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W.E. Forster introduces the Elementary Education Bill

Following an intense campaign by the National Education League and widespread public and political concern that Britain needed to remain competitive in the world by being at the forefront of manufacture and improvement, the Elementary Education Bill was introduced to the House of Commons by William Forster, Vice President of the Council in Gladstone’s first ministry. The Act required local authorities to set up school boards to provide elementary education for children aged 5 to 13. This was not the introduction of universal free education as parents still had to pay school fees but school boards were able to pay the fees of poor children. In his speech introducing the measure, Forster said the government wished to respond to the demand from all parts of the country for a complete system of national education and the 1870 Act, as it became, was the first step on this road.