Well, that time of year has come again. My family has officially started the 2018-19 school year. Part of me hates the loss of free time…and part of me is excited about all those awesome books we get to read together this year!

For those of you who have been reading the Shadows Over England series, you know that one of the most important things for the family of thieves-turned-agents is that with the advent of steady income they can, for the first time, afford to send the little ones to school. While “public schools” had long been available in England, they weren’t what we think of them as today. They weren’t free for the public–they were just available for anyone from the public to pay to attend. Free, compulsory schools were set up in the 1890s, at which attendance was required…until the age of 10. My family, however, didn’t send the little ones to those for a few very good reasons–they weren’t a legal family, and if the children were known by the system, they’d be taken away. So Barclay educated the children at home until such a time as he could pay to put them in a better school.

In An Hour Unspent, we get a glimpse of the kids finally taking on the roles of traditional children. They’re attending school, fighting over books, struggling with Algebra. All things familiar to children today. But for them, this was huge. This was an opportunity. This was a new life unfolding before them.

But the war changed the school system just as it changed everything in England. Many of the teachers were gone, having enlisted. Meals, which had only been served in schools for 8 years at that point in history and were far from inspiring, became sparse and even less inspiring as shortages took effect. Older children often left school as soon as they legally could, usually between 10 and 12 years old, to get a job and help their families survive.
In some ways, the war hit colleges hardest. In my research, I found several mentions of professors leaving colleges when they closed in 1914–presumably because of lack of students. But then those same professors returned to their colleges in the later years of the war–presumably when more students came in.

As the war dragged on and shortages increased, the need for food was on everyone’s mind. “Grow your own” became a necessity, and many schools created gardens and instructed their students in how to grow vegetables. Schoolchildren were also called upon to knit scarves and socks for servicemen, write letters to soldiers, and raise funds for the war, often by selling small flags and pins to be worn on special Flag Days.

Though hard days for everyone, the First World War did, in fact, lead to educational reform in England. In 1918 the school leaving age was raised to 14, with more options available for children 14 to 18, to train them for better paying, skilled labor. This was one of the huge things that led to the stop of child labor. Which meant it was opposed by factory owners, landowners, and even the Church. But it also paved the way for what we know today–mandatory education for children up to 18 years of age (which came into effect after WW2 in England).
Did you enjoy school or dread it? Would you have left school to get a job as a young teen had it been an option?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email