Education in Victorian England | British Literature Wiki (2023)

The Victorian Era yielded great developments in terms of education, and this time period had distinct characteristics in regards to the educational system. Public education evolved significantly at this time primarily because of new laws that were developed to make education compulsory for a wider range of individuals. Though many advancements in the field of education came to fruition in Victorian England, there were still significant gaps between social classes and genders. As a result of all of these multi-faceted aspects of British education, literacy rates among the population increased dramatically by the end of the era.

  • History
  • Social Class and Education
  • Ragged and Dame Schools
  • Literacy Rates
  • Gender

History of Victorian Schooling

The development of public education in England changed drastically in the Victorian Era thanks to many legislative changes by Parliament. Wealthy parents sent their children to fee-paying schools or employed governess, but gender still affected those of high class: boys’ schooling was considered more important, and they were taught academic and functional skills while girls were taught sewing, needlework, drawing, and music. Teaching was mainly by rote, with children learning things by simply repeating and memorizing what was said by their teachers. There was little room for creativity or developing talents; an emphasis was placed on learning to read and write. (The Victorian School).

In 1833, Parliament authorized sums of money to be provided for the construction of schools for the poor children of England and Wales. A succession of acts that followed hoped to expand the scope of education, but, for the most part, there was no unified education system; it was still in the hands of churches and philanthropists. There was a constant battle between the aim of schools to teach and parents’ need to have their children home to help the family. Parents were often required to pay for their childrens’ school, or at the very least supply ink, paper, and other materials, which was a real barrier for poor students. Then, in 1844, Parliament passed a law requiring children working in factories to be given six-half-days schools every week. In 1870, the Forster Elementary Education Act established partially state-funded Board Schools to be set up to provide primary education in areas where existing provisions were inadequate, but they still charged a fee, which many poor families could not pay. For this there were certain makeshift schools started such as ragged and dame schools, which essentially ended up to be daycares (The Victorian School).

By 1880, additional legislation stated that compulsory attendance at school ceased to be a matter for local option and now had to attend school between the ages of 5 and 10, with some exceptions such as early leaving in agricultural areas. Parents of children who did not attend school could be fined. In 1891, the Free Education Act provided for the state payment of school fees up to ten shillings per week. This was to help poor children attend school. By 1893 the school leaving age was raised to 11 and schools were established for the deaf and blind. The age was later raised again to 13. In 1897, the Voluntary Schools Act provided grants to public elementary schools not funded by school boards, which were typically Church schools. (The Victorian School).

(Video) Victorian Literature | Literature | Chegg Tutors

Social Class and Education

Education at this time varied greatly between both social classes and genders. In the upper class, when children were quite young, they were raised by a governess. After they reached the age of about ten, children would usually go to a public school. Public schools were selective and expensive institutions. The first of these types of schools was Winchester College, which was founded in 1382. Boys in the upper class had the best opportunities for a good education. This idea is evident through the fact that private schools were male-only and they cost money to attend, so poor families could not afford to send their children there. Public schools were essentially used to prepare boys to be gentlemen. There was not a strong emphasis on scholastics. Instead, the education at these schools was heavily focused on sportsmanship, religion, leadership, and even confidence, so the boys would have all of the necessary skills to eventually be legitimate members of the elite class in society.

Upper class girls, on the other hand, were not sent to public schools. They stayed at home and learned skills that would benefit them when they got married, because this was the most common path for women in Victorian England to take. It was imperative that girls knew how to sew, cook, sing, and play an instrument. These were all skills that could be used during a girl’s life, especially to help her husband or make him proud. Eventually, women’s colleges began to open and females had more opportunities for education as they got older.

Ragged and Dame Schools

“Ragged Schools” were set up to provide free basic education to orphans and very poor children. Ragged schools were developed in idea by John Pounds, a Portsmith shoemaker. In 1818, Pounds began teaching without charging fees so that poor children could also learn. Thomas Guthrie helped promote Pound’s idea of free schooling for working class children. Guthrie also started a ragged school in Edinburgh and Sheriff Watson started another in Aberdeen. These schools spread rapidly and there were 350 ragged schools by the time the 1870 Education Act was passed (The Victorian School).

The ragged schools were often run by churches and had a foundation of charity and religion. They were free to attend and many of the people that taught were actually volunteers. At ragged schools, kids had some typical school subjects, but they also learned skills such as knitting and gardening. This was done in order to ensure that children had knowledge about certain trades or types of housework that could be used outside of school and later in their lives.

(Video) Literature in Victorian Age

“Dame Schools” were also set up by women who were most likely themselves poor and were more similar to babysitters than teachers. Oftentimes the school was run right out of the woman’s home, and it was typical for these children to be given household chores to complete. In fact, some dame schools were run by women who were illiterate; therefore they could not teach these young children much where academics were concerned. They looked after the children more than they taught them, but it was a place where poor parents could ensure their children were out of trouble while they made money for their family. While, “ragged schools” were required to be free, “dame schools” were not; this made them a form of a private school (BBC).

Literacy Rates Data
.Education in Victorian England | British Literature Wiki (1)

At the beginning of the Victorian era, circa 1830’s, the literacy rate amongst Englishmen was hovering just above 60%. The literacy rate amongst women was roughly below half. Decades into the Victorian Era, in the 1860s, the literacy rate amongst women and men finally becomes equal at approximately 90% in 1870. There was a drastic increase in literacy rates during the 19th century. In 1820, the literacy rate was 53%. In 1870 it jumped to 76%. Women had historically high literacy rate spikes in the 19th century. The intense increase in literacy rates is arguably due to increased government involvement in schools and education. SOURCE?

The Enlightenment played a large role in the increase in literacy rates. Although the Enlightenment began to taper off a few years before the Victorian period began, the lasting residual effects of philosophical thinking and reliance on writings by philosophers like John Locke created a steady increase in literacy rates. Nearing the end of Victoria’s reign at the turn of the 20th ceuntry, the literacy rate amongst both men and women in Britain was nearly 100%.

Gender in Education

In Victorian England, women were believed to only need to be educated in “accomplishments” such as artistic talents (singing and dancing), and the languages, essentially anything that would allow them to earn a husband and become the “Angels of the House” (Hughes).

(Video) 5 Ridiculous Victorian Etiquette Rules | What the Stuff?!

There were many doctors who believed that if women studied too much education, it would stunt their ability to reproduce. Therefore, when universities opened to females, a lot of families did not want to send their daughters for fear no one would want to marry them afterward. However, as time went on and more and more women’s colleges opened, more intelligent women attended to be educated in things other than “fashionable” subjects. In this way, knowledge is power and sparked the want for the right to vote and the creation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage in 1897, wish the Queen could not understand (Picard).

It was not until more than forty years after the Victorian Era began that the Education Act was passed in England in 1870, making it required that both females and males get an elementary education, while secondary education in even upper-class families was not a consideration for females until the 1890s (Demir).

Female teachers were permitted, however they had a much lower wage than male teachers and were required to choose either having a profession or marriage and therefore all female teachers were required to remain unmarried while male teachers were not (Demir).
Education in Victorian England | British Literature Wiki (2)

The Royal Holloway Academy was Britain’s largest all-female college at its time. Thomas Holloway, the school’s namesake, built it after his wife Jane suggested it in answer to his question “How best to spend a quarter of a million or more” (Picard). When it was added to the University of London, it raised graduation rates to 30 percent being women.


Bloy, M. (2014, July 28). Victorian Legislation: A Timeline. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from

(Video) RSA ANIMATE: Changing Education Paradigms

Demir, Caglar. “THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN EDUCATION IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND.” N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

Hughes, Kathryn. “Gender Roles in the 19th Century.” The British Library. The British Library, 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2016

Picard, Liza. “Education in Victorian Britain.” The British Library. The British Library, 2014. Web. 15 Nov 2016.

The Victorian School. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2016.

“Victorian Britain: Children at School.” BBC, 2014,

(Video) Jane Austen: The novel and social realism

“Victorian Era Children’s Education Facts: Schooling, Subjects, Girls, Boys, Rich, Poor.” N.p., 2016. Web. 15 Nov 2016.

“Victorian Era Ragged Schools for Poor Homeless Children.” N.p., 2016 Web. 15 Nov 2016.


What was education like in Victorian England? ›

Teaching was mainly by rote, with children learning things by simply repeating and memorizing what was said by their teachers. There was little room for creativity or developing talents; an emphasis was placed on learning to read and write. (The Victorian School).

What was important about education in Victorian Britain? ›

There was a huge emphasis on rote learning (learning off by heart). For example, children had to chant the times tables until they knew them. Boys and girls were segregated for some subjects: girls would study needlework while boys studied woodwork. Children used a slate to write on, which could be wiped clean.

What was the state of education during the Victorian era? ›

Children from rich families were taught at home by a governess until they were 10 years old. Once a boy turned ten, he went away to Public schools like Eton or Harrow. There were very few schools available for girls, however, until near the end of the Victorian time. Wealthy girls were mostly educated at home.

What was education like in the Victorian era for the poor? ›

Rich girls were taught mainly by governesses at home. Free church-run or charity schools provided education for the poor but many parents could not afford to let their children stop work to attend. This meant that few working-class children had any formal education.

What did Victorian students learn? ›

The most important lessons were the 'three Rs' – reading, writing and arithmetic (maths). Pupils had to chant things (the times-table facts, for example) out loud until they could do it without making a mistake. Victorian pupils also received lessons in history and geography. Some lessons were called 'object lessons'.

What were the different types of schools in the Victorian era? ›

These included the Ragged Schools, Parish Schools and Church Schools.

What are the most important aspects of the Victorian era? ›

Important political events during this period included the abolition of slavery in the British Empire; the expansions of the franchise; working-class political activism, most notably Chartism; the rise of liberalism as the dominant political ideology, especially of the middle class; and the nationalization of ...

How did Victorian schooling change? ›

In 1870, a law was passed which stated that all children aged between 5 and 10 must attend school. Victorian schools were very different to the schools we have today. In very poor areas, some Victorian classrooms would have up to 70 or 80 children. Now schools usually have 30 children in each class.

Who was educated in the Victorian era? ›

Most children never went to school and struggled to read or write. Children from rich families were typically taught at home by governess until the age of 10 years old. Wealthy boys from the age of 10 would then go to Public schools such as Rugby. Girls on the other hand continued to be educated at home.

Why is Victoria known as the education state? ›

Our state boasts countless educational landmarks.

Not everything can be taught in a classroom, which is why Victoria's students are automatically at an advantage, thanks to our abundance of rich heritage sites, museums, galleries and cultural landmarks.

What happened in Victorian school? ›

The Victorian School

Many schools were quite grim places, often with windows high up so that children could not see out. They were drab by modern standards, with very little on the walls except perhaps a stern text. Boys and girls generally were separated, having their own entrance and playground.

What did Victorian teachers wear? ›

A high collar white cotton blouse would be worn underneath. They would wear stout flat boots. The school mistress would wear her long hair up in a bun. The male teacher would wear a suit with a white shirt which had a deep rounded collar, and this was worn with a tie.

What was life like for children in the Victorian times? ›

Life for Victorian children was very different from our lives today. Children in rich households had toys to play with and did not have to work, but children in poor households often had to work long hours in difficult, dangerous jobs. They didn't have toys to play with but sometimes made their own.

Did poor children go to school in Victorian times? ›

Victorian children lived very different lives to children today. Poor children often had to work to earn money for their family. As a result, many could not go to school.

What are 5 interesting facts about the Victorian era? ›

10 Interesting facts about the Victorian Era
  • Taxidermy was also huge in the Victorian Era. ...
  • Victorians wore a lot of black. ...
  • Freakshows were also big in the Victorian Era. ...
  • When someone passed the family would often have a photograph taken of the body. ...
  • Gothic novels were at their peak.
18 Nov 2015

What is Victorian age famous for? ›

The Victorian Era was a time of vast political reform and social change, the Industrial Revolution, authors Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, a railway and shipping boom, profound scientific discovery and the first telephone and telegraph.

How did the Victorians treat children? ›

With no laws to protect children, this meant they had few rights and were badly treated. Seen as simply the property of their parents, many children were abandoned, abused and even bought and sold. Thought to be born evil, children needed to be corrected, punished and made to become good citizens.

What were the three classes in the Victorian era? ›

The social classes of this era included the Upper class, Middle class, and lower class. Those who were fortunate enough to be in the Upper class did not usually perform manual labor. Instead, they were landowners and hired lower class workers to work for them, or made investments to create a profit.

What are the 3 types of school? ›

  • Types of schools.
  • Government schools. The majority of students study in government schools where poor and vulnerable students study for free until the age of 14. ...
  • Government aided Private Schools. ...
  • Private Schools (unaided) ...
  • International Schools. ...
  • Home-Schooling. ...
  • Open and Distance learning. ...
  • International Education.

What were some of the main characteristics of Victorian literature? ›

Victorian era literature was characterized by depictions of everyday people, hard lives, and moral lessons. They were meant for more than just entertainment. Victorians were interested in the hero as well as folk art. Victorian novels often focused on these themes.

What were the two main trends in Victorian literature? ›

General trends

The quantity of fictions produced increased the gap between “good” and “bad” fiction: bad fiction was based on the repetition of melodramatic clichés from the Gothic tradition and the use of suspense. There is a increase of serialisation: the novels were divided in more episodes written in magazines.

What defines Victorian literature? ›

Victorian literature refers to English literature during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901). The 19th century is considered by some to be the Golden Age of English Literature, especially for British novels. It was in the Victorian era that the novel became the leading literary genre in English.

Who is the father of Victorian literature? ›

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in full Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Freshwater, (born August 6, 1809, Somersby, Lincolnshire, England—died October 6, 1892, Aldworth, Surrey), English poet often regarded as the chief representative of the Victorian age in poetry.

Who was the first to be educated? ›

Mesopotamia. As a civilization contemporary with Egyptian civilization, Mesopotamia developed education quite similar to that of its counterpart with respect to its purpose and training. Formal education was practical and aimed to train scribes and priests.

What do we mean by education? ›

Education refers to the discipline that is concerned with methods of teaching and learning in schools or school-like environments, as opposed to various nonformal and informal means of socialization.

What was the first school in Victoria? ›

Victoria's oldest school - which is still in operation today - in Bacchus Marsh Primary School. It was built in the traditional Country of the Wada Wurrung people and opened in 1850. Europeans first arrived in the Country of the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Bunurong peoples 15 years earlier in 1835.

When did education become compulsory in Victoria? ›

Education Act 1872

The Education Act made Victoria the first Australian colony (and one of the first regions in the world) to offer free, secular, and compulsory education to children. The 1872 legislation required all children aged 6–15 years to attend school unless they had a reasonable excuse.

What is the Victorian Curriculum called? ›

The Victorian Curriculum F–10

The curriculum is the common set of knowledge and skills required by students for life-long learning, social development and active and informed citizenship. The Victorian Curriculum F–10 incorporates the Australian Curriculum and reflects Victorian priorities and standards.

What time did school start in Victorian times? ›

At 9am the bell would be rung (by a teacher or the Headteacher with a hand held bell), and the children would file into school in silence – the boys would go in through one door and the girls through another as they were taught in different classrooms.

What was a Victorian school day like? ›

Morning lessons began at 9:00am until 12:00. Children often went home for their lunchtime meal and then returned for afternoon classes from 2pm-5pm. If pupils were unable to answer a question, they were made to sit in the corner and wear a dunces' hat. This was to show everyone else that they were 'dumb'.

How did the Victorian class system work? ›

The Victorians liked to have their social classes clearly defined. The working class was divided into three layers, the lowest being 'working men' or labourers, then the 'intelligent artisan', and above him the 'educated working man'.

What would a Victorian school girl wear? ›

They usually wore their everyday clothes to school with a starched white pinafore over the top to protect the clothes from ink and other stains. Girls wore dresses and pinafores to school while boys wore trousers and a shirt, and sometimes a waistcoat or pinafore. Victorian children did not have many clothes.

What did Victorian females wear? ›

The fashion of the 19th century is renowned for its corsets, bonnets, top hats, bustles and petticoats. Women's fashion during the Victorian period was largely dominated by full skirts, which gradually moved to the back of the silhouette.

What do Girl teachers wear? ›

Male teachers should wear collared shirts with tailored pants; shirts must be tucked in, but ties and jackets are usually not required unless meeting with parents or administrators. Female teachers may wear tailored pants or skirts with coordinating blouses or sweaters, and the Lakewood Public School District explains ...

What age did Victorian children work? ›

Children started work as young as four or five years old. A young child could not earn much, but even a few pence would be enough to buy food. Why did children go to work? Many Victorian children were poor and worked to help their families.

What was the view of childhood in Victorian England? ›

Earlier generations of children had been exposed to the hardships and responsibilities of adult life but a new shift in attitude created an expectation that a child's life should be one of innocence and dependence. This 19th shift in attitude was due in part to the industrialization and urbanization of England.

What jobs did Victorian children have? ›

Thousands of children worked in the mines, factories, and workshops of Victorian Britain. Until 1842, when new laws were introduced to stop children under 10 from working in mines, children as young as four years old sat underground in the dark.

Did Victorian schools have toilets? ›

When it was opened, it was described in the paper as being "a handsome edifice very well built and arranged to serve as a school and also a hall." The school was split into three classrooms. The toilets were outside.

What was a typical Victorian school day like? ›

Children would sit in the classroom in silence and listen to the teacher. Often children learnt by rote, which means repeating sums or sentences over and over again. The teacher would teach reading, writing and arithmetic (maths), so children would have to know spellings of words and times tables off by heart.

What was life like for a Victorian school child? ›

The Victorian School

Boys and girls generally were separated, having their own entrance and playground. Even though in smaller schools boys and girls were taught in the same classroom they would still sit separately. Some classes were very big, for example the British School in Hitchin has a classroom for 300 boys!

How long was a Victorian school day? ›

Similar to fathers who went home from work within the Victorian period the children would do the same. Afternoon classes began at approximately 2pm and finished at 5pm. The school day in Victorian times was in the mould of the modern day 9-5pm.

What did Victorian children do if they didn't go to school? ›

Poor children often had to work instead of going to school. Many worked with their parents at home or in workshops, making matchboxes or sewing. Children could also earn a bit of money as chimney-sweeps, messengers or crossing sweepers like the boy in this picture.

What was the punishment in Victorian schools? ›

Boys were usually caned on their backsides and girls were caned across their hands or bare legs. Pupils in Victorian schools were punished very harshly if they misbehaved. If children were finding the work difficult and struggled to keep up in class, they were often made to wear a 'dunce's cap'.

How did the Victorians punish children? ›

Regardless of age or their circumstances, children could find themselves being sent to adult prisons for several years for committing relatively minor crimes. In 1854 Reformatory schools were created for young offenders which hoped to change the lives of criminal children through long sentences and tough discipline.

What is the difference between Victorian schools and modern schools? ›

In very poor areas, some Victorian classrooms would have up to 70 or 80 children. Now schools usually have 30 children in each class. Boys and girls in the past were often taught in different rooms and learnt about different things whilst children now share classrooms and are taught the same curriculum.

What curriculum is used in Victorian schools? ›

The Victorian Curriculum F–10

The curriculum is the common set of knowledge and skills required by students for life-long learning, social development and active and informed citizenship. The Victorian Curriculum F–10 incorporates the Australian Curriculum and reflects Victorian priorities and standards.

What were 10 rules in a Victorian classroom? ›

A Victorian Education The School Day
1.Students must stand up to answer questions and wait for permission to speak
8.Students must not ask questions.
9.Talking and fidgeting will be punished.
10.Children who are truant (late), behave badly or do poor work will be caned.
6 more rows

What age did Victorian children's jobs? ›

Children started work as young as four or five years old. A young child could not earn much, but even a few pence would be enough to buy food. Why did children go to work? Many Victorian children were poor and worked to help their families.

How many Victorian schools are there? ›

Victoria has more than 1500 Government schools. Victoria has almost 500 catholic schools and over 200 independent schools (private, non-denominational schools with religious association). It is legal to home-school children in Victoria but you must register with the Victorian Registrations and Qualification Authority .

What jobs did poor Victorian children have? ›

There were many different types of jobs that employed children in the Victorian period. The kind of work children took on was largely dependent on where they lived. In cities and towns, children would typically have to work in factories or mills. In more rural areas, farm work was more common.


1. A London Accent from the 14th to the 21st Centuries
(Simon Roper)
2. Man Born in 1853 Talks About Childhood in the 1860s- Enhanced Video & Audio [4k, 60 fps]
(Life in the 1800s)
3. William Blake's printing process
(The British Library)
4. The Victorian Class System
(English Readings)
5. Just How Bad Was Child Labor In Victorian England? (pretty bad)
(Vlogs Of Knowledge)
6. Introduction to Literature mid assignment : Victorian Age by Anitha
(Anitha Intana)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Annamae Dooley

Last Updated: 03/14/2023

Views: 6072

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (65 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Annamae Dooley

Birthday: 2001-07-26

Address: 9687 Tambra Meadow, Bradleyhaven, TN 53219

Phone: +9316045904039

Job: Future Coordinator

Hobby: Archery, Couponing, Poi, Kite flying, Knitting, Rappelling, Baseball

Introduction: My name is Annamae Dooley, I am a witty, quaint, lovely, clever, rich, sparkling, powerful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.