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18 September 2014
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Victorian Classroom Life: School Reports as Source Material

By Professor Eric Evans

Image of a school assembly c.1901
A school assembly c.1901 ©
Working with sources such as the report examined here gives a fascinating insight into the world of the government inspector. It also helps us understand more about the relationship between the civil service and the making of government policy.

Civil servants are, in theory, exactly that. They serve ministers, who take responsibility for government policy. Reading sources like this, however, helps us see how the distinction can become blurred.

Inspectors like Tremenheere worked for many years in a specialised and technical area of government policy. They were likely to know a great deal more about policy detail and implementation than most of the ministers they notionally served. Ministers usually held office for a limited period. They might not be so able as civil servants appointed as the result of competitive examination.

In practice, many civil servants became policy makers because their ministers trusted their expertise - and the report we have just examined shows us this process in the making.

About the author

Eric Evans is Emeritus Professor of Modern History at Lancaster University. He has written on British history from the age of Walpole to that of Margaret Thatcher and is the author of several books on 19th and 20th-century British history. Recent publications include a 2nd edition of Thatcher and Thatcherism (Routledge, 2004), The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain, 1783-1870 (Longman, 2001), The Great Reform Act of 1832 (Routledge, 1994), The Birth of Modern Britain, 1780-1914 (Longman, 1997) and Parliamentary Reform, 1770-1918 (Longman, 1999).


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