Separation in schooling both masked and was a reaction against a powerful thrust towards uniformity. Dissatisfied with the uneven, family-oriented, and highly idiosyncratic formal education experienced by most children and also worried by what they believed was a related rise in juvenile idleness, political agitation, and crime, educational reformers turned increasingly to the state. Sectarian, political, ethnic, and class rivalries, they argued, would disappear in tax-supported schools as these came under the control of provincial and local governments. Reduced work opportunities for the young complemented a rising tide of propaganda favouring more and better government schooling. Family or local poverty and new industrial employment for children meant uneven patterns of change but, overall, increasing enrolment and attendance suggest growing acceptance of the school as the normal week-day environment for the young. Also increasingly accepted was the employment of women teachers in community schools. Here too change was uneven, with frontier regions poor in resources and rapidly expanding cities appearing to lead the way. The Catholic School Commission of Montréal made that city an exception to the general rule for urban centres; it favoured schools for boys and male teachers. The general trend almost everywhere else, however, was towards co-educational public schooling and a predominantly female teaching force in elementary schools.
As pressure mounted to provide schooling for more and more children - and also perhaps in response to the new 'softer' pedagogy in which persuasion and reasoning were intended to replace the use of force in the school room - school boards looked increasingly to women teachers. There were sometimes great battles waged as local communities debated the pros and cons of 'females' and whether or not they were capable of instructing older pupils and boys, and keeping order. In the end it was probably economy that most often won the day, since a woman teacher could be engaged in most localities for as little as half the wages of a man.
Increased enrolment and attendance were not the only goals of government school reformers. They also promoted a reformed pedagogy that undermined traditional relations between teachers, pupils, and communities. School architecture both symbolized and facilitated change. From one-room rural schools to innovative urban structures housing assistant teachers, their principals, and several hundred children, the message was the same: spatial segregation by age and gender; the placing of pupils in controllable rows with teachers at the front; and the organization of the whole into hierarchies of achievement and reward. The blackboard too stood for reform. With blackboards teachers could command pupils' attention; without them schools were suddenly inadequate. Equally vital to the enterprise were the training of teachers in normal and model schools and their certification and inspection, increasingly by provincial authorities.