monitorial system

monitorial system

monitorial system, method of elementary education devised by British educators Joseph Lancaster and Andrew Bell during the 19th cent. to furnish schooling to the underprivileged even under conditions of severely limited facilities. It was sometimes called the mutual or Lancasterian system. All students met in one room, with about 10 students and one monitor to each bench. The monitors, older and better students, were instructed directly by the teacher and in turn instructed the other pupils. It was often assumed that the monitors would eventually become teachers. This system, which might involve several levels of monitors, used elaborate programs of reward for good deportment and scholarship, supplemented by punishment based on "shame rather than pain." The success of the monitorial system stimulated interest in education for the poor.


See J. Lancaster, The Lancasterian System of Education (1821) and The Practical Parts of Lancaster's Improvements and Bell's Experiments (ed. by D. Solmon, 1932); C. Kaestle, Joseph Lancaster and the Monitorial School Movement (1973).

The Monitorial System (also known as "mutual instruction" or the "Bell-Lancaster method" after the British educators Dr Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster who both independently developed it) was an education method that became popular at a global scale during the early 19th century. The method was based on the abler pupils being used as 'helpers' to the teacher, passing on the information they had learned to other students. The Monitorial System was found very useful by 19th-century educators, as it proved to be a cheap way of making primary education more inclusive, thus making it possible to increase the average class size. The methodology was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, and later by the National Schools System.

The system is not entirely unlike the way professors, assistants and tutors work together in university education.

The Monitorial System, although widely spread and with many advocates, fell into disfavour with David Stow's "Glasgow System" which advocated trained teachers with higher goals than those of monitors.

The Lancasterian System

Gladman, writing in the 1880s, distinguishes between the Lancasterian system and the Madras System . The Lancasterian System is described as preferring smaller classes, unlike Bell's Madras System. Lancaster specified an ideal classroom (hall) as being a "parallelogram, the length about twice the width. The windows were to be six feet from the floor. The floor should be inclined, rising one foot in twenty from the master's desk to the upper end of the room, where the highest class is situated. The master's desk is on the middle of a platform two to three feet high, erected at the lower end of the room. Forms and desks, fixed firmly to the ground, occupy the middle of the room, a passage being left between the ends of the forms and the wall, five or six feet broad, where the children form semicircles for reading."

According to Gladman, to stimulate effort and reward merit, "Lancaster used Place Taking abundantly. He also had medals and badges of merit .. Tickets could be earned too; these had a trifling pecuniary value." Prizes were given "to excess" ceremonially.

Frequent changes of routine aided discipline. A code of command, and exact movements also reinforced discipline. Class lists and registers were kept.

Children were classified on a dual principle according to their ability in reading, and arithmetic.

Lancaster described his system as to produce a 'Christian Education' and "train children in the practise of such moral habits as are conducive to the welfare of society."

The Madras System

Bell's "Madras System" was so named because it originated at the Military Male Orphan Asylum, Egmore, near Madras. Gladman describes Bell's system from notes taken from "Bell's Manual" which had been published by the National Society two years after Bell's death, in 1832. "after observing children in a native school, seated on the ground, and writing in the sand .. he set a boy, John Frisken, to teach the alphabet on the same principle .. Bell was consequently led to extend and elaborate the system."

Bell declared "There is a faculty, inherent in the mind, of conveying and receiving mutual instruction." In 1796, John Frisken was 12 years and 8 months. With assistants, he was in charge of 91 boys.

The school was arranged in forms or classes, each consisting of about 36 members of similar proficiency, as classified by reading ability.

The young teachers were kept to task through registers. Reading, Ciphering and Religious rehearsals were tracked through the Paidometer register. Discipline held through a Black Book, which had entries read to the entire school, and faults were commented on in moral terms.

The hall was built in rectangles, with windows five feet from the floor, but opening at the top. Desks were placed against walls, and the Master's desk was raised, a practise that displeased Gladman, who remarked "Fixing the master thus, deprived him of much of his power; he would do more good in passing from class to class, and teaching."


Despite the many similarities of the two systems, and the initial friendship of Lancaster and Bell, divisions appeared between the advocates. In 1805, a Mrs Trimmer published a paper claiming Lancaster's system was antagonistic to the National Church. It was said that the country was soon divided into two camps; speeches, sermons, magazine articles and pamphlets appeared on each side. The National Society was formed to propagate Bell's System and the B&FSS was formed to propagate Lancaster's System.

Learning by teaching

Since 1980 in Germany, without references to the tradition of the lancaster method the learning by teaching method (German: de:Lernen durch Lehren) (LdL) is broad implemented in all subjects, from primary school to university.

Since 1968 in Sudbury model of democratic education schools all over the world, without references to the tradition of the Lancaster method, learning by teaching is broad implemented in all subjects, and since 1921 to some extent in Summerhill School. Sudbury model of democratic education schools generally accept children and teens, usually between ages 5–19. They do not segregate students by age, so that students of any age are free to interact with students in other age groups. One effect of this age mixing is that a great deal of the teaching in the school is done by students, thus implementing learning by teaching

See also




  • A Student's History of Education, Frank Pierrepont Graves
  • Joseph Lancaster's Monitorial System of Instruction and American Indian Education, 1815-1838, Ronald Rayman, History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Winter, 1981), pp. 395-409

External links

Search another word or see monitorial systemon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature