Alternative History

Enflamed with the study of learning, and the admiration of virtue; stirred up with high hopes of living to be brave men, and worthy patriots, dear to God, and famous to all ages. (John Milton, Tract on Education.)

Modern schoolroom of the 1800s.

In the Commonwealth primary, secondary and vocational education is provided by various kinds of free or private schools for boys and girls, apprenticeships, vocational academies, and grammar schools for boys and girls.

Formal Primary and Secondary Education

Primary education is given out by private or free public primary schools for boys and girls. Schools are either administered or funded by privates, parish, borough/burgh or county corporations, trade groups or local parish church o religious groups.

Formal secondary education is organized in grammar schools for boys, that are either independent or of a borough/burgh corporation, the former case more usual in Scotland than in England, Wales or Ireland. Grammar schools are usually financed and endowed by common act of charity by nobles, wealthy merchants and guilds; During the English Reformation in the 16th century, most cathedral schools were closed and replaced by new foundations funded from the dissolution of the monasteries.

Girls education was usually imparted by dame schools, an early form of a private elementary school. They were usually taught by women and were often located in the home of the teacher. The establishments were quite varied—some function primarily as day care facilities overseen by illiterate women, while others provided their students with a good foundation in the basics.

In Scotland, besides grammar schools, it was also established a network of parish schools in the Lowlands, but in the Highlands basic education was still lacking in many areas until the 1780s. Scottish schools were supported by a combination of kirk funds, contributions from local inheritors or burgh councils and parents that could pay. They were inspected by the kirk sessions of local elders, which checked for the quality of teaching and doctrinal purity. There also existed unregulated private "adventure schools". These were often informally created by parents in agreement with unlicensed schoolmasters. These private schools were often necessary given the large populations and scale of some parishes. They were often tacitly accepted by the church and local authorities and are seen particularly important to girls and the children of the poor. For girls the most usual means of schooling were petty schools and sewing schools for girls or dame schools.

Reforms under the presidency Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll, it was established a formal educational system based on parish, now pŕimary district schools, followed by grammar and vocational schools as the secondary tier. The Scottish Board of Education was established to provide funding, inspect private and public establishments and the supervision and license of teachers and common curricula for schools. Also, the Scottish universities established a common entrance exam administered by the Joint Exam Board.

However a truly integrated educational system was the one spelled out by the Irish Schools Act. Despite its shortcoming in not recognizing Gaelic Irish as instructional language, it provide for public funding, inspection and supervision of public schools and a national curricula. Irish private schools, mainly Catholic, were allowed to exist provided they taught the national curriculum and its students passed the certifying exams.

Vocational Schools and Modern Grammar Schools

As a result of the Commonwealth several reforms and types of schools were founded. New vocational academies began to open preparing students in religion, law, medicine, commerce, engineering, arts, crafts and armed services. The teaching was of secondary, higher or university level. This lead to the creation of modern grammar schools whose curricula included English, modern languages, mathematics and natural sciences. In time they became the entry level to academies. Most were endowed by guilds, merchants and boroughs/burghs. In Scotland they become the major kind of school by the early 17th century, displacing grammar schools and preparing, by giving also Greek and Latin, for the university and vocational academies.

The multitude of vocational academies and the need to license them prompted the need to establish some kind of register, the Council of State in the late 17th century formed a Committee on Education in charge of registering all private, guild, merchant, borough and confessional academies and the distribution of grants. Its visitors were in charge of inspecting finances and use of grants.

Education of Girls and Women

The education of girls was not a state priority in England until the 18th century. Though Scotland in its network of parish schools and the unregulated private "adventure schools" provided for the basic instruction of girls and later women. The parish schools of the Irish Schools Act did open its doors for the instruction of women. However England and Wales lagged behind and education was provided by Sunday schools, charity schools for all girls and women in general and private governess and girls schools for the wealthy and aristocracy.

The Governesses' Benevolent Society (GBS), besides providing assistance and relief for its members, attempted to raise the status of governesses. The GBS started to provide lectures at Gresham College of London, leading to oral examinations and a certificate of competence. Under the inspiration and initial campaign of Mary Wollstonecraft, an association of girls colleges and GBS certified teachers was formed for the improvement of female education. The main girl's grammar schools of Britain had their beginnings in this period after long battles to gain funding, enrollment and state recognition always in contrast to the official policy of teaching domestic skills to girls.


There are three universities in England, four in Scotland and one in Ireland. The English and Irish universities follow the federated colleges system. Seminaries or divinity colleges, some associated to a university, provide the training and preparation for the ordination of clergy or for other ministry. The universities are the following:

  • English universities: Oxford (founded 1116, Royal Charter 1248, 18 colleges and 2 private halls), Cambridge (founded 1209 Royal Charter 1231, 16 colleges) and Durham (founded 1656, Commonwealth Charter 1665, 4 colleges and free school)
  • Scottish universities: St Andrews (1410, Royal Charter 1413), Glasgow (1451), Aberdeen (1495), and Edinburgh (1583),
  • University of Dublin (Royal Charter 1592, 3 colleges)

The visitors of the universities are assigned the duties of reforming and regulating them. They can revise and reform statutes and the compliance to the toleration.

For more details see Universities of the Commonwealth.

Other Important Establishments or Colleges

Gresham College (City of London, Commonwealth)

Of importance is Gresham College (1597) of London that hosts, with its eight professorial chairs, free public lectures and promotes experimental science. Gresham College is an independent institution funded from the estate of John Gresham, supported by the City of London Corporation and the Mercers' Company. Its New Commonwealth Charter dates from 1676 when it was giving the power to grant degrees in Astronomy, Geometry, Physic and Commerce. It is also the home of the Society for Promoting and Improving Knowledge.

See Also