A brief introduction of schools during Victorian time, both schools for rich and poor.
Queen Victorian came to the throne in 1837 and reigned for 64 years until her death in 1901. These six decades were a time of huge change in Britain.
At the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, very few children even attended school. By the time of her death school was both compulsory and free.
School for the Rich
Grammar Schools or boarding Schools
Sons from whealthy families were often sent to grammar schools or boarding schools. Many of the boarding schools were expensive public schools that had been founded hundreds of years before Queen Victoria came to the throne.
Public school actually is a private school that charges fees. Wealthy parents could afford to send their sons to one of the large public schools. While their daughters were mostly educated at home. Middle class often went to small private schools in their local towns.
The education at Victoria public schools focused on the classics – Latin and Greek language and literature. Boys needed to study these subjects in order to go to university, or to enter a profession. Life could be tough in these schools – the younger boys were expected to run errands for the older boys, which was called “fagging”. Many of these schools were places for unwanted children who stayed there all year round.
Schools for the poor
The 1870 Elementary Education Act did not make school either free or compulsory. Most Victorian schools charged fees which many poor people simply could not afford. For those who could afford it the cheapest education was often at a dame school, so-called because such schools were often run by elderly ladies.
Cruel, unhealthy and ineffective though they were, Dame Schools were cheap and they survived for many years in some places, undercutting the fees of other schools. They finally went out of business after 1891, when the elementary education was made free. Their standard were condemned by teachers at other schools.
Workhouse is a place where the sick and destituted could seek shelter and food in return for work. Children in workhouses attended classes in the mornings, and many churches and charities ran free schools for the poorest children The most famous of these charities was the Ragged Schools Union which was established in 1844. The Ragged Schools provided free education for the very poorest, homeless children.As well as giving children a basic education, the Ragged Schools often provided a place to eat and in the winters, shelter from the cold.
The Sunday school was promoted in consideration of the beneficial tendency of giving instruction to the children of poor and keeping them from contracting idle and mischievous habits on the Sabbath Day.
Poor children, of course, would be helping their parents at work or working themselves during weekdays. The parents were told to see their children to ‘be wash’d, com’d and clad as decently as they can afford’.
A Sunday school was not just for religious education, it was a school on Sunday, which taught simple spelling, reading, and writing.
How the children themselves felt about the sunday school was another matter. The boys whom had been beaten, knocked about, and covered with sludge all the week, they want to be in bed to rest all day on Sunday. They felt tired and sleepy on a Sunday morning, would rather be in bed than go to school. With illiterate parents and untrained teachers, children like these made little progress. The Sunday school students couldn’t spell words of one syllable after having been 4 or 5 years to a Sunday school.
Charity Schools and Factory School
Charity schools were very small, and restricted by various ancient rules and conditions. For instances, if a child could not attend regularly he or she was expelled.
It was not until 1870 that the government passed its Elementary Education Act. This was intended to provide education for the many thousands of children who were not already attending a school. The schools set up under this act were run by a board of locally elected people, and were known as Board Schools.
By 1880, there were about 4,000 Board Schools, and school was made compulsory for the first time for children up to 10 years of age. Many children found their lives suddenly changed. Some, of course, knew school, but only as an occasional experience. Many had never been to school, and it took time for them to understand what they could expect and what was expected of them. In a great many cases, neither parents nor elder brothers or sisters had gone to school, and so could not tell these children what school was like. They were somewhat unwilling pioneers of literacy.
School was not free however, and many poor families struggled to find even the smallest fees charged for their children’s education. In 1891, the government finally gave grants to make education free in all elementary schools.