Are we returning to the days when Ragged Schools were needed?

I visited the Ragged School Museum in Stepney the other day and it made me think about the direction that education and public policy is generally heading at the moment in England. The museum is situated on the site where Thomas Barnardo ran a school for poor children in the Victorian era; many children attended simply to get fed — the school offered free school meals. If you feel romantic about English society a hundred years ago, you’ll quickly lose your nostalgia visiting this museum; the poverty in the east end of London was chronic with infant mortality being very high and illiteracy the norm. I was shown a picture of a mother who had fourteen children, twelve of whom died before their tenth birthdays.

Obviously, the East End now is very different but you can already see that the social policies of this government are heading back towards a more ‘Victorian’ environment: welfare is being cut back, legal aid is being drastically curtailed, unemployment is rising and much more elitist education policies are being pursued; it feels like this government is only interested in helping the “academic” pupils with other pupils being left behind. But I suppose what strikes me is that education policies exist within the wider context of other social policies where the poor are being demonised in the way that they were in the Victorian era.

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Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

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