ABSTRACT

A relatively neglected dimension of the study of education is the issue of scale: temporal and spatial. Simplistic blocks of time are sometimes employed, such as ‘the eighteenth century’. Centennial boundaries are usually meaningless. Likewise, in comparative education national units are often adopted. This overlooks the geography of educational reality on the ground, with its myriad spatial disparities. Education, in all its forms, is culturally based and as far as the formal and nonformal modes are concerned, politically delivered. The political factor is not only a matter of formal territorial control. It also operates through cultural and societal forces such as religion, language, gender, class and ethnicity. With England being by far the slowest of the early-industrialised nations to establish a complete national system of formal schooling, control of organised learning has been akin to a battlefield. For many centuries control over such formal and institutionalised learning as existed had much to do with organised religion, language and gender: Christianity, Latin and male, respectively. Faith had little to do with it. From its inception, the Anglican Church fought successfully to contain the curricula of the expanding number of locally founded schools from elementary schools in villages where the priest was amenable to being a teacher, to endowed grammar schools in towns, mostly intended for the poor but often appropriated. The distribution of both was disparate and incomplete. Spatial and locational analysis is what geography is about. Here we are concerned with the historical geography of education (Brock 2010). Human geography has to do

with: (a) precise locations (points); (b) areas (spaces); and (c) flows (along lines) (Walford 1973: 105). When applied to education this means, for example: (a) locations of learning; (b) controlled territories of learning; and (c) networks of organisation and information flow. Within human geography, it is the cultural dimension that relates closely to education in spatial terms. Sack (1984), on societal conception of space, argued that societies tend to create organisations that serve to develop their influence over spatial aspects of their identity. This could be at particular locations such as towns, over areas such as a parish or through networks such as a range of related institutions. All are spatial, and lead to a territorial definition of society overtaking a social definition of territory. The story of formal and non-formal education in England is largely the gradual emergence of a national system of control over a plethora of initiatives at local or regional level. Dodgshon (1987), with relation to Europe, charts the change from (a) control of territory through rule over people to (b) control over people through rule over territory, through horizontally oriented functional systems, including educational. Some nationstates such as France and Prussia were quick to see the role of a system of education to help effect that control. In England it didn’t happen like that. Perhaps the growing maritime empire, with its economic relationship to industrial and commercial expansion, was the scale of paradigm that obtained. Another factor may have been the lack of concern to secure any land-based boundaries. A third was social class: the control of artisans from an early age onwards who needed only instrumental skills to play their part. The corrupt Church was happy to control the learning of the diminishing number of pupils of endowed and local grammar schools, as well as the discredited and largely irrelevant universities of which there were still only two in England by the turn of the nineteenth century. It is with the seeds of agitation for non-denominational educational opportunity and reform from around the 1850s that we shall begin. These were nurtured and germinated differentially by the working classes and expanding middle classes from their respective perspectives, and differentially in many locations. This is a story that takes about 200 years of socio-political struggle to finally achieve a national system of schooling of sorts up to the age of 15 through the Education Act of 1944. It will draw on innovations in specific locations, networks of radical action and the tortuous process of contested territorial control of education from dioceses and school boards to local authorities and a national ministry of education. The issue of selection as a prime function of any education system is fundamental (Timmons 1988). It still dominates in the early twenty-first century, though we will follow the story only to the 1950s.