The British "Public Schools"

From the 1850s to the 1950s, many of the non-denominational independent schools of British Columbia were patterned on the "public schools" of Great Britain.

The British public schools were not "public" in the common sense of the word. They were not intended for the children of ordinary or common families; rather, they catered to the British aristocracy and to affluent middle-class families.

The elite British boarding schools were styled "public" because many of them were incorporated by (public) statute and because they were not privately owned. Also, unlike some of the old English grammar schools, they were open, on a fee-paying basis, to the "public" - i.e. to students from any part of the country and not simply to children of local residents.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the British public schools enjoyed tremendous prestige, not because they offered a high calibre of academic instruction but because they developed character in their pupils.

Character involved resourcefulness and self-reliance, respect for tradition and loyalty (to one's school and, by extension, to one's country.) Indeed, the success of the British Empire was attributed in large part to the spirit of the British public schools. Not surprisingly, then, the British public school system was emulated by imperial enthusiasts who established private schools for the sons and daughters of influential, anglophile families in British Columbia.

The British public school tradition and related topics, such as the concept of the English gentleman and nineteenth century notions of social class, are considered on The Victorian Web, the interdisciplinary web site.

The transfer of the ideals and practices of class-based private education in late Victorian Britain to British Columbia is the subject of Jean Barman's book, Growing Up British in British Columbia. Boys in Private School (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1984).

Other works on the traditions of some of British Columbia's "private schools" - including several "private" schools for girls - are listed in The Homeroom Bibliography.