Education of Workhouse Children

Hackney workhouse school-room, c.1900.

Little attention was given to educating children in workhouses for much of the Victorian era. Most workhouses were supposed to appoint a schoolmaster or schoolmistress. However, workhouse teachers were poorly paid and generally lacked formal training. This led to a difficulty in hiring and retaining decent teachers.

For the most part, the children in workhouses did not receive the most valuable skills in reading and writing that were needed to get better jobs. Workhouse officials may have been intentionally limiting their education in order to continue to receive cheap and plentiful labor. In most cases, children were taught and trained in skills that were valuable to their area of work.

Under the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, Poor Law Unions were forced to provide at least three hours of schooling for workhouse children. Children were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and religious principles. Nonetheless, there was still a great divide in the type of learning that boys and girls received as girls were primarily instructed to focus on domestic crafts such as needlework and knitting. In 1845, legislation was passed that required all pauper apprentices to be able to read and sign their own indenture papers.

Written by Surag Umakumaran


“Poor Law” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 

Picard, Liza. “Education in Victorian Britain.” The British Library.