School Education

As we all know, Prime Minister Tony Blair placed education at the forefront of his policy priorities and, as he finally leaves office, it seemed appropriate to cast a beady eye on what has been achieved and how education has progressed locally not in the last decade but in the last century and before that.

Records show that licensed teachers have operated in Yapton since 1579 but the first ‘proper’ school in the parish was set up by Yaptonian Stephen Roe in 1766. This became a ‘National’ (Church of England) school in 1833 and had just 34 pupils on roll. But what would today’s children at Yapton CE Primary School think of schools from the Victorian era and earlier? Before 1902 the state provided only elementary-level education and its purpose was not to facilitate self-expression but to enforce social discipline and to instil a work ethic that would prepare working class children for their jobs in the factories.

Schoolrooms were drab and often cold and draughty. Discipline was strict and respect for teachers was paramount. Rooms were typically arranged with the schoolmaster at the front of the class and the children seated in rows, often with tiered desks so all the children could see the teacher. In rural areas it was typical for the whole school to be taught at the same time. Up to 100 pupils would be taught at once although it was sometimes possible to sub-divide the room so a smaller class could be taught separate from the rest.



An early system of teaching involved the use of ‘monitors’ - older children who would be taught the lesson and then pass on the instruction to others. The lessons were pinned to the wall and the pupils would stand on a chalk semi-circle drawn on the floor facing the wall. lt was claimed that one teacher could oversee several hundred children at a time using this method!

Each day was very much like another although some lessons were taught only once a week such as singing or the ‘object’ lesson. This consisted of either a man-made or natural object which the children were instructed to use their senses of touch or smell and learn something of the object. This broke away from the traditional teaching by rote and was considered avant-garde.

lt was rare for anything to be placed on the wall and where this did happen it was likely to be some sort of ‘improving’ text - the wall of one infant school bore the warning “All liars shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone”. How’s that for motivation?!

School attendance was not compulsory until 1870, shortly after the employment of children aged seven or under in the mills and factories was outlawed, and schooling was required until age 10 but, in practice, children were frequently kept away from school at harvest time and the like. ln 1860 only 1 in 10 children attended school but by 1880 this had risen to over 9 in 10 and despite its idiosyncrasies the Victorian schoolroom had a profound effect on the literacy and education of the population. Ultimately of course we are all products of this era!

Geoff Westcott
June 2007

(Originally published in Yapton News & Views, July 2007)

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