EDUCATION FUNDING IN VICTORIAN BRITAIN: 'PAYMENT BY RESULTS' BOOSTED PUPIL ACHIEVEMENT

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Date:
01 Jan 2010

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High stakes testing policies improved school performance in the most educationally disadvantaged regions of Victorian England, according to research by David Mitch, presented at the Economic History Society’s 2010 annual conference.

Under the ‘payments by results’ system of the 1870s and 1880s, national level funding for individual schools depended in part on the outcomes of student exams conducted by school inspectors. This study finds that counties that initially performed poorly on exam results caught up substantially over time under the system.

Payment by results was ultimately abandoned in the 1890s, as competing local educational interests came to perceive that they would do better under more uniform funding policies. But the episode underscores the importance of local accountability in justifying the marked expansion in centralised funding for England’s schools that occurred in the late Victorian era.

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In 1863, the English Parliament set in place a system of elementary school finance in which national level funding for individual schools depended in part on the outcomes of student examinations conducted by school inspectors. Officially labelled the Revised Code, it came to be known as ‘payment by results’.

This system remained in place for roughly thirty years through to the early 1890s. At the height of the system in the 1870s and 1880s, on average, roughly half of the national level funding a school received depended on the outcome of student examinations.

Historians of Victorian education have frequently savaged the policy of payment by results, one describing it as a ‘policy whose time has gone’. They have argued that pay for performance only amplified the inequities in schooling provision that initially existed.

This study finds in contrast that counties that initially performed poorly on examination results caught up over time under payment by results. The discrepancy between high and low performing counties fell markedly between 1879 and 1890, when the policy was abandoned. The gap in reading examination results between high and low performing counties fell by half from 15% to 7.5%; while the gap in writing narrowed from 18% to 12% and for arithmetic from 18% to 14%.

Previous studies by historians of education have focused on national level impacts of the policy. In contrast, this study employs county level data for England and Wales reported in Committee of Council on Education Reports published in British Parliamentary Inquiries between 1879 and 1890 to examine these issues. Findings at this point indicate not only a narrowing in the dispersion across counties of examination results over the period under consideration but also in student/teacher ratios.

The dispersion in expenditure per student did not noticeably narrow and during some time periods, it actually widened. But this can be attributed not to national policies of payment by results but to the increasing importance of local funding for schools based on property taxes.

Payment by results was ultimately abandoned in the 1890s, as competing local educational interests came to perceive that they would do better under more uniform funding policies. The episode underscores the importance of local accountability in justifying the marked expansion in centralised funding for England’s schools that occurred in the late Victorian era.

ENDS


‘Did High Stakes Testing Policies Improve School Performance in the Most Educationally Disadvantaged Regions of Victorian England?’ by David Mitch

David Mitch
Department of Economics
University of Maryland Baltimore County
1000 Hilltop Circle
Baltimore, Maryland 21250
Phone: +1-410-455-2160
Mobile: +1-301-602-8353
Email: mitch@umbc.edu

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