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Leigh - Leigh C.E. Primary School

A National School was built at the Leigh in 1894, on Swan Lane, after Wiltshire County Council ordered a new school to be built. A J. Mullings donated the site, and the school, which would accommodate 84 children, was built with the help of Reverend Milling. It was built with a school house, which is now a private home.

The first head mistress was Margaret Taylor and when the school opened there were 68 children on the books. Just a few years later, in 1897, this had increased to 87.

Immediately however, the normal problem of low and fluctuating seasonal attendance hit the school. In May 1885 for example, many children were kept at home for potato planting, and in September, potato picking. A lot of the elder children often missed school in the summer to take part in haymaking. Wet and bad weather kept children away from school; in wet weather children were often sent home, or lessons were delayed, because children's feet and stockings were so wet. The parish's proximity to the Thames means it is subject to flooding, and often roads were impassable, keeping children from school..

The absence of children clearly irritated the head master Francis Willis in 1899, who wrote: "I have once again 20 children absent: the greater number of them for trifling excuses." The following year he wrote: "Of 74 children on the books there are only 50 present this morning. Of the 24 absent ones, nine are not well, eight employed and the seven remaining idling. It is useless to look for good results when the attendance authorities do not enforce attendance."

Illness also caused many children to miss school; it was extremely rare to have a full attendance. In February 1906 the school was shut for a month because of an outbreak of whooping cough and again for a whole month in October 1929 because of the measles. Half or whole day holidays often were given for national celebrations; on 6 June 1900 a half holiday was given to the children to celebrate "the taking of Pretoria." (The 2nd Boer War).On 21 June 1900, many children were absent for they were attending the exciting sounding "wild beast show" at Cricklade. Sadly, the teacher does not give us any detail to which "wild beasts" the children were going to see.All children received a day off in October to go to the "Cirencester Mop"- an event celebrating Michaelmas Day and which emerged as a way for labourers to be hired by farmers and landowners. This event still takes place, although now has been turned into a fair and community event.

Object lessons in 1899, in addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, included: Donkey, Duck, Frog, Cocoa, Potato, Honey, and a seaside walk.

The school took in 20 evacuees in September 1939 and 20 more in June 1940. These children were from London and brought their teacher Miss Hodge with them. Three more arrived in November 1940. During the war, and through the 1950s, the school struggled to find regular cleaners and fires were often not lit, leading to temperatures of below freezing within the school. The younger children were made to do physical exercises to keep them warm while the elder children cleaned the school and lit the necessary fires.

The reports from visiting inspectors generally seemed positive, although there were a few teething problems in the early years. In 1895 Her Majesty's Inspector (HMI) wrote: "The children attending this new school are in good order and are making very fair progress. But the mistress requires help and until an assistant is provided for the infants, the school cannot be considered to be properly organised."

The Diocesan report of 1899 reads: "This school has been completely transformed under the new teacher, whose excellent work deserves ample recognition. The children were bright, well behaved, well attentive and reached a good average in their answers."

The HM Inspector in 1956 wrote: "This two class village school now presents a pleasant appearance to the road; it is surrounded by a hard surfaced playground and at one side there is an attractive garden. Some of the work in the junior class shows promise and there is evidence that the children are beginning to benefit from the new approaches to the work which have been introduced recently."

From 1973, the older children (11+) attended secondary school in Purton.

Despite its later decline, the school seemed to be doing well at the end of the 20th century. In 1998 the OFSTED inspector wrote: "Pupil's attitudes to learning are good and often very good throughout the school. They show interest and enthusiasm in their work and listen and concentrate very well. They enjoy being in school and are willing and co-operative in the way they respond to each other and to their teachers."
In 1998 around a third of the 69 children on roll were part of the travelling community, living on the Bourne Lake estate. There were three classes.

The school shut at the end of the summer term in 2004 after numbers declined to around 30 and an OFSTED report of 2003 found the school to be underachieving.
The attendance had varied greatly in the previous 20 years, from 29 in 1982 to 60 in 2002; in 1955 there were 32 children on roll and this seems to have been the norm other than in the 1990s and early 21st century.

In the weeks leading up to the closure of the school, the headmistress Nicola Lawrence wrote: "Many negative emotions have had to be dealt with- not aided by the lack of support from the LEA (Local Education Authority). We as a staff want the 32 pupils to leave the school with happy memories of their last days here and positive about their new challenges."

The last official day was 21 July 2004 and Mrs Lawrence wrote: "The school assembled for the last time and we celebrated the achievements of the school together. All the rooms shave been stripped and cleared. Staff and children are very, very tired. The LEA has been remarkable by its absence during these final difficult days."

The children from the Leigh parish now attend Ashton Keynes School.

School Photos/Plans

Leigh C.E. Primary School
Leigh C.E. Primary SchoolImage Date: 2011
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre
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Leigh C.E. Primary School
Leigh C.E. Primary SchoolImage Date: 2011
Image Details: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre
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