ANCESTORS AT WORK
Knowledge (SPCK) and other charities founded schools for poor adults, and boys and girls; several were in Scotland. ‘Sunday schools’, run by churches, became widespread in the late 18th century. The parish priest taught children to read the Bible so they might become good citizens.
Teachers became needed in many different types of school. By late Georgian times, most English elementary schools were provided by the National Society for Promoting Religious Education (1811), funded by the Anglican Church. The Lancasterian Society (1808), later the British & Foreign School Society (BFSS), ran schools for Methodists’ and Dissenters’ children. The first specialist infant schools appeared at places like New Lanark and Spitalfields in the early 19th century.
‘Dame’ schools for young children were essentially child-minding services for factory hands. Usually run by women, dame schools were noisy, crowded places, often sited in cellars or garrets. The ‘dame’ taught up to 40 children per class, and pupils gleaned little education there. Schoolmasters and mistresses also ran ‘common day’ schools – small private schools for older children. However, the quality of the teaching was still very poor. Children paid 6d to 9d per week to learn reading, writing and arithmetic. A typical schoolday ran from 9am until 12pm, then from 2pm until 5pm. In the 1840s Lord Shaftesbury and others supported ‘ragged’ schools, which gave industrial training to destitute children ( raggedschoolmuseum.org.uk).
Corporal punishment was the norm in all schools until modern times. Teachers chastised errant children with a birch rod, cane or strap. Note too that the profession was deemed a last resort for those unable to perform manual labour – some teachers were even illiterate.
Teacher-training arrived in the 1840s. The BFSS funded teachertraining colleges like Stockwell and Saffron Walden, while National Society colleges included St Mark’s College, Chelsea, and St John’s, Battersea. After 1847 the Government funded ‘pupil-teacher’ apprenticeships for 13-year-old boys and girls. Children were indentured for five years to a schoolteacher, and received an hour-and-a-half’s tuition before school began. Older pupil-teachers taught classes while supervised by a senior teacher, so they endured a very long day. Pupil-teachers who passed a final exam when their apprenticeship ended became ‘certificated’ teachers. The best examinants won a scholarship to trainingcollege. Pupil-teachers who did
‘Teaching was deemed a last resort for those unable to perform manual labour’
not take the exam worked as ‘uncertificated’ or ‘assistant’ teachers in elementary schools.
For genteel but impoverished women, teaching was considered more ladylike than factory work. Private governesses like novelist Anne Brontë lived in (or regularly visited) the homes of well-to-do parents, while private masters and tutors prepared older boys for public school. Older middleand upper-class children attended private schools: ‘prep’ schools for boys, and schools that taught ‘accomplishments’ to girls.
Those boarding schools were run on a shoestring, and required teachers to perform duties outside school hours. Emily Brontë resigned her post at a Halifax school of 40 pupils after a few months in the 1830s, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) reports her sister Charlotte’s complaint that Emily’s duties involved “hard labour from six in the morning to eleven at night”.
A Matter Of Money
Teachers’ salaries were determined by their school’s sources of income – endowments, plus pupils’ fees. Staff at the top public schools commanded the best salaries, along with higher social status. For example, at Rugby School in 1864 the headmaster’s total remuneration (including boarders’ fees) was “£2,957 0s 8d, in addition to a handsome residence, good garden, and four acres of pasture”.
For comparison, in 1872 Edward Jones, headmaster of the Hibernian Schools, Liverpool, told a select committee that he earned £200 per annum. He employed two assistant mistresses on £30 per annum each, a girls’ schoolmistress (£70) and an infant schoolmistress (£50), and Edward said that generally teachers were poorly paid: “Coalheavers in Liverpool get more than the schoolmasters in the rural districts.” Unlike industrial workers, however, teachers got Saturdays off, and five weeks’ annual holiday.
Forster’s Elementary Education Act (1870) marked the beginning of state funding for schools with the creation of local school boards. The profession was now dominated by women. According to the 1871 census, in England and Wales there were 38,774 schoolmistresses, plus 55,246 female teachers, professors, lecturers and governesses. By comparison, there were 19,378 schoolmasters, plus 13,349 male teachers and professors.
Renewed concerns about the quality of teachers led to the founding of the Teachers Registration Council in 1899, which established a voluntary professional register. The register, which ended in 1948, is held by the Society of Genealogists’ library ( sog.org.uk/the-library).
Rev Thomas Guthrie addresses a class in a ragged school in Edinburgh in the 1850s
An informal lesson in a fisherman’s cobbled yard in East Anglia, c1887