With the rise of cathedrals came cathedral schools (early 500s), not only for the instruction of an up and coming priesthood but even for the local village boys. Bishops continued to tutor local boys in their homes. Tutoring came from a more educated relative, local priest, scrivener, curator, rector, etc. Boarding schools became more common in the latter period. Guilds created schools for their specialties and schools for the children of their members. Apprenticing was common as well. Endowed schools for primary education--supported by the wealthy or the town--were on the rise as well as the famous Latin grammar schools, which could be stand alone institutions or attached to a college.
Homeschooling was probably continued in many homes. Education under these more simplistic conditions probably included basic speaking ability and training in household chores and farming. As a rule, "poorer children, even if they or their parents were favorable to reading, might have to postpone the undertaking until adolescence or adulthood, and might not begin at all" (Orme, 246).
Charlemagne, concerned with the degraded learning among the monks, decreed in 789 AD that "schools be established in which boys may learn." A century later, King Alfred, taught by a tutor, decreed a similar proclamation in 901 AD. The Sixth General Council of Constantinople (680 AD) required the presbyters in the country towns and villages to teach gratis any child brought to him. Echoing similar provisions in the Council of Chalons (813 AD), the Council of Langres, and the Council of Savonnieres (859 AD), the Third Lateran Council in 1179 encouraged the cathedrals to create schools, especially for the poor.
European literacy rates are notoriously hard to discover. But the evidence grows after the 1100s. Literacy was facilitated through a communal approach (family, community and church) instead of an individual approach. Group readings were a mainstay for literacy. By the 1250s it appears that many who may not have been literate at least knew someone who was literate. Near the end of this period, households of royalty, nobility and even clergy "often included one or more schoolmasters to teach the lord’s children, wards, and the boys who sang in the chapel." Common-sense may suggest that the gentlemen, clergy, merchants and those with more leisure time and education gave some basic instruction to their children at home, but such evidence is scarce (Orme, Children, 241ff.).
By the late Medieval period, useful numbers began to appear. The Black Plague devastated England, lowering her population to around 2.5 million between 1348-1448 AD. Yet thirty-five grammar schools are known to have existed in three British shires during this time. The latest research is confident that in England alone during the late Medieval period a typical small town had at least one schoolmaster and possibly an assistant. London herself retained at least two dozen full or part-time teachers. Florance (1336-38) is known to have over 50% of the children in city schools. The Lowlands (Holland/Belgium) increased the number of primary schools from the twelfth century onward (as did England). Local schooling typically included children eight to sixteen years-old.
Many methods of instruction were practiced during the Medieval times. Such an eclectic approach continued into the Reformation.
Summary of References & Suggested Readings:
Medieval Children and Medieval Schools, Orme
History of Education, Cubberley