In the early census years, education was neither compulsory nor free. The children of wealthy parents went to fee-paying schools or were educated at home by a tutor or governess. Most children of poor parents were expected to earn money to help support their family. Some attended Sunday schools, whilst the most fortunate were able to attend school thanks to a wealthy benefactor or charity. The Henley Free Grammar School was founded by King James I c. 1604 and Dame Elizabeth Periam endowed a Charity School c. 1609 for the education of not more than 20 poor boys of the town. These schools were consolidated as the United Charity Schools in 1778. For a view of these schools see: "Life at schools in the early 17th Century in Henley's Chantry House" (Ruth Gibson, Journal No. 1 of the Henley-on-Thames Archaeological and Historical Group)
In 1817 an Anglican National School was established by the Church in the former New Street theatre. This moved 1848 or 1849 to Gravel Hill, where a purpose built elementary school provided places for 500 boys and girls. In 1873 a new school was added to the Workhouse.
It was, however, many years before various acts of Parliament led to free elementary schools and an education for all children. Information on these can be found in Education in England: a brief history written by Derek Gillard.
The Elementary Education Act 1870 allowed voluntary schools to carry on unchanged, but established locally elected school boards funded partially from the rates to provide and manage elementary schools. School boards could make byelaws requiring parents to ensure that children between the ages of not less than 5 and not more than 13 (unless there is some reasonable excuse) to attend school. Reasonable excuses included sickness, distance of home from school, receiving education elsewhere etc. Also, children reaching a specified standard of education could be exempt from attendance. These schools were not free: parents paid a weekly fee which could be remitted for a renewable period not exceeding 6 months causing hardship for the poorest families.
The Elementary Education Act 1876 prohibited the employment of children under the age of 10. Those over 10 could be employed only if they continued to attend school or had reached a specified standard of education.
The Elementary Education Act 1880 made attendance compulsory up to the age of 10 and permitted the employment of a child over the age of 10 and under the age of 13 only if they had reached the standard of education specified by the byelaws.
The Elementary Education Act 1891 provided a fee grant of 10 shillings a year for each child over 3 and under 15 years of age. Thus, where the school fees previously charged were less than 10 shillings, education became free.
In 1841 there appears to have been no official guidance as to recording whether or not children were attending school, although a small number were described as "Pupils". In 1851, both "Pupils" and "Scholars at home" were used in a small number of cases, but from 1851 to 1891, the occupation of "Scholar" was usually used to indicate that a child was receiving some form of education, excepting that, for the Workhouse in 1891, the occupation was stated as "None". In 1901 the use of "Scholar" was not generally used and appears in just a small number of entries. In 1911, the occupation "School" was used, often with a part time occupation as "Errand Boy" or similar added and these were assigned to the 1911 occupation category of their part time job. These have, however, been assigned to the 1881 category 418 which includes all scholars, pupils etc., other than legal or medical students.
The following table gives the number of census entries for scholars, pupils etc. The column headed Workhouse includes those aged between 5 and 13 years with a declared occupation of "None".JpGraph Error: 13 The installed PHP version (7.2.31) is not compatible with this release of the library. The library requires at least PHP version 5.1.0