Children working in Victorian factories: was it as bad as they tell us?

This lesson is designed for Y5/6 pupils who already have a little knowledge of industrial change but have not yet studied cotton mills. Although the main part of the lesson is devoted to a playlet in which pupils act out real testimony about children’s working conditions that was given to parliament in 1832, it also features a fun ‘post-it challenge relay. The lesson closes by asking hard questions about reliability of evidence and prepares pupils well for level 5 historical thinking.

Learning objectives

  • pupils can identify a range of problems that children faced working in the factories
  • they can identify possible reasons why factory owners and workers might not tell the truth when questioned
  • pupils develop speaking skills by taking part in a role play and listening skills by recalling the key points others make during role play

Step 1: Introduction Setting the scene for the role play

The year is 1832. For two years people like Richard Oastler (see notes below) have been campaigning to improve the lives of children working in the factories. But what were the conditions really like? We are going to hear from 8 witnesses who are asked to give their evidence. They

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