Following Wesley, early Methodist had a strong commitment to promoting sound education, particularly initially amongst the poor. All branches of Methodism encouraged the development of schools, mostly primary years. By 1873 there were 912 schools, with limited state aid, offering elementary education with Bible-based religious teaching and a conscience clause.Wesleyan Methodists alone were running 641 day schools. Attached to chapels and under the supervision of the Education Committee, these represented WM's contribution to the education of the poor. They were particularly numerous in parts of Lancashire, e.g. the Oldham and Rochdale area, but far fewer in southern England. Further growth was halted by increasing Methodist support for the new publicly funded Board Schools and the Conference of 1891 resolved to support the establishment of a single national system of education. By the time of Methodist Union in 1932 the number of day schools had fallen to 115 Wesleyan, 7 United Methodist and 4 Primitive Methodist Schools. In the second half of the twentieth century, the number continued to fall, especially in the light of the confidence the 1944 Education Act gave that the Christian religion would be part of the curriculum in all schools, with a requirement for daily acts of worship. By 1997, most of the Methodist day schools had been handed over to local authorities and only 56 'voluntary schools', publicly funded, remained of which 28 were joint Anglican-Methodist foundations, the result of a policy of co-operation which developed during the 1950s. In the first decade of the new century, 10 schools were opened, all of them joint Voluntary Aided primary schools. Some are exciting new ventures, such as The Vine at Camborne and Christ the Sower in Milton Keynes; others meet a local need created by a large housing estate on a brownfield site, such as Trinity Church of England/Methodist Primary School, Buckshaw. By 2011 there were 65 maintained schools with a wholly or partly Methodist foundation. The Education Commission Report to the Conference of 2012 asked all Districts to review the needs and opportunities for the development of new schools 'of a religious character', urging that wherever possible they should be ecumenical foundations.
The coalition government of 2010-15 allowed schools with an 'outstanding' grading by OFSTED to opt to become an academy, receiving their funding direct from government and having a greater degree of independence in how to manage it.
The Methodist Academies and Schools Trust (MAST) was formally established in January 2012. Its purpose is to offer support and oversight for all Methodist, ecumenical, community and Free Schools. Hawkesley Church Primary was the first church academy sponsored jointly by the Birmingham Diocese of the Church of England and MAST. It was launched officially in September 2013. Ermine Street Church Academy, at Alconbury, near Peterborough, with a planned 600 pupils at the Primary level, will be the largest Church Primary school in the United Kingdom.
See also' Education.