Education during the Industrial Revolution

Factory worker children, children at a desk in a school and a university graduate.

In the 1800s, formal education became available even to the poorest people.


Before the 1800s, education was not free and poor children got what education they could in Dame schools or Sunday Schools.

  • In 1833, the government passed the Factory Act making two hours of education a day compulsory for children working in factories. The government also granted money to charities to help schools for the first time.
  • In 1844, the Ragged Schools Union was set up to give schooling to very poor children.
  • The Public Schools Act (1868) reformed Britain's public schools, such as Eton and Harrow.
  • In 1870, Forster's Act set up state-funded board schools for primary education.
  • In 1880, the Education Act made school attendance compulsory for children up to the age of 10.
  • The 1902 Education Act established a system of secondary schools.

Some historians say the improvements were made because the public were beginning to complain about the lack of education and support for young children who worked long, hard days in factories. These historians also believe that the government wanted to educate people so that they could make more money for the country.


Between 1900 and 1909, 'red-brick ' universities were founded in Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and Bristol, concentrating on 'hands-on' courses such as science or engineering. These differed from universities such as Oxford and Cambridge which primarily taught less vocational and more traditional subjects such as history and the classics.

‘Self-help’ was very important in Victorian times

Mechanics' Institutes were set up in many towns to provide night-school education for working men and public libraries were built in many cities so that more people had access to improve their lives during their free time. The Museums Act of 1845 gave town councils with large boroughs the power to set up museums for the public. Members of Parliament thought that working class people would improve their lives by visiting the museums instead of spending their free time in pubs.