Samuelson Reports
(1882 and 1884)

First Samuelson Report

Second Samuelson Report (Vol. I)

Samuelson Reports (1882 and 1884)
Reports of the Royal Commissioners on Technical Instruction

London: HM Stationery Office

Background notes

Historical context

By the middle of the nineteenth century there was much debate about the importance of science and technology in education, partly as a result of concerns about Britain's declining economic position relative to other countries.

A science education movement emerged, supported by Professor of Chemistry Henry E Armstrong (1848-1937), who complained that science was being taught because it was seen as fashionable, rather than because it had any intrinsic value. The debate attracted a great deal of attention both in the press and in parliament, with many distinguished figures making contributions, but its effect in the schools was limited.

A Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science was appointed in 1870, chaired by William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire (1808-1891). It produced eight reports, in the sixth of which it noted that of 128 better-endowed schools, science was taught in 63, but only 13 had a laboratory and 18 any apparatus (Sixth Report p. 1).

Royal Commission on Technical Instruction

The issue of Britain's position relative to the rest of the world remained a concern, however, and was considered by the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction (1881-1884), which was established to compare technical education in England with that in other European countries. Liberal MP Bernhard Samuelson was appointed to chair the Commission, whose members were so committed to the cause that they toured the Continent for three years at their own expense.

Bernhard Samuelson

Samuelson (1820-1905) (pictured) was born in Hamburg to German parents. The family moved to Liverpool, where he started work in his father's office at the age of 14, and was then apprenticed to a Swiss firm which exported engineering machinery.

In 1847, he bought a small factory in Banbury which manufactured agricultural equipment, and later built blast furnaces in Middlesbrough and Newport. In 1871 he was awarded a Telford medal for his paper on the construction of blast furnaces; and he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1881.

He served as MP for Banbury for thirty years (1865-1895), and gave the town a technical institute in 1884. He received a Baronetcy in the same year for his services to education, and was made a privy counsellor in 1895.

The Commission's reports

The Samuelson Commissioners published two reports. The first (1882) was very much a preliminary report. In its 30 pages (plus Appendices), the Commissioners reported mainly on their findings in France.

Their second and main report (1884) was published in five volumes. The first (which is presented here) contains the report itself and one appendix.

The other volumes contain:

Vol. 2: A report on agricultural education in north Germany, France, Denmark, Belgium, Holland and the United Kingdom by HM Jenkins, and a report on technical education in the US and Canada by William Mather;

Vol. 3: Notes on technical education in Russia by William Mather, and reports on the English silk industry by Thomas Wardle, and technical instruction in Ireland by WK Sullivan;

Vol. 4. Evidence etc. relating to Ireland;

Vol 5. Foreign reports and appendices etc.

Samuelson's two reports marked an important stage in the development of public opinion on the subject of technical and secondary education. The Commissioners warned that Britain's industrial leadership was being challenged around the world by countries with well-educated populations.

In their Second Report, published in May 1884, they argued that

The best preparation for technical study is a good modern secondary school of the types of the Manchester Grammar School, the Bedford Modern School, and the Allan Glen's Institution at Glasgow (Samuelson 1884:516),
and they warned that the middle classes in England were at a great disadvantage compared with those of continental Europe because there was a severe shortage of such schools:
the existing endowments are very unevenly distributed over the country; in many of the large manufacturing centres no resources of the kind exist; private enterprise is clearly inadequate to do all that is required in establishing such schools, and we must look to some public measure to supply this, the greatest defect of our educational system (Samuelson 1884:517).
The Commissioners recommended that there should be a clearer distinction between elementary and secondary education and their reports indirectly strengthened the position of higher grade schools and enriched the curriculum of elementary schools.

They defined technical education as including languages, mathematics, history and geography, and recommended that scholarships should be established from the higher grade schools to the technical and local colleges.

Many northern school boards adopted the Commission's recommendations, opening organised science schools which received grants from the Science and Art Department. Such developments were, however, sometimes met with hostility.

Some members of the Samuelson Commission were involved in setting up a National Association for the Promotion of Technical and Secondary Education in 1886.

The reports online

Each of the two reports is shown in a single web page. I have omitted the marginal headings, modernised much of the punctuation, and corrected a handful of printing errors. Where money is mentioned, I have replaced the archaic l with . Britain's pre-decimal currency consisted of pounds, shillings (20 to the pound) and pence (12 to the shilling). Occasionally there is also mention of guineas, which were worth 21 shillings.

Anything added by way of explanation is shown in [square brackets].

The Commissioners' Conclusions and Recommendations will be found in the 1884 report.

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 22 December 2018. An error in the paragraph about the Devonshire Commission was corrected on 3 May 2021: the Commission produced eight reports, not six as previously stated.