Going to school is something we take for granted, even if school days were not necessarily the happiest of our lives, but have you ever given any thought to how your ancestors were educated?
Some researchers are often shocked when looking at early census returns to find that very young children were working, but in many households, all able bodied people had to contribute to the household finances. My own grandfather left school at the age of eleven, but was able to avoid working in the Lancashire cotton mills and found work as a junior clerk in a cycle shop!
Yet until the 1870 Education Act was passed (in England) few children received any education. Much of the education available was delivered by charities and the churches, Catholic, Anglican and non-conformist. However, it was not until school boards were established as a result of the Act of Parliament that the provision of formal education for children became the norm. All children had to attend school until the age of ten, the age was raised to eleven in 1893 and twelve in 1899. Education was not free, and it was not until 1891 that fees were abolished. There were similar requirements in Scotland but the legislation was separate.
If you are able to identify the educational establishment your ancestor attended, you may be lucky and be able to find the school admission records and school log book. In recent years FindMyPast has been able to put many school records on line covering the period 1870 to 1914, and Ancestry has a collection of admission books from schools in London for the period 1840 to 1911. In addition to the London schools, there are other school records available on Ancestry, including the public schools Eton and Harrow. (In the UK a Public School is a private fee paying school.)
Admission records will confirm the date the child was admitted to school, their date of birth and the name of the parent, usually father, and the address where the family lived. The roll can also tell you whether or not this was the first school the child attended, their religion and the date the child left school. Sometimes the family moved away from the locality, and the name of a new school might be included too.
I once was able to confirm the death of a father when the admission roll information had been amended and the mother was named as the parent. A small note in the margin of the register confirmed the father had died.
Obviously there are issues of Data Protection, which means that only records over 100 years old can be accessed, but where they can be found these records can often reinforce information gathered from other sources, for example census records.
Admission records are not the only school records which are worth examination. School log books are another wonderful resource and in my next blog, I will give some examples of the information these books can provide.