For the working classes around 1860 there was a variety of private educational provision offering frequently just a token education for a few pennies a week. (I am omitting any detail regarding institutional children, such as those in orphanages, workhouses and industrial schools, as they lie outside the scope of this book.) There were the factory schools for ‘part-timers’, and the seedy ‘private adventure’ schools also catering to this market and the needs of working parents for a place to deposit their infants during the day; they were found by the Royal Commission on Education of 1858-61 to be run variously by cripples, discharged servants, barmaids, outdoor paupers, consumptives and decrepits; the traditional dame schools fitted into this category. The schoolrooms were improvisa-tions, like cellars, bedrooms, or kitchens, where disorder reigned in the stuffy and insanitary atmosphere. Sunday Schools and ragged schools offered a smattering of instruction by well-meaning volunteers for the intermittent attenders. Local clergy might run a parish class to supplement their income, but the most highly organized denominational networks were the ‘National’ and ‘British’ schools, run respectively by Church of England and Nonconformist founda-tions; 1 these, too, took factory half-timers.
What proportion of children were receiving any kind of instruction? In 1857 Prince Albert cited the following figures before an educational meeting: 2 of the 5 million 3-15-year-olds in England and Wales only two-fifths attended school at all, and only about 600,000 of these were over 9 years old. 3 Three-quarters of all pupils stayed only up to 2 years at school. Only 4 per cent attended for 5 years. The 1861 census gave more favourable figures; over two-thirds of 5-9-year-olds, and about 50 per cent of 10-14-year-olds were classed as ‘scholars’. 4 William Farr, the government