The school system for working class children in the early 1900s
The Board School system
Like other children from working class backgrounds in the early 1900s, my brothers and I started our education at what was called a Board School because it was under the Middlesex Education Board. It was Silver Street School in Edmonton, which was well situated at the edge of a housing district, the Huxley Estate in Edmonton.
The Balfour Education Act, 1902
My mother wrote as if her school was a Board School. However the Balfour Education Act of 1902 abolished school boards and put education in the hands of local authorities. I have been unable to establish whether this meant that Board Schools were also abolished. It is possible that my mother's terminology was a widely used hangover from the Victorian era of a few years earlier or that the act took time to enforce. My mother referred in her writing to the man who visited homes to check on absenteeism as the School Board Man and she often used to mention the Board of Education. Whatever the facts of the matter, her writing is nevertheless informative and insightful about life at the time.
Pat Cryer, webmaster,
and daughter of the author
The school was typical of other Board schools in providing free education designed to equip boys for earning a living and girls for keeping house. For this reason alone it was hardly surprising that boys and girls were taught separately.
Boys and girls were even taught on different floors. However the segregation of boys and girls went further than the teaching. Once the children had grown older than what were called 'juniors', the two sexes were kept entirely separate.
There were three floors to the school building. The youngest children were on the ground floor, girls on the first floor, and boys on the top floor. There were separate entrances for all three, and there were also separate playgrounds. The youngest children and the girls played in one playground, while the boys used a playground on the other side of the building.
Older girls at Silver Street School
There were no older girls in Silver Street School in my time (the mid 1930s). They were transferred to Hazelbury Road School when it opened in 1931, which was no doubt tied in with the building of the council estates in Edmonton. So, although the doorway marked Girls would have been used by girls before 1931, it was afterwards for the junior boys (aged 7 to 11).
The top floor could be accessed through the Juniors entrance but the older boys (aged 11 to 14) had the separate main gate playground and stairway at the far end of the building.
When, as a junior boy, I was late for school, I would (illegally) go in the Seniors gate, run to the far end and use its stairway to the second floor. As there was no monitor there to catch latecomers, I could look as if I was coming back from the toilets after assembly.
The school playing field
There was a small field or playing ground at the end which was turned into an allotment during the 1914-18 war, and worked by the boys.
The cycle shed and the bicycles
There was also a cycle shed for the teachers as they mostly arrived by bicycle.
I like to picture the teachers. No cocking a leg or dashing along for them. The women would cycle along at a dignified pace with their cycle baskets on the handlebars in front of them.
The headmaster would get on to his bike elegantly by stepping onto a little bit of metal on the middle of the back wheel to raise himself onto the saddle. He was a well built, grey headed, imposing man who looked as though he was in command of any situation.
We were called to school by the school bell which could be heard quite a distance away. It was in its own bell tower, like church bells.
We started school at 9.00 am. Dinner-time [lunch-time] was from twelve until two, and home-time was at four. Most children brought a slice of bread and butter to school to eat in the playground at morning break, but they went back home for dinner. No food or drink was provided.
Checks were made on absentees by an inspector known as the School Board Man. He would make enquiries if a child was absent for any length of time, then send in his report. The School Board Man who came to our house was respected. He always wore sombre clothes and lived in a very nice house. Like everyone else, he went around on a bicycle.