Lancasteriana School: Origin, Lancasterian Method and Its Characteristics

The and lancasteriana school is an educational method that owes its name to its creator, Joseph Lancaster, a British teacher who picked up the system previously invented by Andrew Bell and reformed it slightly to adapt it to his educational philosophy. The first experiences were made 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 attend to hundreds of children.

Lancasterian School Joseph Lancaster

The teachers were first occupied with the smartest and easiest kids to learn and these, in turn, cared for the younger or less advanced children. In this way, a kind of pyramid of knowledge was established, with each row helping the inferior to learn, without the need for a teacher to control.

The Lancasterian school established a very orderly and regulated way for its operation. There was a system of rewards and punishments that, although they were prohibited in the bodily sphere, were found very severe by many citizens and experts.


  • 1 Origin
    • 1.1 Andrew Bell
    • 1.2 Joseph Lancaster
    • 1.3 Differences between both
  • 2 Lancasterian method and its characteristics
    • 2.1 Teaching methodology
    • 2.2 characteristics
  • 3 References


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

The growing 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 popular classes could not even receive a primary education in conditions.

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

Andrew Bell

It was Andrew Bell who first applied a similar educational system that Lancaster later popularized. Both began at about the same time and came to have some important discrepancies.

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

The asylum in question had many economic problems. Teachers barely charged and the quality of teaching left much to be desired. To alleviate the problem, Bell began using the most advanced students to take care of the little ones.

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

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

Once he returned to England, he published an article describing 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 the Borough School in London, was the one who really popularized the system. Thanks to its method, a single teacher could handle up to 1000 students.

The British named his method as a monitorial system, since the more advanced students who took care of the rest received the denomination of monitors.

What is not clear is whether Lancaster knew Bell's work and simply modified it or if, on the contrary, he believed it from the beginning. What is known is that the experience in India happened first and that both knew each other.

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

Differences between both

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

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

As noted earlier, the Scot was a minister of the Church and, as such, he attached great importance to religious teaching. However, although he finally obtained the support of the ecclesiastical authorities, the British courts preferred Lancaster and his system began to be applied in numerous schools.

Lancasterian method and its characteristics

Teaching methodology

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

Experts point out that the philosophy behind this system was the utilitarian one. They say, that's what made him 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. Evidently, this offered a great accessibility with a very low cost, which made it perfect for the less favored 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 was to use posters or printed figures that remembered these steps. When you learned the first figure, you could go to the second.

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


- As it was said before, only one teacher was needed for a ratio of up to 1000 students, since the monitors were responsible for sharing what they learned with the rest.

- The Lancasterian school did not succeed beyond primary school. Thus, only a few subjects were taught, including reading, arithmetic, writing and Christian doctrine. On the walls hung the figures and posters with the steps that had to be learned from each of these subjects.

- The division within the school was of groups of 10 children who were accompanied by their corresponding monitor, following a set schedule. In addition, there was a general monitor, which was responsible for controlling attendance, maintaining discipline or distributing the material.

- Lancaster did not support physical punishment, very much in vogue in his native England. In any case, the punishments that he established for his schools were also quite hard, since they could be reprimanded by holding heavy stones, being tied up or even being placed in cages.


  1. Villalpando Nava, José Ramón. History of Education in Mexico. Recovered from
  2. Education History. LANCASTER method. Retrieved from
  3. Wikipedia. Joseph Lancaster Retrieved from
  4. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Monitorial system. Retrieved from
  5. Matzat, Amy. The Lancasterian System of Teaching. Retrieved from
  6. Baker, Edward. A brief sketch of the Lancasterian system. Recovered from
  7. Gale Research Inc. The Lancastrian Method. Retrieved from

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