7 junio, 2024

Lancasterian school: origin, method and characteristics

We explain what the Lancasterian school was, its historical origin, authors and characteristics

What is the Lancastrian school?

The andLancasterian school is an educational method that owes its name to its creator, Joseph Lancaster, a British teacher who took the system previously invented by Andrew Bell and slightly reformed it to adapt it to his educational philosophy. The first experiments were carried out in England, but his influence soon reached America.

In the American continent it was quite successful in many countries, from Canada to Argentina, with a special incidence in Mexico. With this way of educating, only a small number of teachers were needed to care for hundreds of children.

The teachers dealt with the smartest children first and with the easiest to learn and these, in turn, attended to the youngest or least advanced children. In this way, a kind of pyramid of knowledge was established, with each row helping the lower one to learn, without the need for a teacher to control.

The Lancastrian school established a very orderly and regulated mode for its operation. There was a system of rewards and punishments that, despite the fact that they were prohibited in the physical realm, were found very severe by many citizens and experts.


The existing education in 18th century England was tremendously class based, with a great difference between those who could afford to go to private centers or hire private tutors and the less favored.

Increasing industrialization, which emphasized these class differences, only deepened the problem. The traditional upper class and the new middle class had access to quality education, but the children of the lower classes could not even receive a proper primary education.

To alleviate such shortcomings, a series of philosophers, educators or simply teachers began to propose alternatives. Among them were Joseph Lancaster and Andrew Bell.

Andrew Bell

Andrew Bell was the first to apply a similar educational system that Lancaster later popularized. Both started at virtually the same time and came to have some major discrepancies.

Bell was born in Scotland in 1753 and had a degree in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. He had been ordained a minister in the Church of England and was posted to India as an army chaplain. There he held the management of an asylum for soldiers’ orphans, located near Madras; That work was what inspired him to create his method.

The asylum in question had many financial problems. Teachers were barely paid and the quality of teaching left a lot to be desired. To alleviate the problem, Bell began using the more advanced students to deal with the younger ones.

According to his biographers, the Scotsman chose an 8-year-old boy and taught him to write. Once the boy learned, he went on to teach another of his classmates.

From that first success, Bell extended the idea, casting other kids. He baptized the system as mutual instruction.

Once he returned to England, he published an article recounting his experience and, after a few years, his method began to be used in some schools in the country.

Joseph Lancaster

Lancaster, who taught at London’s Borough School, was the one who really popularized the system. Thanks to his method, a single teacher could take care of up to 1000 students.

The British named his method as a monitor system, since the most advanced students who took care of the rest were called monitors.

What is not clear is whether Lancaster knew of Bell’s work and simply modified it, or whether he believed it from the beginning. What is known is that the experience in India occurred first and that the two knew each other.

In any case, it was Lancaster who spread it throughout America, to the point that the method became known as the Lancasterian school.

Differences between the two

The differences between the two methods (and between the two men) were mainly due to the scope that religion should have in the school. Lancaster, who was a Quaker, had a much more tolerant attitude toward other beliefs than Bell did.

The Anglican Church was concerned about the progress of the monitoring system, since it had been adopted by the so-called non-conformist teachers. This concern was seized upon by Bell, who advised the Church to adopt its own method.

As discussed above, the Scotsman was a minister of the Church and, as such, attached great importance to religious teaching. However, despite the fact that he finally obtained the support of the ecclesiastical authorities, the British courts preferred Lancaster and his system began to be applied in numerous colleges.

Lancastrian method and its characteristics

teaching methodology

In the methodology created by Lancaster, the first thing that changes is the traditional relationship between teacher and student. With this system, the student himself can go on to teach other children, although he does not stop studying.

Experts point out that the philosophy behind this system was utilitarian. As they point out, that was what made it so successful in Latin America.

The monitors, outstanding students who acted teaching the little ones, received the supervision of the teachers. This meant that each of the teachers could handle up to 1000 students. Obviously, this offered great accessibility at a very low cost, making it perfect for less advantaged populations.

The method had a series of very rigid rules, with a regulation that marked each step that had to be taken to teach reading, counting and writing. The most usual thing was to use posters or printed figures that recalled these steps. When you learned the first figure, you could move on to the second.

Although it may seem that it was a very liberalized education, the truth is that there were individual controls of knowledge. These were carried out by the monitors, who evaluated each of the steps learned.

Characteristics of the Lancastrian school

As was said before, only one teacher was necessary for a ratio of up to 1,000 students, since the monitors were in charge of sharing what they learned with the rest.
The Lancasterian school did not succeed beyond primary education. Thus, only a few subjects were taught, including reading, arithmetic, writing, and Christian doctrine. Figures and posters were hung on the walls with the steps to be learned in each of these subjects.
The division within the school was made up of groups of 10 children who were accompanied by their corresponding monitor, following an established schedule. In addition, there was a general monitor, who was in charge of controlling attendance, maintaining discipline or distributing material.
Lancaster did not support physical punishment, which was very much in vogue in his native England. In any case, the punishments that he established for his schools were also quite harsh, since they could be reprimanded by holding heavy stones, being tied up, or even being put in cages.


Education History. LANCASTER method. Retrieved from historiadelaeducacion.blogspot.com.es
Wikipedia. Joseph Lancaster. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Monitoring system. Retrieved from britannica.com
Matzat, Amy. The Lancasterian System of Teaching. Retrieved from nd.edu
Baker, Edward. A brief sketch of the Lancasterian system. Recovered from books.google.es
Gale Research Inc. The Lancastrian Method. Retrieved from encyclopedia.com

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