Education In A Modern World

Victorian education reform: Education Act 1870

Perspective view of Harper Street School, New Kent Road, London

Perspective view of Harper Street School, New Kent Road, London, 1885
Designer: Robert W Edis
© Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum number E.3367-1900

Promoted by reformers as the key to keeping Britain competitive in the industrialising world, radical legislation in the second half of the 19th century transformed the lives of working-class children. The Elementary Education Act of 1870 established formal education for children aged five to 12 in England and Wales, with subsequent laws making elementary education compulsory in 1880 and free of charge in 1891. School boards needed new school facilities that not only held large numbers of students, but also produced healthy workers and acted as a positive aesthetic and cultural asset for the communities that they served. Between 1870 and 1902 the London School Board alone opened over 400 new schools.

Architect Robert Edis's Harper Street School typifies many of these Victorian-age projects. High facades, large windows and polychromic brickwork form a building with substantial street presence, marking its own importance as a community asset. Harper Street School, like many purpose-built schools of the era, respond to the latest ideas in urban health with ample natural light and fresh air. Separate entrances for children of different age groups and sexes led to large lecture halls for 100 to 200 children.


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