Important History of girls Education in UK 2023 - educationtopstories
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Important History of girls Education in UK 2023

History of girls Education in UK

You may be aware that the first women’s colleges at Oxford and Cambridge were established in the 1860s and 1970s and draw the conclusion that there weren’t many possibilities for women to pursue higher education prior to that time.
There is little doubt that the level of education accessible to women in the UK has typically been lower than that to males, but throughout much of history, opportunities have existed, and bright women have seized them whenever they could. ‘
It is challenging for historians to evaluate levels of education, such as literacy, because there was frequently a dearth of formal schooling for either sex. History of girls Education in UK

History of girls Education in UK
History of girls Education in UK

Instead, this must be rebuilt from data such as wills left by women who left books, which leaves out women who couldn’t afford something as expensive as a personal library but who may have nevertheless received some informal education.
In this article, we examine the educational options for women in the UK across time as well as the struggles and victories that have led to the current educational landscape.
History of girls Education in UK

Medieval women: mental maths and life in the nunnery

In mediaeval England, few individuals had access to education, and diverse priorities were placed on education. For instance, King Alfred’s biographer noted that the king only learned to read when he was 12 years old. While the king’s biographer believed his parents and tutors were neglectful, it was evident that it was possible for even the younger son of a king to be lacking in this skill. History of girls Education in UK

The Church and one’s close family served as the main sources of education for the great majority of people. Monks and nuns were hired to instruct the boys of affluent households, and they often knew how to read and write Latin. Although there were exceptions, daughters were often excluded unless they planned to become nuns. However, both sons and daughters regularly taught in the family home. With no education of their own, this didn’t mean much to the peasantry, but middle-class women may be well educated and would impart that knowledge to their daughters, enabling them to better manage their own houses. History of girls Education in UK

Women’s writing from this era provides evidence of this literacy, including the poem “Why I Can’t Be a Nun,” written in the fourteenth century about a young woman whose father forbids her from enrolling in a nunnery despite her sincere desire to do so because nunneries have evolved into corrupt havens of sin rather than the havens of pious devotion the author would prefer. Although the author is unknown, based on the narrator she chose, it makes reasonable to believe she is a woman. History of girls Education in UK
Peasant women with no formal education wouldn’t have been illiterate. History of girls Education in UK

History of girls Education in UK
History of girls Education in UK

A woman’s life would be filled with calculations of bartering and debts, for instance, since the smallest denomination of coinage was worth significantly more than some of the purchases she might be expected to make. Since she lacked the knowledge or supplies to make notes, she would have to do all of these calculations in her head, requiring impressive mental maths and memory skills. History of girls Education in UK

Early modern women: the freedom of an education

Though it’s alluring to see history advancing consistently in the right path, it frequently included taking two steps ahead and one step back. Early modern times were a time of two advances, when women had more independence and, as a result, had access to education. As the merchant class grew, so did the number of parents who wanted to send their daughters to college so they could work in the family company. It was common for merchants to leave their enterprises to their wives in their wills during this time period, proving that educated women could fill these jobs and that having an educated wife may be advantageous. History of girls Education in UK

Aphra Behn, a playwright, poet, translator, and spy, is a notable example of a highly educated woman in the early modern era. Her own accounts of her early life are heavily embellished, and very little is known about it, but she was able to get the notice of influential individuals, and in 1666, during the Second Anglo-Dutch War, Charles II hired her as a spy in Antwerp.


She started writing plays for a livelihood once she moved back to England, many of which were explicit. She is now regarded as one of the best playwrights of her period. “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn… for it was she who earned them,” Virginia Woolf said of her.

Georgian women: dame schools and governesses

The freedoms and educational opportunities for women in Britain have been viewed as taking a step back during the Georgian era. Women’s education saw several bright spots during this period, including the birth of the Bluestocking movement, a loose association of largely upper-class women who shared an interest in education, and the writings of philosophers like Mary Wollstonecraft.


The’separate spheres’ theory, which held that men should be in charge outside the home in the world of work and women should be in charge inside the home in the world of childcare and household management, started to take hold at this time, however, and began to replace the more equitable role of women in society.

The different spheres hypothesis meant that rich families were no longer schooling their girls alongside their sons, and thus teaching them largely the same things, even as female literacy rates continued to rise. Girls were educated to prepare them for their roles as spouses and mothers at “dame schools” or by governesses

, whilst males may be sent to boarding institutions. Instead of teaching anything more cognitively hard, things like how to make delicate conversation, embroider, or manage staff were taught—a constraint that many young women found grating.

Those who managed to obtain education despite the time’s tendencies did so in a manner similar to that of their forebears, typically by learning from understanding parents or siblings or instructing themselves. History of girls Education in UK

Victorian women: the beginnings of formal education


History of girls Education in UK
History of girls Education in UK

By the Victorian era, women’s anger at the subpar education they had access to was beginning to manifest itself more and more. 60% of women were still illiterate in 1840, while only 40% were in 1860. As a result of the industrial revolution, men had more and more options to improve themselves via education. Where these opportunities were made available to males, women seized them as well.


For instance, the Mechanics’ Institute in London was established in 1823 to offer working men educational lectures that they could attend outside of working hours; by 1830, these lectures had been made available to women as well.
Slowly, the supply started to catch up with the demand for women’s education. History of girls Education in UK

Girls had a less rigorous education at other schools or at home while boys had access to boarding schools for as long as their parents could afford them. Now, girls’ versions of those institutions started to appear, such as Cheltenham Ladies’ College in 1853 and Roedean School in 1885.

Many times, affluent ladies who fervently thought that their neighbours needed an education created these institutions. While these institutions were often only accessible to those who could pay their tuition, the 1880 Education Act mandated that all children aged five to ten who qualified for government financing must attend school.

All girls were given equality even though this was frequently disregarded by disadvantaged parents who required the revenue from child employment. History of girls Education in UK

The early 20th century: votes and degrees

Along with the construction of women-only institutions, universities and colleges in Oxford and Cambridge were also created during the Victorian era. Many of the universities established during the Victorian era were co-educational from the beginning, and the early 20th-century red-brick institutions adopted this practise.

In the UK, the University of London was the first to confer degrees to women in 1878. This development occurred along with the fight for women’s voting rights. While many women fought for both, others, like the author Gertrude Bell, believed that education needed to come first so that when women were given the vote, they would be well-educated enough to wield it properly.

History of girls Education in UK

Women in the UK were ultimately granted the right to vote in 1918, but not exactly on an equal footing with males (that happened in 1928). Oxford was the second-to-last university in the UK to enable women to enrol as full members and earn degrees; before that, they were only permitted to attend as students but were not offered the same degrees as males.

When the concept was initially put to a vote in 1897, there was a near-riot in the city, with male undergraduates burning effigies of female professors and hurling fireworks at the windows of women’s institutions.

It wasn’t until 1948 that Cambridge decided to follow suit. Even back then, the university had the authority to restrict the proportion of female to male students, and it made excellent use of that authority. History of girls Education in UK

1975 onwards: equal education for boys and girls

It is difficult to imagine that until 1971, it was acceptable to pay men more for the same work as women, and that hiring men over women solely on the basis of their sex was still totally lawful in 1975.

The Women’s Liberation Movement was established in 1969 and held a number of conferences around the nation to demand, among other things, equal pay, equal educational and employment possibilities, and financial and legal independence from males. Women also experienced prejudice outside of the workplace; for instance, it was very challenging for a woman to get a mortgage without the help of a male guarantor.

History of girls Education in UK
Everything changed in 1975.

History of girls Education in UK
History of girls Education in UK

The Sex Discrimination Act went into effect in response to demand from women and sympathetic males in the UK as well as from the European Community (later the EU), which Britain had joined in 1972.

In the fields of employment, education, training, harassment, housing, and the provision of goods and services, this outlawed discrimination based on sex or marital status. It also meant that after graduation, women could not be forcibly denied positions for which they were qualified based on their sex or ordered to leave if they were married.

It also meant that Cambridge University could no longer give male students preference over female students. Around this period, a large number of single-sex colleges at Oxford and Cambridge switched to an open enrollment policy. History of girls Education in UK

The 21st century: girls overtaking boys


The UK’s educational system has seen a significant transformation in the forty years since the Sex Discrimination Act. Even today, there is institutional bias against women in higher education, as evidenced by the fact that only 15% of professorships in Cambridge and 20% of professorships in UK universities are held by women.

Some of the very first professors may have even begun their careers before the Sex Discrimination Act went into effect. The majority of students at Oxford and Cambridge are still male (54% at Cambridge and 52% at Oxford).

That number is especially significant because boys and girls tie for the highest A-level grades needed by these colleges; slightly more girls receive As than boys, but slightly more boys receive Bs. History of girls Education in UK

Girls have easily surpassed boys in university enrollment overall; they are 35% more likely to attend a university. More than any other topic, with the exception of theology, studying medicine was once off-limits to women. However, in 2014, 5,000 women were admitted to programmes in medicine and dentistry in the UK, compared to only 3,800 males.

We’ve come a long way from the time when girls could only receive an education by attending classes with their male peers, when they were told they could attend college but wouldn’t receive a degree, when they were threatened with fireworks for asking, and when countless numbers of girls were completely barred from receiving an education.

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