[History by Numbers] Class conscious
How many of our ancestors received a formal education?
With talk about more ‘old-fashioned’ testing of primary students’ grammar and arithmetic in modern times, it’s easy to forget that compulsory education is still a relatively modern phenomenon.
The first official state intervention in education in England and Wales did not occur until 1833, when Parliament voted to provide funds for schools to help poor children (in Scotland, however, similar support for schools in most parishes began two centuries earlier).
There were some village schools as far back as Tudor times, but for most children from poorer, working families, the best they could hope for was apprenticeship to a trade. Further up the social scale, ‘public’ and grammar schools for the wealthy had existed since at least Tudor times, as well as ‘dame schools’, which really just offered private childcare.
From the early 18th century onwards, charity and ‘ragged’ schools spread outwards from London, mostly aimed at poorer children of primary school age, and with a religious impetus. The Sunday School movement began in Gloucester in 1780. In 1811, the National Society for Promoting Religious Education was founded with the aim of setting up a school in every parish in England and Wales, and many of our primary schools today began that way.
Then ‘board schools’ for children aged between five and 13 were instituted by the Elementary Education Act of 1870, with compulsory attendance up to age 10 beginning in 1880. There’s a thorough history of education in England written by Derek Gillard to be found online at www.educationengland.org.uk.
So how many of our ancestors actually received some kind of education away from the family home?