Army Education in the 19th Century

In the Victorian period many Army recruits weren’t able to read or write, but the growing technical demands of soldiering required educated men.

‘The First Class Army School Certificate Made Easy’ by An Army Schoolmaster – 1890s

The first teachers in the Army were ‘capable’ non-commissioned officers (those who had a better education than the average soldier) who were selected to teach as Sergeant or Regimental Instructors, whilst the first trained teachers were the Corps of Army Schoolmasters (CAS), formed in 1846. The Queen’s Army Schoolmistresses (QAS) was formed that same year to care for infants and female students. At the same time, Certificates of Education were introduced, and were needed to draw full pay or to be promoted. This was basic stuff like spelling ‘dog’, ‘cat’, 2+2. Certificates of Education were needed for promotions to NCO.

In 1859 the CAS was put in charge of the Army’s libraries and schools. Following further Army reforms in the late 19th century, the unit’s focus shifted to training soldiers in a trade that they could use either while in the Army or on returning to civilian life. By the late 1800s civilian teachers and soldiers with recommendations were allowed to join the Corps. Often teachers would teach the children by day and the men at night, so they had incredibly long workdays.

For the children, boys and girls were taught different things. Whilst they were all taught the ‘3 Rs’ (reading, writing, arithmetic), as well as a little bit of history and geography, they were mostly taught skills that they would use once they entered employment. Girls would be taught household skills such as cooking, sewing, knitting and laundry (a much more difficult process than laundry today!) whilst boys would be taught technical drawing and further mathematics as they often went on to be clerks.