The Act followed the report of the Clarendon Commission, a Royal Commission on Public Schools which sat from 1861 to 1864, and investigated conditions and abuses which had grown up over the centuries at nine nationally famous charity schools, seven of which are in South East England, and two in the Midlands:
The Act removed these schools from any direct jurisdiction or responsibility of either the Crown, established church or government, establishing a board of governors for each school and granting them independence over their administration. (The UK government has never taken direct responsibility for the free "state schools", which are financed and administered by local authorities.) The Act led to rapid development of the schools, away from the traditional Classics-based curriculum taught by clergymen, to a broader scope of studies.
Following the Act's use of the term "Public school" to describe the nine famous schools, many other independent schools sought to associate themselves with this description, and it has become the colloquial term for fee-charging, independent English secondary schools.
The Public Schools Acts were revised and further modified in 1869 and 1871, and extended to a few more schools. Twentieth-century child-protection legislation applies to public schools (most of which, unlike most state schools, are boarding schools). In general they now operate rather more inclusive admissions policies, and may soon be legally obliged to do so under the Charities Act 2006.