Schools without a law: primary education in France from the Revolution to the Guizot Law

Abstract : The French Revolution had a substantial impact on the functioning of primary schools as it suppressed one of their major funding sources, taxes collected by the clergy. Nonetheless, the geographical distribution of schools and enrolment rates remained relatively stable until late into the nineteenth century. In this article, I show that understanding the reorganisation of primary schooling after the Revolution is essential in accounting for these long-lasting variations in educational attainment. By using a new database at the level of primary schools, I first show that municipalities took over the control of instruction in areas well-endowed in economic resources and where schools were more concentrated before the revolutionary time period. Secondly, I demonstrate that, by subsidising schools, municipal authorities acted in favour of a fall in schooling fees, lowering the average cost of education and therefore increasing enrolment rates. Finally, I show that teaching conditions were better and human capital accumulation higher in the schools provided with municipal grants. Public investment in primary schooling is therefore a key element to understand the uneven distribution of schools, enrolment rates and knowledge accumulation in France during the nineteenth century.
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Adrien Montalbo. Schools without a law: primary education in France from the Revolution to the Guizot Law. 2019. ⟨halshs-02093546⟩

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