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School Boards and the Works School System after the Education Act of 1870

Leslie Wynne Evans, National Library of Wales journal. 1967, Summer Volume XV/1

Extracted onto the pages of GENUKI with the kind permission of the National Library of Wales

This is a complete extract of this article (Gareth Hicks April 2003)

For several years before 1870 it became apparent that 'the Voluntary System, however impressive might be some of its fruits, could not perform the task of instructing a nation'. 1  Arguments in favour of a State system of education had gained valuable ground partly through the influence of many eminent men of the period (of whom Huxley probably had the greatest influence), but mainly due to other important factors, which once more brought popular education to the fore, with clear indications, which culminated in the 1870 Education Act that the problem could only be solved at national level. 2

Among the contributing factors to the creation of a State system were those which had worried social reformers and educationists alike during the first half of the nineteenth century, and which threatened to recur. Child labour was still rampant in most factories not covered by previous legislation, and although the Mines Act of 1860 had prohibited the employment of boys underground between the ages of ten and twelve unless they could produce a certificate from a 'competent schoolmaster' that they could read and write, or, failing this, that they were attending school for not less than three hours a day during two days in each week --- evasion was practised on a large scale, and at least three inspectors of schools had described the Act as a failure in 1863. Moreover, the Revised Code of 1862 had provided an effective and serious check to the building of new schools by its sharp cut in the grants for such purposes, during a time when the population was growing rapidly in industrial areas and large towns. 3

Educational destitution was again rearing its ugly head and the Voluntary System was becoming inert. In 1867 even the Voluntaryists finally capitulated. 4  In the same year with the passing of the Reform Act, which gave the franchise to nearly all householders, and added a million voters to the Parliamentary Register, 'the provision of schooling became a matter of urgency in anticipation of the assumption of full citizenship by an unknown number of illiterates'. 5

Forster's Education Act of 1870 sought to deal with the two persistent problems of the period --- educational destitution and irregular school attendance. It proposed to survey the school needs of the country and to provide schools where they were needed --- to 'fill up the gaps'. The Act allowed and indeed encouraged further Voluntary activity and this was illustrated by the spectacular spate of applications which reached Whitehall from the two Societies to establish new schools. Where Voluntary effort failed or was non-existent School Boards were to be formed. Fees were to be charged, and schools were to be helped partly ...........................

....................... by government grants, and from now on from rate aid. School Boards were also empowered to frame bye-laws for the compulsory attendance of children between the ages of five and twelve. 6

The existence of the Works Schools System in relation to the new administrative developments arising out of the 1870 Act was of peculiar interest and importance in the evolution of a State system of education between 1870 and 1902. It has already been shown how they provided for the educational needs of the industrial districts before 1870 and that the work accomplished through them was at least comparable with that of the Voluntary Societies. 7

After 1870, although their history is that of gradual elimination due to changing circumstances and the crystallisation of a national system, their work and influence even during this stage of denouement proved to be of inestimable value to the new School Boards in whose areas they happened to be located. It should be remembered that after 1870, the elimination of these schools did not mean closure, but transference to a particular newly elected School Board. This procedure, in view of the attitude of the new Act to the Voluntary System was an uneven and sometimes lengthy process, i.e., as stated earlier, the Act did not abolish voluntary effort but supplemented it. Indeed, instances occurred where certain large and important works schools persistently refused to surrender their independence and continued to exist under the old regime until the very end of the century. This arrangement was practicable so long as school fees continued to be paid in all schools. The Education Act of 1891, however, abolished school pence, and it is after that year that the final crop of works schools capitulated to the Central Administration and became absorbed in the local educational pattern. After the Education Act of 1902 which created Part 3 Education Authorities, works schools in many areas lost their identity, but in several districts even at the present time their memory is perpetuated in the original name of the school, e.g., Llanelly Copperworks school.

The transference of works schools to the local School Boards evoke several points of considerable importance:

    1. Where works schools were taken over by local School Boards, heavy expenditure on the provision of school buildings was eliminated. A complete survey of the total works schools transferred to the School Boards is not available, but fortuitously full records exist of all the larger and more important schools, only a few of which surrendered their individuality and independence before 1890. Among those which were transferred at an earlier period, i.e., around 1880, were the Llynfi and Maesteg ironworks schools which were in excellent order and fully efficient.

Some schools on account of certain local conditions ---usually innumerable intermittent strikes---had been temporarily closed. In such...................

......................... cases schools were re-opened by the School Board, e.g., the Merthyr Colliery School, Maesteg, and the Yniscedwyn Ironworks school at Ystradgynlais. 8  On the other hand examples were found where newly elected School Boards realised that the buildings and accommodation were too poor for further use. Usually new schools were built and reorganised. Two examples are given from North and South Wales --- the one, a rural slate quarrying region, and the other a densely populated area where copper-smelting was important

In 1871, 'the first meeting of the Festiniog School Board was held on the 13th April ... and the census of school-children showed that 1,859 required accommodation. To meet this, there was at the time accommodation for 969 children in the existing schools'. 9  Several of the schools were those erected early in the century by the quarry owners, 'but most of the schools in the area were totally unfit for school purposes, and with the consent of the Department, the Board proceeded with as little delay as possible to the erection of new school buildings in every part of the neighbourhood'. By 1875, four new Board schools had been erected at a cost of  £6,434. 11. 8.    10

The second example comes well towards the end of the century: In 1896, 'after considerable delay, the School Board of Swansea has settled down in earnest, not only to meet the demands of a growing population, but also to substitute new and improved buildings for old ones unsuitable and condemned. New schools will be built, especially at St. Thomas, to contain 1,200 scholars, and to supply the place of the Old Kilvey Copperworks Schools, which, when opened at the beginning of the century were thought to be equal to anything of the kind in the country'. 11

    2. Where works schools continued to remain independent (and these were the largest and most important ones) some of them remaining aloof until the closing years of the century, School Boards were spared the expense of providing educational provision and schools. The last to succumb were the notable Hafod Copperworks Schools at Trevivian, Swansea (to be noted later). Others remained independent for a long period. The Dowlais Schools were transferred in 1892, and the Inspector noted in 1880: 'the children of Dowlais are educated in the fine schools of the Dowlais Iron Company, and the Merthyr School Board have so far been saved from any expenditure on behalf of this portion of their district'. 12  The Act of 1891 which gave parents the right to demand free education for their children provided the final coup de grace for these famous schools. The act of transference is given in the Trustee's own words:

'By a recent Act of Legislature, proposed at the instance of Her Majesty's Government, education, so far as it is compulsory, is in future to be provided at the..................

 ................. expense of the country. The new Act puts an end to the school pence, but its provisions, if well worked, will rather more than cover that deficiency. It was, however, found that the Dowlais workmen were not, on the whole, disposed to continue the poundage, and as this involved a very considerable shortcoming, it became necessary to place the schools under the school Board, which has accordingly been done. In closing a school managership of nearly 36 years 13  the Trustee may be allowed to express a hope that the schools' teachers under the new management, may retain the complete respect and confidence of the parents, and that the schools may continue to deserve the high character which the Reports of Her Majesty's Inspectors shew them to possess'.

Dowlais, 1st March, 1892.   14

In 1893, the Llanelly Copperworks Schools were transferred to the Llanelly School Board, were re-modelled, and greatly enlarged. 15  The large Cwmavon Schools, including the satellite ones at Oakwood, Bryn, and Tymaen (infants) caused considerable distress to H.M. Inspector in 1877:

'There is one portion of this Union about which I feel considerable apprehension --- namely, Cwmavon. For fourteen years past I have been in the habit of inspecting the large and important schools in connection with the works of the English Copper Company there, and have watched with interest their gradual progress and improvement. Adverse affairs however, have led to the extinction of that Company, and the whole of their buildings and property have this year passed to other hands. How the schools with their six Departments and attendance of nearly 1,400 children are to be supported in the future, I am unable to predict. I can only express my earnest wish that the new proprietors may extend to them the same liberality as their predecessors, and that there may be no occasion to call into action other means for providing for the education of this populous district.'   16

What eventually happened to the schools under new management it has not been possible to ascertain, but it is clear that they were not abandoned for in 1897 it was reported:

'Indeed, of all the British and works schools once existing in the Swansea Inspection District, only Hafod, together with the Cwmavon works schools, the Bryndu (Pyle) school, and the Tondu Ironworks school now remain as such'. 17

    3. In the Inspectors' Reports in the Minutes of the Committee of Council for Education after 1870, it is worth recording that the works schools were singled out as being 'the best and most efficient' in the manufacturing and mining districts. In Monmouthshire, the Rhymney and Abersychan ironworks schools received annual commendation and special mention. 18  In Glamorgan, the Dowlais, Maesteg, Llyfni, (ironworks schools); the Duffryn Colliery schools and the Hafod and Kilvey Copperworks schools especially pleased the Inspectors. 19   In Carmarthenshire, excellent reports were the rule for Dafen (Llanelly) Tinworks, and the Llanelly and Pembrey Copperworks schools. 20

    4. The Inspectors' Reports after 1870 not only praised the efficiency of the works schools but also made special comment on the 'large and fine buildings', e.g., at Dowlais, Abersychan, Duffryn, Llanelly, Pembrey, Dafen, Hafod and Cwmavon. Another significant feature of the position of works schools in relation to the formation of School Boards in the industrial districts was their numerical strength in terms of attendances. Taking Glamorgan as a specimen area, and extracting the relevant details for the large School Boards, the following statistics are striking:

i. Merthyr Tydfil School Board, 1881 Survey.

This parish is 7 miles long and from 3 to 5 miles broad. Its population is about 52,000 and has not increased since 1871. Dowlais, at the northeast of the parish, is a dense mass of houses spread over a hill which rises to a height of over 1,000 feet above sea-level. Its population of 16,000 is maintained entirely by the extensive steel and ironworks and the collieries attached thereto. The Dowlais Iron Company is responsible for the education of the children of the whole of this population 12

The town of Merthyr proper is contiguous to Dowlais, and extends from the lower part of the same hill along the Taff Valley almost uninterruptedly for 12 miles at the lower elevation of 500-600 feet. The working classes are supported by the Cyfarthfa Ironworks, which were re-started in 1879, and by the collieries. The population including one or two suburbs is about 30,000. The remainder of the population of the parish is divided between Troedyrhiw, Merthyr Vale, and Treharris, all of which are some miles from Merthyr.

There are nine Board Schools in 19 Departments. The average attendance at all is 2,942, showing an increase of only 486 since 1877. Last Spring there were 3,824 children in average attendance at the other public elementary schools of the parish. They were:

3 'Company' or works schools with 2,081 children.

4 National (two of whom were works schools) with 1,130 children.

2 Roman Catholic --- Dowlais Works Schools with 613 children. 22

ii. Aberdare Parish, 1881 Survey.

Nearly the same area as Merthyr Tydfil, and has a population of 38,000. The Board Schools are 11 in number, 21 Departments, with a total average attendance of 2,888 children. There are 3,133 children in other schools:

4 'Company' or works schools with 1,967 children.

3 National Schools with 1,087 children.

1 Roman Catholic school with 79 children. 23

iii. Llanwonno Parish, 1881 Survey.

The population of this parish was 11,400 in 1871, but has since grown. The town of Pontypridd is inconveniently divided between 3 parishes of which this is one. There are:

8 Board Schools with 1,850 children.

2 'Company' or works schools with 352 children

1 National School with 89 children. 24

iv. Llantrisant Parish, 1881 Survey.

This is also a large parish the boundaries of which were determined when the population was centralised at the town of the same name, but now includes several large mining villages in remote parts. There are:

9 Board Schools with 835 children.

2 National Schools with 411 children.  

1 Colliery School with 346 children.   25

Summary of 1881 Survey: Mr. William Edwards, H.M.I. reported that 'the total average attendance at all the public elementary schools in my District which comprises Merthyr Tydfil, Pontypridd, and Crickhowell, Breconshire is 26,334:

Board Schools                          14,915  children.

Company or Colliery schools     6,781       ''

National Schools                         3,844      ''

Roman Catholic                             794       ''

The Company or Colliery schools were classed as British.   26

    5. School Boards sometimes acquired works schools by purchase. This was particularly evident after 1880 when, faced with increase in numbers, School Boards took over the existing ones by purchase agreement (i.e., those schools who wished to cease functioning as works schools). Thereafter the School Boards enlarged or renovated them with the aid of a government grant, and continued to extort poundage and school pence. 27  In Monmouthshire, for example, the Bedwellty School Board committed itself to a very extensive school-building programme : 'Since 31 August 1876, the Board has built and completed 7 separate blocks of schools, accommodating 4,484 children, and purchased, improved, and enlarged 5 existing blocks of schools, accommodating 1962 children more; the building, purchase, etc., of these 12 blocks has required a loan of £42,456. Since August 1879, the Board has also arranged to purchase and enlarge the Rhymney Ironworks schools, needing a further ........................

............................ £4,500'.   28  The Aberystruth School Board in the same County had also erected new schools and 'purchased and enlarged the Blaina Ironworks schools'. 29  In 1882, the Trevethin (Pontypool) Board took over the Abersychan and Pontnewynydd works schools 'enlarging and renovating them'. 30  In Glamorgan, the Swansea School Board purchased the Hafod Copperworks schools in 1898, the last bastion of the works schools to fall. 31

    6. The majority of works schools were British, and received their grants through the British and Foreign School Society. Soon after 1880, most of them had been absorbed by the School Boards. The National Society, however, redoubled its efforts to promote schools on a voluntary basis within the time limit (one year) imposed by the Education Act of 1870. Where works schools already existed in industrial areas - and most of them were either British or Neutral ---  National Schools had to struggle for their existence. Their position was particularly desperate and vulnerable when they had to compete with the Works Board schools --- 'for the right of educating a population in which Nonconformists so largely predominated, the Parish of Gelligaer furnished several examples of the inevitable death of Church of England schools in these circumstances ... only one exists out of the five which I inspected two years ago. The clergyman of the parish carried on these schools by exertions which might have borne valuable fruits amidst a more sympathetic community. In the older industrial centres where the Established Church has a richer flock, a National school may not only flourish financially, but may also be extremely efficient and popular'. 32

    7. Some School Boards, having taken over certain works schools continued to make use of the poundage system as a basis of maintenance, thus obviating the necessity of levying a local education rate - the poundage was kept on in order to produce a sum sufficient, with the government grant, to balance the expenditure. The rates were not called into requisition at all'. This method of maintaining schools operated at Merthyr Tydfil and at the Ferndale Colliery schools. 33

    8. School Boards came to the rescue of certain schools who unsuccessfully attempted to exist on the poundage system --- 'such schools who were in difficulties took refuge under the wings of a School Board'. These schools were in the colliery districts, one of them --- the Duffryn schools 'which were in the highest state of educational efficiency were transferred to the School Board on account of a debt which had accumulated during a strike, and which could not be covered by any reasonable sacrifices on the part of either the managers or the colliers. In the Rhondda Valleys also, several schools have lately undergone a similar change of management for the same reason'. 34

Up to 1878, the whole responsibility of supplying school education in the parish of Ystradyfodwg (Rhondda) had been thrown on Voluntary agency. 35  The local colliery owners and educationists worked energetically to supply the educational needs of the community, and the committee members who managed the schools were composed of ministers, tradespeople, and working colliers. Nearly all the schools were dependent for funds on the poundage contributed at the collieries. A 3d poundage was considered hardly sufficient for the medical fund but the school fund as a rule had to be satisfied with a penny. Large collieries were able to maintain their schools in a fairly prosperous condition, but with several of the schools it was a hard struggle for existence. In addition, strikes and stoppages seriously interfered with the funds, and the long strike of the 1870's was the means of closing more than one of the National schools in the parish, e.g., the Pentre National school was closed in 1875 .   36

It became obvious that the time had arrived to tackle the problem of education on a sounder footing in an area where coal exploitation was continually expanding and the school population rapidly growing, and the only practical solution was the formation of a School Board on October 28, 1878.   37  One of the first things demanding the attention of the Board was the compilation of a census of the whole parish which was divided into 18 districts. Statistics were presented showing the following details: number of families visited; number of children under 5 and under 13; number of children over 13, and number of children attending and not attending school.   38

The results showed that there were 13,997 children under 13, and 5,637 above that age. Only 7,189 attended school, whilst 7,010 (or 50% under 13) did not attend any kind of school. 30  Within a few months after its formation the Board took over the following Colliery Schools: Treorchy United, Bodringallt, Pentre, Dunraven, and Ystrad (Ton), and then set about supplying the deficiency of accommodation in the parish. 40  The new schools which were opened by the School Board together with the Colliery schools were taken over by the Rhondda Education Authority in 1902.   41

Tinworks schools were absorbed by local School Boards at various dates after 1870, were enlarged and renovated and became the best schools in their respective districts, e.g., Dafen (Llanelly), Aberdulais, Aberavon, and Margam.

One final point is worth noting in connection with school fees. The managers of struggling National schools ascribed their lack of success to the fact that School Boards charged low fees --- some of them did not even press parents for school pence. Where School Boards had taken over Works schools, the school pence were lower than for other children.

In some transferred Works schools the children of workmen paid no fees whilst others e.g., at Rhymney ironworks schools, had to pay --- 176 boys, 181 girls, and 226 infants paid 3d each per week. 42  At the Abersychan ironworks school controlled by the School Board, 124 boys, 164 girls and 231 infants paid at the rate of 1 1/2 each whilst 7 boys, 6 girls, and 3 infants paid 3d per week. Workers' children at Sirhowy ironworks schools received free education, and at the Cyfarthfa works school taken over by the Merthyr Tydfil School Board workmen's children paid a penny per week and others varying sums of 2d and 3d.  43



University College, Cardiff


Works Schools listed as having been transferred to School Boards by 1894    44



Grants for enlarging


 Av. Attend 

Annual Grants









£15 7 0

        Ebbw Vale




£468 19 0

        Lower Rhymney




£213 10 0

        Middle Rhymney



£425 10 0




£224 19 0

        Upper Rhymney




£211 6 0









£51 9 0

        Dos Nailworks,         Newport  (half-time school)




£30 3 0


£365 7 8



£321 19 10

        Trevethin  (Pontypool)



£340 4 7



Grants for enlarging


 Av. Attend 

Annual Grants

        Amman (Carms)




£294 5 0     45

        Yniscedwyn (Breconshire)




 -                 46


Works schools listed as having been transferred to school Boards by 1894.    47




Av. Attendance

 Annual grants




£280     0       0




£226    12      0

Neath Abbey



£108    16      0




£542     2       0

Ystalyfera (Wern)



£331    3       3




£597    8       0

Cwmafon (Tymaen) Infants



£103    15      0

Cwmafon (Bryn)




Cwmafon (Oakwood)



£206    9       0




£1,452  18      6




£546    2       0

Georgetown (Merthyr)



£556    4       0




£147    4       0


SCHOOLS OF THE NON-FERROUS METAL INDUSTRIES transferred to school Boards by 1894.



Average Attendance

Annual grants

Tinworks Schools




Dafen (Llanelly)



£250 2  5        48




-                      49




£130 5  0         50





Copperworks Schools







£611   1   5      51




£549  19  1      52

Hafod (transferred in 1898 by purchase) 



£860   4   0      53




£474  10   0     54




£536  10   6     55

Melincrythan (Neath)



 -                      56





Spelter Works school







£228  7   6       57


COLLIERY SCHOOLS transferred to School Boards by 1894.

Ystradyfodwg School Board formed in 1878, included the following schools in 1882:    58


No. of Scholars

Average attendance 

Annual grants




£33     7      0




£487    0     0

        Clydach Vale



£161    8     2




£300    7    10




£601    0    10




£284    5      4




£470    14  10




£449    3      4




£535    9      1




£116    11    0

OTHER COLLIERY SCHOOLS transferred to school Boards:   


No. of Scholars

Average attendance 

Annual grants




£630    14      0




£259    10      0

        Merthyr (Maesteg)



£205     7       0

        Court Herbert (Skewen)



£488     5       0




£285    12             59



1 Smith, F. A History of English Elementary Education, 1760-1902, 1931. p. 285.

2 Huxley, Thomas Henry (1825-95): medical doctor, geologist, naturalist, and anatomist. Famous teacher of science and fervid exponent of a liberal curriculum. He justified a system of compulsory education and advocated infant schools, continuation schools, and technical schools.

3 In South Wales after 1860 there was an unprecedented rise in population especially in the mid-Glamorgan coalfield and the new tinplate and steel manufacturing districts. See all the Minutes of the Committee of Council (Inspectors' Reports on South Wales) between 1866 and 1880.

4 The Leeds group under Baines, the centre of the movement in England, could no longer maintain their position and the movement collapsed.

5 Adamson, J. W. English Education, 1789-1902, 1930, p. 347.

6 Compulsory education came in 1880, by Mundella's Act. All School Boards and School Attendance Committees were compelled to make bye-laws to this end, and complete attendance was required between the ages of 5 and 10.

7 Evans, Leslie Wynne: Voluntary Education in the industrial areas of Wales before 1870, N.L.W.Jnl., Vol. XIV, 4. pp. 407-423.

8 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1877: General Report by the Rev. B. J. Binns, H.M.I., on schools in Glamorgan.

9  ibid., Report of the Rev. E. T. Watts, H.M.I., on Merionethshire, p. 636, ff.

10  ibid., for 1877.

11 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1897; General Report for 1896, Swansea District by Mr. Monro, p. 289.

12 ibid., for 1881: General Report for 1880 by W. Edwards, H.M.I., p. 305.

13 G. T. Clarke, Works Manager and Schools Trustee, 1856-1892.

14 Dowlais Schools, Memorandum issued by the Trustee, 1892.

15 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1897, Report for 1896, on Llanelly District by Mr. Jones, p. 289.

16 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1877, ibid.

17 ibid., for 1897, p. 289.

18 ibid., for 1879, Report by Mr. Waddington, H.M.I., p. 436.

19 ibid., for 1873, p. 188.

20 ibid., for 1874, pp. 69 and 133.

21 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1881, p. 305.

22 ibid., p. 306.

23 ibid., pp. 306, fell.

24 ibid.

25 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1881, p. 309.

26 ibid., p. 310.

27 Parl. Papers, Vol. lix, Education, 1873, p. 236 et seque.

28 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1879, Monmouthshire, p. 440.

29 ibid., for 1883, p. 430.

30 ibid.

31 Vivian Collection MSS. 1840-1923, D/DGV, 36; Glamorgan County Record Office.

32 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1881, p. 310.

33 ibid., p. 311.

34 ibid., p. 310.

35 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1881, p. 305

36 N.L.W. MS. 4383, p. 127.

37 The members were: D. Evans, Bodringallt (Chairman); William Jenkins, Ystradfechan (Vice Chairman); D. Richards, Bute Merthyr Colliery, Treherbert; Wm. Walker Hood, Glamorgan Collieries, Llwynypia; Rev. William Morris, Baptist Minister, Treorchy: D. Davis Joseph, Tydraw, Treherbert; Rowland Rowlands, Penygraig; Thomas Owen, Collier, Treherbert; William Abraham (Mabon), Miners' Agent; Rev. William Jones, C.M. Minister, Ton Pentre; Edmund Thomas, Maindy Hall, Ton Pentre; David Rosser, Solicitor, Pontypridd, Clerk to the Board.

38 N.L.W. MS. supra ibid.

39 Ystradyfodwg School Board Census, 1878, D. Davies, Treorchy.

40 N.L.W. MS. supra ibid.

41 Education Committee Minutes, Council Offices, Pentre, Rhondda.

42 Parl. Paper, Vol. lix, 1873, Return of all Public Elementary Schools under Inspection within School Districts in which School Boards have been formed, pp. 236-240.

43 ibid.

44 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1880-8, p. 644.

45 ibid., for 1894, p. 1075.

46 ibid.

47 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1894, p. 1084.

48 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1894, p. 1076.

49 ibid., p. 1084.

50 ibid.

51 ibid., pp. 1076-77.

52 ibid.

53 Vivian Collection MSS. ibid.

54 Minutes of Committee of Council, supra, p. 1084.

55 ibid.

56 ibid.

57 ibid.

58 Minutes of Committee of Council, 1883, p. 753.

59 ibid., 1894, p. 1084.