Victorian Schooldays

Introduction

At the beginning of the Victorian era, schools were the preserve of boys from wealthy families, who would be privately tutored at home, before being sent away to Public School at the age of about 10 – unlike their sisters, whose education would continue at home.  Schooling for the poor was pioneered by the Sunday School Movement, which, by 1831, was providing education for some 1,250,000 children and can be viewed as the precursor of English state schooling.  By the 1860s, Parliament was allocating over £800,000 in funding for schools, but there was a growing debate over whether public money should be given to schools run by a particular religious denomination – or whether schools should instead be non-denominational, free and compulsory, a principle championed by the National Education League.  Mass education, it was argued, was vital to maintaining Britain’s pre-eminence in manufacturing industry.  The Education Act of 1870, for the first time, laid down that adequate provision must be made for elementary education throughout the country.  Voluntary schools were allowed to continue, but, in areas where there was a need (London, for example) a system of locally elected school boards funded by the rates was set up.  Religious teaching in the board schools had to be non-denominational.  The 1870 Act still did not make schooling compulsory; this did not happen until 1880, when attendance between the ages of 5 and 10 became mandatory.  The legal position and the reality were very different, however, and by the early 1890s, statistics indicated that only 82% of children in this group were attending school regularly.  Many worked outside school hours and truancy was a major problem, as families could not survive without the extra income their children provided.

Victorian Schooldays