Chapter 8 – The Developments at the End of the 19th Century.

This entry is part 8 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education

This chapter continues to describe the most significant developments during the 1870s/80s/90s and the beginning of the early 20th century.

Finsbury Technical College.

Of the three institutions created by CGLI Finsbury Technical College is the only one that no longer exists. In spite of its relatively short life 1881-1926 it was truly a ground breaking institution and a remarkable success with a number of outstanding teachers. Finsbury Technical College was officially opened in 1883 although day and evening classes had been taught from November 1879 and it was the first true technical college in England. It was based on technical institutions in Germany and Switzerland. Subjects taught initially included applied chemistry, mechanical engineering and physics. Students, both sexes, were enrolled from those who wished to study scientific and practical instruction for intermediate posts in industry or from schools preparing for entry to the Central Institution in higher technical and scientific studies. Evening classes were provided for people working during the day in order for them to receive additional instruction in art, practice and science to more fully understand industrial processes. In 1883 100 day and 699 evening students had been enrolled. The range of subjects taught was amazing including brick-laying, chemistry, drawing, electrical technology, joinery, mathematics, metal-plate work and workshop practice. Even foreign languages were taught including French and German.

Finsbury Technical College

One very important distinction between the College (shown opposite) and the Mechanics’ Institutions was that at the College practical work formed part of the programme whereas the Mechanics Institutes predominately taught the theoretical aspects of technology and science. The College was the first to attempt to integrate practical/manual training and pure science. This approach proved a great success and was adopted by the emerging Polytechnic movement in London. It was organised and managed by way of a number departments that catered for the different subjects and differing attendance modes. Unfortunately in spite of its pioneering work it increasingly experienced competition from the London Polytechnics, Working Men’s Colleges and other technical institutions. Throughout its existence it had serious accommodation shortages – cramped laboratories and unsuitable temporary accommodation that became permanent. Through out its relatively short history even with the continuing support of the Livery Companies and the CGLI the College experienced continuing funding problems. Successful as the College was it could not break even financially and the gap between revenue and expenditure continued to grow in spite of generous donations and support from the Livery Companies. For example in 1912 the annual running costs of the College were £11,700 whereas income from student fees and other sources was £3,680. The College tried to operate an open access policy and was reluctant to increase student fees for fear of deterring attendance. The students already made great sacrifices e.g. by losing two years’ employment opportunities. If the fees were increased it would change the student profile completely and attract students who already had other opportunities afforded by the wealthy status. The College in many ways set the model for the future shape of the technical education system and the institutions that constituted the Further Education Sector of the 20th century.

The Royal Commission on Technical Instruction (Samuelson Report) 1882-84.

Chairman: Bernhard Samuelson.
Members included: Philip Magnus. Henry Roscoe (see portrait below).


The Samuelson Commission was set up in 1881 with the following terms of reference:

“ To inquire into the instruction of the industrial classes of certain foreign countries in technical and other subjects for the purpose of comparison with that of the corresponding classes in this country; and into the influence of such instruction on manufacturing and other industries at home and abroad”

The Commission attempted to address the continuing and wide spread concerns about the random and fragmented development of technical education and the resultant unregulated nature of technical education institutions. It also focused on the continuing and increasing worry about the declining ability of the country to compete with overseas countries as evidenced from the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Paris Exhibition of 1867.
The most important outcomes from the published reports by the Commission were the comparisons with other countries, which showed this country’s continuing lack of effective instruction in science in schools particularly its relationship with industrial practice and the absence of a national system for technical education. This investigative approach of the Royal Commission helped to make the series of reports truly seminal as its remit allowed members to visit European countries and witness first hand their technical education systems. Commissioners visited Austria, Belgium, France, German, Holland, Italy and Switzerland. Evidence was also gathered from a wide range of sources across Britain. The reports were published in 1882 and 1884 and made a number of key recommendations including the following ones:

  • Rudimentary drawing be incorporated with writing as a single elementary subject
  • Advocated more teaching of agriculture and craft work
  • Advocated more teaching of science and art in training colleges
  • More support for CGLI
  • Greater powers for local authorities to establish more technical and secondary schools
  • Advocated less part-time employment for children
  • Recommended more systematic training for young workers in work schools and that employers and trade organizations should make financial contributions to help realise this recommendation.

The Samuelson Commission made a number of key recommendations three of which related directly to technical and secondary education namely:

  • “That steps be taken to accelerate the application of ancient endowments, under amended schemes to secondary and technical education,
  • That provision to be made by the Charity Commissioners for the establishment, in suitable localities, of schools or department of schools, in which the study of natural science, drawing, mathematics and modern languages shall take the place of Latin and Greek,
  • That local authorities be empowered, if they think fit to establish, maintain and contribute to the establishment and maintenance of secondary and technical (including agricultural) schools and colleges”.

One of the visits made by the members was to Messrs Mather and Platt’s Workshop School which was a private technical evening school established and supported by the company for the benefit of its workers – even by today’s standards a rare occurrence. The school had 68 workers enrolled which was operated to provide science teaching to the apprentices employed at the works. The facilities were well resourced and very impressive with realistic working environments. Mr Mather was very clear about the purpose of the school and the methods of instruction – he said that you must bring the school to the workshop as you cannot bring the workshop to the school. He argued that bringing the school to the workshop was simple and inexpensive, I find his evidence truly amazing- what an enlightened employer years ahead of his time and even today he could teach our politicians a thing or two about work based learning and the value of realistic working environments.

The Royal Commission also commended the Finsbury Technical College as a ‘model trade school for the instruction of artisans and other persons preparing for intermediate posts in industrial works.’

One obvious conclusion of many of the recommendations was that a single central authority should be established for technical education. However the remit of the Commission did not permit such a recommendation to be made directly but reading the reports one senses it was strongly implied.
These recommendations were presented after exhaustive inquiries and investigations across the country and the continent but were not as bold as many of commentators would have wished for. One lasting consequence of the Commission was the very detailed analysis given to the issues and formed the basis of many of the subsequent reforms in the early 20th century. What it reinforced yet again was that the country still possessed an inadequate and insufficient secondary school system that seriously weakened progression onto higher technical studies especially for managers in industry. Even though compulsory education was established and a school leaving age of up to 14 was bringing about improvements to literacy among workers, major problems still existed through ignorance of scientific and technological concepts by managers especially when compared with their counter parts on the continent. The Commission and its recommendations influenced a number of important parliamentary Acts that followed including the 1888 Local Government Act that established County and County Borough Councils. The real positive legacy of the Royal Commission was the Technical Instruction Act of 1889, which was the first piece of legislation of any real significance in technical education. I will describe more fully the Technical Instruction Act later in the chapter.

Quintin Hogg and the Polytechnics

Trade instruction for workers was still driven by private enterprise and in London one of the examples was the Polytechnic Young Men’s Christian Institute (better known as the Regent Street Polytechnic) founded 1882. The Polytechnic started as a ragged school in1860 when Quintin Hogg [see biography], a city businessman gradually became aware of the urgent need to offer greater educational opportunities for young workers. In 1864 he was teaching in a ragged school and in 1868 had become head of a boys’ home in Drury Lane and using his wealth then opened an evening institute in 1878 in his Long Acre Institute. His working Lads’ Institute proved a great success and offered classes for boys from the slums in London. The classes proved a great success and as a result dealt with wider social classes. Quintin Hogg based his institution on the model developed at the Artizan Institute founded by the Rev Solly in 1874. The Artizan Institute was at the time the only institute in London providing practical trade instruction. The Artizan Institute was eventually incorporated into the Finsbury Technical College in 1881. The head of the trade class department was C. Millis (1) who wrote a number of key books on technical education and became the first Principal of the Borough Polytechnic. As accommodation became too crowded a number of moves occurred until in 1880 he acquired a building as the Polytechnic located on Regent Street.

Royal Polytechnic Institution (Incorporated 1838)

The Polytechnic was established in 1838  (shown opposite) for the demonstration of ‘practical science’ – Hogg adapted the building for his own purpose and retained the name Polytechnic. The creation of the Polytechnic in Regent Street in 1882 was a quantum leap in terms of size and financial backing. To date the technical institutions depended on the generosity of the Livery Companies, the CGLI, the Science and Arts Department and a few benefactors. However in order to begin to compete with America and Europe larger institutions with better facilities had to be built and critically the need for the State to become more directly involved to fully realise this aspiration. The driving force behind the Polytechnic was Quintin Hogg [see biography] who had already invested heavily in his Long Acre Institute, which he founded in 1878. Quintin Hogg spent over £100,000 in creating the Polytechnic and his commitment and belief in technical education was truly remarkable. He was the catalyst in the formation of other Polytechnics in London in conjunction with the financial support and patronage of the City Parochial Foundation and the Charity Commissioners. In 1883 the City of London Parochial Act further added impetus to the development of the Polytechnic movement and hence the technical education in London. The Act amongst other aspects made a commitment to create, fund and promote:

  • Education for the poorer inhabitants of London in technical, secondary and art subjects
  • Public libraries, art galleries and museums
  • Extend working men’s and women’s institutions

Central funds were established to realise these worthy endeavours and included capital grants to Polytechnics and the Charity Commissioners influenced by the Report of the Royal Commission on Technical Education and evidence from CGLI. Other Polytechnics were quickly established across London including: Battersea, Borough, Chelsea, Northampton Polytechnic (one of the few outside London) and Sir John Cass College in the City. Interesting to note that even at this time differing views existed about the relevance of technical education particularly for the poorer members of society and at HE level and a number of individuals openly questioned the need let alone the importance of such proposals. In spite of this opposition the recommendations of the Charity Commissioners were accepted and the endowments to the institutions were implemented. When the London County Council was created in 1888 under the Local Government Act they took responsibility for the supervision of the Polytechnics. The Polytechnics provided a very wide range of activities including social, recreational and educational pursuits. The Polytechnics operated secondary and technical schools, day technical classes for more advanced students and evening classes for apprentices and workers. Practical classes offered included bookbinding, building, engineering, furniture and textiles. Commercial courses were also offered along with the teaching of foreign languages and a number of students prepared for degrees accredited by the University of London. Table 1 shows the number of student hours at the London Polytechnics for 1893/94 and 1900/01.

Table 1

Student hours in 1000’s
Subject 1893-94 1900-01
Building trades 37.5 123.4
Carpentry and joinery 1.4 23.1
Chemistry 23.7 52.1
Electrical engineering 4.1 31.3
Experimental physics 16.8 75.8
Mathematics 11.4 36.6
Mechanical engineering 17.0 92.5
Plumbing 6.8 19.6
Totals: 118.7 454.4

These developments were inevitably focussed on London but nevertheless provided valuable experience for later developments across England and beyond. This example of London centricity raises some interesting questions. Other developments were happening else where in England but overall these have not been fully documented –perhaps that is a worthy project for the future?

The Technical Instruction Act 1889.

The Technical Instruction Act defined technical education as follows;

“shall mean instruction in the principles of science and art applicable to industries, and in the application of special branches of science and art to specific industries or employment.”

In retrospect the founding of the CGLI in 1878 can be seen as an important bridge between the Samuelson Select Committee Report of 1868 and the Technical Instruction Act of 1889. After all the Institute had developed a number of strategically important elements that subsequently supported the emerging technical education system e.g. it established a system of technical examinations building on the pioneering work of the Society of Arts and also created three key technical institutions namely the Finsbury Technical College, the Central Technical College and the City and Guilds Art School. The Royal Commission on Technical Instruction gave rise to the Technical Education Act of 1889. Thirty- eight and twenty-two years after the Great and Paris Exhibitions, the Technical Instruction Act was passed fully recognising the need for a national framework for technical education in an attempt to halt industrial and manufacturing decline. The Act gave powers to the County Councils and the Urban Sanitary Authorities to levy a penny tax to support technical and manual instruction by: founding schools and appointing teachers; further supporting technical education by making grants to institutions; providing technical education and creating exhibitions and scholarships. The curricula in technical institutions also had to be approved by the Science and Art Department. In 1890 Local Taxation Act passed legislation to decrease the number of public houses and imposed an additional duty on alcohol in an attempt to reduce excessive drinking. The additional revenues were initially meant to compensate publicans whose licences had not been renewed but a number of MPs opposed that proposal and the monies were retained by the government. As a result the government found itself in the rather peculiar and unique position of having an excess of tax revenue and nothing to spend it on! Arthur Acland proposed that the money should be spent by the county councils either to further develop and strengthen technical education or as a means of reducing the local rates. Fortunately the majority of councils used the money to fund the development of technical education. The annual sum became known as the  ‘whiskey money’ or  ‘whiskey tax’, which really did provide a timely and valuable contribution for technical instruction.

The majority of authorities established Technical Instruction Committees and this brought about a rapid development of technical institutions across the country that began to satisfy the growing demand from technical education across the country. One result of the extra money was a spate of technical college building, mainly in the industrial northern towns and cities, but also a few in the South where industrial processes were developing. For example institutions were built in such places as Bath, Bristol, Bury, Cardiff, Derby, Glasgow, Halifax, Leeds, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Swindon and Wolverhampton. Many of these institutions went on to become the FE and Technical Colleges we know today (2). During the last decade of the 19th century twenty five-five institutions had been transferred to the technical instruction authorities and of these twelve were in county councils. The sums of money were considerable for that time being £179,501 in 1895/6, £142,413 in 1896/7, £69,333 in 1987/8 and £105,301 in 1898/99, although it must be said that a great deal of the money was spent on the teaching of science in schools rather than technical instruction. Between 1892/93 and 1901/02 the annual amount raised via the whiskey tax rose from £472,500 to £859,011 – this last figure represented 83% of the total public expenditure on technical education! In 1895 – 93 out of the 129 county and county borough councils were spending all the whiskey money on education. Of the £317,000 directly managed by the county councils in 1895, £188,000 was spent properly on technical education, £17,000 subsidised secondary schools, £39,000 was awarded on scholarships, £14,000 was spend on evening continuation schools and £22,000 was expended on training evening school teachers. Although most of the money was spend on technical education the majority of the money went to the younger students i.e. schools aged pupils as opposed to adults. The Balfour Act of 1902 eventually repealed the Act empowering the expenditure of the whiskey tax by authorities for technical education, although the money was still ring fenced in this Act for the development of HE. The issue of the whiskey tax is a fascinating episode in the history of education. Could it have been an early example of a hypothecated tax? Interesting to note the development critically depended on the consumption of alcohol but it did accelerate the development of technical education at the end of the 19th century and in the North of England, as usual did just that! It also influenced the 1889 Technical Instruction Act that included the authorisation of the new local authorities to fund technical and manual instruction by way of a penny rate.

Even though the Technical Instruction Act began to address and remedy one of the problems of the British technical education system through the empowering of local authorities to establish technical schools/colleges and to financially support the teaching of science in secondary schools it did not establish a national system of secondary education which had to wait until the 1902 Education Act! Also in spite of these positive developments the impact on the labour force was still fairly minimal and only about 10% of skilled workers in engineering had experienced formal training. One interesting feature, when one looks at the various Royal Commissions and other parliamentary committees/groups that considered different aspects and sectors of education, is the almost complete lack of any continuity and links between them. For example the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction had little impact on the Royal Commission on Elementary Education –the Cross Report of 1888, the Royal Commission on Secondary Education –the Bryce Report of 1895 and the Education Act of 1902. The Cross Commission had recorded that numbers of students studying at evening schools had declined and suggested that these institutions should be regarded as continuation rather than elementary schools. This recommendation was enacted by the Code of 1890 and as a result evening schools taught art, domestic work, languages and science. The legislation was further developed in 1898 under a separate Code for evening continuation schools. The upper age limit was abolished and grants were given for attendance rather than for examinations passed. The new code extended the range of subjects taught to include commercial and technical subjects and real opportunities to students to pursue subjects not available in elementary schools. As a result it offered progression opportunities to more advanced programmes in technical schools. The legislation did bring about increased enrolments in evening class students rising from 298,724 in 1896 to 474,563 in 1899 but still most of the instruction was at elementary level. To remedy this situation the Board of Education in 1907 introduced the grouped system of subject selection namely that students were required to select a group of related subjects to study. See below how this initiative evolved.

Evening Continuation Schools

Evening schools had existed for many years and were operated under the Elementary Schools Code and offered a rather limited curriculum often repeating the work covered in the elementary day schools. In addition to the narrow range of subjects strict age limits were imposed in order to gain funding from the Science and Art Department. However in 1898 a separate Code for Evening Continuation Schools was issued which dramatically changed the situation. In addition a wider range of subjects was introduced and the age restrictions removed allowing persons over the ordinary school leaving age to attend and new more effective funding arrangements were based on attendance and not on examination results. The students who enrolled for evenings fell into two categories – one group wishing to progress onto a technical school and the other completing their studies and leaving formal education. The consequences of these reforms were immediate, resulting in the doubling of enrolments in three years namely from 298,724 in 1896 to 474,563 in 1899 and approximately 14% of the students were over 21 years of age. A growing percentage of females were studying needlework and domestic science again still reinforcing stereotypical roles. The success of the continuation schools greatly accelerated the development of technical education as more people were more able to progress onto more specialised programmes. Grouped programmes were organised in five main themes to reflect the occupations or industries that the students wished to enter. These five groups were industrial, commercial, domestic, rural and general. Initially the industrial and commercial groupings enrolled the most students but later the general programme became more popular. The introduction of grouped programmes was a real improvement as up to their introduction the curricula were comparatively disorganised as students could randomly choose subjects possessing little coherence with skills needed in industry or commerce. In some areas of the country the School worked in collaboration with the university colleges in their locality. It is important to realise that up to this time many of these subjects were not eligible for funding in elementary schools – only grants being available for a limited range of science subjects. Even though the majority of the teaching was at a very basic level it did increase participation and ultimately created a greater demand at the higher levels. In 1901 the responsibility for these Schools was transferred to the Science and Art Department and the Board of Education, which were already funding other evening classes in science and art and organised science schools.

Board of Education

The Board of Education Act of 1899 brought together the powers previously held by the Education Department and the Science and Art Department. Then in 1901, as mentioned above, the responsibility for the central administration of the evening continuation schools was transferred to the South Kensington Branch of the Board. These various reforms culminated in the 1902 Education Act that formally created Local Education Authorities (LEAs) which would play a significant part in the development of Further Education (FE) in the 20th century.

The Education Act 1902.

Even though the 1902 Education Act is seen as the beginning of state funding for secondary education, in strict terms state aid had been made available before e.g. through the grants of the Department of Science and Arts, South Kensington and also following the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 that allowed county councils to spend money on technical education and finally the funding arrangements for the School Boards. The Act replaced the School Boards by the LEAs and these were given wide-ranging powers to administrate all higher education up to university level. The Act represented the first comprehensive Bill to reach the Statute Book. It attempted to bring about the unification of the education system but ultimately did not fully succeed in this worthy aspiration. Many existing schools including the public schools were suspicious of the local authorities and any central authority. As a result of this the attempt to totally unify and create a true State system of secondary school failed. The major challenge for the LEAs arising from the Act was to bring order across the amorphous and somewhat disjointed systems of the educational sectors and their constitute institutions. LEAs were empowered to co-ordinate elementary and higher education, (excluding universities), and at the time defined the possibility of providing “the ladder from elementary school to university.” To assist the realisation of this lofty aspiration scholarships were available to able pupils from the elementary schools. Balfour in this speech to the House of Commons stressed that a successful technical education and higher education system depended critically on a sound elementary and secondary education system. The Act clarified the limitations imposed by the 1899 Act of the Board of Education and attempted to put in place a set of duties and responsibilities for the LEAs. Part of the Act stated: the LEAs shall consider the needs of their area and take steps as seem to them desirable, to supply or aid the supply of education other than elementary, and to promote the general coordination of all forms of education – – -. It is important to note the use of the words consider and take steps as seem to them desirable as these gave rise to LEAs exercising different degrees of discretion and differing interpretations when implementing the Act and this was most certainly true for the implementation of technical education institutions. Many LEAs established and supported technical education to a high degree whilst others showed less enthusiasm. In many cases the munificence of provision in technical institutions can be likened to the Victorian propensity to build chapels and churches with certain similar results in the longer term. The use of such discretionary expressions in subsequent Parliamentary legislation has produced similar results creating a disparate range of technical institutions in terms of quality and quantity. The exercise of discretion coupled with lack of sufficient resources has dogged technical education through out its history and sadly reflects the market mentality that persists today. The 1902 Act was particularly successful in the provision of county secondary education and teacher training colleges but partly because of inadequate resources and the discretionary elements in the Act it was not so successful in bringing about a unified education system.

The 1902 Education Act, important as in was, did little to advance technical education. The Permanent Secretary of the Board of Education Robert Morant was very much an elitist and as a result mainly interested in improving elementary education and creating a system of higher education by developing grammar schools whose curriculum was modelled on that of the traditional public schools. The inevitable consequence was that little creativity or imagination was invested in technical education and very little was witnessed in further improvement of facilities in technical schools and institutes. The whiskey money represented a welcome but short window of opportunity to advance technical education and the building of new colleges. As will be seen in the next chapter progress during the early 20th century was very slow and depressing and even accepting the problems that were caused by the First World War and all the inevitable constraints that created only ten new colleges were established nationally between 1902 and 1918.

In 1904 a set of three new regulations and codes was introduced which dealt with evening and continuation schools, technical institutions for advanced, specialised, full-time instruction and with a variety of day technical classes. The framework for the future structure of technical, (further), education had finally begun.

Other relevant developments

It’s an opportune time to briefly describe a range of other developments that influenced technical education. Even though the State kept away from direct involvement in technical education for most of the 19th century there was one striking and obvious exception, namely the military. The armed services received technical training and a great deal of government funding and attention was focused on the manufacture of weapons to support and drive the Empire. Military schools and academies were established including; the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1741; the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in1799; the Royal Naval College at Greenwich in 1873. Army Certificates of Education were first awarded in 1800 and service personnel were required to learn arithmetic for the use of ballistics and other related scientific and technological principles of their equipment. The following table taken from Mitchell and Deane (3) shows clearly the relatively low expenditure and development of education between 1840/49 and 1900/09 when compared with the total expenditure on the military:

Table 1: Net Government Public Expenditure 1840 to 1909

Year Military Expenditure Education Expenditure Total
£ m % £ m % £ m %
1840 – 49 15.1 30 0.3 1 51.0 100
1850 – 09 21.9 37 0.7 1 59.6 100
1860 – 09 26.8 41 1.3 2 64.6 100
1870 – 09 24.2 37 2.6 4 66.1 100
1880 – 09 28.0 37 4.9 6 76.7 100
1890 – 09 36.4 41 9.2 10 89.2 100
1900 – 09 79.1 55 14.9 10 143.6 100

A fascinating account of Army History has been written by White (4).
The two world wars accelerated the commitment of the armed forces to technical education and this will be described in later chapters. A view of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich is shown below.


Developments in the Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

To date most of the history has been focused on England but it might be helpful to comment on some the developments in the Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Up to the early 20th century most of the education parliamentary acts enacted in England were also generally applicable to Wales.
In Scotland and Ireland for a number of reasons education very often developed in different ways. A Technical Schools Act of 1887 was passed exclusive to Scotland that allowed school boards to provide funds establish and maintain technical schools. Much less revenue from the Local Tax Act, (Whiskey Money), was received by Scotland and with the much smaller population and the greater diversity and number of authorities the sums were too small to have any real impact on education institutions. However with the passing of the Local Taxation (Scotland) Act in 1898 additional monies were made available and a number of institutions did receive funds for technical education. No funds or grants to support art or science instruction were made available to Scottish schools from the England although a number of the technical schools offered examinations by CGLI and the English Board of Education. As mentioned before the Scottish education had established a system far in advance of its English counterparts. The universities had offered far more enlightened curricula including science and technical subjects long before Cambridge and Oxford. John Anderson and George Birkbeck [see biography] had pioneered the Mechanics’ Institution movement and the Scottish elementary school system was the best in Europe. Scotland already possessed a number of impressive and well equipped technical colleges including the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College (Glasgow), Heriot-Watt College (Edinburgh), Robert Gordon College (Aberdeen) and the Technical College (Dundee). These institutions operated on very similar lines to colleges in England both in terms of subjects taught and the examination boards used. One characteristic of the Scottish system in elementary and secondary schools was the emphasis on practical and manual skills and the teaching of science – far more than in English schools. Scotland also developed a system for awarding leaving certificates based on examination results. The universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow continued to excel in science and technology including such subjects as engineering and naval architecture. St Andrews too had an outstanding reputation in science and mathematics.
Ireland’s education system especially the technical side sadly was very much less developed than in England, Scotland and Wales. Even though the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 was applicable to Ireland it was never enacted to any real effect. The revenues from the Local Taxation Act were expended on intermediate education and not on technical education. Recommendations made from the Recess Committee of 1896 proved to be valuable and influential leading to the passing of the Agriculture and Technical Instruction Act of 1899. These two key commissions the first focused on manual and practical instruction in elementary schools and the second focussed on these subjects in the secondary sector brought about the teaching of technical subjects and as a result greatly enhanced the quality of teaching and instruction in Irish schools.

Conclusions and some observations

One interesting issue that has emerged so far is the difficulty of assessing how much industry itself provided direct training for its workers. We have the example of the Mather and Platt Workshop evidenced in the Samuelson Report but it has proved difficult to find let alone analyse any statistical data and so far little evidence exists in company reports in order to identify if any training was offered. This area needs further research.

Another intriguing if not unsurprising finding was the random way governments established the various Royal Commissions and other committees that looked at education. Very often there appeared to be a complete lack of any systematic approach, planning or sequencing in regard to their overall purpose. Many of the key Commissions seemed to be established in an ad hoc fashion with little regard to how their recommendations linked or were influenced by previous reports. It almost seems as though they were regarded in isolated and separate compartments and were often strongly influenced by political dogma and inbuilt prejudice. This attribute sadly continues even today. Real consideration of the complex linkages between the various sectors of education and training seem to have been ignored or subjected to political amnesia. Issues associated with the essential need to progressively build up competence and capability in literacy, numeracy and the foundations of mathematical and scientific knowledge were ignored.

The period covered by this chapter witnessed a large number of important developments in technical education many of which laid the foundations for the future shape and management of technical education. As one can see the momentum, at last, was being generated and the basic framework for a national system for technical education was beginning to emerge in colleges, industry and other training providers. The 1902 Education Act would establish a national system for secondary education but its impact on technical education was fairly limited. The gradual development of secondary education began to provide more highly educated youngsters who were more able to benefit from further study at college and as a result increased progression opportunities as well as participation rates after compulsory schooling. Also developments in higher education through the existence of the Polytechnics and the creation of a number of civic universities began to offer enhanced opportunities in scientific and technical subjects and so gradually developed a system of technical education that began in schools and progressed to higher education.

The class structure still dominated the way this country perceived technical education. In England the failure of the middle and upper classes to organise a national secondary education system and their neglect of scientific studies in the majority of their public schools produced generations of employers who failed to appreciate the value and place of technical and scientific studies.

The last two decades of the 19th century also witnessed other transformations e.g. the disappearance of the scientific and technological amateur who was gradually replaced by the specialist and the professional. This transformation was mainly due to the growing complexity of science and technology and not necessarily brought about by the demands of industrialists or industry.

More Reflections (Linking the late19th and the 20th Century)

In a sense four key dates in the 19th and 20th centuries can be identified in the development of technical and commercial education. These were the Elementary Education Act of 1870 which ulimately established the foundations for the earlest higher technical education. The Technical Instruction Act of 1889 which identified the urgent need for industrial and commercial education and training for young people. The Education Act of 1902, even though, it did set back the development of secondary technical education did provide a number of loop holes for the more enlightened Local Authorities to exploit and this ultimately led to the Regulations for Junior Technical Schools issued in 1913. The final key date was the 1944 and the Education Act – see later more detail of the 1902 and 1944 Acts.

The 1870 Act allowed the more enlightened school boards, (sadly very few), to develop provision to cater for their localities e.g. science shools, day technical schools assisted with grants from the Science and Art Department. A high Central School was opened in 1878 in Sheffield and similar schools were established in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford and Manchester. Sadly the majority of school boards were held back by the traditions of the past!

Unfortunately the high grade schools, including the science schools and day technical schools developed between 1870 and 1900 were largely killed off by the Cockerton Judgement of 1899.

Chapters 9 and 10 will describe the developments in the rather turbulent first two decades of the 20th century.


  1. Millis. C. ‘Education for the Trades and Industries.’ Edward Arnold. 1932.
  2. Millis. C. ‘Technical Education, Its Development and Aims.’ Edward Arnold. 1925.
  3. Venables. P. F. R. ‘Technical Education Its Aims Organisation and Future Development.’ Bell. 1955.
  4. Mitchell B. R. and Deane P. ‘Abstract of British Historical Statistics.’ CUP. 1962.
  5. White. A. C. T. ‘The Story of Army History 1643-1963.’ Harrop. 1963.

Comprehensive book list, chronology and glossary are provided on separate sections of this website.

Series Navigation<< Chapter 7 – After the Great Exhibition – A Growing Recognition for the Need for Technical Education?Chapter 9 – The Beginning of the 20th Century 1900-1921 >>
Print Friendly