In 19th century England, eighty per cent of the population were working class, and would have lived below the bread-line.
Education was not free, except for the poorest of families, and that counted for a high percentage of children. Many families, thought it was more important to send their child out to work, and put food on the table, than send them to school, to get an education.
In the early part of the 19th century, Parliament passed an Act to curtail child labour, but enforcing it proved impossible.
1833, was a turning point, when a new law was passed, banning children under nine, working in textile factories. Reformers had been publicising children’s working conditions, comparing their way of life as cheap labourers, and were treated like slaves. What a co-incidence, the British Empire outlawed slavery in 1833-34.
Grants were provided to church schools, to educate the poorest of children. Dame schools were also setup, offering reading, writing and arithmetic undertaken by women, but it has been suggested, these were no more than a form of child minding services.
In 1844 a law came into force, making it illegal for children under the age of eight, to work in coalmines. Then the Factory Act of 1847 stated women and children could only work ten hours per day.
Workers had reached a time, when they needed somebody to speak on their behalf, and so the national trade unions were formed in 1850-1860 for skilled craftsmen. The TUC wasn’t formed until 1868.
Fosters Education Act of 1870 was a time when the Government was forced to take responsibility for the education of England’s children; schooling should be provided for all children. The exploitation of children had gone on for much of the 19th century, including the barbaric practice sending small boys up chimneys for the purpose of cleaning them. In 1875 a law came into force, banning this practice.
The unskilled workers became an organised union in 1880.
Compulsory school attendance for five to ten year olds came into force in 1880, as attitudes towards children changed, and so the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) was founded in 1889. In 1891 school fees were abolished. Then in 1899 the school leaving age was raised from ten to twelve.
It was a far different lifestyle for those that had money. Middle Class families would send their sons to grammar schools, whilst their daughters went to private schools, being taught the finer attributes in life for their future; music, dancing and sewing. Upper Class families on the other hand would send their sons to public schools like Harrow or Eaton, and their daughters would be taught by a governess.
With Government legislation and the NSPCC children’s lives were beginning to see a change by the latter part of the 19th century.
No longer were they being treated as little adults, and their childhood being exploited by ruthless businesses. They were free to live the life of a child, attend school and gain an education for their future.