Who went to school?
At the start of the 19th century very few children went to school. Most poor children worked. If they went to school, their families lost the money they earned.
There were some good schools for boys, for example, grammar schools and public schools. Only richer families could afford to pay the school fees, though some schools gave free places to poor boys. Poor girls did not go to school when the Victorian age began meaning they had little education. Girls from wealthy families would usually be taught at home by a governess. Sometimes, wealthy girls may have attended boarding schools too.
'Dame' schools were usually run by one woman. The 'dame' often did her best, but she was a child-minder not a trained teacher. Often quite poor herself, she took as many children as she could cram into her house. Poor parents working hard to earn a living paid her a few pennies a week to look after their children, and perhaps teach them the alphabet or how to sew. Most of the time, the children amused themselves and did not learn very much.
Ragged schools and Sunday schools.
Sunday schools were run by churches, to teach children about the Christian faith. Journalist Robert Raikes started the first Sunday School for poor children in Gloucester in 1780.
Ragged Schools were schools for poor children. One of the first was started in Portsmouth by a shoe-mender named John Pounds. Older children helped to teach younger ones. Ragged Schools were often in one room of a house, or in an old barn. From 1833 factory owners were supposed to provide at least 2 hours education every day for child-workers, but not many children actually got lessons.
School for all
Reformers campaigned for new laws to improve working conditions for children and give children the opportunity for schooling. In 1870 Parliament said there had to be a school in every town and village. 'School Boards' of local people built and ran the new schools. Families paid a few pennies a week to send their children, though not all children went to school. In the 1860s a farmer might pay 6 pence (6d) a week for each child. A labourer (who earned less) only paid 2d per child.
By 1880, the law said that all children aged 5 to 10 must go to primary school, so every child would receive at least a basic education.