that it often omits to secure a thorough grounding in the simplest but most essential parts of instruction. We have shown that the present system has never completely met this serious difficulty in elementary teaching; that inspection looks chiefly to the upper classes and to the general condition of the school, and cannot profess to examine carefully individual scholars; and that a main object of the schools is defeated in respect of every child who, having attended for a considerable time, leaves without the power of reading, writing, and cyphering in an intelligent manner (pages 295-6).
The Commissioners rejected any suggestion that attendance at school should be made compulsory or that it should be extended - the labour market required the employment of children, and
if the wages of the child's labour are necessary, either to keep the parents from the poor rates, or to relieve the pressure of severe and bitter poverty, it is far better that it should go to work at the earliest age at which it can bear the physical exertion than that it should remain at school (page 188).
There was considerable disagreement between the Commissioners over the funding of education, with some (the 'voluntaryists') believing that 'the interference of Government with education is objectionable on political and religious grounds' (page 297). However, they noted that 'all the principal nations of Europe, and the United States of America, as well as British North America, have felt it necessary to provide for the education of the people by public taxation' (page 297), and they proceeded to:
propose means by which, in the first place, the present system may be made applicable to the poorer no less than the richer districts throughout the whole country; secondly, by which the present expenditure may be controlled and regulated; thirdly, by which the complication of business in the office may be checked; fourthly, by which greater local activity and interest in education may be encouraged; fifthly, by which the general attainment of a greater degree of elementary knowledge may be secured than is acquired at present (pages 327-8).
The Commissioners commented that infant schools for children up to the age of seven were 'of great utility': they were places of security as well as of education, since they were the only means of keeping children of poor families off the streets in town, or out of the roads and fields in the country. They distinguished two types of infant school: the public infant schools, which often formed a department of the ordinary day school; and the private or 'dame' schools, which were very common in both town and country but were frequently little more than nurseries in which 'the nurse collected the children of many families into her own house instead of attending upon the children of some one family' (page 28).

The report online

Volume I of the Newcastle report is presented here in two parts. The Report itself (introduction and pages 1-552) is shown in a single web page. The Statistics and Index (pages 553-707) are in an image-only pdf file.

In the Report, I have omitted the marginal headings, updated some of the punctuation, and added explanations of some archaic words and Latin phrases: these are shown in [square brackets].

Many of the longer quotations from witnesses were printed in small type: they are shown here as indented paragraphs.

Much of the Report is concerned with money. Britain's pre-decimal currency consisted of pounds (I have replaced the archaic l with ), shillings (20 to the pound) and pence (12 to the shilling). Occasionally there is also mention of guineas, which were worth 21 shillings.

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 22 October 2018.