The Erosion of Childhood: Child Oppression in Britain, 1860-1918

By Lionel Rose | Go to book overview

18

SCHOOL ATTENDANCE

Even before the 1870 Education Act many working-class parents, as we have seen, were prepared to pay to see their children receive some rudimentary utilitarian instruction. For a good many parents the discipline of school was the prime appeal, rather than its instruction. One son of a farm labourer in the 1860s was allowed to work as a farmhand ‘if he was a good boy’, but ‘if he was naughty he was sent to school’. 1 But generally parents did not like the idea of compulsion to come from the schools themselves. For many, British and and National schools were objectionable for their insistence upon standards of dress and regularity of attendance, so dame schools and other ‘private adventure’ schools filled the gap, for however inefficient they were they did not impose on their working-class patrons; in 1851 it appears that 30 per cent of the 2 million children at school were taught in such classes, where the regime was more lax and they were not punished for absenteeism. 2

The 1870 Education Act was intended to supplement the church school network with board school districts where the former were lacking; only school boards could make education up to 13 compulsory in their districts if they wished; this power was only given to the National schools by the 1876 Education Act, which also encouraged school attendance by restricting children’s employment rights under 13 unless they made a minimum number of school attendances or had passed Standard 4. It was the Act of 1880 that made attendance mandatory to a minimum of 10 years old. The process of improving enrolment figures among those eligible for education was slow. In 1873 enrolments were just under three-quarters of those eligible, and in 1880 nearly 78 per cent. Compulsion must have helped, for by 1900 the figure was nearly 88 per cent; 3 the shortfall would still have included, for example, the

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