Secondary Education in England, 1870-1902: Public Activity and Private Enterprise

By John Roach | Go to book overview

23

The internal life of girls’ schools

The internal life of the girls’ schools can conveniently be considered under three headings: curriculum; games and social life; health. The curriculum followed much the same lines as that of the boys’ schools, though there was a better balance between the different subjects. There was nothing in the high schools like the traditional emphasis in boys’ schools on the classics. Since girls soon began to take the same public examinations, they necessarily followed the same curriculum. They have often been criticized for doing so, yet it was very important in the early days that they should be seen to succeed in the same tests and at the same standards as the boys. There is a rather touching story about an excited Miss Buss announcing to the school that a woman, Philippa Garrett Fawcett, had been placed above the senior wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos of 1890. Miss Buss told the school how, when she had been examined by the Schools Inquiry Commission, she had been asked whether she thought that girls would be able to learn mathematics. She had replied that they could, and would do so. Then, she almost shouted, “Today these gentlemen have their answer”, and more quietly, “I wonder how many of them are remembering, as I am remembering, their question to me twenty-five years ago, and my answer?”’ (Scrimgeour 1950:64).

Sara Burstall recalled that she had been well taught mathematics at the North London in the mid-1870s by Mrs Bryant, and the school retained a good reputation for teaching the subject (Burstall 1933:54-5). The classical scholar, W.H.D. Rouse, wrote in 1898 that it was not to be expected that classics should receive the same amount of attention as they did in boys’ schools. The staples of girls’ education, he thought, had always been music, drawing, and modern languages (Beale, Soulsby and Dove 1898:67). Science teaching came in rather slowly. Some schools had good facilities, but in general laboratory accommodation was poor. Miss Gadesden’s picture in 1901 was not very favourable. Some progress was being made, but little time was allowed and much of the teaching was still on ‘the old didactic lines’, though many schools used heuristic or experimental methods (R.D. Roberts 1901:100). Even at

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