Did your ancestor go to school?

Castlereagh School

Castlereagh School, one of 5,300 NSW schools no longer in operation

Did your ancestor go to school? Was there a school in the area? Does the school still exist today?

I’ve previously published a number of resources to help you research your ancestor’s education:

  • timeline of the milestones in NSW public education
  • an explanation of the types of government schools
  • instructions on how to find information about your ancestor’s local school, particularly the Department of Education school file

Just because there was a school in the area, though, didn’t mean that your ancestor attended. To find out when your ancestor went to school you need to know whether school attendance was compulsory during his or her childhood years, and under what conditions.

Here is a brief timeline of compulsory school attendance:

Before 1848 – no government schools.

1848-1880 – attendance not compulsory.

1880-1916 – attendance required between the ages of 6 and 14 years for not less than 70 days every half year. Exemptions could be obtained if the school was more than two miles away or the child was incapacitated or otherwise being instructed.

1917-1939 – attendance required for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon for all children from 7 to 14 years for every day that the school was open. Similar exemptions except the children older than 11 years had to be more than 3 miles from school.

1939 – attendance required for children from 6 to 14 years.

1940-1943 – a higher school-leaving age was phased in over 3 years, to 15 years by 1943.

1944 – special schools introduced for blind and infirm children between 6 and 15 years who could not be educated at ordinary schools.

Another important aspect of school attendance was school fees. School fees were used to supplement the teachers’ income until 1880, when the government paid the whole of teachers’ salaries. The cost of fees and the number of children in a family had a big influence on whether a child was able to attend school.

1848 – local school boards could set the rate at between  penny to 1 shilling per child per week.

1853 – a minimum of 3 pence per child per week was set, with the local school board to determine any amount above this rate.

1867 – fees set by the local school board had to take local economic conditions into account. Fees ranged between 6 pence and 1 shilling per child, with reductions for additional children in the same family.

1880 – fees reduced to 3 pence per child per week to a maximum of 1 shilling per family for Primary School children.

1883 – High School fees set at 2 guineas per child per quarter.

1893 - High School fees raised to 3 guineas per child per quarter.

1906 – Primary School fees abolished.

1911 – High School fees abolished.

1923 - High School fees of 2 guineas per child per quarter re-introduced, subject to a means test.

1925 – High School fees abolished.

No matter how important parents considered the education of their children to be they could not always afford the school fees. Attitudes to the education of girls may also have been an issue, despite the legal requirement for both boys and girls to be at school. Lists of defaulters often appear in school files at State Records NSW, and these may the only mention of your ancestor in the files, as enrolment lists rarely survive.

From these timelines I can see that my grandfather Richard Norman Eason, who was born in Greghamstown, near Blayney, in December 1900, probably started school in early 1907, the fourth of the five children in the family to attend school. As the fees for Primary School were abolished the year before his parents could afford to have four children in school.

Richard stayed at school until late 1914, an ominous year. His older brother, Eric, enlisted but at 14 Richard was too young to go to war and he worked on his father’s farm. He was a farmer and grazier for the rest of his long life, and I always thought that his big round writing probably hadn’t changed much from his school days all those years ago.

Source - J. Fletcher and J. Burnswoods, Government Schools of New South Wales 1848-1983, Department of Education, 1983.

There is a wealth of incredibly useful information published in old books that are no longer in wide circulation. This book is an old foolscap-sized publication which I bought at the recent State Records NSW Open Day for about $1.00. The book is falling apart and it doesn’t fit on my bookshelf with the other books. The information in the book, including the list of schools, is now available online and updated where necessary at http://www.governmentschools.det.nsw.edu.au/facts/attendance.shtm.

 

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