The 1851 census showed that only 10% of girls attended day schools in England and Wales. Even among this small minority, standards were still very low in the late 1850s. It is estimated that about three quarters left school without being able to spell simple words or make out a shop bill. Attendance was also very poor: only about 33% of pupils attended school for more than 100 days a year.
A new system called 'payment by results' was brought in to raise standards in 1861. Each pupil was examined by an inspector and grants were not paid unless pupils passed certain subjects. Needlework was made compulsory for all girl pupils and the grant was stopped if this subject was not taught. This meant that girls spent four to five afternoons a week sewing while boys were doing extra arithmetic. A report on a girls' national school at Lambeth in 1867 showed that girls there spent four afternoons a week sewing. What they thought about this is clear from the school's log book for 1867:
Commenced work this afternoon with a large attendance in consequence of having told the girls we were going to have a lesson instead of needlework.
The teacher's salary depended on the number of passes obtained, so payment by results worsened the monitorial system as it encouraged a narrow curriculum and learning by rote. This system was abolished in English schools after 1897 but continued to dominate Irish primary and secondary education until 1924.