Big Pit National Coal Museum

Task 3 - Education

Background

St. Peter's School, Blaenavon, was opened in 1816 and was the first school in Wales to be established by an industrialist for the benefit of his workers. The original building still stands and is currently (2003) under renovation, with a view to it becoming an Interpretation Centre for Blaenavon.

Until the latter part of the 19th century, however, attendance at school was very patchy. Few industrial working families could afford the luxury of allowing their children to go to school on a regular basis, as these children were essential in helping to bring in a decent income to the household (see Servants of the Empire video).

The Activity

In the first video, School Rules, Ok?, children from Clytha Primary School take turns to recite the original 1816 St. Peter's School rules. After each of the twelve rules is spoken, a modern version is offered, to make it a little easier for learners to get the gist of what the rule is about.

The second video, School Days, Victorian Ways, features extracts from St. Peter's School log books from the latter part of the 19th century, which help to shed light on aspects of curriculum, teaching methods and discipline in school. Unfortunately, the log books for the earlier part of the 19th century have been lost, but it is likely that teaching style and content altered little throughout the Victorian period.

As with Servants of the Empire, these videos can be watched in their entirety and/or in individual sections.

The activity which follows the watching of the two videos is to prepare log book entries for a 'typical' school day in 1841 and the present. Children are then asked to identify differences between the two and provide explanations for why they are so different.

There are numerous references in the booklists to where children can further research school in Victorian times. In the context of this investigation, the main teaching points are that many children received little or no education at all, and those that did faced a dull, strictly regimented curriculum and severe discipline. Tough as school was, however, it had to be better than labouring underground or at the furnaces.