History of the BFSS

Forming The British & Foreign School Society

Joseph Lancaster was a Quaker who became concerned that the poorer classes were denied the opportunity of education in the late 18th century. Recognising that the cost of education lay mainly in the salaries of teachers, he devised a method of teaching by which one schoolmaster was responsible for 300 or more boys, all accommodated in one large schoolroom.

The basic teaching of the younger children was undertaken by older ones, called monitors, who taught in small groups on either side of the schoolroom.

There is one remaining Lancasterian schoolroom in England at Hitchin, Hertfordshire, which is maintained as a museum.

Borough Road

In 1798, Lancaster opened his first school in the Borough Road in London, followed by a teacher training establishment. Lancaster had a flair for recruiting support, often from wealthy non-conformist families although several members of the royal family also contributed.

In 1808, the Society for promoting the Royal British or Lancasterian System for the Education of the Poor was formed to help Lancaster organise and control his financial affairs, which were by then in disarray. In 1814 the Society changed its name to the British and Foreign School Society, as it’s known today.

West London Institute of Higher Education

When the British Schools became part of the system for the public provision of education, the Society concentrated its efforts on teacher training. Its flagship college moved from the Borough Road and became part of the West London Institute of Higher Education in 1976.

As other colleges have closed and the Society has gathered more capital, it has used its funds to provide funding for educational projects around the world.

Royal Charter

The BFSS Seal

The BFSS Seal

BFSS was granted a Royal Charter in 1906 which is a very interesting, historic document.   To see an abstract of the Royal Charter of 1906 and the Supplemental Charter of 1999 please click here.   Changes to two paragraphs in the preamble were approved by the Privy Council in October 2014.    To see these changes please click on Amendments to the Charter.  The changes expressly state the charitable purpose for which the BFSS exists (which remains the advancement of education) and make clear that this is for the benefit of the public.  They also refer to the fact that the way of achieving those aims was historically within the Charity’s own schools and colleges, but latterly the Charity has furthered its objects by offering support and assistance to other schools and educational institutions, some of which are overseas.   A further amendment (under the section describing the principal methods by which the aims of the Charity have been pursued) reflects the fact that the primary method of fulfilling the objects is now by making grants and providing financial support.


In October 2014 the Privy Council also approved changes to the BFSS’s Statutes.   To see the revised Statutes please click here.  The Statutes include provisions to update means of communication and to allow for ballots by postal, electronic or other means as agreed by the Council.  Other changes include the introduction of fixed terms of office for Councillors;  new arrangements whereby all Councillors will be nominated and elected by Members of the Society;   and the opening up of Membership to organisations as well as individuals interested in promoting the charitable objects of the Society.

Bye Laws

On 9 December 2014 the Council agreed new Bye-laws which contain additional provisions applying to Council meetings and General and other meetings of the Society.  The Bye-laws are updated periodically by Council, on the latest occasion in March 2018. To see the latest Bye-laws please click on Bye-laws.