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Housing and Health

Victorian Schools in Leeds

In the 19th century there were lots of different types of schools in Leeds. The divide between working class and middle class children was huge. Children with disabilities or hearing or sight impairments were treated very differently.


Schools for the Rich

For the rich there were fee paying private schools like Kemplay Academy for Young Gentlemen. In 1852 a new Mathematics and Commercial School was opened in the Mechanics Institute. In 1854 the Leeds Educational Institute for the Education of Girls was opened. And in 1858 a new Grammar School was built on Woodhouse Moor. Private tutors were also employed by wealthy parents to teach their children.


Schools for the Poor

There were not many schools for poor children and most didn’t get any education at all. In the early 1800s Sunday Schools taught reading, writing and arithmetic. There were factory schools, like the one set up by John Marshall, to improve the education of his workers. Poor children who did go to school usually only went for about 4 years from age 4 to 9. Parents would take their children out of school when they were 9 and send them to work.

Life in these schools was tough and there were punishments for children breaking rules.

Children were beaten or caned for being rude, lazy or late, for lying, copying and swearing amongst other things.

Classrooms were cold and overcrowded, with as many as 70 children in one room.

In the early 1800s it was rare to find special provision for children with disabilities and they were often sent to asylums or workhouses or ended up on the streets begging. However attitudes started to change in the late Victorian period and the number of schools for children with disabilities started to grow. There were several in Leeds including Leeds School for Deaf and Blind Children on Blenheim Walk.


In 1870 the government decided that all children should get an education and set up ‘Board Schools’. In 1876 the government passed a law saying that all children should go to school until the age of 10.

Find out more about the Leeds Reformatory Schools for children who broke the law.