British & Foreign School Society

British and Foreign School Society

The British and Foreign School Society (BFSS) runs a number of centres in the vicinity of London, England. In the 19th century it supported free British Schools and teacher training; it continued in the latter role. Now it runs a number of educational centres.

The National Religious Education Centre is located in the old BFSS college building (now known as Lancaster House) on the Osterley Campus of Brunel University. This provides professional development services and courses, runs a research and publications programme, together with a Resource Centre.

The Archive Centre is on Brunel's Runnymede Campus. This holds school and college records, together with artefacts and curriculum materials with relevance to modern education.

The British Schools Museum is set in a cluster of school buildings on a site in Hitchin, UK, dating from 1810, when a Lancasterian School was founded. The Lancasterian Schools were taken over by the British and Foreign Schools Society. The British Schools buildings remaining in Hitchin include a unique Lancasterian Schoolroom (1837), a Galleried Classroom 1853 and other buildings from 1857 and 1905. The Hitchin British Schools Trust runs the museum for public visitors and for classes of visiting children to sample education in the 19th century.


Joseph Lancaster's School in Borough Road, Southwark, London, established in 1798, was an important development in the provision of universal free education for children. A teacher training institution, Borough Road College, was added soon afterwards in 1801.

Subsequently, the Society for Promoting the Lancasterian System for the Education of the Poor was formed in 1808 to continue Lancaster's lead. This was supported by several evangelical and non-conformist Christians, including William Wilberforce. In 1814, the Society was renamed the British and Foreign School Society. During the 19th century, based on non-sectarian principles, the Society started a number of 'British Schools' and teacher training institutions. It also established schools abroad, helping with the provision of staff and other support.

The Lancasterian system (or monitorial system) used older children who had already been given some education to teach the younger children. It was designed to provided a cheap basic education with limited resources and numbers of teachers.

After the government assumed responsibility for education, the BFSS continued its role by supporting teacher training institutions. However, these have now closed or merged with other colleges. In particular, Borough Road College, having moved from Borough Road to Isleworth in west London, merged with the West London Institute of Higher Education in 1976. This in turn became part of Brunel University in 1995.

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