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Fovant - Fovant Church of England First School

The earliest reference to education in the village is an advert in the Salisbury Journal for a private school in 1781. The poor children were provided with a basic education by dame schools that operated in the early 19th century, although there is no evidence to confirm their existence here. The chantry chapel at the east end of the church, now the vestry, was also used as a schoolroom. In 1818 Fovant had both a Sunday and day school, each with about 30 pupils. By 1846 attendance at the Sunday school had risen to over 60 children who were taught by a master paid £4.4.0 a year.

An elementary school was built in 1847 for 100 children, the money being provided by a Treasury building grant of £105. The school room measured 33' by 18' 6" and the children were taught by a mistress who was assisted by a pupil teacher and monitors. The first surviving report on this school is from a school census that was taken in 1858. it says that '50 to 60 mixed scholars, under a mistress, an ex-pupil teacher from Devizes National School, are taught in a good school-room, with a boarded floor and parallel desks; the mistress is neither certificated nor registered, but appears to be a superior person. The discipline is fair, and the instruction, though elementary in character, is not unsatisfactory.'

The first surviving log book starts in 1864 and the first entry is a report from Her Majesty's Inspector. 'The children in this school are in nice order, intelligent and fairly advanced in their work, the arithmetic however might be more accurate'. The school soon outgrew its space and in 1875 the headmistress was pleased that a second classroom was built. This measured 18' 6" by 14' 6" and was used by the infants who were taught by two monitors. The mistress wrote in the logbook that '[I] find it very much better indeed not to have the noise of the infants in the same room with the other children'.

The early logbook does not give details about lessons. Subjects would probably have been the elementary ones of reading, writing and arithmetic, with some geography and history. Scripture was also important; the vicar would have visited at least once a week and a scripture lesson may have been taken by him or perhaps his wife or daughter. The girls would have been taught sewing, and a weekly singing lesson was introduced in 1865. A logbook entry in 1890 gives the titles of the songs learnt that year. Examples are 'When the soft winds blow' and 'The farmer's call' learnt by the older pupils. The infants were taught 'Here at school' and 'Come little bird'. There are also examples of the object lessons for the infants. In 1890 there was a list of 30 items, including 'the snail', 'the leopard', 'sugar' and 'clothing'.

Pupil numbers were 70+ until the Second World War. The school was built for 100 children; in 1870 there were 68 pupils, rising to 110 in 1885. By 1910 the figure had only dropped to 83. By 1944 however, there were just 39 pupils, rising slightly again to 51 in 1955. By 1986 the figure was down to approximately 30.

When the school first opened there was just one teacher. By 1875, when the infant classroom was added, the mistress was assisted by a pupil teacher and two monitors. By 1900 there were three teachers and this was reduced to two in 1944.

The headmistresses at this school all stayed in post for at least ten years; this stability would have been a great benefit to the children. However, it was not uncommon for a new head teacher to make negative comments about their predecessor, and Fovant is no exception. In 1896 Edith Turner was appointed headmistress. Her first logbook entry states that 'I am most disheartened with the work of this school. It requires thorough re-organisation'. She felt that the children's work lacked discipline, their self discipline was poor and that the school was lacking in basic equipment. Mrs. Turner stayed at the school for ten years. Her successor Edith Pratt stayed in post for 26 years. She in turn was followed by Irene Hanham who stayed for 23 years.

The logbooks are full of references to attendance. This was important, as the government grants given to the school was dependent both on good attendance and on pupils passing their annual examinations in reading, writing and arithmetic. The main factors affecting attendance were the weather, the farming calendar and illness. Many children stayed away on a wet day for example, as they had no protective clothing. This could be a problem at any time of year. On a day in August 1875 the school was closed because only eleven children attended due to a rain storm. There were also occasions when the morning and afternoon attendance was significantly different, as most children went home for lunch. During the winter the temperature within the school was sometimes very low. In January 1905 the mistress recorded a temperature of 33oF and that 'the little ones cried with the cold'. During harvest time many older children missed school to help gather the harvest. In October they often collected acorns.

Like all schools, Fovant suffered its fair share of illness. The usual coughs and colds were coped with, but more serious illnesses sometimes affected large numbers of pupils. In April 1880 the school was closed for three weeks due to measles.

School holidays were fairly standard. The children had five weeks at harvest, a week at Christmas and two weeks at Easter. Sometimes the summer break was extended if the harvest had not yet been gathered. In 1875 school did not start again until October 1st because the children were gleaning. The logbook entry says that after such a long break, the younger children had forgotten almost everything they had been taught.

At the beginning of the 20th century gardening was introduced on the curriculum. Nine small plots of ground were dug in the playground and a manager donated 1s to buy flower seeds. In 1905 the boys subscribed to a football and were really pleased when it arrived. The girls were given a dozen yards of rope for skipping. General health inspections were introduced c1910. The children were measured and weighed, the school nurse looked at their general appearance and the dentist examined their teeth.

In 1942 there were three classes taught by three teachers. The headmistress taught the children aged eleven and over, the assistant taught the middle class aged 7-10 and the infant teacher taught the little ones. This changed in 1944 when an Education Act required the children aged twelve and over to attend the senior school in Tisbury. The school then changed to two classes requiring just two teachers.

The 1950s saw further changes. In 1958 the school was modernised with toilets and a cloakroom; it was also re-decorated. A new Pratten hut classroom was built for the infants. There were 58 pupils on the roll at this time. In 1957 a uniform was introduced, with a red and green tie. Blazers cost 23/6 and 30s. Grey skirts were either bought new, or, to quote the logbook, made from 'dads' old trousers'!

In 1965 the school went on a cruise to Copenhagan, Amsterdam and Heligoland. They were the first school in Wiltshire to go on a cruise.

A second Pratten hut was built in 1971. In the 1980s there was a further change in the education system resulting in ten and eleven year old children attending a middle school in Tisbury. Pupil numbers had been dropping since the 1950s, and this latest change meant that the school had to face the possibility of closure. The school eventually closed in July 1997 when it had just 27 pupils. Fovant children now attend Dinton Primary School.
 

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Fovant Church of England First School
 
Fovant Church of England First SchoolImage Date: 2009
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre
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Fovant Church of England First School
 
Fovant Church of England First SchoolImage Date: 2009
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre
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