A National School was a school that was founded in the nineteenth century by the National Society for the Promotion of Religious Education. The aim of the society was to found a church school in every parish in the country.These schools provided elementary education in accordance with the teaching of the Church of England for the children of the poor. By 1885 the National Society had raised ten million pounds and built 12,000 schools. Before 1944 primary schools were called elementary schools because that was the only education most people needed.
In 1894 there were three national elementary schools giving a basic education following Christian principles for the children of Somercotes. They were the National Boys School, the National Girls School and Somercotes Infants School which educated younger boys and girls together. The Infants School on Sleetmoor Lane was old and in poor condition having opened in 1867. The Boys School was newer; it was built in 1874 and further enlarged in 1880. Somercotes Girls School building was the newest and was officially opened on April 9th, 1894. Prior to this the Girls School was a separate department on the Boys School site.
Like many National elementary schools both the Boys School and the Girls School were very close to the church. The Boys School on Nottingham Road was positioned almost next to St. Thomas' Church with the School House between.It had been funded by T H Oakes and C seely and had originally cost two thousand five hundred pounds. The Girls School which was almost adjacent fronted Victoria Street. It was funded by J Oakes and C Seely to the sum of two thousand pounds.
The dimensions of the Girls School were included in the School Log Book and were:
|Large Room||68 x 20|
|Classroom 1||31 x 20|
|Classroom 2||40 x 20|
|Classroom 3||30 x 20|
|Large Cloakroom||12 x 12|
|Small Cloakroom||19 x 4|
|Entrance Lobby||12 x 5|
In 1880, the government made it compulsory for all children between the ages of five and ten years to attend school and in 1889 the school leaving age was raised to twelve years.However attending school was not free until 1891. Prior to this date the children of Somercotes had to take their payment or "School Pence" as it was called to be handed in to the teachers.
|Typical charge for the "School Pence" at that time were:|
|Infants 5 to 7 years||1d per week|
|Over 7 years Standards 1 - 5||Full time 3d per week|
|Over 7 years Standards 1 - 5||Part time 2d per week|
|Over 7 years Standards 6 - 7||Full time 6d per week|
If three or more children attended at the same time the School Pence was 2d per child per week. Many families struggled to find the small amounts of money so that their children could go to school.They must have been relieved when this payment was discontinued in 1891.
The school day at the Somercotes National Schools began each day at 9am for children. Each morning session was from 9am until noon and each afternnon session was from 2pm until 5pm. The long lunch break was to allow all the children time to go home for lunch even if they lived a long walk away, for example in Pye Bridgeor Lower Somercotes. No school dinners were provided.If the weather was poor many children did not return to school for the afternnon sessions and absenteeism was a particular problem in the winter months when the roads were made virtually impassible.
When children attended National Schools their parents knew that there would be great importance attached to Reliigious Education. RE was so important that it was inspected on an annual basis by the local clergy.
This example from Somercotes Girls School Log Book details the findings of the 1894 inspection for Religious Education:
"The Religious Knowledge of the school is thoroughly satisfactory, and the children show a very intelligent grasp of all aspects. Tone is very good and Singing is pleasing.
|Division||Old Testament||New Testament||Prayers||Catechism|
|I||Very Good||Good||Very Good||Very Good|
|II||Very Good||Very Good||Very Good||Good|
|III||Good||Very Good||Very Good||Good|
|Infants||Very Good||Good||Very Good||Good|
The written work from memory is very good.
Signed....R Dickenson [Local Minister]"
With regard to the teachers the staffing of the Somercotes schools followed the national pattern. All the teachers at the Infants school and Girls Schools were women and teaching was a poorly paid job then. Women were expected to find husbands and to become married as adults. It was not expected that women would have careers.
The following Table for the year 1900 shows some of the employment figures for women in the country. Most women were employed in manual work:
|EMPLOYMENT FOR WOMEN 1910|
|Teachers||124,000 [infants and juniors]|
There were far more women teachers than men teachers in 1900 though male teachers earned more. If women teachers wanted to marry they were expected to give up their teaching posts in order to concentrate upon caring for their husbands and families. Any woman who remained unmarried, for whatever reason, was regarded with more than a little suspicion.
In 1895 the mistress of the infants school was Miss Elizabeth Jones, a post she held from 1878 until 1919 when she retired. Miss Jones regularly reported in the Log Book the details of the unmarried teachers who left because they were getting married. This practice caused the school many staffing problems and the lack of continuity had a negative effect on children’s progress. Miss Mary Jane Heath was the Certified Mistress of the Girls School from 1884-1885, her duties being taken over by Miss Mary Baxendale from 1896-1899. There are no available records regarding the School Master of the Somercotes Boys School until 1896 when Mr Hezekiah Hicking became the Certified Master. Male teachers earned more than their female counterparts but their salaries were relatively low.
Holidays for children were not as frequent as those enjoyed by modern children. In the three Somercotes Elementary Schools the holidays followed the main Christian festivals and were usually:
Shrove Tuesday afternoon
Good Friday and Easter week
Four weeks in July
Two weeks at Christmas
Other than these only occasional holidays were granted in order to mark national events. For example all the children in Somercotes had two days holiday to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in May 1900. On May 1st 1908 there was a circus in the neighbourhood and so the children were granted a half day holiday but this concession was a rare occurrence. Sometimes the Somercotes families took matters into their own hands.
For example, in September 1897 the Log Book at the Girls School reported:
“Attendance this week is not at all good owing to it being Normanton Wakes [Fair] to which a lot of children have gone. There are only 296 out of 350”.
The large majority of teachers in National Schools did not have a university or college education, and in Somercotes Elementary Schools most of the teachers were trained under the Pupil Teacher System. A Pupil Teacher was a senior pupil who at the age of thirteen was apprenticed for five years during which time they learned the art of teaching, usually teaching the youngest children. This was a common way that boys and girls from less affluent backgrounds became teachers. They each received seven and half hours training each week from the teacher in charge of the school. The role of the teacher was something they picked up and every new lesson would be a challenge for them too. At the Girls School in 1884 the daily instruction for the Pupil Teachers took place between 7am and 8am but in December 1899 the new headteacher, Miss L Carnell, taught Pupil Teachers when the school day for children was over each day.
After satisfactorily completing a five year apprenticeship a Pupil Teacher was recognised as an Uncertified Teacher under certain articles at the time. An Article 50 Teacher had completed his/her apprenticeship but had not passed the examination to be a Certificated Teacher. Some teachers were Article 68 Teachers which meant that they were over the age of eighteen, considered moral and had been vaccinated. Many schools used older pupils as Monitors for trial periods before they committed to becoming Pupil Teachers.
In all the Somercotes schools there were Certificated Masters and Mistresses, Article 50 Teachers, Article 68 Teachers, Pupil Teachers and Monitors.
The staffing for Somercotes Girls National School in 1897-1898 illustrates the different grades of teachers as they are described in the school’s Log Book.
|Miss Mary Baxendale||Certificated Mistress||0|
|Miss H D Bown||Article 50 Standard VI and VII||35|
|Miss L K Litchfield||Article 50 Standard III||77|
|Miss E Exon||Article 50 Standard IV||56|
|Miss A Merriman||Article 68 Standard II||52|
|Miss Brindley||Article 68 Standard V||49|
|Miss A Wallis||Pupil Teacher Year 4 Standard V||54|
|Miss O Slack||Pupil Teacher Year 1 Standard I||52|
|The mistress in charge assists the teachers in Standards I and III|
All the National Schools had rather imposing buildings that were neither comfortable nor interesting for children. There were high windows so that children could not be distracted by being able to see outside. Most interior walls were quite bare with little or no stimulus from any visual aids. The few pictures that were there tended to be scenes from the Bible, pictures of Queen Victoria or pictures of items for the Object Lesson [see later]. The heating was usually from a coal fire which was ineffective and often classrooms were smoky, lacking fresh air and badly lighted. Many children sat in cramped conditions and little movement was allowed. Most class or “Standards” as they were called contained more than 45 children sitting at wooden desks with iron frames that were fastened together in close proximity. Germs spread easily, epidemics were common and Measles, Mumps and Chicken Pox prevalent. Serious infections such as Diphtheria and Scabies were rife. Sometimes the epidemics were so serious that the schools had to be closed. In March 1909 Miss Jones reported in the Log Book that the Infants School had two cases of Diphtheria and children had to be sent to the Isolation Hospital, while in 1895 the Girls School closed for a month because of Scarlet Fever after one child died. Outbreaks of Influenza were life-threatening and antibiotics were not discovered until 1928.
Despite all these hardships and problems, children were expected to “learn their lessons” and to work hard at school. All the Somercotes National Schools emphasised the “4Rs” of Religion, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. At the Sleetmoor Lane Infants School the children learned their letters and numbers and began the rudiments of Reading and Writing. On September 4th 1908 Miss Jones entered:
“As the children in class 7 are nearly over 5 years of age, I altered the timetable to some extent. The Giant Letters were put away and the forming of letters with sticks abandoned for the blackboard and reading sheets. Drawing on cards and brown paper was substituted for sand writing.”
There was little equipment in the schools and paper was expensive. The infants wrote on slates with slate pencils and when the slate was full and their work had been checked they had to “wipe the slate clean”. As the numbers of children in the school grew Miss Jones became increasingly worried about the resources.
In 1910 she wrote:
“There are 95 additional children to provide for and the stack of paper provided for the infant school is rapidly diminishing. By Christmas, unless something is done, I shall have to resort to the old slates which are stored away.”
Mkany lessons had to be learned from memory and this was particularly so in the “Object Lesson”. The children learned and recited facts about a particular subject or object, quite often only being shown a picture of it. Typical subjects for Infant Object Lessons were “The Crocus” and “The Sheep”. The children also learned poetry and songs and occasionally did exercises or “Drill” at the sides of their desks. Girls began sewing at a young age ready for when they grew up.
When the children reached the age of seven they moved from the Infants School to either the National Boys School or the National Girls School where they started in Standard I. They stayed there until they were twelve or thirteen depending on the job they would do when they left school. At these schools there was a concentration of the “4Rs”. In Reading and Writing they learned grammar and dictation as well as essay and letter writing. The work was done on paper usually with nib pens and ink. And the children practiced in Copy Books. All of them were made to write with their right hands and children who tried to use their left hands were punished. In Arithmetic they worked on harder calculations and the Object Lessons were continued with more difficult subject matter.
|OBJECT LESSONS - SOMERCOTES GIRLS SCHOOL 1898-1899|
|STANDARD I and STANDARD II|
|STANDARD III and STANDARD IV|
Just as in the Infants School Religious Instruction was given a high priority for both genders. Girls continued to develop their sewing skills while boys did drawing and craftwork. Because the schools provided the materials for whatever the children made the finished items were sold at a “Sale of Work” after they had been seen and examined by the school inspectors. The profits from the sales were used to subsidise the school funds. Not only did the inspectors [HMI] assess what the children made they also formed judgements on all teaching, the provision across all the subjects and recommendations how the school could improve. Although the annual visit was short, never lasting more than a day, little was missed by the inspectors.
The 1890 Report for Somercotes National Girls School stated:
“Discipline and order is very good. Elementary subjects are fairly well done except for Arithmetic in Standard IV. Very few girls worked the problems correctly. Writing should improve in Standard III. Needlework and Englash are good. Singing is good and the scholars recite well with much expression.”
On August 11th 1894 the following report appeared in the Derbyshire Times:
In the Boys School the youngest groups gave ready and general answering and knew their work well, except Scriptures repetition in Standard I and the Christian year in Standard II. Two elder groups did not reach the same level in either thoroughness or readiness to answer, but so much difficulty that has lately occurred in procuring teachers that it was inevitable that some parts of the school must suffer.
In Somercotes Girls National School the general character of the Bible knowledge was good except that in Standard III and IV it was not sufficiently thorough or intelligent. Catechism was well known except in Standard I, who knew very little about “The Commandments”. Very few of the children in the highest groups knew anything about the Prayer Book. It would be well if prayer books were provided for teaching purposes. Decided improvement is shown on last year, especially in the eldest groups.
In the Infants School the children are very well ordered and carefully taught. Their knowledge is good and the children spoke out very clearly and answered brightly”.
On March 14th 1900 the Derby Mercury reported:
“BOYS SCHOOL: Discipline, Singing and Drill are good and the school continues in a very creditable state of efficiency.
GIRLS SCHOOL: Discipline, Tone and Drill are very good and the school is in a very creditable condition. Needlework is very good.
INFANTS SCHOOL: The general condition of the school is very satisfactory and very good order is maintained. Needlework is marked very good.
The headteachers are to be complimented on the success attending their arduous labours”
Miss Jones must have been pleased with the report that the Infants School received in 1908 when HMI made the following judgements:
“There is an air of brightness and kindness in the infants school. The classteachers work rigorously while in school and some of them evidently think about the work and try to keep abreast of times. While effective instruction in Reading and Writing is given, much has been done by the headteacher in the last few years to introduce better methods of training in other sided of infant school life”.
Discipline was extremely important in all the Somercotes National Schools. Children were expected to arrive on time at school and lateness as well as truancy was punished. Children were also punished for telling lies, not concentrating, talking or spoiling their work. It was common for all children to be beaten with canes made from birch wood. Boys were normally caned on their backsides while girls were caned on their legs or hands. Tey despite the disadvantages, it was much better for children to go to school rather than labour for long hours in mines, factories, mills or as farm labourers.
The Somercotes National Schools remained under the auspices of the Church of England until the 1902 Education Act [the Balfour Act] when all church schools were brought under the control of local councils for the first time. The three schools were taken over by the Derbyshire County Council after this date and were among the biggest infant and junior schools in the county. Between them they could educate a thousand pupils at any one time.
Judith Fitzhugh