The tide had turned however. In 1870 Gladstone's Education Act became law and made elementary education compulsory. It meant that all children must attend school full time until they were ten. Children now had the chance of a proper education.
There were already a number of schools, such as the grammar schools (mainly for more affluent children), the Dame Schools (originally started in the middle of the 18th century), Sunday Schools (like Stockport, which also taught secular subjects), voluntary schools, Ragged Schools (which took in the very poorest children as the name implies) and mill schools like those set up by Edmund Potter and Samuel Gregg.
Where existing schools could not cope School Boards were set up to build schools and compel attendance. Fees were means tested: a few pence a week with exemption for the poorest children. Board Schools were often grim, harsh, unimaginative places but they did at least ensure that all children were given the opportunity for a basic education free of charge from the 1890s onwards.
From the middle of the 19th century Mechanics Institutes (founded in the 18th century) flourished and they were the first organisations to offer evening classes for workers. Subjects would be mainly practical and technical. At this period the facility was limited to men and boys only; the women and girls were too busy 'keeping the home fires burning' and caring for the men folk and children to have time to go to evening classes. Much later in the 19th century various trade unions and the Workers Educational Association would offer the same facilities. It was the beginnings of what early 21st century government would term 'life-long learning'.
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