Class warfare: a day in the life of a Victorian schoolchild

Victorian schools could be ideological battlegrounds, where harassed teachers did their best against a backdrop of grinding poverty. Ellie Cawthorne and Susannah Wright study an era's education

The Shaftesbury Welcome Ragged School in Battersea , 1899. Classes of 40 were not rare, and they could stretch to 80 during staff shortages. (Photo by Mary Evans)

This article was first published in the March 2019 edition of BBC History Magazine

The 4th of May 1899 was not a good day for the head-teacher of St Mark’s School in Leicester. Less than two weeks into her job, she recorded in her school logbook an incident that had begun with the caning of a boy for lying and disobedience. Revolting against his punishment, the boy had started “flinging himself about”, before kicking her and even threatening her with “a clasp knife open in his hand”. To make matters worse, the child’s mother had arrived at the school to castigate the head-teacher in “abusive and threatening language” before demanding that magistrates investigate the school’s conduct.

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