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Education

The form goes on to assert that the girls were taught plain needlework and the school would be conducted as a Public Elementary school, though again this is not necessarily true, since there was no school committee, the Reverend Gordon being sole manager.

This is all the information available from the documents left by the Reverend Gordon, but the history of the school continues in the Log Books, which cover the period from 1881 until the closure of the school in 1955. The struggle to achieve high standards of teaching, a major preoccupation with the Reverend Gordon, continued under subsequent vicars.

Mrs Cox with Helen Colwell, Dorothy Footitt, Geofrrey Laffor
Mrs Cox with Helena Colwell, Dorothy Footitt, Geoffrey Laffor

Judging by the comments of the HMI recorded in the Log Books, his hard work in establishing and maintaining a school with high teaching standards for Elsfield children was of little avail. Until the 1920s, when Miss Stace was appointed to run the school, the Inspectors were highly critical of the methods of teaching and the curriculum and were outspoken in their condemnation of the pupils who were regularly described as unintelligent. In September 1881 Frances Daws was replaced by Miss Collins when the running of the school had been taken over by the Reverend Langhorne following the death of the Reverend Gordon. In October Miss Collins was told by the HMI, the vicar’s brother, T. Langhorne, that the arithmetic was not up to scratch. The following January the children’s work was inspected again and she was told there had been no improvement. The Diocesan Inspector (this was a Church inspection, separate from the government inspection) in February 1882 said, ‘The disposition to restlessness of the younger children should be checked.’ The younger children were being taught by a monitress, and as they were not under direct supervision of the teacher, being in a room separated from the older children by a partition, this was seen as a problem. This situation continued for a number of years until in exasperation in 1900 the HMI wrote ‘The Infants are backward in all respects... They ought to be placed under the charge of a teacher who is older and more experienced than the little girl who now looks after them’. He considered paying the grant only for the older children which must have chivvied the Reverend Langhorne into immediate action. In June of that year the ‘little girl’, Kate Basson, was about to be replaced by a teacher aged 19 who would start work ‘after she has seen a little of Infant teaching in Oxford’. It is not clear who this young person was, but by 1905 the post had been taken by an Elsfield woman, Miss Elston, whose family had a carpenter’s and wheelwright’s business in the village. She taught at the school until Mrs Cox, was appointed in 1920. So from 1900 the school had a head teacher who took responsibility for the full year range, and an Infant teacher teaching the 5 to 7 year age group but answerable to the head.

To return to Miss Collins and her shortcomings, at the end of March the school was inspected again and again in April. In June pupils were examined in Geography, but the inspector could not carry out his inspection properly because the guidelines from central government had not yet arrived. The HMI’s report was not sufficiently favorable (sic) to warrant the issue of Miss Collins’ certificate.

In 1889, Miss Collins having left and been replaced by Miss Stringer, the HMI report written up in the Log Book stated: ‘Miss Stringer has worked very hard and I wish the results of her labours had been more satisfactory.’ In 1901 ‘The mistress has worked hard... The older boys seem naturally dull and do not appear capable of making any mental effort whatever. The younger ones should be better taught.’

Of the teacher in 1901, Augusta Maria Wadsworth, the HMI said, ‘The children are carefully and conscientiously taught but the teaching lacks life and the results are disappointing. The leader of the Infants is painstaking and employs sound methods but her manner is dull. The children are bored.’ In 1903, ‘The teaching has been conscientious and kindly but the children are apathetic and unintelligent.’ Unsurprisingly Miss Wadsworth left in that year.


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