L-R Francisco, Ricardo and Rodrigo Lancaster-Jones stand before a portrait of Joseph Lancaster at the British Schools Museum

Brothers share reminders of inspiring BFSS history

Visit by descendants of Joseph Lancaster brought reminders of how the innovative Lancasterian system was brought to the Americas and spread around the world

Descendants of Joseph Lancaster came from Mexico for a special event at the British Schools Museum last week and shared more of the fascinating history of the foundation of Lancasterian Schools in the Americas.

Lancaster’s great, great, great, great grandsons Ricardo, Francisco and Rodrigo Lopez-Portillo y Lancaster-Jones are understandably proud of their ancestor, who transformed the life chances of millions with his innovative system to bring learning to more children, by having older children (monitors) help to teach the younger.

The Lancasterian system led to the formation of the BFSS which helped spread education to children in deprived areas, where there would otherwise not be the funds to pay for enough teachers.

The system attracted supporters from around the world and Simon Bolivar invited Joseph Lancaster to set up a school in what was then Great Colombia. When invited to open a further school in Mexico, Lancaster sent his daughter, Elizabeth, and son-in-law, Richard Jones, who helped found the school, called El Sol, in a building formerly occupied by the Inquisition. As Ricardo says the symbolism was potent:

“It was the dawn of a new era, Mexico was a new country and taking over that building for the Lancasterian school made a powerful statement that they were moving on from the past.”

By the mid nineteenth century there were between 1,200 and 1,500 schools around the world using Lancasterian principles, including in the US, Africa, Europe and Russia, where one became the first girls’ school in Siberia. That was in addition to thousands of British Schools in the UK.

This history is explored further in Ricardo’s book, Innovation in Education: Notes on the Lancasterian System of Education, and celebrated at the British Schools Museum in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, where the brothers enjoyed activities to mark their visit, including a tour of the only surviving Lancasterian schoolroom in England and taster lessons in the monitorial way.

Terry Ransome of the museum’s Friends Association had created what was a very special day. Charlotte Cashman (Vice-Chair), David Crowther (Trustee) and Sara Gaines (Communications Manager) from BFSS joined museum staff and volunteers to give the brothers a warm welcome.

  • Photo shows L-R: Francisco, Ricardo and Rodrigo Lopez-Portillo y Lancaster-Jones standing before a portrait of Joseph Lancaster at the British Schools Museum. Photo by Simon Maddison.

Published: 28 September 2023