A History of Methodist/Church Schools

Churches have long been associated with education.  The oldest school in England is reputedly King’s School in Canterbury, founded in 597 by St Augustine.
Until the Education Act of 1870, the setting up of schools was completely random with Churches the main providers.  The early Victorian schools existed almost entirely in the form of ’Public Schools’ for the sons of the rich or for the very poor, run on a charitable basis. The majority of children did not actually go to school, except perhaps Sunday school with the children from rich families taught at home by governesses.  This gradually changed during the 19th Century.

Until 1836, when the government began awarding grants to build schools, the Methodist link to education was confined almost exclusively to Sunday schools.  That year at its conference, the Church decided to start the creation of “Weekday” schools saying:  “What we wish for is not merely schools but Church schools.... Not merely education, but education which may begin in an infant school and end in Heaven”.
The first Methodist schools started opening soon after and many had been built by the turn of the century.  Local benefactors and landowners, under the 1841 School Sites Act, usually donated the sites often with the Local Minister and churchwardens as trustees.  Trust deeds usually refer to education “for the poor of the parish”.


In 1844, Parliament passed a law requiring that children working in factories receive six-half-days schooling every week. This launched the setting up of 'Ragged Schools' to provide free basic education for orphans and very poor children.

The 1870 Education Act required schools for children aged 5 to 12 across the country.  The idea being to fill the gaps in the church system by setting up schools in areas where church schools did not already exist.  As not all these schools were free, many families could not afford the penny a week fees and as attending was not compulsory, many children still didn't go to school.  They worked and earned money for the family instead. 

By 1880 all children had to attend a school until they were 10 years old. In 1889, the school leaving age was raised to twelve, and in 1891, the school's pence fee was abolished and schools became free.

In 1902 Education Act, created the Local Education Authorities LEAs and made them financially responsible for both Voluntary and Board schools, except for voluntary school buildings, which the governors had to maintain.

The 1944 Education Act enabled church schools to opt into the maintained system by choosing between aided and controlled status; although some chose to become independent.


In an aided school, church involvement is more significant.  The church’s own Education Department supports the school and the church has a significant representation on the governing body. The church is responsible for building extensions and external repairs (for which they received a percentage reimbursement from the LEA) and manage admissions authorities for their schools and appeals.

Controlled status was designed to enable many of the older church schools to undergo major physical renovations with state funding. LEAs are responsible for controlled school finance, but the school sites continued to be owned by the trustees. The church retained a minority representation on the governing body.  We are a controlled school.

Currently, 22,000 children attend the 65 state-funded and 14 independent Methodist schools in England and Wales, mainly in the North-West of England. All the schools have a Christian foundation, serve their local community and are fully inclusive, welcoming pupils of all faiths and none.

Methodist Church is not a major provider of statutory education in the UK. There are over 25,330 schools in England of which only 79 are Methodist. By comparison there are over 4,600 Church of England primary schools, more than 220 secondary schools, 42 academies and 564 independent schools. Nearly one in five primary school children are educated in Church of England primary schools, with almost a million pupils attending a Church of England school.  There are 2,289 Catholic schools in England and Wales, representing approximately 10% of the total number of schools and colleges nationally with nearly 785,000 pupils were being educated in maintained Catholic schools and colleges.

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