London School Board
The School Board for London (often abbreviated to the SBL and known colloquially as the London School Board) was an institution of local government and the first directly elected body covering the whole of London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...


The Elementary Education Act 1870
Elementary Education Act 1870
The Elementary Education Act 1870, commonly known as Forster's Education Act, set the framework for schooling of all children between ages 5 and 12 in England and Wales...

 was the first to provide for education for the whole population of England and Wales
England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...

. It created elected school boards
School board (England & Wales)
School boards were public bodies in England and Wales between 1870 and 1902, which established and administered elementary schools.School boards were created in boroughs and parishes under the Elementary Education Act 1870 following campaigning by George Dixon, Joseph Chamberlain and the National...

, which had power to build and run schools where there were insufficient voluntary school places; they could also compel attendance. In most places, the school boards were based on borough districts
Municipal borough
Municipal boroughs were a type of local government district which existed in England and Wales between 1835 and 1974, in Northern Ireland from 1840 to 1973 and in the Republic of Ireland from 1840 to 2002...

 or civil parishes, but in London the board covered the whole area of the Metropolitan Board of Works
Metropolitan Board of Works
The Metropolitan Board of Works was the principal instrument of London-wide government from 1855 until the establishment of the London County Council in 1889. Its principal responsibility was to provide infrastructure to cope with London's rapid growth, which it successfully accomplished. The MBW...

 -- the area today known as Inner London
Inner London
Inner London is the name for the group of London boroughs which form the interior part of Greater London and are surrounded by Outer London. The area was first officially defined in 1965 and for purposes such as statistics, the definition has changed over time. The terms Inner London and Central...


Between 1870 and 1904, the SBL was the single largest educational provider in London and the infrastructure and policies it developed were an important influence on London schooling long after the body was abolished.

School board members

The SBL was elected from ten divisions, based around London's constituencies
United Kingdom constituencies
In the United Kingdom , each of the electoral areas or divisions called constituencies elects one or more members to a parliament or assembly.Within the United Kingdom there are now five bodies with members elected by constituencies:...

. Four divisions, representing the City
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

, Southwark
Metropolitan Borough of Southwark
The Metropolitan Borough of Southwark was a metropolitan borough in the County of London from 1900 to 1965. It was created to cover the western section of the ancient borough of Southwark and formed the northwestern part of the current London Borough of Southwark. In common with the rest of inner...

, Chelsea
Metropolitan Borough of Chelsea
The Metropolitan Borough of Chelsea was a Metropolitan borough of the County of London between 1900 and 1965. It was created by the London Government Act 1899 from most of the ancient parish of Chelsea...

 and Greenwich
Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich
The Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich was a Metropolitan borough in the County of London between 1900 and 1965. Within the area of the borough were the Royal Naval College , the Royal Observatory and Greenwich Park. It bordered the boroughs of Woolwich, Deptford, Lewisham...

 returned four members. The divisions of Lambeth
Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth
The Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth was a Metropolitan borough under London County Council from 1900 to 1965.-History:The borough covered the area of the former Lambeth parish vestry. In addition to the historic riverside area of Lambeth, this included Kennington, Vauxhall, Stockwell, Brixton, the...

, Tower Hamlets
Tower Hamlets (UK Parliament constituency)
Tower Hamlets was a parliamentary borough constituency in, Middlesex, England from 1832 to 1885. It elected two Members of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom...

, Hackney
Metropolitan Borough of Hackney
The Metropolitan Borough of Hackney was a Metropolitan borough of the County of London from 1900 to 1965. Its area became part of the London Borough of Hackney.-Formation and boundaries:...

 and Westminster
Metropolitan Borough of Westminster
The Metropolitan Borough of Westminster was a metropolitan borough in the County of London, England, from 1900 to 1965.-City Status:By royal charter dated 29 October 1900 the borough was granted the title City of Westminster. Westminster had originally been created a city and seat of the...

 returned five members each. Finally, Finsbury
Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury
The Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury was a Metropolitan borough within the County of London from 1900 to 1965, when it was amalgamated with the Metropolitan Borough of Islington to form the London Borough of Islington.- Boundaries :...

 and Marylebone
Metropolitan Borough of St Marylebone
The Metropolitan Borough of St Marylebone was a Metropolitan borough of the County of London from 1900 to 1965. It was based directly on the previously existing civil parish of St Marylebone, which was incorporated into the Metropolitan Board of Works area in 1855, retaining a parish vestry, and...

 returned six and seven members respectively. The Lambeth division, covering the largest area, was eventually sub-divided into two smaller divisions, Lambeth East and Lambeth West.

The electoral system of the SBL contained several innovations. Firstly, the board's election of 1870 was polled by secret ballot
Secret ballot
The secret ballot is a voting method in which a voter's choices in an election or a referendum are anonymous. The key aim is to ensure the voter records a sincere choice by forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation or bribery. The system is one means of achieving the goal of...

, being the first large-scale election to use this approach in Britain. Secondly, the cumulative voting
Cumulative voting
Cumulative voting is a multiple-winner voting system intended to promote more proportional representation than winner-take-all elections.- History :...

 system gave electors a number of votes equal to the number of seats in the division in which they were voting. The elector could use up as many of their votes on a single candidate as they wished, which meant that minority interests often found representation.

The SBL, at the time of its creation had one of the broadest mandates of any elected body in Britain. Unusually, women were permitted to vote on the same terms as men for the school boards and also to stand for election. A number of women were elected to the board, including Elizabeth Garrett
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, LSA, MD , was an English physician and feminist, the first woman to gain a medical qualification in Britain and the first female mayor in England.-Early life:...

, who topped the poll at the first board election in 1870.

One measure of the SBL's importance can be seen in the number of notable figures who stood for election to the board. The board attracted a number of the leading figures of the day, including the scientist Thomas Huxley
Thomas Huxley
Thomas Henry Huxley PC FRS was an English biologist, known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution....

, Helen Taylor
Helen Taylor (feminist)
Helen Taylor was an English feminist, writer and actress. She was the daughter of Harriet Taylor Mill and stepdaughter of John Stuart Mill. Raised at home by a mother, she went to the stage in 1856-1858. After the death of her mother, she lived and worked with John Stuart Mill. Together they...

, stepdaughter of John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill was a British philosopher, economist and civil servant. An influential contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy, his conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. He was a proponent of...

, and Lord Lawrence
John Lawrence, 1st Baron Lawrence
John Laird Mair Lawrence, 1st Baron Lawrence, GCB, GCSI, PC , known as Sir John Lawrence, Bt., between 1858 and 1869, was an Englishman who became a prominent British Imperial statesman who served as Viceroy of India from 1864 to 1869.-Early life:Lawrence came from Richmond, North Yorkshire...

, who served as the SBL's first chairman. The board was also responsible for launching a number of political careers, including those of Charles Reed, Benjamin Waugh
Benjamin Waugh
The Reverend Benjamin Waugh was a Victorian social reformer and campaigner who founded the UK charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in the late 19th century, and also wrote various hymns.Waugh was born, the son of a clergyman, in Settle, North Yorkshire and...

, and the Conservative
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 cabinet minister, William Henry Smith.

Work of the school board

The original intention of the board was to provide a sufficient number of school places for the poorest children in London, which were originally estimated at little more than 100,000. The policy adopted by the SBL was to provide London with modern, high-quality schools, whilst compelling parents, by law, to educate their children. Although education would not be compulsory on a national level until 1880, the board passed a by-law in 1871 that compelled parents to have their children schooled between the ages of five and thirteen.

The SBL was largely successful in their aims and often struggled to keep up with the demand for their services. For instance, by the end of the 1880s, the board was providing school places for more than 350,000 children. This growth was frequently attributed to the quality of school premises, which were often far superior to those of private or charity schools.

The board was responsible for constructing over four hundred schools across London. An important figure in this process was Edward Robert Robson
Edward Robert Robson
Edward Robert Robson FRIBA FSA FSI was an English architect famous for the progressive spirit of his London state-funded school buildings of the 1870s and early 1880s....

, the board's first chief architect. Robson was responsible for designing many of the school buildings erected by the board. The board's policy was to construct schools which would be attractive, and would serve to improve the general appearance of the districts in which they were constructed. Although school board architecture drew a considerable amount of criticism at the time, the schools were often sturdy and practical structures, and many schools constructed during this period are still in use.

Abolition of the board

Although the school boards had been largely successful in increasing the number of children attending school in Britain, they were perceived as bureaucratic and expensive. As a response to this, the boards were abolished by the Education Act of 1902
Education Act 1902
The Education Act 1902 , also known as Balfour's Act, is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom affecting education in England and Wales. At the time of passage of the Act, the Conservative Party was in power...

, which replaced them with Local Education Authorities
Local Education Authority
A local education authority is a local authority in England and Wales that has responsibility for education within its jurisdiction...


In London, the London County Council
London County Council
London County Council was the principal local government body for the County of London, throughout its 1889–1965 existence, and the first London-wide general municipal authority to be directly elected. It covered the area today known as Inner London and was replaced by the Greater London Council...

 had been created in 1889 to replace the Metropolitan Board of Works
Metropolitan Board of Works
The Metropolitan Board of Works was the principal instrument of London-wide government from 1855 until the establishment of the London County Council in 1889. Its principal responsibility was to provide infrastructure to cope with London's rapid growth, which it successfully accomplished. The MBW...

 and in 1904 the responsibility for education in London was transferred to the LCC. The LCC itself was abolished in 1965, with education for the former School Board area passing to the Inner London Education Authority
Inner London Education Authority
The Inner London Education Authority was the education authority for the 12 inner London boroughs from 1965 until its abolition in 1990.-History:...

, a committee of the Greater London Council
Greater London Council
The Greater London Council was the top-tier local government administrative body for Greater London from 1965 to 1986. It replaced the earlier London County Council which had covered a much smaller area...

. The ILEA was abolished in 1990, with the inner London borough
London borough
The administrative area of Greater London contains thirty-two London boroughs. Inner London comprises twelve of these boroughs plus the City of London. Outer London comprises the twenty remaining boroughs of Greater London.-Functions:...

councils becoming education authorities.

Further reading

  • Education in Britain 1750-1914, W B Stephens, 1998, ISBN 0-333-60512-8
  • Educational Documents, England and Wales 1816 to the present day, J Stuart MacLure, 1965, 1979, ISBN 0-416-72810-3 370.942
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