Public Schools Act 1868

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Public Schools Act, 1868[1]
Long titleAn Act to make further Provision for the good Government and Extension of certain Public Schools in England.
Citation31 & 32 Vict. c. 118
Royal assent31 July 1868

The Public Schools Act 1868 was enacted by the British Parliament to reform and regulate seven leading English boys' boarding schools, most of which had grown out of ancient charity schools for the education of a certain number of poor scholars, but were by then, as they are today, also educating many sons of the English upper and upper-middle classes on a fee-paying basis. The preamble describes "An Act to make further Provision for the good Government and Extension of certain Public Schools in England." The concept of a public school therefore predates this Act.

The Act followed the report of the Clarendon Commission, a Royal Commission set up to inquire into nine leading schools, which sat from 1861 to 1864 and investigated conditions and abuses which had grown up over the centuries at these originally charity schools.[2]

The bill was presented for its first reading in the Lords by Lord Clarendon on 13 March 1865 and for its second reading on 3 April 1865. The bill was in two parts, the first containing the general provisions of the bill and the second containing specific proposals for each school.

St Paul's School and Merchant Taylors' School were omitted, as they argued successfully that their constitutions made them legally "private" schools and that their constitutions could not be altered by public legislation;[3][4][5] thus the act concerned itself with the other seven schools investigated by the Clarendon Commission:[6][7]

The act regulated these seven schools in a number of ways, as recommended by the Clarendon Commission, with the aim of creating better conditions in them and preventing abuses, and authorized the establishment of a board of governors for each school, to supervise their administration. It also freed them of their obligations under their founding charters to educate "Foundation Scholars", i.e. scholarship boys paying nominal or no fees. The Act made it clear that parliament had authority to legislate for the schools.[8] The act led to development of the schools away from the traditional exclusively classics-based curriculum taught by clergymen, to a somewhat broader scope of studies.[citation needed]

In 1887 the Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal determined that the City of London School was a public school.[9]


  1. ^ Short title as conferred by s. 1 of the act; the modern convention for the citation of short titles omits the comma after the word "Act".
  2. ^ Shrosbree 1988, p. 15.
  3. ^ Shrosbree 1988.
  4. ^ England Since Waterloo – Sir John Arthur Ransome Marriott – Google Books. Retrieved on 13 August 2013.
  5. ^ Secondary Education in England 1870–1902: Public Activity and Private Enterprise – Prof John Roach, John Roach – Google Books. Retrieved on 13 August 2013.
  6. ^ Shrosbree 1988, pp. 12ff.
  7. ^ An Act to make further Provision for the good Government and Extension of certain Public Schools in England, in: Great Britain (1868). A collection of the public general statutes passed in the Thirty-first and Thirty-second year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. pp. 560–571.
  8. ^ Great Britain (1869), The statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, passed in the ... (1807–69)., His Majesty's statute and law Printers, p. 190
  9. ^ Blake v The Mayor and Citizens of the City of London [1887] L.R. 19 Q.B.D. 79.


  • Colin Shrosbree (1988). Public Schools and Private Education: the Clarendon Commission, 1861–64, and the Public Schools Acts. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-2580-8.

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