Jack William Jones born 1900: Education & Schooling

I can vaguely remember my schooling. Schooling? A joke! A joke in bad taste might be a better description [1]

Jack was educated from a young age at an elementary school in the East End of London, through to the age of 14. From his time in education he develops some strong opinions on the schooling system in England:

‘Whenever I hear some of our so called educational experts banging the drum of the grammar schools against the comprehensive schools, it seems to me that – compared to the early elementary schools which were the only schools available to most of us kids in the East End of London – good, modern, comprehensive schools seem to me to be adjuncts to Oxford of Cambridge’

School children in East End of London, England, 1900’s

Jack describes his school as ‘Old, ugly and dirty, with tiny playgrounds’. We are offered an insight into the class struggle that still remained in education as ‘It was only at the very end of the 19th century, as radical political movements were being formed, that a common education for all was seriously debated in Britain’[2]. We come to understand from Jack’s memoir that the working class educational system was an ongoing struggle for teachers and students: ‘teachers struggling to teach hungry, tired children in classes which seemed to compare in number with at least six football teams: these were the kinds of schools I spent my young in and on leaving in 1914 at the age of 14, I knew little more than when I started’. Yet as John Burnett points out, ‘For all its obvious defects and limitations the achievements of elementary education were immense – 6,000,000 children at school taught by 150,000 teachers, basic literacy and numeracy brought to the mass of the child population.’[3]

Jack describes how he took very little enjoyment from his time at school, and his dislike for some of his teachers, who he tells us, ‘had an arrangement, at a given time in the afternoon, with the local postman, to give him the early racing results. At the time arranged, up would go to the window, our teacher would lean out, and then there would ensue a conversation unintelligible to us kids’. The unresolved elements of corruption in the teaching system are demonstrated here: ‘if he backed a winner, we would have history for the last hour, if he, if he done his money we would have grammar. That for me was the lowest form of life.’

East End school boys

Jack struggled with certain elements of his education, grammar especially: ‘Grammar has always been one of the mysteries of life to me, and still is’. He describes the method of punishment that the educational system used to teach right answers from wrong, in the classroom ‘Our teachers method of teaching grammar was to ask each boy in turn to explain a noun, pronoun, verb, etc. If he did not get the right answer, the boy would have to stand up against the wall. It was a sight for sore eyes to see the majority of the lads slowly gyrating round the wall, until by luck, someone would give the right answer’. Discipline throughout education in the early 20th century was strict: ‘The schooling was based on discipline. Reading, writing and arithmetic were essential, and children were clobbered until they mastered them’ [3] and this is supported by Jacks account in his memoir.

[1] Jack William Jones, Untitled, 2:443 TS, chapters paginated separately. Extract published in Childhood Memories, recorded by some Socialist Men and Women in their later years, edited with an introduction by Margaret Cohen, Marion and Hymie Fagan, Duplicated typescript, pp.60-8. BruneI University Library.

[2]Gillard, Derek (2011) Education in England: a brief history

[3]Burnett, John ed. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the 1820s to the 1920s London: Alan Lane, 1982. Pg. 148



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