Not exactly a vote of confidence in either the teachers or the system. According to the Inspectors, the 1870 Education Act does not seem to have been an outstanding success, at least as far as this Voluntary school was concerned. Voluntary schools were however considerably less well off than Board schools. The cost of educating a child in 1895-6 was roughly £1.18.11d in a Voluntary school and £2.10. 2d in a Board school, the average salary of a teacher being 32% higher in the latter.
However, judging by the marriage register, the rate of adult literacy improved, since no-one in the dying years of the century was unable to write his or her own name, and while some of the teachers in the last twenty years of the century were perhaps struggling to impart knowledge and skills which were not always valued by their pupils, by the time Miss Stace arrived in 1923 the education provided by the school gained much more approval from the inspectorate. ‘Miss Stace has an enlightened outlook, progressive methods and refined influence’, wrote the inspector. ‘The tone and work of the school has improved. There is a varied curriculum.’
Refined Miss Stace may have been when the inspector was there. She was not so refined when she was alone and having to teach a group of children ranging from seven to fourteen. She controlled the boys with cuffs around the ear and ear twisting. In severe cases of bad behaviour the boys were caned by the vicar when he came in to school the following day. After Ivy Whitesell had broken the cane when the previous incumbent, Miss Hopcraft, had tried to cane her, the cane was no longer used against the girls.
Miss Stace liked bright girls like Miriam Clinkard and Emily Watts, both farmers’ daughters, and sent those who struggled with academic subjects to do the washing up in her cottage adjacent to the school. Nevertheless several girls obtained an education which was good enough for them to take up places at the local grammar school, so she must have been doing something right. Miriam Clinkard, for instance, went on to become a senior lecturer in child development at the University of London and Gladys Hambidge, another bright village girl, became a primary school teacher before emigrating to Canada.
One of the events Miss Stace organised was an annual school trip, often to the seaside. She started a project on surveying, where the children made measurements and recorded various buildings in the village and also involved the children in bookcraft, making note books, folders and albums which were used in class and at home. She introduced a note of glamour to the village, riding her motorbike up the hill from Headington. Later she acquired a bull-nose Morris with a dickey seat and would take children out to the house she shared with her brother, himself a teacher, for tea. Best of all, she had a dog which could balance biscuits on its nose and toss them in the air before eating them.
Whatever Miss Stace’s shortcomings, many of the children who passed through her hands remembered her with affection. The school became a Primary school in 1948 and finally closed in 1955, with the Primary age children going to the neighbouring village of Beckley. The school which the Reverend Gordon founded in Marston, however, continues to this day providing education for 380 children. While he may have been sad to see the closure of Elsfield school, he can rest under his impressive headstone in the churchyard knowing that his ideas about education as a means of improving the lives of the village children were at the forefront of Victorian thinking and have now became an important part of the duties of the state.
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