Education Living gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Living in 1901
A Political Football?What Did Children Learn?Pupils and Teachers*  

Pupils and Teachers

Schoolchildren in 1901 might have widely differing experiences of education, and many suffered from poor-quality teaching and frequent corporal punishment. By contrast, the children at the new Commercial Street board school were described in the inspector's report of 1901 as 'happy in their work and in a very good state of discipline'.

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Listen to Bessy Schiffenbaum's memories of this school (she was aged 10 in 1901).
The state of the schools?  - link to an enlarged version

Follow this link to the Schiffenbaum family's census entry.

Despite the 1902 Education Act, secondary education remained the preserve of a few. Even by 1911, only 7.5% of 12 to 14 year olds went to secondary school. Not until after 1944 did secondary education become universally available. The statutory school-leaving age was fixed at 14 in 1921, going up to 15 in 1947, and then 16 in 1972-3.

In 1901, where local authorities allowed children to work half-time, full-time attendance at school might end at age 10. Other authorities, such as Wigan, required a minimum number of school attendances before a child could take up a full-time job at the age of 13.

Follow this link to children's work.

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Listen to Bessy Schiffenbaum, who was unable to go to secondary school.

The authorities did not allow Bessy Schiffenbaum to leave school at 14 because she had no birth certificate to prove her age; she therefore had to remain in school until one could be obtained from Austria, her place of birth. The headmistress began to coach both her and a number of other girls who had stayed on at school to take the matriculation examination for the local grammar school, but Bessy had to leave to work in her father's shop.

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Listen to Jenny Judelson, who obtained a scholarship to go to secondary school.

Jenny Judelson was born in 1900 at 200 Rothschild Buildings, Spitalfields, east London and educated at Commercial Street school.

Follow this link for more on records on schools.

Staff and pupils
Overall, the average ratio of students to teachers in public elementary schools in 1901 (if student/pupil teachers were excluded) was 48.5. By 1938, this had fallen to 30.9 and to 22.7 by 1981.

The 1901 census recorded 230,345 schoolteachers, of whom 144,393 (74.5%) were female. Male and female teachers were not paid equally: at the Commercial Street board school. Charles Freeman, head of the boys' school, earned £220 p.a., while the head of the girls' school, Miss Lizzie Roberts, was paid £166 p.a. The most junior male teacher was paid £90 p.a. (compared to about £66 p.a. for a newly-recruited Metropolitan police officer), while salaries for female teachers started at £80 p.a.

The number of teachers in 1901 had significantly increased (by 18.1%) from that of 1891; this represented a continuation of the rise in teacher numbers (per head of population aged 3 to 20) since the introduction of universal elementary education in 1871. The Census Report noted that, in the same period, there had been a substantial drop in illiteracy.