In last week's column, elderly teachers and ex-pupils looked back to the early 1900s to recall what the typical Westmorland country schoolroom looked like. For the next two weeks, they recall what school expected of them, both academically and in behaviour and discipline. We start with the very youngest children.
Many schools had a "babies" class where children of just three would begin school life, and even the Nursery adopted quite a structured approach to learning:
"They had quite a formal education, you could say. They all had a little chair on the principle of babies' high chairs with a thing that came over and made a tray in front of you. You did your counting on it, coloured the letter A and coloured an apple, which were then strung round the room... They didn't run about as much, I don't think they were as exhausted because they sat in these little chairs and got on with their work, and they threaded, they decorated the windows, they threaded a piece cut from a rush and a little circle of tissue paper, one rush, one circle of tissue, one rush, one circle of tissue, done with a fine needle,obviously to go through the rush and black cotton.It makes you wonder - because now they have to have something like a poker to sew with and barbed wire to knit with!"
The following paragraphs outline a typical day's teaching and how it was done; the teacher was describing her school in 1910.
"We taught everything. We started off at school after assembly with religious instruction, that was compulsory of course. We had various things each week, we had a bit of Old Testament with the opening hymn and prayers, New Testament another day, church history about the Reformation and Thomas a' Becket and people like that one day, psalm and hymn singing another day and repetition of texts and Bible passages another, that's how we taught scripture.... and after religious instruction it was always the physical and the children went into the school yard and did exercises.
"I had charge of the ten-year-olds... after they all did their exercises they came in for arithmetic while their brains were fresh, I suppose, and that was the very important lesson of the day. Starting with the infants, little children were given blocks, rather nice little square blocks of wood, beautifully polished and finished; then later dominoes, and they would first count one, two, and then one, two, three but always a card was put beside it with the number of articles there were there... then dominoes. We allowed them to pretend they were playing, they thought that was marvellous, playing dominoes in school! And they grew to know their numbers very well, then they added together, adding sweets or small articles and put the answer card beside them.They were very proud if they could do that... they thought learning a big word like subtraction they felt very important indeed and tables were learnt by rote, that was a big business but they loved it.
"They started long multiplication and division in Standard 3, that was when they were nine years old, then in Standard 4 length, weight and time and the compound rules. Then in the upper classes they got to simple and compound interest, money problems, stocks and shares."
One little pupil from a remote farm seemed totally innumerate until his teacher taught him to add, subtract and multiply in sheep and from that moment the problem was solved.
Most children were expected to read by the age of six, and slow readers were specially helped a little later on:
"First they learnt their letters - we had big cards, the infants had big cards with numbers and small printed letters first and the teacher would hold one up and everybody had to put up their hands. If a child couldn't read fairly fluently by the age of eight the carefully-graded books for their age they were considered below par and given special attention. Reading aloud in turn was the regular practice, and the children could therefore judge each other and some would work very hard to keep up as a good show for their classmates."
If a very bright child had galloped through the entire curriculum by the age of eleven or twelve and had no chance of advancing to Grammar school, the same lessons were repeated again and again until leaving age at 14. Children lucky enough to attend Grammar School were expected to work extremely hard at Mathematics, the Classics, Science and Literature to go to college or university. But even at Grammar School timetables could be flexible depending on the individual headteacher:
"We had a very enlightened Head. If the ice wasn't going to hold we were told to go home at lunchtime and not to come back that afternoon, and to go skating. The same thing happened in summer. If it was a really hot afternoon we went down to the Lake and learnt to swim."
Nor was it unheard of for a teacher to see the practical application of a lesson and put it to good use:
"The Vicar had seven sons and that's where we used to darn all their socks - at school! Stockings and socks for a family of seven and they had to be done beautifully. We used to resent this a bit. The Vicar in those days had a staff and my mother used to say she could do with a bit of help with her darning... why couldn't we take our socks to school to darn? It would still be practical. But we'd to do the Vicar's sons!"