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The Elementary Education Act Mandates Universal Education of Children Between the Ages of 5 and 12 in England and Wales


On February 17, 1870, after campaigning by the National Education League, the Elementary Education Act 1870, drafted by liberal MP William Forster, and commonly known as Forster's Education Act, was introduced in Parliament. The Act established the framework for compulsory schooling of all children in England and Wales between ages 5 and 12 in England and Wales, however the bill did not entirely require education of children, and in any case the education had to be paid for by the parents.

"A driving force behind the Act was a perceived need for Britain to remain competitive in the world by being at the forefront of manufacture and improvement.

"The Act was not taken up in all areas and would be more firmly enforced through later reforms. There were objections to the concept of universal education. One was because many people remained hostile to the idea of mass education. They claimed it would make labouring classes 'think' and that these classes would think of their lives as dissatisfying and possibly encourage them to revolt. Others feared that handing children to a central authority could lead to indoctrination. Another reason was the vested interests of the Church and other social groups. The churches were funded by the state with public money to provide education for the poor and these churches did not want to lose that influence on youth.

"The Act established the foundations of English elementary education. The state (Gladstonian Liberalism) became increasingly involved and after 1880 attendance was made compulsory for children until they were 12 years old.

"The Act was passed partly in response to political factors (such as the need to educate the citizens recently enfranchised by the Reform Act 1867 to vote wisely). It also came about due to demands for reform from industrialists, who feared Britain's status in world trade was being threatened by the lack of an effective education system. The spectacular military successes of the Prussian army prompted Gladstone to consider the military benefits of an Education Act; as he remarked: 'Undoubtedly, the conduct of the campaign, on the German side, has given a marked triumph to the cause of systematic popular education' " (Wikipedia article on Elementary Education Act 1870, accessed 06-07-2012).

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