St Ouen's School

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St Ouen's Parish School


The former school

This article is based on a talk given to the Channel Island Family History Society by Michael Talibard in 2009

The former school is now a community centre

This is the story of St Ouen's Parochial School in the early 1870s, as seen in the pages of its logbooks.

Before the Revised Code of Regulations were introduced in England in 1862 there were few logbooks in schools. From that time they started to be widespread and to some degree standardised. This was because they become obligatory in any school that wanted to receive a grant.

The Education Act of 1870 led to the creation, or in many cases to the bringing within a national system, of elementary schools in parishes throughout the land.

Board schools

These schools, known as Board Schools, were theoretically state rather than ecclesiastical institutions, run by locally elected school boards, but in practice this board was often under the active chairmanship of the vicar of the parish - and this was certainly the case in St Ouen.

Regulations on how to write the log were quite restrictive. Head teachers were to write a weekly entry on the school's progress, with prominent facts such as term dates, illnesses, new teachers, etc, and also to copy into the logbook verbatim the summary of Inspectors' reports.

However, this was intended to be "the briefest entry which will suffice to specify ordinary progress" and "no reflection or opinions of a general character are to be entered into the logbook."

Thankfully this was not always observed, perhaps in part because the standard issue, solidly bound writing book for the purpose had printed inside the front cover, not only these regulations, but also the text of a letter from R W Lingen (an educational civil servant) urging teachers to use the logbook also "to record items of experience, because a teacher who performs this duty regularly will find it a powerful help in mastering his profession, as well as an honourable monument of his labours." And that's what some of them did.

1872 transfer to States

Until 1872 education policy in Jersey was under the direction of the Privy Council, but then responsibility was transferred to the States of Jersey on condition that it followed the 1870 Education Act, and gave Her Majesty's Inspectors access to the schools. The Bailiff was appointed president of a newly formed States Elementary Education Committee.

Among the many consequences of this was the proliferation of logbooks in Jersey schools. Some had already begun - the one at Grouville School started in 1866.

St Ouen parochial school was housed in what is now the Community Centre, alongside the Parish Hall. It competed with both a Wesleyan and a Catholic school. It had that classic H-shaped ground plan, made up of three large classrooms, or 'schools' as they were called, each measuring 36 or 37 feet long, by 16 feet wide, by 18 or 20 feet high — one for boys, one for girls, one for mixed infants.

In 1872 the staff were George Cooper, who taught the boys, and his wife Eliza, the girls; both were aged 23 and from England. Then there were three pupil-teachers — local teenagers, who were, as one might put it, apprenticed to the staff. The eldest of these, 18-year-old Helena Amy, taught the mixed infants, and Elizabeth Mary Ann Le Mottee 15, and Rachel Gillard 13, assisted here and there.

The Rector, the Rev George Clement, oversaw the school in a very hands-on manner. He visited regularly, perhaps to give a Biblical address, or to announce a holiday, or to issue books and stationery, of which he kept the accounts, and he retained the keys of the book cupboards.

The Coopers, so far as I can tell, were in only the second year of their first job. Certainly they were young and inexperienced. They lived in a school house in Rue de la Ville au Neveu, with their one-year-old daughter, and George's older sister Jessie to keep house. What with the baby and with her frequent illnesses, Eliza Cooper was not as much use to the school as her husband might have hoped, and he had to get used to considerable spells as the only adult in a school of around 100 children. At such times, he taught co-educationally.

Pupils in 1906

'Foreign' language

The log gives plenty of information about the curriculum in the upper part of the school, but very little on the first two years. The children entered school needing to learn to read and write, and what's more, to do so in English, which to many was a foreign language, for they spoke only Jerriais at home.

It is an extraordinary thing to achieve, and I find it amazing that it was left entirely to the young pupil-teachers. George Cooper appears not to have known in much detail what was going on there, though he did occasionally confide to the log his view that the pupil-teachers were 'pretty useless'. At least they were bilingual, and had recently been through the same process themselves.

In the upper Standards 3 to 6, they studied principally reading, writing and arithmetic, plus scripture, proper French, music and geography. The arithmetic they learned includes addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of fractions and decimals. They also did a great deal of what is called Bills of Parcels, for which they had to work out what a grocer would charge for some totally unreal-sounding order, such as: 13¾ dozen oranges at 9d per dozen; 1500 apples at 8s per 100; 250 oranges at £2 5d per 1000; ½ dozen eggs at 9½d per dozen.

Arithmetic seems to have been given more attention than reading and writing. Maybe this was a local and temporary bias, because after the exam at the end of the previous year, the Rector had written: "I regret to have to report a large number of failures in arithmetic, especially in the higher standards." George Cooper must have been stung by this, as he explained in the log that he had been allowing as correct whatever arrived at the right answer, but in the exam the Rector had marked wrong whatever did not use the officially sanctioned setting-out of the working of the sum.

Music was mostly just singing, but there were also one or two lessons on music theory (the stave, note values, etc). There was no art or drama. Poetry was learnt by heart and recited.

Geography, but no history

George Cooper was keen on the geography of England, and Europe — things like the mountains and lakes, principal cities, manufactures, etc. For this, he always took the boys and girls together. He taught no history. The first curriculum change made by the new teacher who arrived the next year was to start a course of English history. There was no local geography or history, and there was no science.

French was taught by a special part-time teacher who came in for the purpose. She was Marie Vermeil, daughter of Charles Vermeil, a French protestant working in the parish as curate to the Rector. So that was another ecclesiastical foot in the door.

And what of the individual children? I have not located any attendance register, but unusually, we do know most of their names from the log book, because George Cooper wrote complete lists of exam results. This leaves out the infants, who did not sit exams, but it gives us the names of 71 children in Standards 3 to 7.

The word Standard is used here, and is more accurate than speaking of Year 4 or Year 5, as we might today, because that implies grouping by age, and back then scholars were grouped more by their attainment. For example, a certain John Vibert, aged 14, returning after a long absence, was readmitted to Standard III - mostly 8, 9 or 10 year-olds. It is not surprising that he was soon found playing truant and climbing on the shed.

Because we have the names, we can use the 1871 Census to find out where they all lived, and the answer is that they tended to be clustered around the school. Attendance became more irregular the further you go away from the school. More than once the teacher mentioned distance as a reason for absence

This was particularly so in bad weather. For example, George Cooper wrote in the log one day: "The weather is exceedingly wet; any child who gets a soaking while coming to school has to dry his jacket before the fire in the classroom in order to prevent bad colds, but the children pay no regard to the wet whatever."

French play in 1921

2d a week

It was difficult to enforce attendance, because it was not free (it cost 2d a week per child) and because traditionally children were excused for field work. Going through 1872, attendance was hit in early January by seasonal festivities and by bad weather; it became quite good by the start of February, but in the last week of February many of the boys were away planting potatoes.

Then there was good attendance, interrupted again in the second week of March when whole families were employed in collecting vraic from the beaches.

Generally attendance was very good in May and early June, but it only took heavy rain to keep many away. Then came the potato digging season, which took out most of the older boys, and a three-week school holiday was timed to coincide with the worst of this. However, the potato season was not finished when the school reopened on 8 July, and attendance was scanty.

As well as the boys digging potatoes, there were jobs for all the children, such as 'weeding the carrots'. It took a Sunday School treat to lure some of them back. Cooper remarked: "Attendance is very bad, as is usual this time of year, but the people must have their children to assist in the fields. Of course, when they return to school, they forget their old work and we have to begin again."

The log provides a wealth of information about individual children, gold-dust for any historian of their particular families. Of the 71 in the upper Standards, 48 are mentioned individually here or there in comments on their academic progress or discipline, some of them many times, so that one can build up a profile of that child.

Individual records

Inevitably, I suppose, we hear more frequently about the best and the worst. Here are examples of both:

  • Thomas Le Cornu, Std 3: is a very bad boy in class; punished for swearing and obstinacy; he throws a stone and wounds another boy; then he steals apples; badly behaved in French; comes in late from play; at one point said to be becoming more industrious, but it does not last; he is punished for wounding someone with a stick; then for talebearing.
  • Charles Brideaux, Std 6: very quick at his sums; sometimes given his own separate work, being ahead of others; best in class at map drawing; very attentive and quick in Geography; works difficult sums.
  • Thomas Dimick, Std 5: in a maths session, failed to do one sum right; had forgotten how to do the sums; finds arithmetic difficult; found beating little infant with a stick; cheering on others to fight.
  • John Vibert, Std 5: gives the best answers in geography; shows greatly improved accuracy and quickness in arithmetic; blots copybook one time, when he is kept in for laughing and pushing during grace; but he soon gets back on track; best at map drawing; excels in parts of speech, and so on.
  • Edward du Heaume, Std 4: is mentioned many times as being slow or idle; he is punished for disobedience; gets an imposition for his behaviour in French, and is caught running after the carriages in the road; he's found making a great noise in road; he plays truant; and he's among those needing special attention in maths.

An unusual and inventive aspect of the way Cooper used his log was that used it is an instrument to help motivate the children. He said: "I generally read their bad failings or good conduct which is recorded here - for the children know that I take note of it in this book."

Caring teacher

George Cooper was certainly a caring teacher. He would take children for a walk to Greve de Lecq; he visited the sick, and not just to check up on them. He becomes quite concerned when Francis Le Brun suffered severe rheumatic fever, and John Baudains a scalded foot. He also visited parents to try to persuade them to enter their younger children, or to send existing pupils more regularly. So to some degree, he was what we might call a social worker.

As for discipline, he used the cane quite sparingly, even for offences like wounding or stealing, much preferring other punishments. Two boys were given a long poem to learn "for noisy conduct and rudeness to the customers at Mrs du Feu's shop close by the school". By far his most often-used sanction was to keep children in after school, but this was when they would otherwise be doing their daily chores at home, and it was resented by parents.

At one time the lunch break was shortened by half an hour, so that children could get home a bit earlier, but it was too little and too late to keep most of them in school in what was the vraicking season.

As the year wears on, discipline gradually became more of an issue, and he tried out some new punishments, such as calling in the Rector, who was pretty fierce. At one point he shamed a couple of lads into doing more work by standing them against the wall with a large notice pinned on their backs saying 'Idle Dick'.

1920: Frances Vautier, née Le Feuvre; Violet Alexandre, Ida Le Boutillier, Florence Allenet, née Vibert; Elsie Alexandre, Martha Barrette, Hilda Gresil, Lily Levee, Linda Pezet, Dorothy Allenet, née Vibert, Beatrice Le Bail, Melina A’Court, Ettie Mauger

Malicious gossip

It was not the ill discipline that finally broke his will to go on, or rather that of his wife: it was all the malicious gossip.

One May, the Vibert children, Maria and John, were reprimanded for bearing tales. They were neighbours of the Coopers in Ville-au-Neveu Road, and this was gossip about the teachers coming into the school during one of Mrs Cooper's spells of absence from work. That was bad enough, but gossip was also travelling in the other direction, out of the school to the parents, who tended to believe it, and to the Rector, who tended to encourage it.

This happened sporadically all year: There was a bad example in March, and then on Tuesday 20 August. "The boy Elias Dimick has been complaining to his mother that the master boxed his ears, which are sore and which was known to me. This is utterly untrue and even the boys in his class deny it." Three days later, when he was keeping young Dimick in, for idleness, "Mrs Dimick came in a very blustering way and eventually took or dragged her boy away."

The gossip came to a head on 4 October. "This week has been nothing but a week of talebearing of both Master and Mistress by some of the badly disposed children, much to the mortified and wounded feelings of the said teachers. As an instance the boy Thomas Le Cornu spread the report that I kept Edmund Anquetille in every day and caned him every day also. His mother came to know if the above report was true, which she found to be utterly untrue.

"These and such other reports seem to be encouraged by some unknown parties and it makes this school quite a hotbed for teachers. The Mistress could not help crying bitterly after hearing these scandalous reports."

Pupil teacher blamed

Who were the unknown parties? A week later the log reads: "We have found out that the scandalous tales which have caused such constant trouble have been carried out of the school by one in particular who ought rather to discountenance it; I feel constrained to mention this because pupil teachers in particular ought to uphold the Master and Mistress." Cooper never said which of the pupil teachers was the traitor.

Helena Amy seems more mature and responsible. It is more likely to be one of the younger ones, who would naturally feel torn between their two loyalties — to the kids they grew up with and to the school staff. Rachel Gillard was only 13 or 14, and there had already been a problem to indicate divided loyalties. The teacher was keeping children in, only to find they spent the time getting Rachel to do their homework for them. But it could just as well have been Elizabeth Le Mottee.

I think one can actually identify the road which was the hub of all this local gossip. Both of those younger pupil teachers lived in Fosse-au-Bois Road, and their near neighbours included some of the most troublesome boys in the school, namely the Bowditch family and, of all people, the Dimicks.

These were the boys they had grown up with, no doubt playing in the road. And that's also where the Rectory was. The Rev George Clement lived surrounded by them.

One Friday in October Mrs Cooper was in floods of tears. They talked about it over the weekend and on Monday morning he handed in their notice, saying they were going abroad. This caused an immediate flurry of activity at the Rectory, with a meeting of the Board and a visit from an inspector. Cooper saw out the year, writing the log rather more guardedly, listing the new songs he was teaching them.

On 6 December he wrote: "The Master and Mistress complain of the tales which have been conveyed to a Mrs D—k who thereupon goes to the Rectory and other places mangling the above tales after the fashion of the Three Black Crows."

And in his last entry, on 13 December, a bitter conclusion to his log: "The Rector remarked that because we were leaving we allowed the discipline of the school to lax. I repudiate this with scorn: a teacher's conscientious feelings may be more easily imagined than described. I protest against such treatment."

Mr and Mrs Higham

So the Coopers departed, and were replaced by Mr and Mrs Higham. I shall not spend as long again on them — the logbook does not supply enough detail for that. But it does record the Rector's visits to the school, and he was coming in more frequently then - several times a week.

Higham was a bit like Cooper in some ways. In mid-January he proudly remarked that "A cane or rod has not yet been introduced." He started the children on a course of English history. On 31 January "The Rev G Clement purchased Stevens and Hale's Grade Books and the children seem to like them very much, both for use in school and for home lessons."

At some point early in his tenure he asked to see the log book for the previous year, as was natural. Log books had room for many years entries, and were meant to form a continuous record. The Rector had removed this one, with only 1872 in it, either taking it home or perhaps locking it up in his stationery cupboard, and issued a new one. Perhaps he would have liked to destroy it, but government regulations said: 'No entry once made in the logbook may be removed or altered otherwise than by a subsequent entry.'

So when Higham asked to see it, George Clement became very defensive: "The Rector was ashamed to let me have it, and after allowing me just to glance at it in his presence, he took it away with him and supplied me with a new one, assuring me 'before God' that the charges were unfounded."

Higham accepted this and got on with the job in hand. His log book entries were often rather anodyne, like this: "Nothing of importance has occurred in the schoolwork: everything goes on steadily." But finally there came the most wonderful explosion.

His entry for 4 August was one long and very carefully composed sentence, which reads: "As the Rev G Clement called me out of school this morning to communicate some idle and base insinuations (entirely false) which he has picked up somewhere, and refused to give me the name of the author or to go with me to face the individual whose word he appears to give credence to, I tendered this day my resignation and that of my wife as master and mistress of these schools, feeling sure, after the cause of the last master's leaving on precisely the same grounds, that I should be doing myself and my wife and family infinitely more injury by remaining here, where such things are practised by persons who from their office should set a better example, than by incurring the enormous expense of leaving again so shortly."

That was on Monday, and on Tuesday he added an account of the original issuing of a new log, and asserted: "I am so thoroughly disgusted with parsons and all their hypocritical canting ways that I leave the profession in disgust precisely the same as my predecessor left here last Christmas. I say all this deliberately and with a thorough reason, as any fresh master will find after being with the Rector a few months."

Children moved to other schools

Quite a few parents started moving their children to the Catholic or the Methodist school, and the Rector, who was in and out of the school more than ever, behaved as if Higham were not there.

1 September: "The fact that the Rector comes into the school without looking at or speaking to me has reminded the elder boys of his similar treatment to the former master and has produced very ill effects in the school and called forth some envious and not very complimentary remarks from them. The affair is calculated to foster anything but religious or Christian principles into their minds."

It all descended into farce on Friday afternoon, 11 September, when the teacher saw the boys collecting up their books and slates, asked why, and was told there was no school on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The Rector sent for the keys to the school rooms, and Higham spent his days at home wondering why.

The log of the previous year indicates that this was an annual event, when the Rector got in workmen to whitewash the walls and women to scrub the floors in preparation for a tea given to celebrate the anniversary of the Restoration of St Ouen's Church. Clement was following his own custom: it's just that the teacher had no idea what's going on.

Higham was less patient than Cooper, and this was the last straw. His predecessor stayed to the end of the year, but he walked out, and the school was without any qualified teacher for the last three months of 1873. Perhaps that was what George Clement wanted: he and his wife and Miss Vermeil then went in regularly — but not every day. So it put enormous responsibility on the young shoulders of the pupil teachers to keep things going, and the Inspectors' report for that year referred to the 'disastrous circumstances' which have limited the progress of the school.

John Brewer

In January 1874 John J Brewer arrived. He was what was needed, and brought some stability and continuity. He reorganised the school and framed a new timetable. In the log, he played his cards very close to his chest. The Rector and his wife were by then, effectively part-time members of staff. He taught scripture and she, sewing for the girls.

The first crisis that Brewer had to deal with was a severe outbreak of smallpox, which killed several pupils and frightend most parents into keeping the children at home for a few weeks. But although some schools closed, he soldiered on. He had obviously found a modus vivendi with the Rector, because he remained master of the school for the whole of the rest of the 1870s, and received pretty good inspectors' reports.

There is an intriguing epilogue to the story. The logbook for 1872, after sitting unloved in a cupboard with all its empty pages, was pulled out a generation later in 1895 and used again, and for years thereafter. So who decided to do that?

Rachel Gillard remained a pupil teacher until 1876-77. Then she did two years teacher training in Salisbury, before teaching at Sherborne in Dorset for a while. Then she came back to the island, back to St Ouen, and married Francis du Heaume, a carpenter. She gave up work to raise a family, but went back into teaching in her forties. In 1895, she became head teacher of the school. She must have read the old log, in which she featured, with intense interest before starting to fill its pages herself.  

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