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Ragged schools were free schools for poor children’s education in nineteenth-century Britain. The London Ragged Schools Union was established in April 1844. They gave free education, food, clothes and other services. The classes were sometimes held in stables, lofts and railway arches. Most teachers were volunteers but there were some who were paid. About 300,000 children went to London ragged schools between 1844 and 1881.
There was no legal structure which supported primary education in England until the second half of the 19th century. There were, however, Church of England schools.
Parliament did not lay down rules for education until 1870, the year of Forster's Education Act (Elementary Education Act of 1870). The Elementary Education Act 1880 (the Mundella Act) made school boards enforce compulsory attendance from 5 to 10 years. Attendance officers might visit the homes of absent (truant) children. Children who were employed needed a certificate to show they had reached the educational standard. Employers of these children who could not show this were penalised.
The 1891 Elementary Education Act provided for the state payment of school fees up to ten shillings per head. This made primary education free. The Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act 1893 raised the school leaving age to 11.