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Nursery School, 1898 Giclee Print

Nursery School by Jules Jean Geoffroy, 1898

In the Southwest, schools begin in August (and a growing number have adopted the “Modern” Year-Round Education System.) For the month of August, I am introducing a weekly series of education-related posts. So get out your slate boards and chalk and get ready to delve into a bit of serious history.

When Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, only half the entire English population could read or pen their names. Traditionally, the Parson was the schoolmaster of the parish, but his teachings were limited to Sundays. His lessons repeated biblical verses and the retelling of such stories. Occasionally, he might introduce arithmetic. It would be over thirty years before “daily” elementary education was made compulsory. Previously, paid tutors or private academies were the only real option outside of the Parson’s Sunday School. If that was not sufficient, the mother “home schooled” the children with the little she knew of formal education and vast life skills.

The first hurdle to overcome was settling the dispute of whom should pay for the schools; with this was the underlining question of “church or state?” The suggestions ranged from having the religious orders fund and run the education system. Others thought Parliament ought to fund the schools which should not be associated with any one religious denomination. A third group voted the government fund and the church staff the schools; and surely there were other people who felt it should be just the opposite. In the end, the separation of church and state prevailed. The English settled on a government funded and run educational system. The free of charge aspect came years later. Schoolhouses began to spring up.

Incidentally, another decade past before Parliament made attendance mandatory! Apparently, there were many unfilled schoolhouses with terrible truancy issues; due to the nature of the agriculture and/or poverty stricken society. This education act was another way to fight child labor and mortality. The Industrialists vouched an educated populous would maintain and/or bolster the economy and factories. In 1880, the government stated children from ages five to ten years must attend school.

Thirteen years later more laws were passed in favor of raising the mandated age to 11 and by 1899, the law was changed yet again to include children up to 12 years old. Still lack of attendance was a problem. By 1901, it was estimated 300,000 children continued to work long hours for a pittance. 1893 was also the year special schools became more prevalent, starting with schools for Blind and Deaf children. Years after, children with physical disabilities were provided with education under the cringe-worthy name of The Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act of 1899.

Compulsory Secondary Education did not come about until the 20th century, but remember education was “always available” for centuries prior.