Skip to main content

Further reform, 1902-14

By the 1890s, over 2,500 new school boards had been created in England and Wales under the 1870 legislation. But there were also some 14,000 committees of management for individual voluntary schools.

Managing schools

This dual system of elementary education was uneven in administrative terms, and voluntary schools were often at a financial disadvantage since they were funded not from the local rates but by direct government grants.

In 1902 Parliament passed a new Education Act, drafted by AJ Balfour (who became prime minister later that year) which radically reorganised the administration of education at local level. It abolished the school boards in England and Wales. All elementary schools were placed in the hands of local education authorities under the control of the county and county borough councils (which had been established in 1888).

In Scotland the school boards survived until 1918 when they were replaced by elected county authorities, and in 1929 by the county councils.

Secondary education

The Act also, for the first time, made significant provision for secondary and technical education. Councils were encouraged, though not compelled, to subsidise existing grammar schools and to provide free places for working-class children. More ambitiously, they could set up new secondary 'grammar' schools. The expansion of secondary education was slow to develop, however, and the schools tended to cater mainly for the middle classes.

Welfare at school

There was much concern both within and outside Parliament that there should be more measures to ensure that children were healthier. In 1906 needy schoolchildren received further assistance under the Education (Provision of Meals) Act. It allowed local authorities to provide meals free of charge when parents could not afford to pay. This power was extended by later Acts, and made compulsory by the Education Act 1944.

The Education (Administrative Provisions) Act of 1907 required education authorities to see that all schoolchildren under their care received a medical inspection.

Related information

Historic Hansard

The House of Commons debates the Third Reading of the Education Bill 1902


You can access a biography of

Arthur James Balfour

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

Did you know?

The Technical Instruction Act of 1889 allowed local councils to make some provision for technical education of a kind that would be useful in the industrial workplace or to trade apprentices