Closure for class of 1841...

12th May 2006 at 01:00
...because small classes at this Yorkshire primary are a luxury the 21st century cannot afford, writes Adi Bloom

Today there are 10 pupils at Langcliffe primary. In 1841 there were almost 100. But the number of teachers has stayed the same. Langcliffe, a tiny village schoolhouse in the north Yorkshire hills, is typical of a trend revealed in the newly-published 1841 census.

In 1841, there were only 47,000 teachers, compared with 471,000 full-time teachers working in England and Wales last year. Most areas of the country only had a single teacher for every 200 or 300 people.

The 1841 census is the latest British census to be put online, as part of a government move to make such historical records more widely available.

Ruth Watts, professor of history of education at Birmingham university, said: "Education wasn't compulsory. Children were sent down mines, or to factories. So if parents sent them to school, they would lose a day's wages."

This was the case at Langcliffe, which was founded in 1825 to serve the growing community of local mill workers. As the mills grew, so did the school, with 126 pupils on the roll by 1911. From the age of nine, children were able to work part-time in the mills, so many combined paid work with half a day's schoolwork.

Since then, the demographics of the village have changed. An increasing number of holiday homes in the area has led to a drop in the number of local children and, earlier this year, the school was served with a closure notice.

Jill Wilson, Langcliffe headteacher, said: "It's more like a family than a school. Pupils get a lot of attention. And we're part of village life now.

The closure notice was a huge blow to the village."

But not everything has changed. Ms Wilson runs her school with two part-time colleagues, as did her 1840s predecessor.

Subjects such as reading, writing, arithmetic, history and geography, as well as "object lessons", in which pupils would draw and discuss a specific object each week, were taught by the 19th-century class teacher.

The lady of the manor would visit once a week to teach needlework and the local vicar provided spiritual education every day, teaching catechism, Bible stories and the Lord's Prayer.

Pupils were regularly examined. Inspectors visited every year, dispensing scathing judgements after cursory observation. "The supply of both books and desks is insufficient," they commented one year. "There is a general lack of intelligence. Work is not satisfactory."

The buildings remain the same as they were in 1825, though the classrooms have been converted.

Kate Croll, chair of governors, said: "Now it's bright, airy and colourful.

In the early days the windows were small, and the ceilings high. Children would sit here shivering."

Today, flu often means a few days in bed for Langcliffe pupils. In the 1840s, it meant the whole school closed. And 19th-century logbooks show absences for diphtheria and scarlet fever.

Eight-year-old Jessica Jubb is relieved to attend the school in the 21st century. "There are fewer children and more space now," she said. "Only two people are allowed to sit at a desk. In the olden days, there would be 100, at least. It's much better now."

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