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Going to School

Ashtead School

Ashtead School was established in 1852 with a boys’ and girls’ department. An infants’ department was opened in 1878.

Pupils in the boys’ and girls’ departments were divided into seven ‘standards’ or years. They catered for children aged between six or seven and thirteen or fourteen. The age range within each standard varied as pupils were streamed according to their aptitude.

In August 1900 the boys’ and girls’ departments were merged. In 1906 the school was renamed the Ashtead CE School.

Ashtead CE School, class photo 1906.  Reproduced by permission of the residents of Ashtead

Compulsory school attendance

By the 1890s when the older Filkins children started school education was compulsory for all those aged between five and ten and thereafter until fourteen unless exemption could be gained on grounds of educational attainment or of average level of attendance. For those aged between ten and twelve a minimum of 250 attendances per annum was required, while for the over-twelves the figure was 150. Legal exemption could only be granted on a part-time basis if the child had passed the age of ten and if the specified number of attendances had been made. Complete exemption below the age of fourteen depended either upon the child passing his ‘Labour certificate’ as the standard laid down by the education bylaws in his own school district (usually either Standard IV or Standard V), or upon his having reached the age of thirteen and having made at least 250 attendances per annum in the previous five years.

Truancy was taken seriously and unauthorised absences were reported to the school attendance officer. Parents who failed to ensure their children’s attendance could be taken to court and fined.

Free education

The 1891 Elementary Education Act made elementary education free; a government grant of 10s a year was payable for each pupil in a public elementary school based on average attendance and fees could either be reduced by that amount or abolished entirely. However, free education was not appreciated by all, as the editor of the parish magazine complained in February 1892:

It was thought that free education would considerably improve the regularity of attendance on the part of the children but unhappily the report comes from all over the country that the desired result hasn’t been attained. In Ashtead, as in many other places, the attendance is even worse now than when fees were charged. This is no doubt to a great extent due to the prevalence of sickness; but we would remind parents of scholars that now education is free, the managers of the school have the right to expect their cooperation in securing regularity of attendance, since the ‘fee grant’ which is paid by the education department in the place of the school pence hitherto paid by the parents is reckoned according to the average attendance. If, then, children stop away from school, it means a loss of money to the school funds. Irregularity is also of course a serious hindrance to the educational progress of the children and entails much extra labour upon the teachers.

Corporal punishment

Corporal punishment – caning on the bottom or the hand – was meted out to unruly pupils but teachers tried to use it sparingly. In 1900 the headmaster of the boys’ department claimed that he endeavoured ‘on all occasions to exercise the utmost restraint & caution in dealing with cases of insubordination, deliberate rudeness & disobedience to orders & rarely administers corporal punishment before 2 or 3 warnings are fairly given’.

Click the image to see the complete log book entry for 3 May 1898
Image reproduced by permission of the Surrey History Centre

Post-compulsory education

For the majority of children in Ashtead there was no possibility of secondary education. However, by the 1890s there were other options available to those hoping for educational improvement. There was a parish lending library in Ashtead in the late nineteenth century, held in the Working Men’s Club each Monday from 12.15 to 1.15. Members paid a monthly subscription of 2d for adults and 1d for school children. In March 1891 the editor of the parish magazine lamented that ‘the number of persons who avail themselves of the advantages of the parish lending library does not increase as much as it should do’ and reminding parishioners that the library contained ‘an excellent collection of books of every description, theological, historical, scientific, serious, comic, fact and fiction, poetry and prose’. A Bible class for young men, held at the rectory, was begun in April 1891.

In 1891 Surrey County Council (established under the 1888 Local Government Act) began to make grants available for technical education evening classes on subjects such as ‘agricultural chemistry, horticulture, life and health of farm animals, insect pests of the farm, the laws of health, cookery, laundry work and domestic economy’. During the winter months of 1891 and 1892 technical classes began in Ashtead, with a course of twelve lectures on horticulture for men and lessons on dressmaking for women and girls. The horticulture lectures were held in the girls’ school room and achieved an average attendance of 31. The dressmaking classes were held in the classroom of the rectory. Between 30 September and 4 November 1892 women could attend a course of six weekly lectures entitled ‘homely talks on health’ held in the coffee room. A course of six weekly lectures, illustrated by a lantern and diagrams, began on 14 November 1892 on ‘hygiene “or the necessity of laws of health, with regard to air, water, habitation, food etc”’. A flat fee was paid per lecture of 1d for cottagers or 3d for everyone else.