Until school boards were established by the Education Act 1870, no state provision was made for the education of working-class children.
What little education they received had to be paid for, although there were a few free places reserved for them in the grammar schools at Leek, Newchapel, Stafford, Stone and Uttoxeter.
At the end of the 17th century, Newcastle-under-Lyme had a grammar school, where 39 boys were educated free of charge, and a municipal dame school with free places for up to 20 girls.
In 1808, nonconformist educationalist Joseph Lancaster founded the British and Foreign Schools Society to give financial help to free churches who were building day schools at home and missionary schools overseas. Fearing that the British Schools would monopolise elementary education in the new industrial towns, the Church of England set up the National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales.
During 1814, the National Society opened its first school in North Staffordshire at Chesterton, and the first British School in The Potteries was erected in Burslem by the Wesleyans. The parish church, St. John’s, opened a National School there in 1817 and by 1822 the Roman Catholic Church had built a school at Cobridge.
Many teachers were not well educated or properly trained. Pupils who wanted to become teachers stayed at school until their early teens and became apprentice teachers. Called monitors, the apprentices were trained by the headteacher and allowed to teach younger pupils. After a few years, monitors who had successfully completed their training and could maintain discipline were employed as assistant teachers at the school where they had been trained.
During 1846, the government made regulations governing teacher training. Under these rules, boys and girls who had stayed at school until they were 13 could be appointed pupil teachers. Each school was allowed to employ one pupil teacher for every 25 scholars.
Pupil teachers were apprenticed to the headteacher for five years. Every year they were examined by the school inspectors. When their apprenticeship ended, pupil teachers took the Queen’s Scholarship examination.
Those who passed with the highest marks were given a grant which enabled them to go to a teacher training college and become fully qualified certificated teachers. Other pupils who passed were offered employment as assistant teachers. Only certificated teachers could obtain headships. The others remained assistant teachers throughout their careers. Many stayed at the schools where they had been educated, teaching there until they retired.
Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013
Reflections in The Trent & Mersey Canal at Middleport, October 2008