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Victorian town schools

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The school system for working class children in the early 1900s

By the webmaster’s mother, 1906-2002

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.

Note from the webmaster

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.

Interestingly, a boy's Christmas letter home in 1903 still had the stamp of a Board School as its heading.

Separate curriculums of boys and girls

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 after the mixed infants classes which taught the basics like arithmetic and writing.

The boys and girls were taught separately 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.(Photography of the doors, courtesy of Cliff Raven.)

Separate entrances and segregation of boys and girls

There were three floors to the school building. The youngest children of mixed sexes 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.

Typical early 1900s school entrances - for infants on the left and girls on the right, leading from a shared playground to separate floors, the ground floor for infants and first floor for girls

School entrances from one playground

Typical early 1900s school entrance for boys leading from their own playground to the top floor

School entrance for boys leading from their own playground to the top floor.

The engraved lintels over the separate entrances read as follows, but they do not quite match the descriptions here in the text. Presumably, as usually happens between a building's design and use, some changes become inevitable.

JUNIOR MIXED (GIRLS)
GIRLS
BOYS

Such lintels can still be seen on old buildings of Victorian and Edwardian schools, even where segregation has long since vanished.

The call to school each day

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 on absentees

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.

His work was quite important as parents had been used to keeping children away from school when work had to be done at home or in the family business.

The school leaving age

Unless parents were prepared to pay or children passed what was known as the scholarship, the school leaving age was 14.

Page based on the recollections and notes of the webmaster's mother (1906-2002) with additional research and editorial work by the webmaster

Text and images are copyright


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