Auerbach, Sascha (University of Northern British Columbia)
Journal of Policy History, Volume 22, Number 1, 2010, pp. 64-94
The Education Act of 1870 (a.k.a the “Forster Act”) marked a watershed in the history of the Victorian state. With its passage, England finally joined the other major European states in their adoption of public elementary schooling for all children. The act divided the country into 2,500 school districts, each to have a governing school board elected by local ratepayers. At both the national and local levels, however, there was great concern over the government’s expanded role in the home, over the fate of England’s extensive parochial school system, and over whether elementary schooling should be paid for directly by parents or indirectly through taxes. Some measure of compelling attendance was also deemed necessary, particularly for the poorest of England’s working classes, by those across the socioeconomic spectrum who supported universal primary education. The newly elected school boards were therefore authorized to create their own bylaws regarding school fees and the mechanisms of compulsion in their districts.