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The radical and nonconformist influences on the creation of the dual system of universal elementary education in England and Wales, 1866-1870

Raffell, Roland Constantine


Roland Constantine Raffell


V. Alan McClelland


In a study of the genesis of the 'dual system' of universal elementary education in England and Wales, obtaining at the present, it is easy to be influenced by the received view that the 1870 Elementary Education Act was a wise and judicious measure, albeit a move of limited potential, by W. E. Forster and the Liberal ministry of 1868, under William Gladstone. Educational historians, in the main, while setting out the importance of the 1870 Elementary Education Act, tend to expound an established opinion that the legislation was predominantly the work of Forster, who was ably assisted by an unwritten alliance between the Conservative Party and the Established Church. However, in order to understand fully, the developments leading up to the act itself, it is necessary to appreciate the little recognised, fundamental influences and pressures initiated by both radicals and nonconformists on the final outcome, and the resultant antagonisms in the struggle for universal elementary education, especially those political and religious controversies which were characterised by the wider debate of the years between 1866 and 1870.It is my purpose in the study to trace the developments of events over this period, and to give just deference to the specific details, preferences and campaigning that would set up the right conditions for the successful passing of legislation in 1870. In this respect, I contend that the final, amended bill, as passed by Forster, was the result of a four year agitation, and only really emerged in 1870, and in the form that it did, because of the radical and nonconformist influence. In qualifying this, it is not my purpose to support the ideas and philosophies of those protagonists, but rather to justify their importance as catalysts in the development of legislation, and in the moulding of the significant clauses which established the bill as a compromise. The act of 1870 was only successful because of the continued pressure and influence of the radicals and nonconformists in their challenge to the, hitherto, voluntary system of elementary education.The major part of this study is concerned with events between the latter part of 1866 and August, 1870 which saw the passing of Forster's education bill. This period saw the growth of both the Manchester Education Aid Society and the Birmingham Education Society; attempts at legislation for the reform of elementary education in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords on four occasions between 1867 and 1868; the collapse of the voluntaryists under Edward Baines; the passing of the second reform bill, which enabled Gladstone to form a radical and reforming ministry; the creation of the National Education League as a truly nationwide pressure group, and its adversary the National Education Union; and ultimately, the planning of the education bill and its passage on to the statute book.


Raffell, R. C. (1993). The radical and nonconformist influences on the creation of the dual system of universal elementary education in England and Wales, 1866-1870. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 15, 2011
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2023
Keywords History; Education
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Education, The University of Hull
Award Date Apr 1, 1993


Thesis (31.8 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 1993 Raffell, Roland Constantine. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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