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

By Lionel Rose | Go to book overview

16

SCHOOLING AND THE UPPER CLASSES

The Taunton Commission of 1864-8 which enquired into the structure and quality of middle-class education revealed a whole miscellany of private schools—the public schools, the endowed grammar schools, the ‘private academies’ and proprietary schools; the last were run as joint-stock companies and offered a more commercially orientated curriculum to the sons of businessmen. The commission sought to rank the schools in a hierarchy, and such status was determined partly by the predominance of classics on the timetable, according to the values of the time, and partly by the lateness of the pupils’ leaving-ages, up to 18. 1 Around 1860, of nearly 2,600,000 children estimated to be attending schools, just over 14 per cent were of the upper and middle classes in various forms of private establishment. 2

It had been traditional for the upper middle classes to send their sons away to boarding-school at 7 or 8 to learn to ‘rough it’. 3 At 13 or 14 the boys might proceed to the public schools like Eton and Rugby, ranked by the Taunton Commission as the first grade. Though such schools had firmly established their social exclusive-ness and superiority by the 1860s 4 their quality left much to be desired. The commission found Eton lacking in laboratories and gymnasiums. The much-vaunted classics were so badly taught there that Oxford dons found that they had to go over the same ground again with Old Etonian undergraduates and the majority of Eton youths had to go to ‘grinders’ (crammers) to bring them up to scratch before going on to university. The school calendar was riddled with holidays for ridiculous reasons, such as the birth of a child in a Fellow’s family, a promotion of an Old Etonian to a judgeship or bishopric, a saint’s day, or a visit by some notability, so that ‘there is scarcely one regular week’s work done in the whole

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