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The Archives and Records Association (ARA) in the UK and Ireland is leading a National Digitisation Project and one of the products of this effort has been published by Find My Past: England and Wales National School Admission Registers and Log-books 1870-1914. (News story at ARA.)

Some of the towns I study are in this first phase of publication, and I'd like to create a Research Plan with a list of all the people in my database who might have been the right ages to be found in this collection.

The school I am most interested in is a County Primary School, but there are also Church of England Schools, Council Schools, Grammar Schools, National Schools, and others, including "Infant Schools". 'Infant' is generally used for newborns now, but the term used to refer to a different age range.

Here is the list of schools available in the records.

My preliminary search is turning up Admissions log books. How can I find out at what ages children might have enrolled in these schools during this time period?

I know the answer for the USA in my own lifetime and afterwards, and I have some sense of the answer for the USA from reading historical novels, but I haven't researched the question for any periods before that in any country (including my own).

As a rough estimate, I can run a query on my database for anyone who was alive at that date, and exclude all the adults, and let the dataset itself answer the question. But if anyone knows of research guides on the subject or can offer their own expertise, I'd be grateful.

(Afterthought: it might be easier to start with the school-aged children whose names I know from the 1911 Census and simply work backwards from there, rather than running a query. A child born after Census Day in 1911 would be about three in 1914, so their admittance to school would very likely fall outside this data set.)

The admissions registers note whether a student has transferred from another school, which makes these wonderful records to fill in between the census returns for families with school-aged children.

Update: For a description of the records, see the FamilySearch Research Wiki article England Schools under the section "School Records". (This and the other resources in my self-answer were found after Judith posted her answer.)

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I'll give a quick summary here and I'll restrict myself to the era described in the question. As others have commented, there are more detailed references online if you wish to get fuller details of each type of school and when they came into existence.

Typically a child then would have started Primary School at age 7 and left at 11.

Infant Schools were introduced to give a grounding in education for 5 and 6 year olds. Thus children attended Infant School before Primary School, which sounds somewhat counter-intuitive.

At age 11, in the fourth year of Primary School, children took the Eleven Plus examination. This dictated the Secondary School which would be attended in later years.
If you passed the 11+ you went to a Grammar School for the higher achievers which concentrated on more academic topics.

Lower achievers went to Secondary Modern schools, which were introduced in the 20th century and concentrated on more practical topics.

In the days before the state paid for all education, schooling was often provided by the community in one way or another. So Church Schools were provided by the various churches, Council Schools by the local council and Board Schools were paid for by a local education board which was often funded by local businesses and/or charities.
The method of funding did not relate to the type of school so, for example, a Grammar School could also be a Board School.

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    The registers have columns for standards with Roman numerals I-VI. Would these be roughly equivalent to the American divisions of grades 1-6? Some students have dates for when they achieved the standard, which combined with the supplied birth date, would allow for a calculation of age for that event. – Jan Murphy Sep 29 '14 at 19:56
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    That would be for 1st Form to 6th Form. The first year of attendance to the sixth. There were exams at the end of each year and failure would have meant repeating a year. – Judith Sep 29 '14 at 20:07
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With the help of Judith's overview, I found the following resources. They seem to disagree on the school leaving age, but the consensus is that Judith's answer is correct and the age of entering school was five years old:

  • A Wikipedia article on the Elementary Education Act 1870 ( Forster's Education Act), which was introduced 17 February 1870, and according to the article, "set the framework for schooling of all children between the ages of 5 and 13 in England and Wales". (Whenever there's a record group, there's usually an Act behind it somewhere!) It was the first of several Education Acts in the period.
  • Going to School, a Living Heritage article on www.parliment.uk, says: "In 1880 a further Education Act finally made school attendance compulsory between the ages of five and ten, though by the early 1890s attendance within this age group was falling short at 82 per cent."
  • Gillard, Derek (2011) Education in England: a brief history. From his timeline "1899 School leaving age raised to 12."
  • England Schools (Family Search Research Wiki article) also includes information about how children can leave school early by means of passing a test and earning a Labour Certificate.

[A] further Act in 1880 imposed compulsory attendance on all children aged from five to fourteen, unless they lived more than two miles from a school. From the age of ten to twelve they could work part-time if they had attended school on 250 days, and from twelve to fourteen in they had attended on 150 days. To leave school altogether before the age of thirteen depended both on meeting the attendance requirement and passing Standard IV or V in the annual examination, but a complete dunce who attended on 250 days a year for five years could leave at 13.

In another section, the article says:

To leave school completely for work before the age of twelve, children had to pass Standard IV in the annual examination and obtain what came to be called a "Labour Certificate". This examination would normally be taken at the end of the fourth year.

The FamilySearch Wiki article sets the date for jntroduction of the three-tiered school system as 1944:

State Schools

Up to 1944 the majority of children had spent their schooldays entirely in elementary schools. In that year, under another Education Act, the Board of Education became the Ministry of Education and a three-tier system of "state schools" was introduced: primary (up to the age of 12), secondary (12 and over) and further education (for those above school leaving age). Subsequent changes do not concern us here.

When running a search, it may be best to put a little wiggle room into the years searched, but these provide enough information to narrow the date bounds.


Updated to add an observation: I have found a few instances of children being listed in the admissions registers for less than a month. The locality listed in the 'prior school' column suggests that these may be out-of-town relatives on an extended visit to family. So if a school register comes online for any of your towns of interest, a wide search may turn up interesting results.

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