History KS3: What was life like at a Victorian Reformatory School?

Using trial testimony, census records and dramatic reconstruction to recreate the moment when Jane Angus' life changed forever, we learn about the strict Victorian justice system that decided her fate.

Jane Angus, aged just 12, tells us how she was caught stealing a basket from a passenger at Greenock railway station.

She was sentenced to 10 days in prison, and then sent to a reformatory school for 5 years.

These strict residential schools were meant to teach young criminals a trade and stop them re-offending.

After spending 5 years at the reformatory, Jane got a job as a French polisher, but then she contracted tuberculosis - known in Victorian times as "consumption". Jane died in 1879 aged just 17.

Teacher Notes

The class could discuss: "Why do you think the girl in this clip was stealing? What impact do you think poverty had on the amount of crime in Victorian times? Do you think the length of the sentence was fair in comparison to the offence? What impact do you think the time spent in reformatory school had on the girl's health?"

As a writing exercise, students could imagine they are a lawyer representing Jane Angus, and make a list of ideas for her defence. Children could research what conditions were like in reformatory schools.

How did they compare to prisons and industrial schools? They could also investigate the impact poverty had on health in Victorian times.

Curriculum Notes

This film is relevant for teaching history at Key Stage 3 and GCSE in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and at National 5 in Scotland.