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Schooling in Newport 1914 - 1918


The First World War took everyone by surprise. For a short time the concept of “Business as Usual” was held - but not for long. It was the first time that a continental war had involved British troops for almost 100 years.

Some premonition of what was to come occurred in February 1914, some months before the War broke out, when an Army officer called to take particulars of the size and accommodation of the Schools for Army returns. By August 1914, a few weeks after the outbreak of war, “Urry the caretaker” as he rather contemptuously depicted in the Managers’ Book, was called up. He was an ex-Sergeant-Major. In September, the Headmaster of the Boys’ School received a letter concerning the use of Baden-Powell Scouts for wartime duties. “There are Boy Scouts in your school who have been engaged during the war in various duties such as guarding Reservoirs etc. I have arranged with their authorities that they shall continue to do this work but shall attend at school for four hours daily. Will you therefore keep a register showing the attendances of these boys and the scoutmaster will verify that they have been on duty during the time that they are absent from school....”

The first loss in teaching capacity occurred in September 1914, when a teacher left for college and was not replaced. Chandler amalgamated Standards 2 and 3. It was decided that the school should befriend Belgian refugees by the dropping of the Christmas treat and the funds saved for them and army charities. “The Committee desire that the Head Teachers will explain to the children that they are having no Treat and will make them understand that by giving it up they will be helping the soldiers during the War”.

By December 1914, Chandler despaired of normal conditions continuing in the school. “ I am informed that no replies to the advertisements have been received and that no supply teachers appear to be available. The uncertainty of what staff I shall have after the Holidays makes it impossible to re-organise the school in readiness for the re-opening on January 4th”. The School re-opened with 245 children and 2 teachers short. On the 22nd January 1915, Chandler noted “Owing to the severe strain resulting from a short staff and the continual re-organisation that has been necessary since September 1 find it impossible to conduct the usual Terminal Examination.”

The shortage of staff was not only due to the needs of the war. Salaries in the schools were much lower than those in state schools. A Mr Margham resigned in February 1915 to take up a new position in Maldon in Essex. His new salary was £100 rising to £150. His salary at Newport was £85 rising to £110. Chandler stated ruefully in his log—book: “I drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that Mr Margham is the 3rd teacher in the past 9 months to resign, giving as a reason the unsatisfactory scale of salaries for assistants. It appears that as soon as teachers become of value, the children of other towns reap the benefit since the Newport authority offers no inducement for them to remain.”

A gloomy note appears on the 1st March 1915. “Owing to the impossibility of obtaining male assistants, school opened today with an assistant staff of five ladies. The re-organisation (the sixth since September) has been made more difficult by the fact that the last two teachers appointed have had little experience. I find that Miss Hipkins who was appointed to carry on Mr Margham’s work with Standards 5 and E has had only 1 year with. Standard “0” and 5 months with Standard 1. 1 have accordingly given her Standard 14...A slight modification of the -Time Table is necessary as., must now take 5,6 and 7 for Drill and Music.” Chandler’s wife was one of the teachers brought in on supply.

Chandler himself, was attested for Army service at this time, but was transferred to the Army Reserve because his services -were indispensable in the teaching of 253 boys with 5 women assistants. He must have felt that insult was added to injury when he received a request from the Managers asking if he could reduce staff in any way and re-arrange classes.

A heated reply was sent back: “In replying.. - I stated that although I was prepared to do my utmost to assist the Committee in their efforts to economise, the following points made the matter a very difficult one if the children were not to suffer

(a) That the assistant staff was an entirely new one

(b) That, since the war it had consisted entirely of women

(c) That in no way could he group two classes that could be worked together to give a less total than 77

(d) That the last Infant Draft was acknowledged by the Inspectors to be abnormally backward, in consequence of which I had to re-organise so as to give assistance to the Standard 1 teacher.”

Nevertheless, a supply teacher was given one month’s notice on the 31st January 1915 as a result of local education authority economies, reduction of staff continued. On the 1st March 1916, Chandler noted that another teacher’s job had beer1 terminated. “Owing to the reduction of staff I have again been forced to modify the Time Table and the staffing arrangements. I cannot ask any of the other assistant women teachers to take more boys than they are at present responsible so Mrs Chandler and myself have to work Standards 2,5 6 and 7 between us.”

Temporary relief arrived in March 1916, when Sergeant Clarke, a farmer teacher visited the school and spoke to the boys about his experiences in the Dardanelles campaign. He stayed on to help teach in the school until he was recalled to the Army in June. On the 2nd May 1916, Chandler was called up by the Army, but again conditionally exempted because he was the only male teacher in charge of 240 boys. The school lost its caretaker who went to work in a munitions factory in Cowes.

Exemption certificates were given to boys over 13 years who had obtained beneficial employment from attendance at school. The result was some reduction of boys at the school. This prompted Mr Shields, the Clerk to the L.E.A. committee to write: Will you let me have the number of boys in each Standard of your school — with the name of the Teacher. The Committee find that over 30 boys have been exempted for work from your school and they desire to know if from this fact the classes can be re— arranged so that your teaching staff can be reduced by a teacher. They feel that on the ground of economy this can be done, it should be done, but they would like your views.

The views were predictable. Chandler replied on the 11th January 1917: “I beg to point out that we are in the middle of the School Year and as each Class has been working on a distinct syllabus a reduction of the staff at the present time would be more disastrous than had it taken place at the commencement of the year.

Unfortunately it is only at the top of the school that numbers permit of grouping and here the capabilities are so diverse that it would be an injustice and educationally disastrous to force boys of Standards 6 and 7 to work to a scheme suitable to the capabilities of Standard 5.

As far as I am aware no department suffered more during the first two years of War from reduction of staff and change of teachers e.g. one class had no fewer than five changes of teacher last year. As it takes practically a month for a new teacher to assess each boy’s mental capacity and attainments preparatory to doing any real development work the result is obvious. At the commencement of the School Year I put it to my Staff that now, with a teacher to each class as in normal times, we should expect to make good much of the lost ground.”

Chandler’s staffing difficulties continued for the duration c, the War. In January 1918, there were 2 classes without teachers. Standard 4 (46 boys) was without a teacher since October 1917. Standard 1 (36 boys) had been without a teacher since the Christmas break. Chandler recorded wearily: “The frequent change of teachers as well as the periodic shortage of staff during the past three years causing an almost constant re—organisation of classes and work, has had, and is having a very serious effect upon the work of the school. I have tried my utmost to maintain the standard of work under very adverse conditions and I shall continue to do so, but the responsibility is so great that I feel it incumbent upon me — in order to safeguard the name of the school — to commit the foregoing statement to writing.”

The situation was not helped by the low level of salaries offered by the Managers. A request had been made by the certificated teachers in the schools for an increment of 10 shillings per week. The response of the Managers was to grant one member of staff an increase of £5 per annum for the duration of the War. Chandler stated: “There is much discontent among the teachers at the refusal of the committee to grant their reasonable request.”

On the 14th January 1918 he noted: “The two candidates for the vacancies on the staff were appointed by the managers but subsequently refused the appointments. All my efforts to obtain supply teachers have failed and I am forced to cancel the schemes of work and re—organise the school of 240 children into four sections.”

Despite the impossible teaching conditions, 6 boys out of 400 candidates obtained scholarships and a boy from the school came top of the list of successful participants for both the years 1917 and 1918.

A by-product of the War was the growing indiscipline of the boys. On the 7th September 1917, Chandler received a request from the mother of a boy not to punish him ”although admitting he was at fault”. “This is a typical case of the lax home discipline which is making it so difficult to carry on the school under war conditions.” In June 1917 he had received complaints “ as to the disgusting conduct of certain boys living in Melbourne Street. The rough element from this part of the town is bringing the good name of the school into disrepute. Most of the fathers are either serving or working away at munition factories.” Chandler conducted an interesting if rather irrelevant statistic in January 1915 on numbers attending cinemas. He found that an average of 96 boys visited the cinema once a week,33 attended twice a week, 7 attended three times,5 attended four times and 2 attended 5 times a week.

There was a shortage of fuel. No heating was provided at all in the Girls’ School in February 1918. On one occasion the temperature was as low as 33 degrees. In the Infants School in February 1915 it was noted :“Owing to the shortage of coal there has been one fire only in the Main Room and none in the Junior Room today”.

Much more worrying was the effect on health caused by malnutrition. By the end of the War there were regular medical and
dental inspections of all children entering and leaving the schools. In May 1918, the dental inspection of all the girls revealed that only 13 girls had sound mouths. In October 1917, 29 boys whose health caused concern were weighed, measured and given eyesight tests. The Education Committee in January 1918 requested names and addresses of children not receiving sufficient nourishing food. “The necessary tactful and judicious questioning of children apparently suffering from improper feeding took up the greater part of the morning.” During the War, the incidence of ricketts and tubercolosis increased and babies of working class families weighed less. Doctors started visiting the Schools to inspect malnutrition cases. A penal notice was served on the girls from one family who had dirty conditions in their heads - “their hair being cropped the next morning”.

Food shortage was such that in 1918, Chandler together with the Mayor and another Newport headmaster formed the Executive Committee of the local Food Committee. The Log Book contains interesting references to the Committee’ decisions as Chandler conscripted his staff into helping him. On the 1st March he was instructed by the Food Committee to instruct the children in the proper filling up of Rationing forms. The effects of rationing also contributed to poor attendance. 50 boys were absent that day “mostly owing to the margarine queue.” The Girls attendance was down by 110 for the same reason. The Schools opened a communal kitchen to provide meals for the children. Five meals a week were provided at the cost of a shilling.

The Food Committee under Chandler produced 22000 meal vouchers for Newport and district. Meat and food cards were prepared by the teachers over 6 evenings. The Committee considered applications for extra rations for heavy workers. Chandler sent notices out through the children of the schools. Heavy workers had to apply for supplementary rations at the Corn Exchange.

The fruit crop failed in 1918. The Food Committee requested all the schools to organise blackberry-gathering expeditions. The Schools closed for 3½ days for 3 weeks. The boys went out on Mondays and Fridays and the girls Wednesdays and Fridays. Six parties each led by a teacher were sent into the country between Gunville and Carisbrooke. The blackberries were delivered to local fruiterers, Messrs. Caws and Co. The total collected on the 9th September 1918 came to 2 cwt.2 qrs. 24 llbs. On the 13th September, a further 1 cwt.11¼ lbs, was sent to the Government receiving depot. The disruption to school work was too great and the expedions were cut to 2 full days the next week and 1 full day the following week. The children were paid 3d per lib. for the blackberries. On the 25th September, the sum of £12. 18s. Od. was distributed followed by £4. 19s. 9d. on the 8th October. Typically Chandler noted in the Log Book: “The gathering of fruit for the Government although no doubt of great importance owing to the fruit shortage — has seriously interfered with the school work since September 9th”. In July 1918, the Schools were used as a depot for fruit stones and nutshells, urgently needed for munitions.

The shortage of men at home put pressure on the School to release older boys to go to work. This was resisted as far as possible by the Headmaster, and in this he was supported by the Managers. Under the National Registration Act 1918, all boys had to register for employment within 14 days of attaining 15 years. Exemptions from compulsory education could be obtained by boys aged 13 years and over if they had acquired beneficial employment. 20 such boys achieved exemptions by January 1917. Chandler wanted a School garden for older boys to work on for 2 afternoons a week, to assist with the Food Crisis. The Managers had the option of renting a piece of ground for 2 shillings per rod, but refused to spend the money “in spite of the urgency of the matter.” Instead, the ground in front of the schools was planted. Applications from boys to help with temporary jobs such as haymalcing were refused by the Managers. However, on the 3rd June 1918, there is a note that the Chairman of the local education authority had given permission to a 12-year old boy to be absent from school for a week to assist a baker in the delivery of bread.

Despite the privations caused by the war, the Schools contributed enthusiastically to the new idea of National Savings to help the national war effort. An amazing total of £170 12 s. 2d. was given to the Newport Week of War Loan in March 1917, donated by the children, who received a half holiday as a result. The War Savings association started in July 1916, together with a Medicinal Herb Association. Nothing more is recorded of the latter, but Chandler was given the extra task of being in charge of the audit of the Boys and Girls Savings Association, auditing personally the accounts of Rookley and Arreton villages and the School Bank accounts.

Quite apart from the direct war effort, the Schools raised other sums for charitable projects during the War. In September 1916, the boys donated £1 to the new Cornwell Fund in memory of John Travers Cornwall Day. 11 shillings was sent to the Church Army Hut fund in January 1917. The Infants held a Flower Service at St. Thomas’Church on the 24th June 1918 when flowers and eggs were given for sick soldiers at Par]churst.

The war period was almost unmitigated grimness, yet there are still touches of humour in the Headmaster’s notes. On the 27th April 1915, the Boys School was supplied with a piano. Chandlers’comments are:”For a new piano it is no doubt very fair value for the low price paid but for training purposes it is of little real value. The singing tone of the boys is far superior to that of the piano and the indifferent quality of the materials used in construction will, I am afraid,be a source of much trouble in the course of two or three years.”

A skirmish broke out between the Boys and Girls Schools over the singing of hymns by the girls. On the 29th September 1916, Chandler recorded:”The ventilation shafts besides being most unsatisfactory by their faulty construction conduct the sound of singing from one department to another to such an extent that work is often impossible. This morning as usual on recent Fridays, the singing of hymns in the Girls Department from shortly after 9 until 10 to 10 made it impossible for the boys in room 5 to do their scripture or arithmetic - the “banging out” of the tune on the rather coarse—toned piano constitutes the chief nuisance.” Hostilities grew - on the 13th October 1916, he stated “The hymn-singing nuisance is getting worse. This morning practically no work was done from 9.15 to 9.50.” The girls sang on inexorably. Chandler records on the 15th June 1917: ”I drew the Vicar’s attention to the disturbing effect on the boys of the hymn-singing of the girls from 9.a.m. to 10 to 10 due to the faulty construction of the ventilation shaft.” Strangely, there is no mention of the problem in either the Girls’ log book or in the Managers’ records.

The Girls’ School appears to have been relatively tranquil during the war years. In 1914, the H.M.I.report indicated that it was in very good order. It reads:

“1. Very satisfactory progress has been made in the Department during the year. The girls are cheerful and orderly in their behaviour. They give close attention to their work and generally, a thoroughly good tone pervades the school

2. The scheme of work has been improved by the inclusion of an educational course of Handwork connected with Literature and of Drawing Brushwork and other training in the use of hand and eye. A special feature is made of domestic work by the older girls in connection with Hygiene, Housewifery and Household accounts...

3. The teachers work with much energy and interest.. .their lessons are well illustrated with models and pictures made by themselves, and the results of the language training given to children obtain a high degree in excellence.. . .The attempts made to improve the taste of the girls in the upper classes for sound literature are very commendable, but if the teachers are to carry out their intentions satisfactorily and to give the girls a more extended course of literary reading it is very desirable that a school library or its equivalent, should be provided.

4. All of the written work is neatly done and handwriting is legible and well-formed. . .The subject matter of the Composition exercise is well expressed and in some instances it shows considerable literary and critical ability.

5. The girls read clearly and distinctly and good progress has been made in training them to re-tell and discuss the subject matter. A course of articulation exercises, practised
systematically, would help to get rid of some of the defects in speech that sometimes spoil what would otherwise be good work.

6. Arithmetic is well taught. It is set out in a neat and methodical manner and is illustrated by practical Handwork. Tables need more attention in the lower part of the school.

7. History and Geography are dealt with intelligently in Standards 3 to 7. by means of written and oral exercises and much good practical map drawing is done by these classes. Standard 7 comes directly under the Headmistress and by means of a scheme of private study the girls are trained to work by themselves and to be thorough and self-reliant.

8. Good progress is made in Drawing and Brushwor]c but in the latter more stress shall be laid in the upper classes in regard to correct colour appreciation.

9. The arrangements made for Physical Training need to be revised the efforts of the training should be apparent in the way in which the girls walk and in the postures they adopt when sitting or standing.

10. Singing and needlework continues to be well-taught.”

Unhappily, the Headmistress, Mrs Gould, suffered 2 bereavements close in time. In May 1916, her brother died, followed by her husband the following month. She herself, was absent from the school through illness for much of 1917, Mrs Westmore, a teacher at the school for many years being left in charge. Mrs Gould finally resigned in September 1917. The new Headmistress, Miss Liddell took over on the 1st October 1917 and recorded: “I found the store cupboard very low — the work of the Upper part of the School being at a ‘standstill’ for want of material. The lower part was in good working order - but the Upper group sadly out of hand.”

The Infants’ School was not in a good state during the War years. A depressing HMI report recorded in 1915 : “Order and attention are not good and special effort is needed to secure improvement in these respects. Generally speaking, the School should be more quietly conducted, more industry and effort should be secured from the children when under instruction; and smarter and more orderly movement should be required at the change of lessons and during dismissal. The class registers, while apparently correct in the end, are not altogether in good order. They lack neatness; there is an unnecessary number of mistakes with consequent alterations and there are some erasures. Greater care should be exercised in the registration generally. ..“

The Report from the Diocesan Inspector was also critical: “The Inspection was not as satisfactory as could have been wished. There seemed to be a certain unrest among the children — over and above the restlessness natural in infants — which seems to point to some defect of discipline. Probably the discipline is not simple enough. The order given - to take a small example — for the children to sit or stand seemed too complicated and too numerous. The babies did quite well and have been reverently and effectually taught... .the atmosphere seemed to be pervaded by the spirit of unrest before mentioned, which militates against a really religious tone in the school.”

The effects of the unsatisfactory report was immediately felt by the staff. “Owing to the reduction of numbers through promotion of children to the Upper Schools and the unsatisfactory report, it was decided that Miss de la Coze should be asked to send in her resignation.’ That was minuted by the Managers in September 1915. The following month, the Headmistress, Miss Kendall, was interviewed by the Managers and informed “that the retention of her services as Head Teacher of the Infants School would depend upon a more favourable report being made by H.M.I.”

A bitter dispute broke out between Miss Kendall and the other teacher remaining in the School, a Miss Jones. An incident arose in March 1916, which remained unspecified, but which led Miss Kendall to demand an apology from Miss Jones, and when that was not forthcoming, to refer the matter to the Managers. She wanted the Solicitor to the National Union of Teachers to attend the meeting but that request was not granted. The Managers felt they could not insist on an apology being given by Miss Jones “and they trusted the Teachers would work amicably together for the welfare and progress of the School.” Miss Kendall fell ill in April, her place being taken temporarily by Miss F. Davies. When she was still absent through illness in July 1916, the Managers terminated her employment. Miss Cram was appointed Head Teacher in October 1916.

Even during the interregnum, the Diocesan Inspector noted a considerable improvement. “I was especially pleased with the way Prayers were said. The children are being taught to approach the Almighty reverently and “Talk to Him”. This is so much better than singing Prayers on one note. The tone and discipline are excellent.”

The Report of the Diocesan Inspector in 1917 was quite exemplary: “I have nothing but praise for the really excellent work which is being done in this school. In every class the children were bright and alert, and there was no difficulty in obtaining answers. The subjects have been thoroughly taught and the response was general. The little ones in the lowest class C a very large one)showed much interest in the pictures and are making a good beginning. The singing was very good and repetition was said accurately and distinctly.”

Although a grim period to endure, both for children and staff, there were still occasional times of enjoyment or unusual interest. Empire Day was kept up — all the more of a patriotic occasion because of the War. On the 24th May 1916, Chandler recorded: “The day was marked by a short programme of suitable hymns followed by a stirring and helpful address by the Vicar who promised the boys a new flag staff.” From time to time, the boys would receive visits from old boys now serving at the Front. On the 3rd December 1917, boys from Standards 3 to 7 were taken to the Legh Richmond Hall where they saw a lantern lecture on the war in the air. On the 22nd March 1918, 23 boys visited the Mime Observatory at Shide for “ a most interesting demonstration and lecture on the earthquake recording apparatus.” On the day efore a party from the Girls School visited the Mime Observatory and not only looked at the Seismograph but also heard a wireless message coming from the Eiffel Tower in Paris. There is an amusing note in the Boys’ logbook on the 27th July 1918 relating to the local holiday traditionally taken by Islanders until about 1939 — Queen Victoria’s Coronation Day. “The attendance was affected by the keeping of Coronation Day at Cowes on Monday while Newport observed it on Thursday last.”


From “Activity of Newport C.E. School”
By John Matthews.
(unfinished and unpublished)

NOTE: There were three separate schools at this time - Boys, Girls and Infants sharing the same building.


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