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Education before 1870
By 1837 most rural communities were able to offer their working class children some formal schooling. The National Society & the British Society, founded in 1811 & 1812 respectively, both funded new schools in rural communities (described as ‘National schools’ or ‘British schools’). However, in 1860s the most common type of school in rural Sussex was the parish school largely funded by charitable endowments & subscriptions. Parents paid a small amount towards the cost of schooling – usually about 2d a week, with some schools offering a reduction for 2nd & 3rd siblings (e.g. 1½ d for the 2nd child, 1d for the 3rd & subsequent). In 1833 National & British schools became eligible to receive Government funding although many chose not to because they considered that it would compromise their independence. From 1839 Government funded schools were subject to HMI inspection.

The school curriculum was heavily biased in favour of religious instruction & in many parishes the local incumbent or his curate would conduct the daily prayers at the start of the school day. Basic instruction consisted of reading, writing & rudimentary arithmetic. Reading books either contained scriptural stories or lessons of moral instruction. In some schools singing was taught. Boys & girls might also receive some vocational training. For the boys this could be something like net making, straw plaiting or button making; for the girls it was usually needlework.

After parish schools the most common type of school was the ‘dame school’, with some parishes having two or more. Their name derives from the fact that they were run by women, usually in their own homes. These were private schools (they are sometimes referred to as ‘private adventure’ dame schools) maintaining themselves from fee income (between 4d & 6d a week), & they catered for infants (under fives). A typical dame school had about twelve pupils although some of them were larger. Although they have been much maligned, being seen as little more than crèches, the quality of dame schools varied widely. The best of them offered their pupils basic instruction in reading & writing, together with ‘vocational’ skills such as sewing. At between 4d to 6d a week they were considerably more expensive than parish schools which meant that they would have been beyond the reach of much of the labouring rural population.

In addition, there were numerous small, private schools, frequently catering for better-off families, and the odd private Roman Catholic school.

The education of boys was interrupted during the summer months by agricultural work & most boys left school to take up full time employment by the age of 10 or 11.

Because girls were little used in agriculture their attendance at school was both more consistent & of longer duration than boys. The most common reason girls missed school was because they were needed at home to help with the children whilst their mothers were out of work. After leaving school at 12 or 13 most respectable working class girls entered domestic service. Some schools set aside 1 day a week for the domestic training of their female pupils in local houses.

Boys & girls could also improve their basic literacy at Sunday school.

There was almost no provision for free or subsidised secondary education in the nineteenth century. Many villages had night schools, operational in the winter months, which catered for males aged anywhere between 8 & 30. These were usually run by the schoolmaster or mistress or the parish incumbent (i.e. the vicar or rector) & students paid a small weekly fee. Students were streamed according to their educational attainment & learnt reading, writing & (if they had the aptitude) arithmetic. There was a girls’ night school in Horsham in 1867 but this was a rarity.

By the time their formal education ended most working class boys & girls could read & write which was all that was expected from them – literacy being seen as a force for moral good rather than an opportunity for social advancement.

In some parts of the county there were ‘industrial schools’ where pupils learnt a skill whilst earning a small amount of money, for example straw plait schools in Essex, lace-making schools in Devon & braiding (net making) schools in Dorset.