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Ogbourne St. Andrew

Rockley Church School, Ogbourne St. Andrew

Rockley Church School, Ogbourne St. Andrew Date Photo Taken c.1906
Uploaded 21/11/2011 17:13:51
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Map Latitude 51.44513426281109 : Longitude -1.7695015668869019
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Rockley School opened in 1868, built by William Henry Tanner who had purchased the estate of Rockley and lived with his family at the Manor House. The school was a single-roomed building of brick and stone 24ft. (7.32m.) long, 13ft. (4m.) wide and 12ft. (3.65m.) high. At the rear of the school there was a small playground, fenced off from the Manor grounds, and in the front there was a small strip between the school building and the road.

The widow and eldest daughter of William Tanner remained closely connected with the school after his death. In October 1898 the school was placed on a more formal footing when it came under the aegis of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor, and attracted government grants. Prior to this, in April 1898, the log book of nearby Ogbourne St. Andrew National School had indicated that eight children aged 5 to 9 had been admitted from Rockley, the school there being closed; this number subsequently rose to fourteen. On September 29 1898 the same log book records the loss to Ogbourne St. Andrew School of the Rockley children who had attended for some months whilst alterations were made to their own school according to Government requirements.

In accordance with the new status of Rockley School in October 1898 a certificated mistress arrived whose task would be to arrange the children into appropriate groupings according to nationally accepted standards of expected achievement. Within a few days the lower groups or 'standards' were receiving instruction on simple addition and subtraction, while the higher standard was instructed in the more complex arithmetic of multiplication and division. It is at this time that the first log-book of Rockley School begins.

There is no indication at this point of pupil numbers at this stage, although the Schools Attendance Officer called within the first week of the new system of operation to warn the children about irregular attendance. However, the first HM Inspection on June 3rd 1899 indicated that already the size of the school premises was presenting a problem, "This newly opened school has already more children than it will accommodate…", he remarked, adding that although the children were backward in their work the mistress had the school "well in hand…". Already the importance of meeting established standards of instruction and curriculum in order to attract adequate government grants is apparent. In this instance the grant was reduced as there was no provision for physical exercise; the Inspector suggested that the school managers might consider attempting to obtain a larger playground for this purpose. There is no indication that this was achieved but a drill class had been introduced by February 1900.

At this period, at the end of the 19th century, the children received lessons in Arithmetic, Writing and Spelling, Reading, Needlework (for the girls) and Drawing. They were taught in three groups in the single room, Infants; Standards I and II together, and Standards III and IV together. A new teacher who arrived after the five weeks' Harvest Holiday, in September 1900, drew up a list of object lessons, not specified but in other schools of the period covering a diversity of subjects, and took all the children for a walk to give a lesson on "Leaves".

The staffing arrangements at this time are not clear but there is evidence of a Monitress, an older girl pupil, assisting in the school since there is a reference to her being absent through illness in December 1900. However, HM Inspector's report in June 1901, whilst indicating an improvement in the education standards achieved by the children, again referred to the extremely difficult conditions in which the teaching and learning took place, as the schoolmistress "practically singlehanded" had insufficient time for the younger children and, "Besides, the room is too full, and it is almost impossible to seat the children". In the same month a newly appointed teacher recorded that the number of children on the register had been reduced to 27; throughout the first decades of the 20th century numbers would remain around this level.

A systematic programme of work was set out; the children would study Reading, Writing (including Grammar), Arithmetic, Geography and History. In addition, there would be lessons on "common things" (i.e. object lessons), with all the standards grouped together. The children's religious and scriptural knowledge was also tested at regular intervals by the Vicar/Manager and by the Diocesan Inspector.

Attendance by pupils was a constant preoccupation for the teacher, at Rockley as at other schools at this period, as this was also an aspect of school life which affected the level of government grants received. When attendance was low, the teacher carefully recorded the reason; this was frequently due to weather conditions. Many of the children walked considerable distances to and from school and there are numerous recordings of extremely rainy or snowy weather which kept the level of attendance low. On frequent occasions there are notes that children had arrived at school with such wet clothes that they had been sent straight home again. In the days before school dinners were provided, the children would make the return journey at lunchtime as well as in the morning and afternoon one way journeys.

Another reason for absence was illness which might affect one or more pupils: In June 1899, for example, six children were withdrawn for a month as they were suffering from whooping cough. The teacher noted in the log book that other children were coughing so badly that "it is impossible to hear or be heard". Other conditions included ophthalmia, mumps, measles and, more seriously in October 1899, with diphtheria. Children were regularly excluded from school temporarily for fear of contagion, sometimes on the advice of the County Schools Medical Officer. By the beginning of the 20th century medical inspections of the children were a regular feature of school life, with visits by the doctor, dentist and district nurse. A weighing machine was sent from school to school and weighing and measuring of each child took place as part of this increased monitoring of the pupils' health.

A regular problem of attendance in agricultural areas occurred at times of crop planting and harvesting when older children frequently helped their families with this work. The dates of the Harvest Holiday itself fluctuated slightly according to the pressures of the harvest; still, children's absences could take place outside this period, as they helped with activities such as haymaking or potato-picking. In addition, in February 1901 the Attendance Officer cautioned two boys who were sometimes absent owing to helping with shooting parties. By this date the school leaving age was 12 years; children who wished or were required by their families to leave at the age of 11 years might do so if they sat the examination held at intervals in Marlborough and proved that they had achieved an acceptable standard of education; they were then granted a Labour Certificate.

However, the children's work and the pressures on attendance, were alleviated from time to time by the granting of day or half-day holidays: For example, in 1899 a holiday was given for the Queen's birthday and for the relief of Pretoria in the Boer War; in June 1904 a half holiday was given in the afternoon to enable children to go to Marlborough to the Agricultural Show; in June 1911 a day's holiday took place to celebrate the Coronation of George V. Later in the century, in the 1930s, such events continued to be recorded: in May 1930 a holiday was given to enable children living at some distance to compete in the Area Sports held in Marlborough; in June of the same year the school was closed for an expedition to Weymouth. In December 1933 the school was dismissed early in the afternoon in order that the children could enjoy a Christmas party.

Between 1914 and 1918 no mention is made in the log books of the First World War, although one entry for September 1918 indicates that the children went blackberrying; this was an activity carried out by many schoolchildren during the war years, the fruit being dispatched to London to be used as part of the troops' food supplies. When the Armistice took place, the school was closed for a fortnight due to an epidemic of influenza; this may have been the same strain of influenza which was fatal to so many individuals in the immediate post-war period.

In November 1920 the number on roll was 34 and, despite HM Inspector's description of the "admirable tone and the family-like spirit which have existed in this school for a number of years" there were still references to the "very unsatisfactory and cramped conditions" in the school. A cloakroom had been added in 1899 but this had not much improved the conditions in which the children worked.

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, the school opened a week later than planned after the summer holiday. Immediately, eight extra children were admitted to the school: three were children from the village who had attended a convent school, now required for evacuated children; one local five year old, and four evacuees.

In May 1940, 21 children were on roll. The invasion of Holland and Belgium took place in the early days of the month and, given the generalised fear that Britain would also be invaded, the teacher was concerned that the somewhat isolated school had no means of hearing during the day instructions broadcast by the BBC. She noted that she intended to ask the police at Marlborough to let her have any instructions given by the government affecting the school children. The school Manager suggested that in the event of an invasion he would telephone the Manor and ask its residents to pass on to the school any broadcast instructions.

Apart from such precautions as keeping a bucket of sand in the lobby for use in the case of fire resulting from an incendiary bomb, and covering the windows with strips of paper to avoid the dangers of splintering glass, life at school carried on. In January 1941, after children living on Manton Down transferred to Preshute School, there were 22 on roll; by July of that year there were 18. Immunisation programmes and inspections continued as normal and older children helped the farmers with the harvest. A day of excitement occurred in July 1941 when the school children joined many villagers in watching the King and Queen travel along the main road to Marlborough. By January 1945 there were only 12 children on roll, who all enjoyed two days holiday to celebrate Victory in Europe day on 8th May.

The number of children attending the school continued to fall and when the summer holidays began on 25th July 1947 there were only six on roll. It was planned that these children would transfer to Ogbourne St. Andrew School on 8th September. This date was subsequently postponed until the School Meals Service had been established at the latter school, but finally notice was given that at 9 o'clock on the morning of Monday, 17th November 1947 the "school car" would take the children to Ogbourne St. Andrew and bring them back again at 3.30 pm. On 14th November 1947 the school mistress closed the logbook and the school, and left her teaching career for retirement.

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