The Victorian School
By the middle of the nineteenth century remarkably little seems to have changed. A time traveller from the school of 1748 would probably have been able to join in a lesson in 1848 quite easily.
By now the school was lit by gas, there was mains water and sewerage, and the children had desks. So life there was probably a little more comfortable than a hundred years before.
There were now various prizes given for good work – for example, a former trustee had left money for an annual reading and writing prize. We know that the children were now divided into different classes, but there were still only the two teachers. It is likely that the older children were made monitors and put in charge of the younger ones.
At this time four of the older girls at any one time were boarders in the school house, where they were supposed to be trained in domestic work to help them find a job – the reality was that they were acting as unpaid servants.
It was at this time that the school began to be publicly criticised for the limited education it offered, in particular to the girls. And it is noticeable from the minute books of the 1840s-60s that there were many more applicants for places for boys than for those for girls.
During this period, despite the trustees’ attempts to appoint well qualified staff and to expand the curriculum, the school was much criticised for the limited education it still offered. Critics pointed out that fewer people lived in the City now, and that there were other schools to educate their children. From the 1850s, the newly formed Charity Commission was taking an interest in this and other schools – the same commissioner, William Hare, wrote two reports. The first, in 1855, was broadly supportive, but noted that the annual inspection of the school was carried out by the local vicar, that the teachers were not qualified and that the residence qualification meant that there were problems attracting enough pupils.
The trustees argued that they were being practical – most of the pupils would go on to jobs where reading, writing and arithmetic were all they needed. And as for the girls, several afternoons a week spent sewing would give them a more useful skill than would time spent on more academic subjects.
A second inspection by William Hare in 1868 was much more critical in tone, both of the school and of the charity.