Early nineteenth-century schools

There was no compulsion on parents to send their children to school in early nineteenth century England or Ireland, so thousands of girls and boys grew up without even the most elementary instruction. The ruling classes thought it would be dangerous to educate the poor, while employers were afraid that education would rob them of their work force. There was no law to prevent anyone, no matter how unqualified, from opening a school. As a result, elementary education was in the hands of many different groups.

Dame schools were small fee-paying schools managed usually by women where village children learned to read and, occasionally, to write.

Factory schools were half-time schools where boys and girls were taught the 3Rs with the addition of knitting and sewing for girls.

Workhouse schools were much inferior to the factory schools. Boys were trained as blacksmiths, carpenters and shoemakers, while girls learned housework, laundry work and cookery.

Sunday schools taught basic literacy so that pupils could read the Bible. In the early nineteenth century they offered many girls their only chance of education.

Ragged Schools were schools set up by philanthropists for children who were too dirty and too poor to be accepted in ordinary schools.

Religious Schools were full-time schools and the main source of elementary instruction for the poor. They were run by two rival religious groups: the National Society Schools organised by the Church of England, and the rival Lancasterian Schools (soon to become the British and Foreign School Society) set up by non-conformists. The non-conformists were Christian religious groups such as Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians and Quakers who did not 'conform' to the teachings of the Church of England. These schools used the monitorial system of teaching because it allowed large numbers of pupils to be taught cheaply.


  1. Name five kinds of elementary schools in England in the early nineteenth century.
  2. Why was elementary education in the hands of many different groups?


  1. Role play an interview with a workhouse boy.
  2. Role play an interview with a factory school girl.
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