Category Archives: Schools and Colleges

Spotlight on Tunstall – Betty Wedgwood’s Dame School

Dame School

A DAME SCHOOL

In his autobiography “When I was a Child” published in 1903, Charles Shaw gives a graphic and horrifying description of working-class life in Tunstall during the 1830s and 40s.

One of Enoch Shaw and his wife Mary’s eight children, Charles was born in 1832. The Shaw family lived in a small terraced house in Piccadilly Street and from 1835/6 to 1839 Charles attended a local dame school until he started work in the pottery industry when he was seven years old.

In this edited extract from “When I was a Child”, he tells us about his school days at Betty Wedgwood’s dame school.

BETTY WEDGWOOD’S DAME SCHOOL

“My education was like that of thousands of other working-class children.

“I went to old Betty Wedgwood’s dame school, and as I had ‘finished my education’ when I was seven years old, I must have attended her school for three or four years.

“The school was housed in the only room on the ground floor of her little cottage. It was about four yards square, with a winding, narrow staircase leading to the cottage’s one bedroom above. The furniture was very scant, consisting of a small table, two chairs, and two or three little forms about eight inches high for the children to sit on. There were a few pictures on the walls of the usual garish sort, blazing with colour, and all the figures upon them were in strikingly dramatic attitudes.

“One small picture was reserved for special distinction, as it was supposed to be the portrait of old Betty’s deceased husband. He had been a soldier and must have attained the rank of colour-sergeant, his stripes and sword being well to the front. The children were duly impressed with the greatness of the personage represented by the little picture. To us, he was a greater warrior than either Wellington or Napoleon. He was more real than either of them because we had before us a visible hero, whose exploits were described by old Betty in tones of awe and in words of admiration. The children listened with wonder to the never-failing recitals of his courage and valour and deeds, and so it has come about that my first vivid impression of a soldier, and what soldiers did, was got by old Betty’s devotion to her husband’s memory, and by the aid of her husband’s portrait.

“The course of education given by the old lady was very simple and graded with almost scientific precision. There was an alphabet, with pictures, for beginners. There must have been something intensely vivid about these letters in the alphabet, for to this day when I see the letters Q and S as single capitals, I see them rather as when I first saw them in old Betty’s alphabet. I have often wondered whether other people carry the same weird impression of the capitals of their first alphabet. I have an impression, too, that the distinctness of that old alphabet had something to do with the success of old Betty’s teachings, for though she never taught writing, her scholars were generally noted for their ability to read while very young. I know I could read my Bible with remarkable ease when I left her school, when seven years old.

“Betty’s next grade, after the alphabet, was the reading-made-easy book, with black letters making words containing two, three and four letters.

“The next stage was spelling and reading the Bible. For those successful in these higher stages old Betty had peculiar honours. They were allowed to take the ashes from under the fire-grate to the ash-heap outside the house. This ash-heap was a common meeting-place, as everybody used it, and on its elevation, many doughty battles were fought. Whoever among the youngsters could get on the top of it and ‘hold the fort’ against all comers, was considered a Victor. Going to the ash-heap, then, meant a bit of sport, and possibly a victory to be talked of in the little school world.

“Another honour of old Betty’s was to allow a successful scholar to sit on the highest visible stair in the winding staircase leading to her bedroom. It was a rare joy to see and be seen by four fellow scholars from this vantage-point of honour. There was yet another distinction the old lady had to bestow. She taught both boys and girls who were successful in reading how to knit stockings. She was a remarkable knitter herself and could carry on this occupation with the regularity almost of a machine, while her eyes were everywhere in her school.

“Old Betty had another resource for pleasing all her scholars. On fine days the little forms were taken outside her cottage and placed under the windows. The children had their books or their knitting, and the old lady, knitting herself incessantly, marched backwards and forwards, hearing lessons and watching work. The joy of the children was that they could see the passers-by, and their mothers, for old Betty’s cottage was at ‘The Bottom’, a favourite resort for the dwellers in the neighbouring cottages.

“These were occasions when the old schoolmistress lapsed into continual smiles, and when her usual rigour, in the matter of lessons, disappeared.

“She was deeply respected by both children and parents. It would be too much to say she was beloved, for there was an air of stateliness and solitariness about her which precluded warm attachment. Whether her stateliness came through her military associations in past years, or whether it was a natural habit, I cannot now say. But for her, being a schoolmistress, it suited well. It impressed the children with a feeling of reverence, and it kept parents from intruding mischievously in the little world she ruled.

“Poor old Betty! She was, perhaps, above the average of her class who taught the children of England in those days for a mere pittance, when our rulers were squandering the resources of the nation in less useful ways and were blind to the wisdom of educating the children of the country.

“She and her class did two things – they made night schools possible for those who wanted to go further, say, to learn writing and arithmetic, and they made it possible for Sunday school teachers to have less elementary drudgery.”

Outraged teachers threatened to resign

brownhills-high-school-1950s

BROWNHILLS HIGH – ONE OF THE CITY’S FOUR GRAMMAR SCHOOLS

Stoke-on-Trent teachers were shocked when they learned that Henry Dibden, the director of education, wanted to abolish the city’s grammar schools.

When Henry became director of education in 1951, the Potteries was a deprived area. It had only four grammar schools, and most children left school at 15 without any qualifications. Less than 10% took O’ Levels and plans to build nine new grammar schools were abandoned when the city ran out of money.

The education committee estimated that between 25% and 30% of the school population could obtain five or more O’ Levels but only one secondary modern school (Goldenhill Secondary Modern) was entering pupils for these examinations. Realising the city needed a new education policy, the education committee told Henry to draw up plans to go comprehensive and as an interim measure introduced selected entry O’ Level streams into six secondary moderns.

Henry’s scheme for secondary school reorganisation was published on January 20th, 1959. He proposed replacing the grammar schools and the secondary moderns with 24 neighbourhood comprehensives and a sixth form college for A’ Level students. Accepted by the Labour Party controlled city council, the plan was attacked by the Conservative Party, the Workers Educational Association and Keele University. Outraged teachers held public meetings and threatened to resign unless the scheme was withdrawn. When the council refused to back down, some teachers sold their homes in the city and went to live in South Cheshire to ensure that their children received a grammar school education.

Wanting to go comprehensive in the early 1960s, the education committee renamed the six secondary moderns that had selected entry 0’ Level streams junior high schools. An experimental sixth form college was opened at Longton High School, but the Conservative government refused to allow the committee to turn its grammar and secondary modern schools into comprehensives.

In 1964, the Labour Party won the general election, and Stoke-on-Trent hoped the new government would accept its proposals. Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister, who had been educated at Wirral Grammar School, opposed the scheme saying that grammar schools would be abolished over his dead body. The city council responded by threatening to go comprehensive without government approval and a bitter row developed within the Labour Party.

To prevent the dispute being made public the city council and the government reached a compromise, which involved reorganising both primary and secondary education. Stoke-on-Trent agreed to make its infants’ schools first schools taking pupils aged five to eight and establish middle schools for children from eight to twelve. In return, the government allowed the city to replace grammar and secondary modern schools with comprehensives and build a new sixth form college.

Erected at Fenton Manor, the college cost £500,000. It was opened by Harold Wilson on April 10th, 1970 and had accommodation for 750 A’ Level students aged 16 to 19.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust, September 2010

Did you go to school in Tunstall?

tunstall-town-hallSpotlight on Stoke is researching the history of education in Tunstall for its new series Focus on Tunstall, and we shall be writing posts about all the schools in the town including:

  • St. Mary’s Schools
  • The Catholic School in Oldcourt Street
  • Summerbank Road Schools
  • Tunstall High School for Girls
  • Brownhills High School
  • High Street Schools
  • Forster Street Schools

Most of the schools that were built in Tunstall during the 19th century have been demolished.

If you were educated in Tunstall and have any photographs of the school you attended or would like to share memories of your school days with Spotlight email spotlightstoke@talktalk.net

A’ levels return to Stoke-on-Trent College

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Spotlight on Stoke is delighted to learn that Stoke-on-Trent College will be running A’ level courses again after a gap of 18 years.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, The Elms and Stoke-on-Trent College of Commerce (two of the colleges that were amalgamated to create Cauldon College which later became Stoke-on-Trent College) started to run full and part-time GCE O’ and A’ level courses. These courses were successful and attracted students from Staffordshire, Cheshire and Shropshire.

Students who took A’ levels at colleges of further education in The Potteries continued their studies at Britain’s leading universities and became accountants, barristers, psychologists, solicitors, teachers and university lecturers.

We are sure that students following the new A’ level courses at Stoke-on-Trent College will be just as successful. Everyone at Spotlight wishes them well and will be following their progress with interest.

We hope the college will expand the range of A’ level subjects offered when the courses are established giving more local students the opportunity to go to university or to enter higher education.

NewsDesk: Teaching a new generation the art of Pottery

Clay College, Stoke, offers a skills-based, full-time ceramics course taught by potters who make a living through ceramics, something unique in the UK. We are proposing that from September 2017, a two-year full-time course will be run for 14 students, with each year consisting of three 15-week terms.

The emphasis will be on core skills and the use of materials. Students will be taught all aspects of design, throwing, glazing, kiln building and firing, alongside traditional hand building and decoration techniques. This will be augmented by modules focusing on business and marketing which will offer students the opportunity to become self-sufficient, developing their own business model to suit their work and sufficiently skilled to join a work force in a production pottery…

To Read More Visit Clay College – Teaching a new generation the art of Pottery

Stoke-on-Trent is proud of its heritage

A Mark IX Spitfire

People from Stoke-on-Trent are proud of their city’s heritage.

History records the achievements of men and women from our city and tells us the role they played on the world stage.

Stoke-on-Trent’s city council was one of the pioneers of comprehensive education. It defied both Conservative and Labour governments and replaced grammar and secondary modern schools with neighbourhood comprehensive schools and a sixth form college.

Local art schools, technical schools and colleges of further education were progressive centres of excellence. Reginald Mitchell, who designed the Spitfire, turned down a place at Birmingham University. He wanted to serve an apprenticeship with a firm in Fenton and to study engineering at technical schools in the city.

By the beginning of the 1930s, the North Staffordshire Technical College was a university in everything but name. The college had an international reputation and attracted overseas students. It possessed the world’s leading ceramic research centre and had Europe’s best mining school.

There are those who say the past is dead. They are wrong. The past lives in our collective memory. It makes us what we are today. Stoke-on-Trent has a proud heritage – a heritage which must not be forgotten. A city that forgets its past is a city without a future.

(Photograph of the Spitfire taken by Chowells, Edited by Fir0002)

Stoke-on-Trent’s First Art Schools

Great Exhibition Crystal_Palace_interior (640x436)

Stoke-on-Trent’s first art school, The Potteries School of Design, was opened on January 25th, 1847. It held evening classes in Hanley, Stoke and Longton. Students were taught elementary drawing, basic design, freehand painting and modelling.

The school’s first headmaster, John Murdock, and his successor, John Charles Robinson, made it a centre of excellence. Students won national prizes and were awarded scholarships enabling them to continue their studies at the Government School of Design in London.

During 1851, pottery designed by students from North Staffordshire was exhibited at the Great Exhibition, held at the Crystal Palace* in Hyde Park. Their designs impressed Prince Albert who had helped to organise the exhibition. He persuaded the government to devise a scheme to build a regional College of Art and Technology in Hanley which would have university status and branch schools in Tunstall, Burslem, Longton and Newcastle-under-Lyme.

The government’s proposal to build a regional college in Hanley was made public at a meeting held at the Wesleyan School in Burslem on January 19th, 1853.

During the meeting, Smith Child, who was North Staffordshire’s most generous philanthropist, and leading pottery manufacturer Herbert Minton offered to help finance the college. The scheme was rejected by civic leaders and pottery manufacturers who wanted each town to have its own art school. Prince Albert’s attempt to bring higher education to The Potteries had failed.

Shortly afterwards, small design schools were established in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Burslem.

Monthly fees for students attending classes at the Burslem school were 1/9d (9p) for men and 1/6d (7.5p) for women. The school’s headmaster was William Jabez Mückley, an artist whose work had been exhibited at the Royal Academy. It held classes in the assembly room at the Legs of Man, an old coaching inn frequented by thieves and prostitutes. Despite the venue, William was a popular teacher who attracted and retained students. Although the school gave Burslem well-trained pottery designers and skilled crafts persons, local firms refused to help it find more suitable premises.

The school closed when William left Burslem in 1858.

*The illustration shows The Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust, September 2010

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Teacher training in the 19th century

Until school boards were established by the Education Act 1870, the state did not make any provision for the education of working-class children.

What little education they received had to be paid for by their parents, although there were a few free places reserved for them in the grammar schools at Leek, Newchapel, Stafford, Stone and Uttoxeter.

By the end of the 17th century, Newcastle-under-Lyme had a grammar school, where 39 boys were educated free of charge. There was also a dame school, which was financed by the town council. The school had free places for up to 20 girls.

Joseph_Lancaster_by_John_Hazlitt

Joseph Lancaster

In 1808, nonconformist educationalist Joseph Lancaster founded the British and Foreign Schools Society to give financial help to free churches who were building day schools at home and missionary schools overseas.

Fearing that the British Schools would monopolise elementary education in the new industrial towns, the Church of England set up the National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales.

During 1814, the National Society opened its first school in North Staffordshire at Chesterton.

The first British School in The Potteries was erected in Burslem by the Wesleyans. The parish church, St. John’s, opened a National School in 1817 and by 1822 the Roman Catholic Church had built a school at Cobridge.

Many teachers were not well educated or well trained. Pupils who wanted to become teachers stayed at school until their early teens and became apprentice teachers. Called monitors, the apprentices were supervised by the headteacher and allowed to teach younger pupils. After a few years, monitors who had successfully completed their training and could maintain discipline were employed as assistant teachers.

During 1846, the government made regulations governing teacher training. Under these rules, boys and girls who had stayed at school until they were 13 could be appointed pupil teachers.

Pupil teachers were apprenticed to the headteacher for five years. At the end of each year, they were examined by the school inspectors. When their apprenticeship ended, pupil teachers took the Queen’s Scholarship examination.

Those who passed with the highest marks were given a grant which enabled them to go to a teacher training college and become fully qualified certificated teachers. Other pupil teachers who passed the examination were offered employment as uncertificated assistant teachers. Only certificated teachers could obtain headships. Uncertificated teachers remained assistant teachers throughout their careers. Many secured positions at the school where they had been educated and taught there until they retired.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013

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Education in The Potteries during the 1920s

Newcastle High School

During the early 1920s, the type of school a child attended depended on its parents’ social status.

Middle-class children, whose parents could afford to pay school fees, were sent to secondary schools like Newcastle High School, the Orme Girls’ School and Hanley High School where they received an academic education.

Except for a few scholarship boys and girls attending secondary schools, working-class children went to elementary schools and left to start work at 14.

When the First World War ended in 1918, the Labour Party demanded educational reform and called on the government to give all children a secondary education.

In 1926, the Hadow Report recommended replacing elementary schools with primary schools and selected entry secondary schools – grammar and secondary modern. The report was accepted by the government and local education authorities in North Staffordshire made plans to reorganise their schools.

Stoke-on-Trent’s three secondary schools, Hanley High School, Longton High School and Tunstall High School for Girls became grammar schools. Parents whose children attended these schools still had to pay school fees although a few free places were given to working-class children who had passed the eleven plus.

Reorganisation started in Tunstall during 1929. Tunstall High School for Girls left the Jubilee Building and moved into purpose-built premises at Brownhills. Existing school buildings in Forster Street, High Street and Summerbank Road were modernised or enlarged. Three secondary modern schools were created and Forster Street, where new classrooms and a hall were constructed, became a primary school.

By 1932 all the local authority’s schools in The Potteries had been reorganised. Influenced by the public schools, the grammar schools and the secondary modern schools organised their pupils into houses. House points were awarded for pupils’ academic and sporting achievements. School societies were encouraged and senior pupils who were made prefects helped to maintain discipline.

Although class teaching, where a teacher had a class for a year and taught every subject, was retained in primary schools, it was replaced in secondary modern schools by subject teaching. New teachers had to specialise in one or two subjects, and those who had taught in the elementary schools were given in-service training to help them adapt to the change.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013

Photograph Copyright The Phoenix Trust 2012

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