Staying off school-more reflections on school life in Haslingfield, 1875-1900

I talked in the last entry about the importance of school attendance in the functioning of a Victorian village school. Part of the annual grant was based upon attendance, and successive heads assiduously plotted weekly averages in the log book. Any cause of widespread pupil absence was therefore also noted.

Disease was a major cause. The log book records recurring cases of mumps, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhoid, diptheria, colds, influenza, ringworm and impetigo. Occasionally the local Medical Officer of Health was forced to issue orders to close the school, once for a period of eight weeks. The school itself seems to have contributed to its pupils’ ill health. The winter of 1879 seems to have been a very severe one. In the first week of December the Head resorted to keeping the classroom fire lit throughout the night, but two days later the thermometer in the classroom still registered nine degrees of frost. The following day he commented;

“School rather smaller – several absent with whooping-cough”.

A cyclical reason for school absence was the harvest. With a large proportion of the village involved in agriculture, the older pupils in the school provided a cheap labour pool at harvest time. In the 1870s the employment of child labour became illegal, but this did not seem to daunt local farmers. William Wallis, one of the trustees of the school, was one of the greatest miscreants. An entry of 1885 reads

“Nov 25th Harry George Chandler came to school again this morning after having been working for Mr. W. Wallis for 17 weeks.”

Despite frequent complaints to the local Attendance Officer, the practice seems to have continued into the 1890s, with parents keeping their children off to help harvest their small holdings. The entry for 27 September 1880 neatly encapsulates the frustration felt by the Head:

“Opened the school room – searched for the school till 9.30 – couldn’t find it, so closed again for another week.”

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