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by Helen Young

I’m currently undertaking ESRC doctoral research into the history of the small rural schools of Scotland. Focusing on the period 1872-2000, I’m exploring a number of themes (including gender, citizenship and the nature of rurality) with an overarching emphasis on the role that these schools and their teachers played in community life. As well as drawing on archival evidence (both local records and central government files and reports), I’m undertaking oral history interviews to get a sense of lived experience and the material gathered to date is fascinating on so many levels.

For me, then, the history of education is very much a window to the socio-cultural, political and economic changes and continuities of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. On one level, researching the intricacies of the education system itself, of policy and practice in relation to administration and governance, curricula, staffing and the like, opens up many lines of debate. Whether it be the professionalisation of teaching, the development of secondary education or the shift from local school boards to county education authorities, there is much to be gleaned from their examination. At the same time, exploring the everyday lives of those involved in education, a mere glimpse of which is given in the sources, is both captivating and historically important.

To give an example of this, I would like to share with you a few short extracts from the School Log Book for Fearnan School in Perthshire, Scotland.[1] Written between 1917 and 1918, these make specific reference to the First World War and the value of their content speaks for itself. The entries were written by the headmistress MissLizzie McLaren Roberts.
25thMay 1917
The scholars were much grieved today to learn of the death of Hugh Cowan who fell in action on the 3rd May. He was well known having been brought up in the village and until he “joined up” had been a shepherd with his father at Balnearn.

25thOctober 1918
Attendance reduced owing to various causes. One girl absent owing to parents having gone to Northampton to visit their son who has been seriously wounded … Sad news reached the village this week – the death through gas-poisoning of another of our brave soldiers at the Front. Duncan Fraser an old pupil of this school was amongst the first to “join-up” and has been in “the thick of it” for a considerable time.
8thNovember 1918
Again sad tidings! The brother of the brave soldier referred to a fortnight ago has succumbed at the Western Front to pneumonia whilst another who has been in the Transport Service for some time has been killed. Both these lads had seen four years’ service in the army and both deserved the high enconiums passed upon them by the villagers. Both were much beloved and are much mourned. A parcel was sent to one of our wounded soldiers in hospital by the children here. Each child also wrote a letter to him.
15thNovember 1918
The glad tidings that the armistice was signed and that peace once more reigned reached us on Monday about three o’clock in the afternoon. Captain Thistle and Mr Peter Dewar called and made known the welcome news. The children cheered and all at once hastened to hoist the “Union Jack”. The children then sang the National Anthem and were dismissed. The village received the news quietly the bereavements being too recent to admit of any demonstration of joy. The lumber camp of Newfoundland solders ceased work until Wednesday but there was no disturbance in this village.

[1] At the time of digitisation and transcription this log book was held locally by Kenmore Primary School.