The Historic Development of St. Stephen’s

On March 1st 1880 St. Stephen's Infants School was opened in Springfield Road, Wolverhampton (it is interesting to find that although the opening sentence in the log book gives the school the name of St. Stephen's, it is also referred to as St. Mary's). Rev. W. J. Frere and Rev. E. M. Edwards, Parish Clergy, were both present at the opening service at 9.15 a.m. with Rev. Edwards reading prayers.

The school building consisted of 5 major rooms, the dimensions of which are given in the log book as follows:

School Room 56' x 27'

Class Room 17' x 14'

Standard II Room 24' x 18'

Standard I Room 24' x 21'

Babies Room 21' x 21'

From this information it can be discerned that the children were divided into three classes, entitled Standards I and II, and Babies. There were 72 children on the roll by the end of the 1st week aged between 5 and 8 years, but the average attendance was only 65 children with the comment in the log book "the children came very late and irregularly"

Attendance was compulsory by 1880 with the creation of School Attendance Officers to enforce this law, but the parents had some choice in the actual school their children attended. The choice was between the Board School and the Voluntary School, the former originally created to supplement the latter. St. Stephen's, Springfields was opened as a Church School or Voluntary School.

N.B. The actual date upon which the change of name took place is not officially recorded, but probably would coincide with the building of the daughter church in Hilton Street.

The old St. Stephen’s Church schoolroom on Grimstone Street.

Board Schools were supported financially by rate-aid. At the time of the opening of St. Stephen's, Springfields, church schools were not. This meant that children attending church or voluntary schools were required to pay "school pence” for their education, whereas the children in the Board schools were not. There is mention in the log book of a child being sent home for her school pence and also of one child leaving St. Stephen's for the Board School on account of her parents not being required to pay for education at the latter Institution.

In 1888 the Cross Commission was instructed to look into the problems arising from the disparity between the two systems of education which were originally intended to complement rather than compete with each other. The church schools were finding it very difficult to maintain parity with the Board schools because they did not have rate-aid to fall back on only voluntary subscriptions.

The Cross Commission’s report suggested that all schools, including voluntary schools should be rate-aided, but in fact rate-aid to voluntary schools only came in with the 1902 Education Act.  The report also suggested that the curriculum should be liberalised by the addition of subjects such as art, science and technical instruction. This suggestion coupled with that for modification of payment by results led to the abolition of payment by results in 1890 for the three R's but the retention of payment by results, at an increased rate, for other subjects: the aim was to encourage a wider curriculum.

With the original system of payment by results, the results of the national exam were obviously important to the school. In 1888 St. Stephen's obtained an "excellent merit Grant of 17/- per head" on top of the ordinary grant payable, for attaining good marks in the national exam, and this fact is underlined several times in the log book.

The system recommended by the Cross Commission of modification of payment by results, can be seen to be beginning in St. Stephen' s School in 1899, when it is recorded that the school received 1s.9d extra grant for each boy taking drawing.

During the late 19th century great interest was being taken in curriculum and methods of teaching, particularly in the Infant School system. It was agreed in the late 1870s that ''The English Infant School system is one of our chief educational advantages".

1. Froebel and the kindergarten introduced a new element of activity into infant education in England from the 1850s onwards. He derived a series of "toys" or "gifts" and "occupations" all intended to promote "the harmonious growth of the intellectual, moral and physical powers of the child."

2. The principles of Kindergarten began to permeate teaching in the 1880s and great use is made of it in the early days of St. Stephen's School as the log book records:

October 5th, 1883 "gave a lesson on Kindergarten Gift II to Classes I and II" and in the annual report for 1890 "the infant's Kindergarten performance is satisfactory."

"Object lessons" form an important part of the timetable with an annual list of "objects" being taught.

The following is a list of those taught in l885:

1.   The Lion
2.   The Beaver
3.   The Ostrich
4.   The Kangaroo
5.   The Whale
6.   The Camel
7.    The Reindeer
8.   The Lobster and Spider
9.   A Bird’s Nest
10,   The Oak Tree
11.   The Tea Plant
12.   The Coffee Plant
13.   The Sugar Cane
14.   Flowers
15.   The Apple
16.   Water
17.   The Potato
18.   Corn

The curriculum in St. Stephen’s School seems to have been varied with mention of an examination in the “Tonic Sol’fa” method of teaching music and the re-arranging of the usual timetable in order that the younger children may have “Pea work”.

There is also mention of a timetable alteration in June 1884 so that “Class I take technical drawing alternately with poetry and geography on Tuesday afternoons.”

From this information it appears that a broader curriculum was being introduced in St. Stephen’s School, Springfields, even before encouragement through payment for such lessons.

When St. Stephen’s Schoo1 opened in 1880 the staff is recorded as:

C. Bacon         

E. Ayres          

J. Weaver 


Pupil Teacher - 4th Year

Pupil Teacher – 2nd Year

There was just one teacher in charge of the 72 children on roll. This is because church schools employed the system of pupil teachers. The pupil teachers were taught by the Mistress before school began, and they then taught the children in school time, with the Mistress acting in a supervisory capacity. At St. Stephen’s School pupil teachers were taught by the Mistress from 8a.m. to 9a.m. On one occasion this was impossible and it is recorded that "the teachers had lessons at dinner time instead of from 8 - 9." There are references in the log books to the pupil teachers coming with their "lessons unprepared" and the Mistress found cause to "criticise a lesson" given by the pupil teachers, on more than one occasion.

The Cross Commission of 1888 decided that the pupil teacher system was unsatisfactory since girls could begin training as early as the age of 13, teaching children not much younger then themselves. The report recommended that 15 be the minimum age for pupil teachers, but the system continued as before until about 1910.

In the late 19th century illness and death were commonplace. The log book records numerous incidents were the school had to be closed due to illness on epidemic proportions.

Apri1 12th, 1889
"this week there are 60 children away from measles."
December 22nd, 1891 "School closed this morning owing to the number away with 
January 21st, 1892 "Order to close the school for one month from Sanitary
 Authority due to epidemic of measles."

The health of the children was not at this time, being regularly examined, with the Local Education Authority assuming responsibility for periodical inspections as late as 1907.

In 1891 a milestone was reached in the history of education, with the abolition of fee-paying. The event passes off very quietly in the log book of St. Stephen's School, with the simple entry "September 1st 'Free education begins'" but nevertheless the Free Schooling Act gave parents the right to demand free elementary education for their children, irrespective of income. The Government gave a grant of not more than 10/- for each non-paying pupil in school, which meant that although children were no longer paying school pence, attendance was still important since the Government grant for the school depended upon the average attendance.

To encourage good attendance, St. Stephen's School adopted a new method of reward. From February 19th, 1886, red marks were given to those children arriving on time with "two tickets for 10 red marks."

The rear of the old St. Stephen’s Church schoolroom, now the Springfield Community Centre.

The examination of registers and a signature and certificate to that effect now started to appear quite regularly in the log book. For example, on March 25th, 1884, a manager “examined registers this afternoon, found them correct.”

Hindering attendance in the early days at Springfield Road was the holiday of a different school. On several occasions attendance is recorded as low because St. Mary’s School had a holiday and the children of St. Stephen’s stayed away from the school also, a rumour having spread that both schools were on holiday. This worried the Head teacher to a great extent, and the note of disapproval comes through the entry.

Despite compulsory attendance, many children were sent to work. The minimum leaving age was raised in 1893 to the age of 11, but in 1896 there were 2,100 prosecutions in Wolverhampton alone, for refusal to send children to school. It is recorded in St. Stephen’s log book that pupil teacher Clara was "sent after about 30 absentees, most of whom promised to come on Monday" (January 15th, 1886).

In the mid 1890's Sir John Gorst, Conservative Vice-President of the Council, told Parliament that a quarter of a century after the 1870 Act, there were nearly ¾ of a million children whose names ought to appear on the books of some elementary school and who do not appear at all. Of those who are on the books of the elementary schools, nearly one fifth are continually absent." In 1897 the national average attendance was 81.5%.

At St. Stephen's School the numbers on roll can be seen to increase dramatically after free education was introduced. This must in part be explained by the growth of Wolverhampton generally, but the importance of free education must not be underestimated. The average attendance at St. Stephen's in the couple of months preceding free education was approximately 170 and the first recorded figure after the introduction of free education, is an average of 227 children. This increased attendance brought its own problems. The school on Springfield Road became over-crowded and the report of the H.M.I. in July, 1897, highlights the problems.

"Visit of Inspection under Act 846. The school is very crowded and the ventilation bad. In the small classroom 34 children were being taught some of whom were asleep, and in the chancel, which is stated to be recognised for 37, there were 54. With such a state of things, there is necessarily a considerable degree of difficulty in properly conducting the school. The children are cooped up and have little or no room to move. Games are impossible, and the younger children are apt to become either drowsy with the bad air or restless and fidgety, owing to a sense of discomfort. The accommodation is so unsatisfactory with the numbers at present in attendance, that no further grant can be recommended under present conditions, after the current year."

Another view of the old school.

The report mentions 54 children being taught in the chancel; the chancel of St. Stephen's Church. Because of the over-crowded conditions in the Springfield Road building, the children were moved into the Church, into an area originally designed for a Sunday school. These arrangements Here to be made permanent the following year, after alterations to the church had been completed. From the end of the 19th century education began to reflect new social and political ideals. In 1899 the Board of Education Act brought the various educational bodies under a single central authority and Balfour's Education Act of 1902 carried this further.

The county councils, county boroughs and boroughs with populations of more than 10,000, and urban districts with populations of more than 20,000 became L.E.A's taking over the work previously carried out by the School Boards. Education Committees were set up which had to include women. In Wolverhampton the committee had 23 members, 15 were elected and 8 were appointed. All were council members and 2 were women.

These committees were to oversee the schools of which there were now two categories - "Provided" and "Non-Provided". The L.E.A. met all expenses of the Provided Schools, but only the maintenance costs of the Non-Provided. The Managers of the latter school were to provide capital costs and structural repairs.

St. Stephen's School was a Non-Provided school, illustrated by the fact that the L.E.A. did not pay for the alterations necessary to keep the school open. In the H.M.I.'s report for 1897, the Managers are reminded of their duty to see that "the necessary improvements are carried out during the coming year."

Alterations to the building took place in 1898 and it is reported in the log book that the school had to be closed for a time in October to allow them to take place. The organisation within school was also altered, and from October 14th, 1898 "Standards I and II commenced work as a separate school". The infants remained in the Springfield Road building, and Standards I and II moved into St. Stephen’s Church schoolroom on Grimstone Street. The school could now provide places for "264 infants and 90 mixed."

In 1906 the log book formally records that places would be provided for 90 mixed juniors and 226 infants, the classes being divided as follows:


Mixed Classroom (next St.) 40
Mixed Classroom (next St.) 50
Infants Classroom   48
Infants Schoolroom    178



The mixed juniors are now firmly established as a separate department in the "next St" in the schoolroom of St. Stephen’s Church. This arrangement was unsatisfactory and once a new church had been built at the turn of the century, plans were passed to enlarge the previous church building, in which the mixed juniors were taught, into a school large enough for all the pupils on the roll. Thus in 1913 the old church was extended and altered into a school. The report in the log book is as follows:

"During the holidays, the large room has been divided by a glazed partition, the old chancel has been added and separated from the main room by a partition. The windows have been lowered and fitted with proper pains. Additions have also been made to the offices. Standard I room has been altered so that it is not now a passage room."

The new rooms were formally opened by the bishop on Saturday 10th October, 1914, and the entire school was now based in a single building. Although it was a church school along with the other schools in the town, St. Stephen’s was "taken over by the Educational Committee" on July 1st, 1903 and from this time onwards, decisions of the committee proceeded to play an effective role in school administration. The prizes for 1904 were given by the education committee and the chairman of the committee made regular visits to the school.

The first teaching appointment made by the committee in connection with St. Stephen’s was in October 1907, and the teacher concerned was sent from another school. This illustrates the advantage of a central body in charge of education, which was the aim when the education committee was organised. Indeed, education generally was becoming more and more a public service governed by a public policy. By 1910 the three R’s were ceasing to dominate the curriculum. The object lesson was in decline and there is no mention of it as a lesson in the log book of St. Stephen’s after the turn of the century.

Swimming and games began to be taught and the first mention of a sports day at St. Stephen’s is in July 1912 when the entire school had a half day holiday for the event. School outings became more a part of school life. Visits by school parties to "Institutions of Educational Value" were counted as attendance at school, from 1896 onwards. However, school parties from St. Stephen’s only began to travel round the town in the 1920s. The first recorded visit is by a group going to Bushbury Hill for a nature study in 1921, and another group visiting the art gallery in Wolverhampton in the same year.

The number of pupil teachers began to fall quite dramatically at the turn of the century. Local authorities were urged to give secondary school scholarships to intending teachers and a new system introduced in 1907 enabled them to stay at school until the age of 17 or 18. From over 11,000 new pupil teachers in 1906-7, the number fell to 1,500, in 1912-13. Training facilities increased as local authorities opened training colleges.

The decline in pupil teachers can be seen at St. Stephen’s as early as 1900, a female teacher joined the school staff, having not been a pupil teacher but being trained and certificated at Cheltenham College. By 1916 supply teachers rather than pupil teachers were being substituted for members of staff absent through illness.

From the beginning of the 20th century more interest began to be taken in the general health of the children. From 1907 onwards, the L.E.A. was made responsible for periodical medical inspections of all elementary school children. The log books of St. Stephen's record that visits became frequent after the first in February, 1909. Dental inspections were also carried out. Yet still illness remained and the school was again closed several times through epidemics. In 1913 the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education had estimated that of the six million children in public elementary schools in England and Wales:

10% Suffer from a serious defect of vision
5% Suffer from defective hearing
3% Suffer from suppurating ears
3% Have adenoids or enlarged tonsils
50% Suffer from injurious decay of their teeth
10% Have unseemliness of the body
2% Have tuberculosis
15% Have heart disease
1% Has ringworm.

With the outbreak of war, shortages, both of teachers and of buildings, became a problem. The growing demand for longer and better education for working-class children, led to the Education Act of 1918. In promoting his Act of 1918, H. A. L. Fisher said one way of "compensating for the tragic loss which our nation is enduring - is by the creation of a system of education throughout the country which will increase the value of every human unit in the whole of society."

The Act abolished half-time education from July, 1922; (about 70,000 children were taking part-time education at that time, mostly employed in agriculture) and established 14 as the uniform compulsory leaving age. This Education Act of 1918 realised the need to cater for the majority of children who left school at the statutory leaving age, but plans for the suggested "continuation school" were abolished due to post-war economic astringency.

The Great War apparently affected education at St. Stephen's School, very little, indeed there are only 2 mentions of the war at all. The first is on July 5th-l0th, 1918, when school had to be closed in order for the staff to "assist with ration cards" and the second comes at the end of the war, when the children had a week' s holiday "in accordance with the King's wish" to celebrate peace. Of note and interest however – the admission register for the period showed an increasing number of father's occupation to be "soldier" as the war ground on.

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