The Public Schools Act 1868 was enacted by the British Parliament to reform and regulate seven of the leading English boys' schools, most of which had grown out of ancient charity schools for the education of a certain number of poor scholars, but then, as today, also educating many sons of the English upper and upper-middle classes on a fee-paying basis.
As is clear from the long title of the Act, An Act to make further Provision for the good Government and Extension of certain Public Schools in England, it was not intended to define which schools were "public schools" but to apply conditions to some of them: in practice, these were the most famous and important schools of the day.
The Act followed the report of the Clarendon Commission, a Royal Commission on Public Schools which sat from 1861 to 1864 and investigated conditions and abuses which had grown up over the centuries at nine nationally famous charity schools.
The Bill was presented for its first reading in the Lords by Clarendon on 13 March 1865 and for its second reading on 3 April 1865. The Bill was in two parts, the first containing the general provisions of the Bill and the second containing specific proposals for each school.
St Paul's School and Merchant Taylors' School were omitted, as they were able to argue successfully that their constitutions made them legally "private" schools and their constitutions could not be altered by public legislation, and the Act concerns itself with the other seven from the Clarendon Commission.