While looking back on our own childhood memories many of us think back fondly at our youth and it has to be said that no matter how much we complained about it, school was a large and important part of our past. Considering how far we have come in education in comparison to when we were in class, it’s even more startling to discover how much schools have changed since the 18th century.
In the 18th century children went to charity run schools that were founded in many English towns and were sometimes referred to as Blue Coat Schools because of the colour of their uniforms. Boys from wealthy families went to grammar schools and girls from wealthy families also went to schools but were taught to learn ‘accomplishments’ like music and embroidery other than academic subjects. The children of non-conformists or those not belonging to the Church of England were not allowed to attend public schools and formed their own academies. It’s safe to say that there was a distinct correlation between the wealth of a child’s family and the standard of education a child received.
If we were to go back to the 1800’s, it’s most likely that you would witness children being taught in a one room schoolhouse. Many schools in the countryside were funded by local farmers so the standard of education was poorer than those who had the chance to go to a grammar school. One room schoolhouses were heated by a single stove in the winter so the rooms children were taught in were very cold and unpleasant. Slates and chalk were the norm for children to write on (in many cases they had to share) and teachers had a chalkboard too.
Ragged schools were introduced in the UK in the 1840’s and were set up in the poorest districts and the teachers who worked there (who were normally working people) initially used buildings such as stables, lofts and railway arches. And, while children were being educated, many of them continued to live a life of criminality and worked long hours. Many parents often preferred their children to go to work than school as at least that way they were able to contribute to the household income.
Playground equipment in the 1800s was also very different to the equipment we think of today. The play and playground movement was influenced by the outdoor gymnasiums proposed by the Germans after their study into child development. Throughout the early 1800s and 1900s, sand gardens were introduced to playgrounds with play equipment. Natural playgrounds, built playgrounds and adventure playgrounds only emerged during the 1900s once the benefits of nature play were realised.
It was not until the 19th century that education for children in the UK became compulsory and the government established free education, taking over from the sponsorship that the Church of England provided previously. The 1944 Education Act established a system of grammar schools and modern secondary schools. Education, at the standard we know it to be today, was only really established within the last 50 years.