The 1870 Education Act required adequate provision for elementary education
to be made in all parts of the country. Where existing schools were unable
to meet the needs of the locality a school board could be established to
make up the short fall. In Sussex 54 boards were set up between 1871 & 1900.
In many rural areas the local clergy were fiercely opposed to them, seeing
them as a threat to existing provision. The Agricultural Children Act of
1873 sought to prohibit the employment of children below the age of eight in
agriculture, and to secure minimum school attendance for those aged eight to
twelve. However, it was almost entirely ineffective because of the Act’s
failure to specify any agency to see that its provisions were carried out.
The 1876 Education Act required the setting up of school attendance
committees in areas where there were no school boards; the committees were
empowered to demand compulsory attendance of children in the age range of
five to thirteen inclusive. The 1880 Education Act imposed the compulsory
attendance of all children between the ages of five and ten and thereafter
until fourteen unless exemption could be gained on grounds of educational
attainment or of average level of attendance. For those aged between ten and
twelve a minimum of 250 attendances per annum was required, while for the
over-twelves the figure was 150. Legal exemption could only granted on a
part-time basis if the child had passed the age of ten and if the specified
number of attendances had been made. Complete exemption below the age of
fourteen depended either upon the child passing his ‘Labour certificate’ as
the standard laid down by the education bylaws in his own school district
(usually either Standard IV or Standard V), or upon his having reached the
age of thirteen and having made at least 250 attendances per annum in the
previous five years.
The 1891 Elementary Education Act made elementary education free; a
government grant of 10s a year was payable for each pupil in a public
elementary school based on average attendance and fees could either be
reduced by that amount or abolished entirely.
In 1893 the minimum school leaving age was raised to eleven and in 1899 it
was raised to twelve, although in rural areas eleven was still frequently
In order to try to ensure that the provisions of the various Education Acts
were observed both school boards and attendance committees were required to
appoint attendance officers. These were frequently part time and badly paid
posts and attendance officers also faced hostility and abuse from parents
who resented their interference in family affairs. Unsurprisingly attendance
officers were not always diligent in carrying out their duties.
The 1902 Education Act transferred responsibility for all Government funded
schools to county & county borough councils.