Figures from the recently released 1841 census reveal that, while new teachers today may struggle to find work, their counterparts in the 19th century were a rare and desirable commodity.
In 1841, there were 47,000 teachers compared with 471,000 full-time teachers working in England and Wales last year. Most areas of the country had only a single teacher for every 200 or 300 people. New teachers could find themselves teaching a class with as many as 200 pupils crammed behind desks.
The census reveals that pupils in Hampshire had to struggle hardest to find a teacher for their class, with only one for every 880 people living in the county. The first teacher training colleges were set up in the 1830s and 1840s. But these were not compulsory.
Ruth Watts, professor of education at Birmingham university, says: "To qualify as a teacher in a middle-class school, it was considered enough that you had a degree.
"But some working-class schools were just babysitting services, looking after children whose parents were working. A lot of people preferred those, because if their children went one day in five, it didn't matter.
"To be appointed to these schools, new teachers only had to prove that they could read. And possibly write."