Not all Victorian children went to school for a formal education. More than 50% were unable to even read or write when they grew up. Some children used to go to Sunday schools which were run by churches. Rich children were lucky as compared to poor children. There were nannies to take care of them and they also had toys & books. Governesses used to teach the kids at home. Once older, they were sent away to a public school such as Eton or Rugby.
Girls did not enjoy that aspect. They typically stayed at home and were taught singing, piano playing and sewing. Eventually poorer children under the age of 12 also started to go to school. This started towards the end of Victorian era.
Poor kids had various types of schools. The youngest would go to a “Dame” school which was run by a local woman. Classes would take place in a room of her house. The older kids went to a day school. Other schools were managed by churches and charities. These included “ragged” schools which were meant for orphans and very poor children. After 1870, things changed and all children from the age of 5 to 13 had to attend school by law. In those days, imagine walking to schools during winters without the comfort of heated cars.
Kids faced a tough walk to school for several miles. Naturally, large number didn’t turn up. School time was from 9 am to 5 pm. There used to be a 2hour lunch break. Unlike today’s schools, classes used to be very large which meant that all students ended up doing same thing at a time. Once the teacher gave a command and the children would open their books. At the second command they would copy sentences from the blackboard.
Victorian lessons focussed on three Rs-Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. Kids used to “mug” things up to remember. By today’s standards, you can imagine how boring it would have been for both the children as well as the teachers. Pictures of animals used to be kept on the desks as the subject for the lesson.
The idea was to observe and then talk about what they have seen. However, in practice it used to be more of a copying excercise. Geography meant remembering countries on a globe, or chanting the names of railway stations between London and Holy head. A school lesson timetable from late 1800s shows interesting subjects like needlework, cookery and woodwork. Even practical subjects like those were a matter of listening and copying what the teacher writes.