England

Back to school: Why does the academic year start in September?

Children putting their hands up to answer questions in a classroom Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hands up if you know why the academic year starts in September

Most children in England will be heading back to school this week or even having their first day in class. But why does the school year start in September?

Let's take a quick history lesson.

School wasn't compulsory until 1880 and at that time children worked in fields and factories like their parents.

Paula Kitching, a fellow of the Historical Association, said the school year was set around the busiest times for farming and industry in England.

"Through the winter months there was less to do, so children being absent for part of the day for school was acceptable," she said.

"But from late May onwards everyone was increasingly needed to do their bit on the land - fruit picking, livestock care, harvesting and preserving.

"In many communities it would be the boys of 10 to 13 that would do the shepherding in the higher pastures and be away for days or more at a time."

Younger children would help in the home looking after their siblings and doing laundry while older children and parents took on the physical labour, she said.

"Therefore in the autumn, as some of the activities wound down, there was time for children to attend school."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nowadays children must be 13 before they are legally able to work a limited number of hours

Stephanie Spencer, from the History of Education Society, said the school year started in September to increase the likelihood of children attending.

The Education Act of 1880 stated that all children aged between five and 10 had to go to school.

But by the early 1890s truancy was a problem and attendance was falling short at 82%, according to Parliament records.

In 1901 it was estimated 300,000 children worked outside school hours, the records show.

"As parents had to pay for their children to attend school until a change in law in 1891, parents not only lost the wages of the children but also had an additional outlay," said Ms Spencer.

"It was a case of getting parents to send their children to school and [the government] knew there was no hope of getting them there in the summer."

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