At the start of the Victorian period, it was mostly only boys from wealthy families who went to school, often either a local grammar school or a public boarding school like Eton or Rugby. These charged fees and taught the children how to behave in upper-class society.
Girls were usually taught: sewing, singing, painting and how to play the piano at home by a governess. Their future was to look after a household.
Few working class families could afford the money for their children to be educated. The youngest might go to a 'dame' school, run by an elderly woman in their home. Some of them did their best to teach reading and writing but some were really only child minders.
One of the first ragged schools was started in Portsmouth in about 1818 by a shoe-mender named John Pounds. These provided free schooling for poor children, run with charity. By 1844, when there were about a hundred ragged schools in Britain, a Ragged School Union was set up. They had to be run very cheaply and so had few books apart from Bibles. Most of the teaching was done by 'monitors' - older pupils who taught simple lessons to the younger ones.
In 1870, Parliament said that there had to be a school in every town and village. Groups of people called school boards were responsible for the running of each local school. Families paid a few pennies a week to send their children to these board schools.
The 1880 Elementary Education Act then made it law that all children aged 5 to 10 must go to primary school to receive at least a basic education. In 1891, grants were made available to all schools to enable them to stop charging fees and provide free education.
A lot of schools built in the Victorian period had separate entrances for boys and girls. The ceilings were also very high because the teachers were afraid the children would get distracted by looking outside.
Teachers in board schools were very strict. Children had to behave well all the time and sat in rows. Naughty children were punished by being:
The school day usually began with prayers. Most lessons were about the three Rs - Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. There would be lessons on the Christian religion and a little geography and history too. For PE, children stood in long lines in the playground to do exercises, called drill, together.
Children learnt by copying words from the blackboard or by chanting things until they were word perfect.
They wrote by scratching onto a slate. It would be marked and then wiped clean to use again in the next lesson. If they needed to write on paper, the children would use a pen with a metal nib, dipped into an ink well.