1600s and 1700s
There was no overall system of education in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, but where schools existed, they were mainly of two types, ‘Grammar’ schools, based on the teaching of Latin and Greek, (essential for university entrance), and ‘English’ schools, where pupils were taught the ‘Three Rs’, reading, writing and arithmetic. Teaching was not necessarily given in school buildings, as we know them now, for classes were often held in the teacher’s own home, or alternatively in the Parson’s study in a Rectory or Vicarage, offering education to children whose family circumstances would probably not otherwise have permitted them the ‘luxury’ of schooling. Many leading figures, however, felt that education should be designed around a person’s ‘standing’ in life, often holding the belief that ‘too much learning’ would make the poor dissatisfied and unfit for laborious employment – a feeling that persisted well into the 19th century. Examination of the Norwich Subscription Books shows a rather uneven distribution of towns and villages in Norfolk who had licensed teachers, but though illiteracy was the norm,many children living in the more heavily populated parts of Norfolk, whose families wished them to receive some form of schooling, probably had a teacher within reach, on foot or on horseback, even before 1700.
The first record of a teacher being appointed for Little Melton is in 1710, when a Mister Philip Low received a licence from the Bishop of Norwich to teach reading, writing and arithmetic. It is unlikely that Mr Low had a university degree or was conversant in Latin or Greek. He did not need to be to teach the ‘Three Rs’, but he would have had to produce references to prove his competency to teach, and his moral fitness to do so, before he could be recommended for a licence. Finally he would have had to declare, on oath, his belief in the tenets of the Church and his loyalty to Queen Anne, before he was granted a licence, his ‘school’ being very probably the cottage in which he lived.