School days

Add to My Folder

This content has not been rated yet. (Write a review)

By Pat HughesSenior Lecturer, Liverpool Hope University

For many children who lived during the early Victorian period, education was regarded as a luxury rather than a necessity. It wasn’t until 1880 that schooling became compulsory for all children under ten.

When Queen Victoria first succeeded the throne, formal education was not available to the majority of people. Church groups ran the very few schools that did exist. The Church of England had created a society for the education of the poor known as the National Society. Protestants outside of the Church of England (often referred to as Nonconformists) also provided a number of schools, which were paid for by voluntary subscriptions. There were no other church schools and there was no compulsion to send children to school.

Forster’s Education Act

By the mid-Victorian era, it became clear that education needed to be much more broadly based. Factories could not be fully productive unless their workers were able to write simple messages, read notices and instructions and carry out basic numeracy tasks. The extension of the vote also meant that ruling classes wanted to ensure that all voters had some form of education. The first major progression towards a national system of schooling came in 1870 with an Education Bill that financed existing voluntary church schools and formed new schools. It was introduced by W E Forster, the Vice-President of the Privy Council Committee for Education and became known as Forster’s Education Act. The Bill was drawn up as a compromise with the existing church schools. These schools would continue, but non-sectarian schools, commonly referred to as ‘board schools’, would also be established to cover the mass population. The Act took only elementary education into account and it wasn’t until 1902 that the principle of state education extended to secondary schools.

Member-only content

Scholastic Resource Bank: Primary - join today!

  • Over 6,000 primary activities, lesson ideas and resources
  • Perfect for anyone working with children from 5 to 11 years old
  • Unlimited access from just £1.25 per month
Join now


You need to be signed in to place a review.