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Wiltshire Community History

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Whitesheet Church of England VA Primary School

Whitesheet Church of England VA Primary School Date Photo Taken 2003
Uploaded 25/10/2007 08:29:35
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

The school was provided for the village in 1846 with the aid of a government grant of £42 and land provided by the Duke of Somerset. By 1854 there were about 40 pupils at the school. It appears that the first certified teacher came to the school in January 1866 when only 32 children were present owing to the bad weather after Christmas. The numbers rose to 45 in February as the weather improved. In September some children were absent for apple picking while in October and November one boy was away for 8 weeks as he was needed at home. At this time attendance was not compulsory and parents had to pay one penny or twopence ( - 1p) a week for each child. In 1867 an HMI report considered the children to be 'shy and unwilling to answer'. By this time a pupil teacher was also being used and the summer attendance was in the low 50s.

In the 1870s many children were kept away from school at different times for both potato dropping (planting) and potato picking. There seems to have been an element of bribery to ensure good behaviour as Mrs Rose, visiting the school in early October 1872, promised Henry Farthing a new jacket "If a good boy until Christmas". On the other hand this could have been a way of ensuring that a poorer child received an item of clothing without obvious charity. At this time children frequently went to church for weekday services during the school day.

In 1872 an HMI report said that a classroom was needed for the younger children while in 1873 the report stated, 'Children are in good order and have passed very fairly in Reading, fairly in Spelling but only moderately in Sums'. At this time lessons also included arithmetic, scripture, the catechism, needlework and singing. A new school was built in 1874, thus providing the classroom for younger children, and a school house for the teacher was erected in 1877. The school year was divided into 3 terms with a 2 week holiday at Christmas, 10 - 14 days at Easter and a 4 week Harvest Holiday in August/early September. In 1883 the school, in its new building received a good report.

In 1900 there were 64 older children in the large (32 feet by 16 feet) room and 34 infants in the small (10 feet by 16 feet) room. By 1907 there were around 70 pupils at the school, aged from 3 to 12 years. Children aged 11 and 12 could leave school if they were needed at home. In 1911 numbers were 50 older children and 31 infants. In 1922 Winbrook school closed and children from there came to the church school which, for a time, was known as Zeals Elementary School. Cookery classes were started in the 1930s and by the 1940s there was a central stove for heating in each room, but it was reported that it was cold around the edges of the rooms and they were open to the roof, as there was no ceiling. In the 1950s an extra teacher was provided, making a total of 3, a large classroom was built and central heating provided.

The school gained voluntary controlled status in 1955 and became a junior school with 58 pupils. In 1965 Stourton School closed and the pupils were transferred to Zeals. With educational reorganisation in the area to the west of Salisbury the school became a first school, for children aged 5 - 9 years, and was renamed Zeals Church of England First School. Pupils over the age of 9 went to the Middle school at Mere and then to snior school at Gillingham (Dorset). New school buildings on a site adjacent to the old school were opened in 1975 and in 1976 parents and friends provided a swimming pool for beginners. The school was under threat of closure in both 1983 and 1994 but was saved each time and celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1996 with various events, including maypole dancing. In 2002 there were 33 children aged between 4 and 9 years. In 2003 the education system in this area is changing again to come back in line with the rest of the county. The school has become Whitesheet Church of England VA Primary School comprising the schools at both Zeals and nearby Kilmington and retaining the two sites. For 2003/4 a Year 5 class has been added to the school and from 2004/5 the school will have a Year 6 class and be a full primary school. Children over the age of 11 will then go to Gillingham for secondary education.

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