In the late 19th Century the school in West Haddon served a community whose economic survival depended primarily on agriculture. An important part of the family’s income was derived from the money the children earned by working in agriculture. It often seemed to be the case that whether a child attended school depended on the season and maturity of the locally produced crops.

The “Act to Regulate the Employment of Children in Agriculture” set out to limit the number of days a child could be absent from school for the purpose of agricultural labour.

Certificates of attainment or of minimum attendance were required before a child could legally be employed during school time.

The school logbook for 1874 details absences due to agricultural work.
18th March1874
“Some children absent for bird frightening.”

22nd June 1874
“Several absences on account of hay-making.”

29th June 1874
“Absences due to pea-gathering.”

29th July 1874
“Some girls granted a half holiday to gather wild flowers for tomorrows Flower Show.”

6th August 1874
“Broke up for the Harvest Holiday.”

23rd October1874
“Several absentees this week for potato picking.”

Enforcement of the Act was extremely difficult. The school kept meticulous attendance records and the School Attendance Officer (SAO) checked them for accuracy and followed up any unauthorised absentees.

!n 1880 the SAO was Mr Statham. His work in the school was well documented as the logbook notes:-

27th February 1880
“The Attendance Officer has been unable to attend to his duties for the past few weeks from illness. There are several flagrant cases of evasion of the law awaiting his attention.”

7th April 1880
“Several boys are now absent from the school bird-frightening - some illegally - not having made the required attendance nor passed required standard.”

3rd May1880
“Names of irregular children have been omitted in re-writing the names for the New-Quarter. The Attendance Officer has attended to his duties with good result - many of those who have been absent having returned.”

Child labour in agriculture continued well into the 20th century and was especially important during the war years when the adult men were away fighting.