The History of the School

Shortly after Gladstone’s Education Act of 1870, the vicar of Branscombe, after consulting a few parishioners, wrote to the local paper that ‘this large country parish has declared with one voice for an old-fashioned Church School’. Until then there had been no publicly-provided schooling in the area. Because the proposal came from the church, rather than from one of the newly-established school boards, the planned school would be deemed ‘Voluntary’. A Mr Ford, who owned most of the useful land in the three combes, donated an elevated sloping patch of orchard facing the sea. The school, costing about £1,000, opened its doors on March 18th 1878 with 52 pupils, soon rising to 135. The children effectively filled the school, except when they were occasionally absent collecting seaweed, picking apples or lifting potatoes.

Unsurprisingly, the schoolmaster reported that ‘the children are in a very backward state. Not more than one half are able to make their letters and figures’. It took a little time until the inspector was able to note that ‘the Headmaster works single-handed in the main room with 37 children whilst the assistant teacher has charge of 35 infants. The infants enjoyed their work and play and showed progress in reading and numbers. They are responsive and friendly children and the teacher deserves great credit for her work with them’. This was in 1920, when the population of the village was falling rapidly as agricultural work declined and families moved to the towns. Since the middle of the 19th century the population of the parish had almost halved. By 1930 the school was reported as thriving ‘under the control of a resourceful, experienced and particularly effective Headmistress’.

Initially parents had to pay 1d per child per week (2d if they were farmers). Education was free from 1891, funding then being dependent on attendance and payment-by-results, i.e. monitoring pupils by examination. In 1918 the leaving age was raised to 14. At that age a child in a school such as this should ‘take an interest in interesting things like caterpillars, kites, bicycles or carpenters’ shops’, be able to ‘breathe and walk correctly’ and to ‘work little problems, e.g. multiplying 23 by 17 mentally’.

In a small school pupil numbers can vary erratically. There were dips during both world wars and in the depression in between. With the evacuees just gone, the effect of the 1944 Education Act was to remove those pupils over 11. The only way that long-overdue repairs could be afforded was by the school becoming ‘Controlled’ as well as ‘Voluntary’. Electric light, piped water and proper plumbing did not arrive until the late 1950s.

By the early 1970s, whilst Mrs Thatcher was Minister of Education, the school had around 30 pupils and seemed ripe for re-organisation, which is to say closure. A spirited campaign by villagers made County Hall aware of the strength of local feeling about the school. Spending cuts then delayed the building of a school at Beer into which we were to be ‘re-organised’. Eventually numbers recovered somewhat, but it was not until the 1990s, with increasing car ownership, that parents were able to drive their children here from outside the parish. They did so, in large part, because the school was again thriving ‘under the control of a resourceful, experienced and particularly effective Headmistress’.

The School is fortunate in having their original log book from when the school opened. Scans of interesting pages are shown below: