At School No.4: Truancy and Criminality

Extract from the School Board Report received at Floodgate Street School 30th June 1892:

“This new school is situated in the midst of one of the roughest and most irregular populations of the town, and presents more than ordinary difficulties in many ways, which have been met with energy and satisfactory success.” [S68/2/1]

 If the attendance was hard to keep up because of the weather, then truancy and criminality made this job even more difficult. The School Board Reports, which

School Board Truancy Figures. BAH: SB/B/1/1/13 p.13.

had to be copied into the Logbooks (See An Introduction to Logbooks), often made reference to the challenging area that Floodgate Street School was in. The Birmingham School Board Appeals Committee dealt with Truancy, and its figures were recorded by the School Board.

Truancy was often linked to poverty and the living conditions of the child at home. Sometimes the children were employed selling goods, such as in 1891 where they were selling “Xmas novelties” [S68/2/1 18.12.1891] Sometimes these children would “Sleep out” at night, often around the market place [S68/2/1 8.4.1892]. There are repeated entries for boys stealing in the market place and being punished for it:

“I have had to recommence my visits to the market as the truant season shews signs of beginning again. I brought in seven on Wednesday afternoon.” [S68/2/1 26.3.1897]

Perhaps due to Floodgate Street School’s close city location, truanting and stealing around the marketplace were evidently a regular part of the school year.

Yet criminality didn’t just take place outside of school. One girl stole a half sovereign from the purse of a teacher after the purse was left on a classroom desk. [S68/2/1 24.10.1902] In this instance the punishment seems to have been a word with the mother. Some crimes also went unpunished, with a regular attack on the toilets:

“Have been unable up to the present to catch the thief who robs the girls’ lavatory.” [S68/2/1 15.5.95]

 On one Christmas the headmaster had to confront two children at the Christmas party:

“I refused to accept Kathleen Coleman at the party as, while under an attendance order, she has not appeared since dec 9thWilliam Griffiths (who has truanted 31 times this term up to date) also arrived on party day after a week of truancy. I put him in my room with some work to do and he escaped through the window.” [S199/1/1 22.12.1942]

Occasionally these misdemeanours were serious enough for a child to end up in front of a judge, and Birmingham’s groundbreaking law courts will be looked at next.

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