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EDUCATION IN VICTORIAN BRITAIN Schools-Primary History

Who were the Victorians? The Victorian age in British history is named after Queen Victoria, who was Britain's queen from 1837 until 1901. What was life like for Victorian children? There were big differences in homes, schools, toys and entertainments. No TV, no computers, no central heating, no cars (until the last few years of Victoria's reign). No air travel - unless you went up in a balloon! Many children went to work, not to school. Welcome to the Victorian world. It's time to find out how children (your great-great-great-grandparents perhaps!) lived more than a hundred years ago. Who went to school? At the start of the 19th century very few children went to school. Most poor children worked. If they went to school, their families lost the money they earned. There were some good schools, for example, grammar schools and public schools. Only richer families could afford to pay the school fees, though some schools gave free places to poor boys. Girls did not go to school when the Victorian age began. Some were taught at home, but most girls got little education. Outings and Treats At weekends, families might go to the park, and listen to a band. Crowds would gather round the bandstand to enjoy the music. Zoos were popular too. Children rode on elephants and camels, and watched the lions being fed. At Easter, there was Maypole dancing and a May Queen was chosen, and paraded through the streets. Poor children looked forward to treats such as day trips and picnics. These were often run by youth organizations such as the Band of Hope and the Boys' Brigade. Rich and poor families In Victorian times, many families had 10 or more children. Sadly, many children died as babies, or from diseases such as smallpox and diphtheria. Child-death struck rich and poor families. In a Victorian town, it was easy to tell who was rich and who was poor. Children from richer homes were well fed, wore warm clothes and had shoes on their feet. They did not work, but went to school or had lessons at home. Poor children looked thin and hungry, wore ragged clothes, and some had no shoes. Poor children had to work. They were lucky if they went to school.

Why did children go to work?

Many Victorian children were poor and worked to help their families. Few people thought this strange or cruel. Families got no money unless they worked, and most people thought work was good for children. The Industrial Revolution created new jobs, in factories and mines. Many of these jobs were at first done by children, because children were cheap - a child was paid less than adults (just a few pennies for a week's work).

When did children start work? Many children started work at the age of 5, the same age as children start school today. They went to work as soon as they were big enough. Even a tiny child could feed chickens. Older brothers and sisters took small children to work, perhaps to a factory at the end of the street. Other children worked at home, doing jobs such as washing, sewing, sticking labels on bottles or making brushes.

What jobs did children do? Children worked on farms, in homes as servants, and in factories. Children often did jobs that required small size and nimble fingers. But they also pushed heavy coal trucks along tunnels in coal mines. Boys went to sea, as boy-sailors, and girls went 'into service' as housemaids. Children worked on city streets, selling things such as flowers, matches and ribbons. Crossing boys swept the roads clean of horse-dung and rubbish left by the horses that pulled carts and carriages.

What was a Victorian classroom like? There were maps and perhaps pictures on the wall. There would be a globe for geography lessons, and an abacus to help with sums. Children sat in rows and the teacher sat at a desk facing the class. At the start of the Victorian age, most teachers were men, but later many women trained as teachers. Children wrote on slates with chalk. They wiped the slate clean, by spitting on it and rubbing with their coat sleeve or their finger! Slates could be used over and over. For writing on paper, children used a pen with a metal nib, dipped into an ink well. Toys in rich homes During the 19th century, factory-made toys, including tin toys and clockwork toys, went on sale. Rich children had more toys to choose from: train sets, toy soldiers, rocking horses, dolls and doll's houses, tea-sets and toy shops with toy fruit, vegetables, meat, hats and medicines. Other popular toys were alphabet bricks, sailing boats, jigsaw puzzles and Noah's Arks. In many homes, children were not allowed toys on Sundays except Noah's Ark, because that was in the bible. Why was coal so important? Most of the energy we use today comes in the form of electricity or oil. In Victorian times, energy came from water-power (waterwheels), from horses and above all from burning coal. Coal was as important to Victorians as oil is to us today. Steam engines burned coal. Steam engines drove factory machines, locomotives pulling trains and

steamships. All this coal had to be dug from coal mines. Britain had a lot of coal, deep in rocks beneath the ground. . Where did Victorian children play? Although many children worked in Victorian times, they still had time to play. Outdoors, most Victorian children played in the street or in the fields and woods. Not many families had gardens big enough to play in, and there were no children's playgrounds. Rich families had playrooms or nurseries, but poorer children played wherever they could find space. With ten or more children often crammed into one or two rooms, play-space for poor families was a luxury. Playing outside was the usual escape. What were Victorian factories like? Britain was the first country in the world to have lots of factories. Factory machines made all kinds of things. Machines did jobs, such as spinning, previously been done by families at home. Factories were noisy. People had to shout above the rattle and hiss of machinery. They breathed air full of dust, oil and soot. Iron and steel works got so hot that workers dripped with sweat. Flames and sparks lit up the sky darkened by smoke from factory chimneys. Why such big families? Many women had lots of babies. Birth control was not widespread, and few couples used any means of contraception. Child-bearing could be dangerous, and many women died in childbirth. Many babies also died, from childhood diseases. Queen Victoria had nine children. Her children were called Edward, Alfred, Arthur, Leopold, Victoria, Alice, Helena, Louise and Beatrice. The royal family became a model for other families.

For much of this century the term Victorian, which literally describes things and events (roughly) in the reign of Queen Victoria, conveyed connotations of "prudish," "repressed," and "old fashioned." Although such associations have some basis in fact, they do not adequately indicate the nature of this complex, paradoxical age that saw great expansion of wealth, power, and culture. In science and technology, the Victorians invented the modern idea of invention -- the notion that one can create solutions to problems, that man can create new means of bettering himself and his environment. In religion, the Victorians experienced a great age of doubt, the first that called into question institutional Christianity on such a large scale. In literature and the other arts, the Victorians attempted to combine Romantic emphases upon self, emotion, and imagination with Neoclassical ones upon the public role of art and a corollary responsibility of the artist.

In ideology, politics, and society, the Victorians created astonishing innovation and change: democracy, feminism, unionization of workers, socialism, Marxism, and other modern movements took form. In fact, this age of Darwin, Marx, and Freud appears to be not only the first that experienced modern problems but also the first that attempted modern solutions. Victorian, in other words, can be taken to mean parent of the modern -- and like most powerful parents, it provoked a powerful reaction against itself. The Victorian age was not one, not single, simple, or unified, only in part because Victoria's reign lasted so long that it comprised several periods. Above all, it was an age of paradox and power. The Catholicism of the Oxford Movement, the Evangelical movement, the spread of the Broad Church, and the rise of Utilitarianism, socialism, Darwinism, and scientific Agnosticism, were all in their own ways characteristically Victorian; as were the prophetic writings of Carlyle and Ruskin, the criticism of Arnold, and the empirical prose of Darwin and Huxley; as were the fantasy of George MacDonald and the realism of George Eliot and George Bernard Shaw. More than anything else what makes Victorians Victorian is their sense of social responsibility. The poet Matthew Arnold refused to reprint his poem "Empedocles on Etna," in which the Greek philosopher throws himself into the volcano, because it set a bad example; and he criticized an Anglican bishop who pointed out mathematical inconsistencies in the Bible not on the grounds that he was wrong, but that for a bishop to point these things out to the general public was irresponsible. The Victorian Age was characterised by rapid change and developments in nearly every sphere - from advances in medical, scientific and technological knowledge to changes in population growth and location. Over time, this rapid transformation deeply affected the country's mood: an age that began with a confidence and optimism leading to economic boom and prosperity eventually gave way to uncertainty and doubt regarding Britain's place in the world. EDUCATION Education in nineteenth-century England was not equal - not between the sexes, and not between the classes. Gentlemen would be educated at home by a governess or tutor until they were old enough to attend Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester, Westminster, Charterhouse, or a small handful of lesser schools. The curriculum was heavily weighted towards the classics - the languages and literature of Ancient Greece and Rome. After that, they would attend Oxford or Cambridge. Here they might also study mathematics, law, philosophy, and modern history. Oxford tended to produce more Members of Parliament and government officials, while Cambridge leaned more towards the sciences and produced more acclaimed scholars. However, it was not compulsory, either legally or socially, for a gentleman to attend school at all. He could, just as easily, be taught entirely at home. However, public school and University were the great staging grounds for public life, where you made your friends and developed the connections that would aid you later in life. Beau Brummel met the Prince of Wales at Eton and that friendship helped him conquer all of London Society despite his lack of family background.

A lady's education was taken, almost entirely, at home. There were boarding schools, but no University, and the studies were very different. She learned French, drawing, dancing, music, and the use of globes. If the school, or the governess, was interested in teaching any practical skills, she learned plain sewing as well as embroidery, and accounts. SOCIAL CLASS Working class - men and women who performed physical labor, paid daily or weekly wages Middle class - men performed mental or "clean" work, paid monthly or annually Upper class - did not work, income came from inherited land and investments
Understanding 'laissez-faire'

Prime minister Margaret Thatcher advocated a return to 'Victorian values'

Laissez-faire, a French term, means 'leave to do' or 'leave alone'. It relates to economic policies that rely on the power of unregulated markets to deliver the goods. The goods were secure economic growth, high levels of unemployment and international competitiveness. Applied to social policy, it indicates minimal government involvement. Left to their own devices, according to this argument, people will develop habits of sturdy self-reliance, but if they are supported by the state, people will rapidly sink into a mode of dependency. As Samuel Smiles, the greatest propagandist of the self-help ideal, put it in 1859: 'Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing for themselves; and where men are subjected to over-guidance and over-government, the inevitable tendency is to render them comparatively helpless.'

'She called for a return to 'Victorian values' - by which she meant rolling back the powers of the state ...'
It was to these ideals of self-help and sturdy independence that Margaret Thatcher looked when, as Britain's prime minister from 1979 to 1990, she sought to revive the country's flagging fortunes. She called for a return to 'Victorian values' - by which she meant rolling back the powers of the state, lowering levels of direct taxation and encouraging people to stand on their own feet. Thatcher also aimed to make Britain a more competitive trading nation. Here, she invoked the spirit of the Scottish political economist Adam Smith, whom she considered to be the high priest of free trade. Smith's famous book Wealth of Nations (1776) had advocated removing the tariffs, customs and other restrictions which nations traditionally used to advantage their own goods. Embracing free trade would encourage producers and traders. It would stimulate competitiveness and innovation. From the ensuing economic growth, everyone would benefit.

Context The history of truancy goes back over a hundred years when school attendance was first made compulsory. Then, as now, school inspectors were charged with monitoring this, in addition to judging the overall quality of teaching, as the extracts from the inspector's report on page 2 of this article show. The source is part of a report to government from one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools. It was part of the Inspectors' duties to write up their impressions of school visits. Inspectors could, and did, comment on a wide range of aspects concerning education. They looked at school attendance, the curriculum, the quality of teaching and - a key focus here - whether pupils turned up regularly or not. Inspectors frequently also interpreted their role as to draw government's attention to failures in the implementation of policy, and to suggest remedies. You will find a good example of this at the end of the inspector's report.

'...this source gives us a highly useful local perspective ...'

The source is helpful to historians of 19th-century Britain, because it provides us with a useful perspective from a school inspector. From 1881, attendance at elementary school should have been compulsory. Here Seymour Tremenheere tells his political masters what is actually happening on the ground three years later, in 1884. In this case, in the far north-west of England.

You will notice that Tremenheere is generally satisfied with attendance levels. However, there are certain places which give grave cause for concern. So this source gives us a highly useful local perspective, from a government employee paid to find out what is going on.
Inspector's report: extracts Report from HMI Seymour Tremenheere, on schools in the Kendal district (Parliamentary Papers, 1884, vol. xxiv, pp415-19, House of Lords Library). 'Compared with the whole of England and Wales these figures [of attendance] in Cumberland and Westmorland are extremely good ... However, it is impossible to rest content with the condition of affairs... In particular, the action, if such a term can be used, of the school attendance committees for the union of Whitehaven is open to grave criticism. In their district only 16.4 per cent of the population is enrolled on the books, and of these only 65.6 in every hundred are daily at school. They ought to have 1,000 more names on the registers, and 1,600 more scholars in average attendance ...' 'I found that for the town population of 20,000 only part of one man's time was engaged for attendance work; that their country officer had not once entered some of the schools under his charge during the proceeding 12 months; that from neither officer did his employers require any account of either his time or his results; and that no school census had been taken since the committee commenced ... their functions.' 'Moreover, I ascertained that it was an established rule of the authority that no parent should he prosecuted unless he had received a warning during the proceeding month; thus enabling a parent, provided he sent his child to school with fair regularity every alternate month, to escape with no severer penalty than six warnings per annum ...'

'One of the chief causes of absenteeism appears to me to be either apathy or want of method on the part of the local authorities ... To meet this I would strongly urge (a) that each local authority throughout the Kingdom be required to report annually to the Education Department ...; (b) that every local authority be required to appoint one or more attendance officers at the discretion of the Department; (c) that every attendance officer report periodically, say once a quarter ... for the expenditure of his time and showing the results of his efforts; (d) that teachers be bound to send in ... lists of irregular children; (c) that a census of schoolable children he taken by each local authority at least every three years.'
Reliability

Punch cartoon 1894: Children did not attend school if they had to work

In one sense, the source is obviously a reliable one. Tremenheere is clearly a conscientious and efficient man, who knows what he is talking about. He is also making an official report which was likely to be the subject of considerable scrutiny in Whitehall. He would be most unlikely to make things up. On the other hand, school inspectors had their own agenda and it is always worth asking why people write as they do, even in official documents like these. If you look at the end of the source, you will see that the Inspector is making some quite specific recommendations to his masters. These are designed to influence policy and the cautious reader might like to think about whether Tremenheere's statement is necessarily giving a full and accurate picture.

'Where, to use a modern phrase, is he coming from?'


For example, is there likely to be any 'spin', designed to convince his employers of the need for further action? Is he proposing this because he genuinely believes that the measures he advocates are necessary, or because he wants the job of education inspectors to be made more manageable? As with so many enquiries in history, there is no definitive answer to this, but it is necessary to try to understand things from the perspective of the author. Where, to use a modern phrase, is he coming from?

Tremenheere is a bureaucrat. He likes tidy solutions. We should perhaps balance his comments on what he sees as the shortcomings of the Whitehaven union against more detailed knowledge about the local situation.

There might have been good reasons why the school attendance officer had not made more visits, and the union's policy might have been influenced by a more thorough knowledge of local conditions than a government inspector could obtain on one visit, however detailed his enquiries. So, it's worth asking whether Tremenheere is making critical judgements on the basis of insufficient detailed evidence.
Other knowledge Also, we might want to cross-refer from what Tremenheere says here to other knowledge. Historians of education know well that one of the main reasons why children were not always at school, in the last quarter of the 19th century, was because their parents wanted them to be at work during periods of particular pressure. This was especially true in rural areas during harvest time in the late summer or in the potato picking season during the autumn. In late 19th century, many poor people still depended on a genuinely family income and not just on the wages of the head of the household. Why does Tremenheere show no apparent awareness of this important issue when he discusses 'the chief causes of absenteeism'? Is he perhaps not quite as objective and well informed as he might be? This all shows how critically the historian has to approach all source materials - it is only when there is a good body of corroborating evidence that one can be sure of historical facts.