The Victorian period was important in all aspects of education including the training of teachers. Throughout most of the nineteenth century, middle and upper class girls were taught at home by governesses or they went to small private schools. There were no training colleges or examinations for teachers and the standard of teaching was generally poor. The novel, Jane Eyre, shows how bad one of these small private schools could be.
The teachers in the first Victorian schools usually learnt on the job by working in schools as pupil - teachers. Gradually teacher training colleges were set up.
The new high schools such as Manchester High School for Girls which were founded in the late Victorian period, wanted teachers who had been to university and were well qualified.
This photograph shows Sara Burstall, the second headmistress of Manchester High School for Girls. Her career is typical of the new generation of well qualified teachers. She was educated at the North London Collegiate School, one of the new girls' high schools which provided an academic education for girls. She won a scholarship to Girton College, Cambridge where she studied mathematics.
One of Sara Burstall's tutors, Donald MacAlister, wrote of her in 1886: "I had the privilege of teaching Miss Sara A. Burstall during several terms of her residence in Girton College and have a very clear remembrance of the excellent qualities she showed as a student of mathematics. She possessed an unwearying power of work, a very keen appreciation of the refinements of the subject and a high enthusiasm for its study. These qualities of industry, intelligence and enthusiasm will, I am sure, stand her in good stead should she be called, as I hope she may be, to take on the responsible position of headmistress."
One of the teachers at Manchester High School in the 1890s was Agnes Simons. She had been a student at Newnham College, Cambridge and she taught history at Manchester High School between 1888 and 1898. One of her pupils remembered her as being "one of the most stimulating teachers I have known. When we first saw her, we wondered if we would like her for she looked very grave, almost austere. But when she began to teach us, we saw that we had fallen into master hands. The Tudors were the subject. She vivified each person she named and as she described in glowing words the personalities of those stirring times, we almost felt we were back among them. She interested herself in every girl and used to get us to discuss the people we were learning about, airing our own opinions so getting up a debate which she guided and which she summed up at the end in a light, concise and happy way which gave us something definite to carry away. She had a keen feeling for the romance of history and made constitutional history, which when badly taught is the dullest of subjects, deeply interesting by showing us copies of charters and documents, making us realise how the roots of present politics lie in the past. She made us for the first time in our lives read the newspapers, especially foreign affairs. She had that gift of the born teacher of awakening the pupil's eager interest and intelligence."