Content associated with: Population tables I, Vol. I. England and Wales. Divisions I-VII, 1851    Page cxcviii

The education census of 1851

Edward Higgs

The 1851 Education Census was a unique feature of the decennial enumeration of that year. 1851 was the first year that census taking had been organised by Major George Graham as Registrar General, and he seems to have envisaged extending the process into a very broad series of statistical investigations. The population census was not only greatly expanded compared to that of 1841, but a census of religious worship was also undertaken in addition to that on educational institutions. Since there was no equivalent to the English General Register Office (GRO) in Scotland at this date, Graham's department undertook the enumeration of the northern kingdom as well (for a description of the organisation of the 1851 census, see: Population Tables, 1851, Pt. I, xii–xiv). The extra work involved in the administration and analysis of these multiple investigations plainly overtaxed the limited resources of the GRO, leading to delays in producing the Annual Reports of the Registrar General Of Births, Marriages and Deaths (Higgs, 2002). This, and the controversy aroused by the surveys, may explain why neither the educational census, or that on religious worship, were ever repeated by the GRO.

The idea for the Census of Education appears to have originated with Graham himself. Graham had some pressing reasons for making this suggestion. His brother, Sir James Graham, had been responsible as Home Secretary for an abortive Bill on Factory Education in 1843, and had regretted the lack of information available on the provision for education and religious worship. The inadequacy of statistics on these matters had also become apparent during the debates on W. J. Fox's Education Bill in 1850 (Thompson, 1978, 241–2).

Although there was no provision for a Census of Education in the original Census Act, Graham relied upon a clause empowering the Home Secretary to take any additional enquiries he thought necessary as authority for it. He appointed a 28 year old barrister, Horace Mann, to organise the new survey. Mann, who was later the secretary to the Civil Service Commission, issued instructions to the census enumerators to the effect that when they delivered census schedules to householders they were to ask at every house if a school of any kind was conducted there. If there was, he was to leave a schedule for the education census. In England and Wales the census enumerator sent a list of such schools to the local registrar of births, marriages and deaths, who was responsible for collecting the returns and forwarding them to Mann in London. In Scotland the role of the registrar was taken by the superintendent of the parish. Evening schools filled out their forms on Saturday, 29 March; Sunday schools the following day, and Day schools on the following Monday (Goldstrom, 1978, 224–6).

Mann asked each school for their religious and secular affiliations, their date of establishment, and their income and expenditure, the number of teachers, their sex, pay and levels of training; the number of pupils on the schools', their age and sex, and the numbers attending on Census Day; and the subjects of instruction and the number of pupils receiving it. Other questions were asked on classroom sizes, occupations of evening scholars, and how school governors were appointed. The original returns do not survive in their entirety, although some appear to have found their way into the National Archives in London amongst the returns of the Census of Religious Worship for England and Wales in record class HO 129.

Mann published the results of the Census of Education in two volumes: Census of Great Britain, 1851, Education. England and Wales. Report and tables; and Report and tables on religious worship and education in Scotland, 1851. These volumes do not give the returns for individual schools but aggregates in registration districts in England and Wales, and for counties and burghs in Scotland. Since filling out the census schedule was not obligatory, and there was fear of state intervention undermining the voluntary and denominational nature of education, at least 1,206 day schools and 377 Sunday schools declined to supply information. The returns for public schools are probably fairly accurate but those for private schools, many of which were little more than child-minding establishments, are probably more problematic. Teachers, who were paid by attendance, may have had an incentive to mark down children as attending on Census Day, even when they were only on the school's books. Mann made some heroic assumptions to calculate the numbers receiving education for a certain number of years but these may well be untrustworthy. The data on teachers' remuneration, and the income and expenditure of schools are also somewhat suspect (Coleman, 1972; Goldstrom, 1978).

REFERENCES

B. I. Coleman, 'The incidence of education in mid-century', in E. A. Wrigley, ed., Nineteenth-century society (Cambridge, 1972), 397–410.

J. M. Goldstrom, 'Education in England and Wales in 1851: the Education Census of Great Britain, 1851', in R. Lawton, ed., The census and social structure: an interpretative guide to nineteenth century censuses for England and Wales (London, 1978), 224–40.

Edward Higgs, 'The Annual Report of the Registrar General, 1839–1920: a textual history', in E. Magnello and A. Hardy, eds, The road to medical statistics (Amsterdam and Atlanta, 2002), 55–76.

Census of Great Britain, 1851, Population tables, I. Number of the inhabitants in 1801, 1811, 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851. Vol. I BPP 1852–53 LXXXV. [View this document: Population tables I, Vol. I. England and Wales. Divisions I-VII, 1851]

Census of Great Britain, 1851, Education. England and Wales. Report and tables BPP 1852–53 XC. [View this document: Education, England and Wales, 1851]

Census of Great Britain, 1851, Report and tables on religious worship and education in Scotland, 1851 BPP 1854 LIX. [View this document: Religious worship and education, Scotland, 1851]

D. M. Thompson, 'The religious census of 1851', in R. Lawton, ed., The census and social structure: an interpretative guide to nineteenth century censuses for England and Wales (London, 1978), 241–88.