The same year saw the introduction of the new Education Act, which caused turmoil in Elsfield. A correspondence between Reverend Richard Gordon and Colonel North reveals the state of agitation in the Reverend Gordon’s mind.
The problem was that if the school were to become a Public Elementary School, as opposed to the Voluntary school which it then was, with a more substantial amount of grant from the government, there would have to be certain conditions imposed by the state. One of those the vicar feared most was lack of control over the curriculum. He was afraid that religious teaching would be abolished. The school, being funded entirely by the local gentry, had not previously had to submit itself to an inspection and the vicar feared interference in the life of the school by inspectors. He had obviously read carefully the literature sent from the Department of Education because he was concerned on two counts, as he put it in a letter dated March 21st 1871, ‘efficiency and sufficiency.’
The new teacher, Fanny Hardwick, aged twenty-two was described by the Reverend Gordon as ‘not certified but (she) is a good and painstaking teacher and fairly qualified. So she may be considered suitable and efficient.’ The building was a different matter. ‘The schoolroom has sufficient square feet but being low I fear it may be cubically deficient.’
Colonel North tried to calm his fears and expressed the hope that ‘the Government Inspector may not interfere with the School House or School Mistress. ‘He commented on the building: ‘The school seems big enough for the village. The new mistress seems quite sufficiently learned for our purpose.’ The Reverend Gordon was not too sure about the building. He considered the possibility of raising the roof, which would be extremely expensive and asked that the building be assigned for use as a school in perpetuity. This Colonel North said he could not do. ‘I can’t make over the freehold to the clergyman and church warden because it would require Mr North’s sanction which he won’t give. Mr North would refuse to give a site for any Protestant school'. (Mr North was a more senior member of the family and appears from this comment to have been a member of the Roman Catholic church). The school was duly inspected and the correspondence shows how chaotic the inspection system was at that time. All Board schools and managers of voluntary schools had direct access to the Department of Education which led to administrative difficulties and explains the note of desperation in the communication from Mr K.W. Bellaire, the Inspector. He wrote from the Education Department on 3 Jan 1872, refusing the Reverend Gordon’s invitation to dinner but requesting an invitation to lunch. ‘Excuse this behaviour please, I am so overwhelmed with engagements that I do not know where to turn’.
The Reverend Gordon wrote to Colonel North to tell him that the school had passed its inspection very satisfactorily and had ‘every reason to hope we shall not be interfered with if we can only push the Room and its appurtenances into such a state as will satisfy the Education Department.’ The Education Department required a boarded floor, standard desks, separate offices for girls and boys. The vicar pointed out that if they had security of tenure people within the village would be happy to bring the building and appurtenances up to the standard required of them.
They attempted to discover from the Education department how the report had been received but, as the Reverend Gordon pointed out, ‘The Privy Council is so overwhelmed with reports there is no knowing when they will get round to processing the report. Mr Bellaire is one of the oldest and ablest on the staff and very much deferred to.’ But ‘Until we receive their imperious fiat we can only guess its nature from what may have fallen from the Inspector himself.’
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