31 - London school attendance medals
Introduction: Medals for attendance at school were awarded to London School children between 1887 and about 1920. This guide explores the records available and what information you can find out about them.
The first medal awarded for regular and punctual attendance to London schoolchildren was initiated by the School Board for London in 1887 and, with royal sanction, was designated the 'Queen Victoria Medal'. After that monarch died, it was renamed the 'King Edward VII Medal' and, on his demise, it became simply 'the King's Medal'. The London County Council continued the awards when it took over as the education authority for London from the School Board in 1904. The award was suspended during the latter part of the First World War but was reintroduced briefly after the conclusion of hostilities. It was discontinued altogether in 1920 and the awards for the school year 1919/20 were the last. During the wartime suspension, a form of certificate was issued indicating that, but for wartime suspension, the pupil in question would have been awarded the medal.
Children were eligible to receive an award during each year of their school career, if the stringent requirements governing regular and punctual attendance were met. Provision was, in fact, made for up to eleven years of eligibility. Originally, in 1887, the first three medals awarded to any pupil were of 'white metal' (a tin alloy); the fourth and fifth were of bronze; the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth were of gilded bronze and the eleventh was of silver. These provisions were amended in 1908 to provide for silver medals for the eighth and subsequent successive awards to a pupil and again in 1912, when it was decided to eliminate white metal altogether. From the latter year, the first three medals were of bronze; the fourth, fifth and sixth of gilded bronze and the seventh and subsequent ones of silver. The number of children who were successful year after year and reached the 'higher' medals was of course relatively small.
Up to 1911, the medals had a simple orange ribbon. Thereafter, the ribbon was of a special design incorporating red, white and blue.
The precise definition of regular and punctual attendance varied slightly over the years but in their conception the requirements were very strict. The 1902 School Management Code, for example, stated that 'a medal is to be awarded to every full-time scholar who has attended punctually on every occasion on which the school has been open during the educational year ending July provided that absence on not more than four half-days or two whole days in a year shall not debar any child from receiving a medal if at least two days' notice of such absence has been sent by the parent or guardian'. It went on to say that 'By punctual attendance it means attendance at school at 9am in the morning and 2 p.m. in the afternoon'. These were, of course, the standard starting times in the days when virtually all children went home to their midday meal. As a proviso, the Code stated that 'No child may receive a medal who has not satisfied the head teacher as to his or her cleanliness, tidiness and good conduct throughout the year'. For some years after 1908, a restriction of not more than six medals per class or form at any school was made.
No central register or index of the recipients of awards was maintained. Names of recipients were engraved on medals but the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) has no means of further identifying particular recipients and related schools.
LMA holds examples of many of the medals awarded to pupils among the records of the London County Council (LCC) (classed as artefacts), and as deposits by private individuals. Enquirers should ask the staff on duty for details and be prepared to make an appointment in advance to see the medals. The records of the LCC also include examples of certificates for attendance 1887-1889 and 1915-1918 and reward cards for attendance 1905-1911 (reference: LCC/EO/PS/11/2). To see these does not require an appointment.
The medals were the subject of a detailed descriptive article published in the October 1972 issue of the magazine Coins, a copy of which is available in the library as a pamphlet (P22.79 WAT).