Co-op school that last taught pupils in 1875 shows up alive and well in 2010

17th September 2010 at 01:00
Educational historians hail discovery of building that was society's swansong in sector

A "lost" Co-op school that last taught children in 1875 has been discovered intact, and is being trumpeted as a key find for educational historians.

The school in Wallsend, near Newcastle upon Tyne, opened in 1872 but was shut just three years later when the government pulled its #163;360-a-year grant. It is now a meeting place for Jehovah's Witnesses.

At the time of its closure, it was the only remaining school run by the Co-op, the society having by then decided to switch to adult-only education.

Researchers from the Workers' Educational Association (WEA), a charity providing adult learning courses, made the find earlier this month after discovering it was used as a school when researching historical Co-op Society pamphlets.

WEA regional director Nigel Todd, who is also a historian, said: "I was amazed to find it was still standing. It's being used as a Jehovah's Witness hall and seemed quite busy."

The school, which was managed by the Co-op's education committee and was opened with the money made by the Wallsend Co-op's grocery business, taught around 130 pupils aged between five and 12 and was staffed by two teachers.

But, according to a report in the Wallsend Co-operative Society Jubilee History that came out in 1912, a government grant was withdrawn after school inspectors said it was too big and too unruly.

Mr Todd also said his research had uncovered a school in nearby Gateshead that required policemen to be posted in the playground to prevent fights from breaking out.

"You have to remember that the idea of going to school for a lot of children was completely new at the time," he said. "Teachers were inexperienced so it's not surprising schools were unruly."

Mr Todd said part of the school's purpose would have been to get children used to the idea of having to turn up somewhere on time - in readiness for the jobs that awaited them when they left.

"It was about preparing them for the factory system of working and the factory whistle. The jobs they would have gone to in Wallsend would have been in the pits, shipyards or factories."

By the time it closed, the Co-op had switched its attention to adult learning so their members could learn about how Co-ops worked and run.

"The Co-op wanted their members to understand what Co-ops were about as businesses," Mr Todd added. "It was for this internal reason they focused on adult education.

Trust in co-op

More than 100 making switch

While the school in Wallsend may have closed 135 years ago, today nearly 100 schools have become Co-operative Trust Schools.

The first to adopt the Co-op principles of self-help, democracy and equality was the Reddish Vale Technology College in Stockport back in 2008.

The head of schools and youth programmes at the Co-operative College, Julie Thorpe, said more than 100 schools were also in the process of switching to Co-op Trust status, which can take between one term and a year.

"A lot of schools are concerned with improving their engagement with the local community and that's why," she added.

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