The Peer Led Teaching of the Ragged Schools

The peer led teaching methods developed by Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster were principal means for developing the Ragged Schools movement. Before education was free for everyone in Britain, there were Ragged Schools. Beginning in the 18th century, philanthropists started Ragged Schools to help the disadvantaged towards a better life. During the 19th century, more people began to worry about neglected children and more schools were opened. These early Ragged Schools were started by merchants and communities and staffed by volunteers.


The growing movement believed that, by receiving an education, people would be enabled to lead a better life in the future. They would be able to find work and engage in commerce, so averting the need to resort to degrading means in order to live.


In 1844 the Ragged School Union was formed with the efforts of Lord Shaftesbury and Angela Burdett-Coutts, among others. At its start, the union comprised 16 schools and about 200 teachers. By 1851, the number of educators grew to around 1,600. As well as providing primary education, many schools provided food.


By 1867, some 226 Sunday Ragged Schools, 204 day schools and 207 evening schools provided a free education for about 26,000 students. Refuges also opened to provide a place for children to sleep safely out of the cold.


Mr William Locke, the honorary but active Secretary of the Ragged School Union, detailed all the things achieved by the Ragged Schools and the difference it had made to the children who attended. He said the schools had been able to find employment for many of the children and they also were taught to be careful with their money. Before 1870, education was largely a private affair, with wealthy parents sending their children to fee paying schools and others using what community knowledge was available.


The Monitorial System

The Monitorial System (also known as “Mutual Instruction” or “Bell-Lancaster Method”) was an education method that became globally popular during the 19th century. The method was based on the more able pupils being used as helpers to the teacher, passing on the information they had learned to other students.


The Monitorial System proved to be a cheap way of making primary education more inclusive, thus making it possible to increase the average class size. The methodology was adopted by the National Schools System and is not entirely unlike the way professors, assistants and tutors work together in university education.


The Madras System

Andrew Bell’s “Madras System” was named because he originated it at the Military Male Orphan Asylum, Egmore, near Madras. In 1789 he was appointed superintendent of an orphan asylum for illegitimate and orphaned sons of officers. After observing some local children teaching others the alphabet by drawing in the sand, Bell decided to extend and elaborate the system.


Bell declared “There is a faculty, inherent in the mind, of conveying and receiving mutual instruction”. The National Society was formed to propagate Bell’s system.