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From monastic tutors to comprehensive education – Britain’s education system

Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, Religion on Wednesday, 31 October 2012

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This edited article about education originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 775 published on 20th November 1975.

Monk and boy, picture, image, illustration

A boy is taught Latin by a monk in Norman times by Peter Jackson

Education today is free to all, but once it was the prerogative of the privileged few.

A monk, a Latin scholar, a priest or a patient “dame” could have been your teacher, had you been born at an earlier stage in Britain’s history.

The first teachers were monks who taught boys Latin and simple counting so that they could become priests or clerks.

Scholars taught at the universities, which began appearing in the 12th century. And when the grammar schools came along in Tudor times some of the masters were dedicated men of learning.

Poor children, however, had to go to a village school where they received their lessons from a schoolmistress or a priest.

Tutors taught the children of the aristocracy in their own homes from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Although charities had established schools for poor children, the State did not come into the picture until 1870 when education became compulsory and elementary schools were run by government-appointed boards.

Today, there is a movement towards a comprehensive system which is designed to give every child the education for which he or she is best suited – a far cry from the days when education was for the privileged few.

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