History medium term plan

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UNIT: 11 – What was it like for children living in Victorian Britain? Year: 5/6

Chronological Understanding

Knowledge & Understanding of events, people and changes






& Communication

1)  Pupils should be taught to:

a)  place events, people and changes into correct periods of time

b) use dates and vocabulary relating to the passing of time, including ancient, modern, BC, AD, century and decade.

2)  Pupils should be taught:

a)  about characteristic features of the periods and societies studied, including the ideas, beliefs, attitudes and experiences of men, women and children in the past

b)  about the social, cultural, religious and ethnic diversity of the societies studied, in Britain and the wider world
c)  to identify and describe reasons for, and results of, historical events, situations, and changes in the periods studied
d)  to describe and make links between the main events, situations and changes within and across the different periods and societies studied.

3) Pupils should be taught to recognise that the past is represented and interpreted in different ways, and to give reasons for this.

4)  Pupils should be taught:

a)   how to find out about the events, people and changes studied from an appropriate range of sources of information, including ICT based sources  [for example, documents, printed sources, CDROMS, databases, pictures and photographs, music, artefacts, historic buildings and visits to museums, galleries and sites

b)  to ask and answer questions, and to select and record information relevant to the focus of the enquiry

5)  Pupils should be taught to:

a)  recall, select and organise historical information

b)  use dates and historical vocabulary to describe the periods studied
c)   communicate their knowledge and understanding of history in a variety of ways  [for example, drawing, writing, by using ICT] .

Breadth of Study

6) During the key stage, pupils should be taught the Knowledge, skills and understanding through a local history study, three British history studies, a European history study and a world history study.

Local history study

7)  A study investigating how an aspect in the local area has changed over a long period of time, or how the locality was affected by a significant national or local event or development or by the work of a significant individual.

British history

8)  In their study of British history, pupils should be taught about:

a) the Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings; Britain and the wider world in Tudor times; and either Victorian Britain or Britain since 1930b) aspects of the histories of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, where appropriate, and about the history of Britain in its European and wider world context, in these periods.

Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings in Britain

9)  An overview study of how British society was shaped by the movement and settlement of different peoples in the period before the Norman Conquest and an in-depth study of how British society was affected by Roman or Anglo-Saxon or Viking settlement.

Britain and the wider world in Tudor times

10)  A study of some significant events and individuals, including Tudor monarchs, who shaped this period and of the everyday lives of men, women and children from different sections of society.

Victorian Britain or Britain since 1930

11)  Teachers can choose between a study of Victorian Britain or Britain since 1930.

Victorian Britain

a)  A study of the impact of significant individuals, events and changes in work and transport on the lives of men, women and children from different sections of society.

Britain since 1930

b)  A study of the impact of the Second World War or social and technological changes that have taken place since 1930, on the lives of men, women and children from different sections of society.

A European history study

12)  A study of the way of life, beliefs and achievements of the people living in Ancient Greece and the influence of their civilisation on the world today.

A world history study

13)  A study of the key features, including the everyday lives of men, women and children, of a past society selected from: Ancient Egypt, Ancient Sumer, the Assyrian Empire, the Indus Valley, the Maya, Benin, or the Aztecs.


Some children will not have made so much progress. They will be able to:

Most children will be able to:

Some children will have progress further. They will be able to:

recognise some similarities and differences between the lives of children from different areas of Victorian society; ask and answer questions about the period by using at least one source of information

Children Achieving:

place the changes in the period within a chronological framework; make appropriate use of dates and terms; demonstrate knowledge and understanding about the everyday lives of children in the Victorian period; show how some aspects of the period have been interpreted in different ways; select and combine information from a range of visual, textbook and documentary sources; communicate their knowledge and understanding of changes to children’s lives in Victorian times in organised and structured ways
Children Achieving:

describe reasons for and results of particular events; use their knowledge and understanding of the Victorian period to make links with other societies and periods; select and combine information from a range of sources to reach substantiated conclusions
Children Achieving:


words associated with education in Victorian times, eg board schools, monitors, logbooks, slates, inkwell

words associated with legislation, eg Acts of Parliament, factory report, law, politician, House of Lords

words associated with child labour, eg factories, mines, supervisor, inspector, machinery


a portrait of Queen Victoria and her family, information on Victorian children at work, eg contemporary engravings, extracts from contemporary authors, factory and mine reports, information on Lord Shaftesbury and Dr Barnardo, eg textbooks, pack from Barnardo’s on Victorian Britain

information on Victorian schools, eg extracts from stories, school logbooks, inspection reports, information on Victorian leisure, eg games, toys, posters, books, songbooks of children at work in factories and mines, contemporary novels, eg novels by Kingsley, Dickens, a class time line



This activity could be adapted by providing word banks and sentence/paragraph starters.

A link can be made to work in reading by comparing film versions of novels with extracts from the original text. Identify the differences in the way that the story is told, eg through the loss of the narrator. Examine the distinctive voice of contemporary accounts and compare them with modern historical fiction. Use this investigation to help them adopt an appropriate voice and style in their own writing.

ICT 6D internet research

Health and Safety

None aware of.






  • to identify Queen Victoria and place the Victorian period in relation to other periods of British history

  • to infer information from a portrait

  • to consider what life was like for children in the past

  • Who were the Victorians and when did they live?

  • Show the children a picture of Queen Victoria and her family. Discuss what they think they can tell from the picture, eg status of the family, lifestyle, when the person was alive.

  • Ask the children to place the Victorian period on a time line.

  • Discuss with the children what life may have been like for Victoria’s children, and whether all children would have had similar experiences.

  • Ask the children to work in groups and share what they already know about the period and then feed back to the rest of the class what they think life might have been like for children.

  • can place the Victorian period on a class time line

  • draw inferences about the lives of Queen Victoria’s family from a portrait

  • suggest what life was like for children living in the past

Activity LCP pg6, Timeline Pg 8 spanning 1800-1910. The life of Queen Vistoria

Photo – Queen Victoria

Internet research (websites attached)

Children complete sheets LCP pgs 11 & 13


  • to collect information from a range of sources and draw conclusions about the Victorian period

  • to understand that ways of life differed greatly across Victorian society

  • to write a narrative using historical detail

  • to understand that there are many representations of the Victorian period

  • What was life like for a poor child in the 1840s?

  • Show the children an extract from a video about life for the poor in the nineteenth century. Discuss the extract and what sources of information the film-maker might have used and what other sources might be used to find out more.

  • Provide a range of sources, eg extracts from contemporary authors (Kingsley, Dickens), reports on factories or mines, engravings. Ask the children to make a list of what they can infer about the life of poor children from the sources and present it to class.

  • Provide some information on the numbers of working children, their hours of work, the types of jobs they did and their lack of education. Discuss why children worked in Victorian times.

  • Ask the children to imagine they are a Victorian child working in a factory and write an extract from a factory report describing the work a child of their age was doing.

  • list a number of aspects of daily life for poor Victorian children

  • produce a simple narrative to illustrate what they know about the work done by Victorian children

Activity LCP pg18

Sources to support pgs 20-22

Working children information (attached)


  • to understand that the work of individuals can change aspects of society

  • to find out about important figures in Victorian times

  • to present their findings in different ways

  • Who helped to improve the lives of Victorian children?

  • Ask the children what they think needed to be done for Victorian children.

  • Talk about Lord Shaftesbury and Dr Barnardo and how they helped children, placing key events on the time line. Ask the children to find out about the work of these men, and the way that they changed some children’s lives using a variety of written sources and pictures.

  • Ask the children to present their work using freeze-frames, brief role-plays, cartoons, extended writing or oral and visual presentations.

  • answer questions about who helped to improve children’s lives and how

  • select appropriate information and present it, to show what they have found out about Lord Shaftesbury and Dr Barnardo

Dr Barnardo information (attached with timelines)

Lord Shaftesbury Powerpoint Resources



  • to compare modern and Victorian schooling

  • to communicate through drama their understanding of the nature of school life in Victorian times

  • What was it like going to school at the end of the nineteenth century?

  • Show the children pictures of school life at the end of the nineteenth century and discuss how school appears different from today, eg uniforms, architecture and interiors of classrooms.

  • Referring to the time line, talk briefly about the 1870 Education Act, and how schooling was not free until 1891. Use sources to illustrate aspects of school life at this time, eg extracts from stories, school logbooks, inspection reports.

  • Ask the children to produce a conversation between two children, one established in school and the other a new arrival who had been working in a factory, mill or mine for years. Select children to present their work to the class.

  • Lead a discussion on the differences in the views of school and work and why the children in the nineteenth century would have interpreted school life differently.

  • identify distinctive features of a Victorian school

  • produce a dialogue that contains appropriate historical detail

  • suggest there are different interpretations of school and work

Victorian schools information Attached


  • to consider how attitudes to children and childhood changed over time

  • How did different Victorian children use their spare time?

  • Discuss ways of spending spare time, and ask the children to list their interests and those of others in their families. Ask them to consider which would have been possible in 1890 and which not, giving reasons. Discuss with the children what leisure interests may have been available.

  • Give the children a range of sources on Victorian leisure pursuits, eg artefacts, textbooks, contemporary paintings, pictures. Ask the children to complete a table listing each leisure pursuit and describing it.

  • Tell the children about late-Victorian attitudes, eg that childhood was a time for protection from ‘immoral’ aspects of adult life and for learning family values and moral principles. Ask the children to compare Victorian attitudes with those of today.

  • Ask the children to use the sources of information to help them produce advertisements or a poster advertising the benefits of a new toy or pursuit, and highlighting what they have been told about Victorian attitudes.

  • produce advertisements or posters that reflect Victorian attitudes and values

  • suggest what Victorian children might have done in their spare time

  • select relevant information about a toy/leisure pursuit

Books and artefacts required from School Loans Service


  • to recall information about the life of children in Victorian times

  • to select appropriate material and present it in a way that shows their understanding of the Victorian period

  • How did life change for children living in Victorian Britain?

  • Refer to the time line to recap the main events, dates and figures to help the children recall some of the main changes to the lives of children during the Victorian period.

  • Discuss with the children why the changes took place and who benefited from them. Tell the children that a large number of children were still working in 1901.

  • Provide the children with a range of sources and ask them to summarise what they have found out in ways that provide a sense of the Victorian period.

  • recall information about what children did in Victorian times

  • present information showing knowledge and an appreciation of the Victorian period

Victorians Test accessed at


Website Addresses for Internet Research



Nettleworth primary school
Queen Victoria

Working Children

If you were a child from a poor family at the beginning the Victorian times, you worked and worked .

Children were often forced to work as soon as they were old enough. This was not something new to the Victorian period as children had always been been expected to work as soon as they were old enough for hundreds of years.

Why didn't children refuse to work?
Most children had no choice - they needed to work to help support their families.

What kind of jobs did children do? The lucky children got apprenticed in a trade, the less lucky ones worked on farms or helped with the spinning. When new types of work appeared with the development of industries and factories, it seemed perfectly natural to use children for work that adults couldn't do; Crawling underneath machinery or sitting in coal mines to open and close the ventilation doors.

Chimney Sweeps

Another job they could do better than adults was chimney sweeping. A chimney boy worked for a chimney sweep. His job was to scramble up inside the chimney, to scrape and brush soot away. He came down covered in soot, and with bleeding elbows and knees. Some boys got stuck and died of suffocation.

In 1832 the use of boys for sweeping chimneys was forbidden by law, however, boys continued to be forced through the narrow winding passages of chimneys in large houses.

Children would work long hours and sometimes had to carry out some dangerous jobs working in factories.

In textile mills children were made to clean machines while the machines were kept running, and there were many accidents.

In match factories children were employed to dip matches into a dangerous chemical called phosphorous. The phosphorous could cause their teeth to rot and some died from the effect of breathing it into their lungs.

The Factory Act of 1878 banned employment of children under ten years of age, but poor families needed the extra money so many children still skipped school.

Street Children
Thousands of poor children worked and lived on the streets. Many were orphans, others were simply neglected. They worked very long hours for very little money. To buy bread, they sold matches, firewood, buttons, flowers or bootlaces, polished shoes, ran errands and swept the crossing places where rich people crossed the busy roads.

Coal Mines

Other jobs included working down coal mines. Coal was the main source of power in Victorian times. It was used for cooking and heating, and for driving machinery, trains and steam ships.Until the 1840s, children as young as five worked down mines for up to 12 hours a day.

Dr Barnardo (1845-1905)

When Thomas John Barnardo was born in Dublin in 1845 no one could have predicted that he would become one of the most famous men in Victorian Britain. At the age of 16, after converting to Protestant evangelicalism he decided to become a medical missionary in China and so set out for London to train as a doctor.

The London in which Thomas Barnardo arrived in 1866 was a city struggling to cope with the effects of the Industrial Revolution. The population had dramatically increased and much of this increase was concentrated in the East End, where overcrowding, bad housing, unemployment, poverty and disease were rife. A few months after Thomas Barnardo came to London an outbreak of cholera swept through the East End killing more than 3,000 people and leaving families destitute. Thousands of children slept on the streets and many others were forced to beg after being maimed in factories.

In 1867, Thomas Barnardo set up a ragged school in the East End, where poor children could get a basic education. One evening a boy at the Mission, Jim Jarvis, took Thomas Barnardo around the East End showing him children sleeping on roofs and in gutters. The encounter so affected him he decided to devote himself to helping destitute children.

In 1870, Barnardo opened his first home for boys in Stepney Causeway. He regularly went out at night into the slum district to find destitute boys. One evening, an 11-year old boy, John Somers (nicknamed 'Carrots') was turned away because the shelter was full. He was found dead two days later from malnutrition and exposure and from then on the home bore the sign 'No Destitute Child Ever Refused Admission'.

Victorians saw poverty as shameful as a result of laziness or vice. However Thomas Barnardo accepted all children and stressed that every child deserved the best possible start in life, whatever their background - a philosophy that still inspires the charity today.

Barnardo later opened the Girls' Village Home in Barkingside, a collection of cottages around a green, which housed 1,500 girls. By the time a child left Barnardo's they were able to make their own way in the world - the girls were equipped with domestic skills and the boys learnt a craft or trade.

Thomas Barnardo strongly believed that families were the best place to bring up children and he established the first fostering scheme when he boarded out children to respectable families in the country. He also introduced a scheme to board out babies of unmarried mothers. The mother went into service nearby and could see her child during her time off.

By the time Thomas Barnardo died in 1905, the charity he founded ran 96 homes caring for more than 8,500 children. Residential care emphasised children's physical and moral welfare rather than their emotional wellbeing. Some homes housed hundreds of children and staff sometimes were harsh and distant. Many adults who grew up in the homes look back with affection and believe the charity was a true family. Others remember loneliness, bullying and even abuse.

Dr Barnardo – Timeline

1845 Born 4th July,  Dame Street Dublin, Ireland, the fourth of six children born to John and Abigail Barnardo.

1861 Thomas finished school at the age of sixteen with few academic attainments, Thomas was apprenticed to a wine merchant, which his father procured for him. Here his innate abilities began to appear, though an increasing love of reading made the discipline of business life irksome to the young man.

1862 Thomas joined an evangelical sect called the Plymouth Brethren, a religious group. Thomas gave up reading any books except the Bible. He decides to become a medical missionary.

1866 Thomas went to London to begin training. An outbreak of cholera shortly after he arrives introduces Thomas to the suffering of poor people: 5,548 people die in the epidemic that is caused by the sanitation and drinking water in the east end of London. He gives up his plan to go to China.

1867 Thomas set up a ragged school in what had been a old donkey stable in Limehouse, (but had not been used as such for quite some time) where poor children could get a basic education. One evening a boy at the Mission, Jim Jarvis, took Thomas Barnardo around the East End showing him children sleeping on roofs and in gutters. The encounter so affected him he decided to devote himself to helping destitute children.

1868 The banker, Robert Barclay agreed to support Thomas 2nd March of this year to able Thomas opens his first home for homeless children in Hope Street, Stepney. which consists of two cottages, one for boy and one for girls. He starts his training at the London Hospital in Whitechapel as a full-time medical student aged 23.

1870 He opens his first home for boys in Stepney Causeway, in the East End of London on a 99 year lease on the property. One evening, an 11-year old boy, John Somers (nicknamed 'Carrots') was turned away because the shelter was full. He was found dead two days later from malnutrition and exposure and from then on the home bore the sign 'No Destitute Child Ever Refused Admission'. Thomas decides not to limit the number of children he helps.

Thomas employs a photographer to make a photographic record of every child admitted. The photographs were kept in albums and case-history sheets.

1872 Thomas had begun to earn a small income from his writing and from preaching. His evangelical efforts also started to be on a large scale. In the summer of this year he set up a huge tent outside the Edinburgh Castle public house, a notorious local gin palace and reportedly some 200 people a night would profess conversion. Attendances at the tent affected the numbers using the public house and it was put for sale.

Thomas buys the Edinburgh Castle, a large building in Limehouse. He turns it into a coffee house and mission church accommodating more than 3,000 people at one time  He receives important support from rich evangelicals.

1873 Thomas marries Syrie Elmslie, they are offered some land on a rent-free lease for 15 years as a wedding present at Barkingside, Mossford Lodge. This is where he set up the home and took on forty girls. In October of this year sixty girls now reside in the converted coach house next to the Lodge. 

They have seven children, three of whom die young. His daughter, Marjorie, has Down's Syndrome and influences Thomas to set up homes for children with physical and learning disabilities.

1874 Thomas opens the first in a network of "Ever Open Doors" the first all night refuge at Hope Place and adopts the slogan No destitute child ever refused admission. Sets up a photographic studio,  Children were photographed when they first arrived and again several months later after they had recovered from their experiences of living on the streets. These 'before' and 'after' cards were then sold in packs of twenty for 5 shillings or singly for 6d. each. This enabled Barnardo to publicize his work and raise money for his charitable work. also starts his own magazine, The Childrens Treasury.

1875 First Committee of management set up, Thomas became the director of the Homes. The Organisation becomes known as Dr. Barnardo's Homes. The Night and Day Magazine starts.

1876 Thomas qualifies as a doctor. He sets up a council of trustees to look after the charity's money and to make policy. The charity becomes more famous, and receives more and more money. In the same year, Thomas and Syrie open the Girls' Village Home in Essex  plans are drawn up for 30 more cottages  Based on French and German models of care, the Village was very different from the large scale institutions of the time.

1877 Thomas was involved in a bitter personal dispute with fellow evangelists in Stepney. This led to a trial, mounted by the Charity Organisation Society, where Barnardo was accused of financial malpractice, cruelty to children, lack of moral and religious training and of keeping children against their will. After four months and the testimony of 112 witnesses, Thomas was acquitted of all charges. As a result of the case, he became a public personality and his supporter base broadened considerably. 

The arbitrators, pronouncing their verdict, stated: "This use of artistic fiction to represent actual facts is, in our opinion, not only morally wrong as thus employed, but might, in the absence of a very strict control grow into a system of deception dangerous to the cause on behalf of which it is practised. Nor has evidence been wanting in this inquiry, that in one or two cases it has been applied to an extent that we....strongly reprobate." Thomas stops selling the before and after photographs.

1878 Thomas had established over fifty orphanages in London. The ever open door was now causing concern for Thomas, he would have to find a way to relieve the situation. He thought they would have better prospects overseas.

1879 Girls' Village Home in Essex all of the thirty cottages proposed in 1876 have been completed. The village had its own school, a laundry and church, and a population of over 1,000 children, that eventually house more than 1,500 girls.

1881 The Childrens Treasury magazine was loosing money, Thomas stops the publication on which he depended to a large extent for his income.

1882 Thomas sends the first 51 boys to Canada as part of an 'emigration programme'. The programme is to settle children in colonies overseas. The programme is not a success. He believed that the child would benefit from a fresh start, away from the overcrowded slums of the East End also it cost about £12 a year to look after a child in Britain. To send one child overseas was a one-off payment of £15

1883 The summer of this year Peterborough millionaire George A Cox offered Thomas Barnardo his choice of various homes he owned in Peterborough to establish a home for the destitute children of England. Having selected Hazelbrae he began preparing the home ready for the children. Today a Heritage plaque recognising the home stands on the grounds of the former Hazelbrae Home.

1886 The first officially recorded legacy of £50.00 (today £3,475.00) was received 1st October of this year.

1887 Thomas begins a scheme of 'boarding out', sending 330 boys, to 'good country homes' - well away from the slums and pollution that he believed was so injurious to physical and moral well-being. 

1888 Thomas opens two refuges for the children of prostitutes. Most people at the time saw prostitution as a sin, but Thomas understood it as part of a lager system of economic and social exploitation of women. Thomas is questioned by H division police regarding him fitting the profile of Jack The Ripper but there is no evidence against Thomas. But two facts, one of him being a Doctor and the second he is seen late at night in his private carriage, but if he did need a alibi the one he had was sound. He writes a letter to The Times

1889 Thomas begins another scheme, boarding out the babies of unmarried mothers. While the mothers live and work in one family, their babies are looked after by a fostering family nearby.

1891 Thomas partly responsible for a change in the law, which put the welfare of the child above the rights of the parent.

1894 The Children's Church Barkingside is completed

1900 Thomas insisted that all Children applicants for emigration must reside for two to three months in one of his homes before departure.

1903 The charity opens Watts Naval training school in Norfolk. to hold 320 places

1905 Dr. Thomas John  Barnardo dies of angina aged 60 at his home, St Leonards Lodge, Surbiton.. At the time of his death, the charity runs 96 homes and looks after more than 7,998 children in his residential homes, more than 4,000 were boarded out, and 18,000 had been sent to Canada and Australia. The organisation was £249,000 in dept.

Tributes poured in from across the globe and the world's press united in praising a man who had in forty years transformed the lives of nearly 60,000 boys and girls. The Times wrote: 'It is impossible to take a general view of Dr Barnardo's life work without being astonished alike by its magnitude and by its diversity, and by the enormous amount of otherwise hopeless misery against which he has contended single handed with success.'

Lord Shaftesbury

Shaftesbury Avenue was named in memory of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885). The Avenue opened in 1886, and while using the route of existing streets, it entailed the demolition, to the east of here, of some of the appalling slums that Shaftesbury sought to eliminate.

Whilst known as Lord Ashley, he became involved in factory reform and was responsible for taking three factory acts through Parliament (1847; 1850 and 1859); and the Coal Mines Act (1842) which stopped the employment underground of women and children under 13. He also piloted the Lunacy Act (1845); helped Florence Nightingale with her army welfare and nursing work, and was centrally involved in the YMCA. He was concerned with improving housing conditions for poor people.

Early ragged schools

Shaftesbury was one of the founders of the Ragged Schools Union and was its president for 40 years. The ragged school movement grew out of a recognition that charity, denominational and dames schools were not providing for significant numbers of children in inner-city areas. Working in the poorest districts, teachers (who were often local working people) initially utilized such buildings as could be afforded - stables, lofts, railway arches. There would be an emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic - and on bible study (the 4 ‘R’s!). This mix expanded into industrial and commercial subjects in many schools. It is estimated that around 300,000 children went through the London Ragged Schools alone between the early 1840s and 1881 (Silver 1983: 20).

As the schools developed, many gained better premises and broadened their clientele (age wise), opened club rooms and hostel and shelter accommodation, and added savings clubs and holiday schemes to their programmes of classes. A good indication of the widening of the work is given by S. E. Hayward’s illustration The Ragged School Tree (an illustration in Montague 1904). Along the branches we find coffee and reading rooms, Bands of Hope, Penny Banks, refuges, men’s clubs and sewing and knitting classes. This stood in stark contrast to the narrow focus on the 4 ‘R’s that remained, for example, in the voluntary National Schools.

Some of the ragged schools developed into Evening and Youths’ Institutes - such as that established by Hogg, Pelham and others in Long Acre, London in 1870. (Pelham was very active in developing boy's club work.) Other Institutes developed from scratch. Early Institutes like the one established in Dover in 1858, utilized a mix of opportunities for reading, recreation and education.

Lord Shaftesbury – Powerpoint – on Primary resources

Who went to school during the Victorian times?
In early Victorian England, most children never went to school at all and grew up unable to read or write. Instead they were sent out to work to earn money for their families. Only the upper and middle class children went to school.

Rich Children

Children from rich families were taught at home by a governess until they were 10 years old. Once a boy turned ten, he went away to Public schools like Eton or Harrow. There were very few schools available for girls, however, until near the end of the Victorian time.  Wealthy girls were mostly educated at home.

Where did poor children go to school?
Poor children went to free charity schools or 'Dame' schools (so called because they were run by women) for young children. They also went to Sunday Schools which were run by churches. There they learnt bible stories and were taught to read a little.

Why go to school?

The Victorians soon realised that it was important for people to be able to read and write and education became more important. The Church of England became active in the field and erected 'National Schools' which taught children reading, writing, arithmetic and religion.

In 1833, the government awarded grants of money to schools. Not everyone who ran the schools were able to read themselves so the standard of education was not very good.

In 1844, Parliament passed a law requiring children working in factories be given six-half-days schooling every week. 'Ragged Schools' were set up to provide free basic education for orphans and very poor children.

In 1870, Parliament passed the Forster's Education Act, requiring all parts of Britain to provide schools to children aged 5 to 12.  However, not all these school were free so many could not afford the 'school's pence' each week. As it was not mandatory to attend school many children still didn't go to school.  They worked and earned money for the family instead. 

When did attending school become mandatory?
It wasn't until 1880 that schooling became mandatory. All children had to attend a school until they were 10 years old. In 1889, the school leaving age was raised to twelve, and in 1891, the school's pence fee was abolished and schools became free.

What were the schools like?

There could be as many as 70 or 80 pupils in one class, especially in cities. The teachers were very strict. Children were often taught by reading and copying things down, or chanting things till they were perfect.

What did the schools teach?

Typical lessons at school included the three Rs - Reading, WRiting and Dictation, and ARithmetic.  In addition to the three Rs which were taught most of the day, once a week the children learned geography, history and singing. The girls learned how to sew.

Schools did not teach music or PE in the way that schools do now. Children sometimes did 'drill' in the classroom. Drill was a series of exercises that were done by the side of a desk.

Did Victorian children use a calculator?
For maths lessons, children used frames with coloured wooden beads, much like an abacus.  Children learned how to multiply and divide using this apparatus. 

What was a Victorian school day like?

The day usually began with prayers and religious instruction. Morning lessons ran from 9a.m. to 12p.m.  Children went home for a meal, then returned for afternoon classes from 2p.m. to 5p.m.

Why did Victorian children write on slates?

Paper was expensive. Children usually therefore wrote on slates with slate pencils. After a lesson was completed, and the teacher checked their work, the students cleared their slates for the next lesson. 

Did Victorian children use a pen?

Older children also learned to write on paper. An 'ink monitor' distributed ink to the children, who used pens made out of thin wooden sticks with steel needles.  The pen had to be dipped every few words or it would run dry.


Victorian Schools

All children go to school

Many children in early Victorian England never went to school at all and more than half of them grew up unable even to read or write. Although some did go to Sunday schools which were run by churches. Children from rich families were luckier than poor children. Nannies looked after them, and they had toys and books. A governess would  teach the children at home. Then, when the boys were old enough, they were sent away to a public school such as Eton or Rugby. The daughters were kept at home and taught singing, piano playing and sewing. Slowly, things changed for poorer children too. By the end of the Victorian age all children under 12 had to go to school. Now everybody could learn how to read and write, and how to count properly.

There were several kinds of school for poorer children. The youngest might go to a "Dame" school,run by a local woman in a room of her house. The older ones went to a day school. Other schools were organised by churches and charities. Among these were the "ragged" schools which were for orphans and very poor children.

School room The school could be quite a grim building. The rooms were warmed by a single stove or open fire. The walls of a Victorian schoolroom were quite bare, except perhaps for an embroidered text. Curtains were used to divide the schoolhouse into classrooms. The shouts of several classes competed as they were taught side by side. There was little fresh air  because the windows were built high in the walls, to stop pupils looking outside and being distracted from their work. Many schools were built in the Victorian era, between 1837 and 1901. In the country you would see barns being converted into schoolrooms. Increasing numbers of children began to attend, and they became more and more crowded. But because school managers didn’t like to spend money on repairs, buildings were allowed to rot and broken equipment was not replaced.



Children were often scared of their teachers because they were very strict. Children as young as thirteen helped the teacher to control the class. These “pupil teachers” scribbled notes for their lessons in books .They received certificates which helped them qualify as teachers when they were older. In schools before 1850 you might see a single teacher instructing a class of over 100 children with help of pupils called “monitors”. The head teacher quickly taught these monitors, some of them as young as nine, who then tried to teach their schoolmates. Salaries were low, and there were more women teaching  than men. The pale, lined faces of older teachers told a story. Some taught only because they were too ill to do other jobs. The poor conditions in schools simply made their health even worse. Sometimes, teachers were attacked by angry parents. They shouted that their children should be at work earning money, not wasting time at school. Teachers in rough areas had to learn to box!

After 1870, all children from five to thirteen had to attend school by law. In winter in the countryside, many children faced a teeth chattering walk to school of several miles. A large number didn’t turn up. Lessons lasted from 9am to 5pm, with a two hour lunch break. Because classes were so large, pupils all had to do the same thing at the same time. The teacher barked a command,  and  the children all opened their books. At the second command they began copying sentences from the blackboard. When pupils found their work boring, teachers found their pupils difficult to control.

Victorian lessons concentrated on the “three Rs”-Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. Children learnt by reciting things like parrots, until they were word perfect. It was not an exciting form of learning! Science was taught by “object lesson”. Snails, models of trees, sunflowers , stuffed dogs, crystals, wheat or pictures of elephants and camels were placed on each pupil’s desk as the subject for the lesson. The object lesson was supposed to make children observe, then talk about what they had seen. Unfortunately, many teachers found it easier to chalk up lists describing the object, for the class to copy. Geography meant yet more copying and reciting - listing the countries on a globe, or chanting the names of  railway stations between London and Holyhead. If you look at a timetable from late in the 1800s and you will see a greater number of subjects, including needlework, cookery and woodwork. But the teacher still taught them by chalking and talking.

Slates and copybooks
Children learned to write on slates, they scratched letters on them with sharpened pieces of slate. Paper was expensive, but slates could be used again and again. Children were supposed to bring sponges to clean them. Most just spat on the slates, and rubbed them clean with their sleeves. Older children learned to use pen and ink by writing in “copybooks”. Each morning the ink monitor filled up little, clay ink wells and handed them round from a tray. Pens were fitted with scratchy, leaking nibs, and children were punished for spilling ink which “blotted their copybooks”. Teaches also gave dictation, reading out strange poems which the children had to spell out correctly.

Slates showing pictures and names of different objects hang from the walls of the infants class. The children chant the name of each object in turn. When they can use these words in sentences they will move on to a “reader”. This would p probably be the Bible. For reading lessons, the pupils lined up with their toes touching a semi-circle chalked on the floor. They took it in turns to read aloud from the bible. The words didn’t sound like everyday words, children stumbled over the long sentences. Quicker readers fidgeted as they waited for their turn to read. School inspectors slowly realised that the bibles language was too difficult. Bibles were gradually replaced by books of moral stories, with titles like Harriet and the Matches. A reader had to last for a whole year. If the class read it too quickly, they had to go back to the beginning and read it all over again!

The pupils used an abacus to help them with their maths. Calculations were made using imperial weights and measures instead of our simpler metric system. Children had to pass inspections in maths, reading and writing before they could move up to the next class or “standard”. Teachers were also tested by the dreaded inspector, to make sure that they deserved government funds.

Teachers handed out regular canings. Look inside the “punishment book” that every school kept, and you will see many reasons for these beatings: rude conduct, leaving the playground without permission, sulkiness, answering back, missing Sunday prayers, throwing ink pellets and being late. Boys were caned across their bottoms, and girls across their hands or bare legs. Some teachers broke canes with their fury, and kept birch rods in jars of water to make them more supple. Victims had to chose which cane they wished to be beaten with!

Dunce's Cap
Punishment did not end with caning. Students had to stand on a stool at the back of the class, wearing an arm band with DUNCE written on it. The teacher then took a tall, cone-shaped hat decorated with a large “D”, and placed it on the boys head. Today we know that some children learn more slowly than others. Victorian teachers believed that all children could learn at the same speed, and if some fell behind then they should be punished for not trying hard enough.

When its time for PE or “drill”, a pupil teacher starts playing an out-of-tune piano . The children jog, stretch and lift  weights in time to the awful music. It is like a Victorian aerobics class! Even when the teacher rings a heavy , brass bell to announce the end of school, the pupils march out to the playground in perfect time

Outside the classroom is a small yard crowded with shrieking schoolmates. Games of blind mans buff, snakes and ladders, hide-and-seek and hopscotch are in full swing. Some boys would beg a pigs bladder from the butcher, which they would blow up to use as a football. Others drilled hob nails through cotton reels to make spinning tops.

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