Children in Victorian England were educated in many different ways-- or not at all--depending on their sex and their parents' financial circumstances, social class, religion, and values. Unlike the United States, where common schooling unified communities and shaped national life, in England there was little agreement about what to teach, how to pay for schools, or whom to educate. Disputes about religious instruction and a conviction that every father had the right to determine how to raise his own children delayed the development of compulsory schooling.
Although there are exceptions to any generalization about nineteenth- century English education, a few terms were widely used. Elementary schools provided low-cost instruction for working-class and lower- middle-class children. Depending on their type of organization and funding, elementary schools were called by several names: board school, district school, parish school, village school, voluntary school, national school. Few elementary schools were entirely free until the 1890s; the usual charge was between one and four pence per week.
Children of more prosperous parents received their early teaching and their secondary education (if any) either at home or in schools described as public or private. In either case, the fees were higher than those of elementary schools. Private schools were owned by a single proprietor and provided almost any kind of education. A widow who gave lessons in her dining room during the morning to five or six young children was considered to run a private school. A technical college that taught accounting, surveying, and other vocational skills to youngsters between age fourteen and eighteen was also considered a private school. Thus