Percy Reboul and John Heathfield compare the merits of a modern education with that of the 19th Century.

As the excitement (some would say hysteria) of the annual school exam results dies away, we can perhaps reflect on how such things were organised in times past.

At the close of the 18th Century, few people could even read or write their name. In 1870, however, an Education Act was passed which provided for a compulsory full-time elementary education for all children between five and 12 years old. At around that time, there were also lively debates about the education of girls.

In the early days, all age groups were in one room where they sat on benches with a desk in front and wrote on slates. They were seated on these benches or 'forms' as they were called, according to ability - the youngest, in front, being the first form. At the end of the year, there was a national test to decide which children would move up to the next form and which of them would stay down to repeat the previous year's work. Exams were set for standard one, standard two, and so on, up to standard seven.

Teachers' pay was set by the results their pupils achieved. Over the years, as schools grew larger, age groups were housed in different classrooms and were separated by gender.

Much of the learning was by heart and high value was placed on the ability to memorise facts. You either knew it or not and there was little, if any, of today's style of exam questions, which encourage thinking around a problem.

For example, an exam for 12-year-old-children in 1895 included: 'Find the value of 2,037 1/2 hundredweight of sugar at £1.19s.8 1/2d per hundredweight'. Another example: 'Does a globe or a map give a more correct view of the world? Give reasons for your answers'. On history: 'Give the dates of the building of Hadrian's wall and the departure of the Romans from England'.

Contrast this approach with the following questions from a modern exam paper: 'Contrast the murder of XXX as depicted in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph' or 'Construct a pie chart showing the spare time activities of the members of your class'.

Before we feel holier than thou about such matters, let's not forget that those early years produced some of the best scientists, scholars and artists who have ever lived. To get you into the spirit of those times, we invite you to attempt the 1895 arithmetic question without using a calculator.