Only a few children attended school at the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign. Most poor children worked, and their earnings were an important part of the family income. If they went to school, their families would lose this money.
There were village schools in some places in the country run by the Church, or small 'Dame' schools usually run by one woman.
Some places where children spent all day making lace or plaiting straw were called schools but were really workshops. Children were used as cheap labour in Victorian times.
There were Ragged schools in many big towns, set up by people who cared, like Dr Barnardo. Children without a home could get food and shelter there as well as lessons.
In 1870 a new law was passed which said there had to be a school in every town and village. A 'School Board' of important local people was appointed to build and run the new schools.
This meant all children had to attend school. Boys and girls went into school through different doors, and sat in separate rows, all facing the front of the class.
There were strict classroom rules. Pupils were hit with a cane or ruler if they did not listen to the teacher.
Children wrote on slates with slate pencils and spent a lot of time copying from the blackboard. Many things had to be learnt by heart, with the class repeating what the teacher told them over and over again.
The children learned to write and count but the content of lessons was moral and religious. In the classroom the teacher sat at the front of the class.
There were maps and perhaps a picture of Queen Victoria on the wall. There were books, including a bible, but the teacher probably kept these on her desk.
There would be a globe for geography lessons, and an abacus to help with sums.
Children mainly used slate pencils to write on slates. If children wrote with a pen, it had a metal nib that was dipped into ink.
For some lessons boys and girls were taught separately. Boys learned technology, got extra maths and science. In Victorian times boys were thought to be more important than girls.
Boys learned:- Woodwork Maths Technical drawing
Both boys and girls were taught:- reading writing arithmetic spelling drill
Girls learned sewing, and other skills which would help them to run a household. These were subjects which were thought to be most useful to girls.
Girls learned:- needlework house work
Children from wealthier families often had a miserable time if they were sent away to a private school. These schools were sometimes only run to make profits for the owners.
Fortunate children from rich families had their own teacher, called a Governess. She taught the girls and younger boys at home, before the boys were sent away to boarding school.
A few boys from very rich families were sent to good private boarding schools, like Eton, where the fees were very expensive.
A few private boarding schools for girls were also started in Victorian times. Like the boys' schools they were Secondary schools.
Most schools in Victorian times kept a school log book. This was a diary of school life. It also records punishments given out to the children and teachers’ comments. Here are some extracts from the log books of Milton House Public School in Edinburgh in the late nineteenth century.
Year 1881:April 8thOne death during week from Fever. Every member of Craig family ill with Fever and removed to hospital.May 13thUniversally large number of Truants. Parents of found summoned before the School Board tomorrow.November 25thSent for Mrs Ferguson, New Street. Ordered her to take home her daughter and clean her head, which is overrun with vermin. This has escaped notice till now as the girl had a bandage over her head.
Year 1882:December 25thWork as above - no intervals per time table 12.30-1.30.Year 1896:December 11thAs the weather is still very cold and many of the children are barefooted and poorly clad, we intend working without ordinary interval, as above, for some time.