The Elementary Education Act of 1870 was the first of a number of acts of parliament passed between 1870 and 1893 to create compulsory education in England and Wales for children aged between five and 13. It was known as The Forster Act after its sponsor William Forster.
What did the act bring into force?
- That local education boards should inspect schools to ensure there were sufficient places.
- That elementary education must be provided for children aged between five and 13.
- That schools should be publicly funded.
- That parents had to pay for their children’s eductation, unless they could not afford to.
- That attendance should be compulsory.
- That religious teaching should be non-denominational, and that parents could withdraw their children from religious education.
- That schools should be regularly inspected to maintain the standard of education.
What problems were encountered during the passing of the act?
The areas that caused controversy were the provision of religious education and the public subsidy. Some people wanted specific schools that would promote denominational education, while the established church feared its power to run schools would be lost. Some were fearful of the idea of mass education, others felt that state subsidy for education was threatening. The act retained the requirement for parents to pay fees when they could afford to, and for the state to pay for those who could not. Religious instruction was retained but didn’t favour any one Christian group over another.