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History of Schooling
We are grateful to Derek Gillard for the carefully researched information which he has provided and which is available on his website for those wishing for a more in-depth article than our own. Here is Derek's site.
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The King's School, Canterbury dating back to 600
In 1833 Parliament authorised that sums of money should be provided for the construction of schools for poor children of England and Wales. A succession of acts followed which helped to expand the scope of education a little, but most education was still in the hands of churches and philanthropists, and there was really no unified education system. Wealthy parents sent their children to fee-paying schools or employed governesses. It should be noted that even for the wealthy it was considered more important for boys to be educated than for girls, and they often were taught sewing, needlework, drawing and music, while the boys were taught more academic subjects.
Although schools now operated on days other than Sundays, for the poor education was sporadic. Generally most teachers of the lower classes were schoolmistresses, some of whom had been taught by a system of apprenticeship. Teaching was mainly by rote, with children learning things parrot fashion, and there was very little scope for discovery or to develop talent. Emphasis was particularly placed on learning to read and to write. In some areas there was a constant battle between the aim of the school to teach, and the needs of parents who relied on the help of their children, so many pupils did not turn up for lessons, especially at Harvest. London children went off hop-picking in Kent, for example. Parents were often required to pay for their children to attend school, or at least to supply paper, ink and other requirements, and this could be a real barrier in poor families.
The Forster Act
In 1870 the Forster Elementary Education Act established partially state-funded Board Schools to be set up to provide primary education in areas where existing provision was inadequate. Board schools were managed by elected school boards. These schools still charged a fee. Find out here what lessons schools were required to teach.
By 1880 additional legislation meant that compulsory attendance at school ceased to be a matter for local optionand children now had to attend school between the ages of 5 and 10 though with some local discretion was allowed including early leaving in agricultural areas. Parents of children who did not attend school could be fined. There were exemptions for illness, living more than a certain distance (typically one mile) from a school, or certification of having reached the required standard.
The Free Education Act 1891 provided for the state payment of school fees up to ten shillings per week. This was to help poor parents afford schooling fees.
By 1893 the school leaving age was raised to 11 and education was extended to blind and deaf children. The leaving age was later raised to 13.
The Voluntary Schools Act 1897 provided grants to public elementary schools not funded by school boards (typically Church schools). From April 1900 higher elementary schools were recognised, providing education from the age of 10 to 15.