Could do better?

Discovering an old record book, produced by W Straker Limited of Ludgate Hill, London and dating from 1921, opened up new aspects about individual former pupils. The unknown member of staff who noted marks for the pupils over approximately a decade and a half (the last dates are 1937) and also recorded the comments on their progress has given us an insight into the girls which might otherwise have been lost. In those days, school reports did not hold back on the negative qualities, as is shown for this particular pupil!

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The recorded marks, whilst clearly meaning something at the time, are not so comprehensible now. For each subject, there are two marks, one in black and one in red. Taking them in conjunction with the comments, it seems likely that the first mark is a term grade or perhaps an exam result and the second mark might be the position in class. As can be seen, this young lady had a larger number in the 2nd column than in the first, from which we might assume that her weak marks kept her, fairly consistently, bumping along at the bottom of the class.

marks for term
Term marks 1926-1931

The subjects, too are an interesting insight into the curriculum of the time: Arithmetic where we would today have Mathematics, for example. It is clear from comments made in the Head Governess reports that the two subjects were regarded as separate; that all girls were taught Arithmetic but that Mathematics, which required the employment of a specialist, was the province of only the senior girls. Algebra was introduced later in their school careers and Geometry even later still. Grammar, Composition and Dictation, plus separately for girls in their third senior year and above, Literature, are today all included in English lessons. ‘N Study’ is presumably Nature Study and is the only nod towards Science although, interestingly, in the C19th century it is clear that some girls studied scientific subjects: for example, in a report about the School in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser of 28 August 1885, we are told that girls had been successful in exams in geology and physiography and that it was intended that galvanism and electricity would be studied next, followed by botany. It is unlikely that this was available to all of the pupils at the time especially since we are told that

Education in these extra subjects was entirely outside the routine of the school, and the girls who studied them did so in the evening after their ordinary studies were over.

These were clearly the cleverest of pupils who today would be the Oxbridge candidates.

Scripture and Drawing also make their appearance from the third year but by a pupil’s final year – the equivalent of the 6th Form today – the wider curriculum was narrowed to a specialised few subjects. In this case: Arithmetic, Geography, Grammar & Composition, French and, newly introduced for the older girls, Shorthand and ‘Business’. Unlike today where Business Studies might be undertaken, then it probably meant Typewriting to go with the Shorthand and both of which subjects might enable those girls who were not academic to be equipped for a future in clerical work.

This particular pupil did not appear to have an understanding of numbers and her Arithmetic marks are consistently low, culminating in 1931 with a 0 mark. Her Algebra and Geometry were equally weak and she scored 0 in these long before her final year! Her highest marks were largely in Arts subjects until she starts learning Shorthand when suddenly she begins to shine. It is interesting that, although she did poorly in Algebra with its use of symbols, in Shorthand, with its equally baffling use of symbols, she did much better.

Looking at these entries dispassionately and three-quarters of a century on, we have no sense of the individuals here – either the pupil or indeed the teacher who wrote the remarks. Given that the vast majority of the pupils came to the School under difficult circumstances, these sparing (or perhaps we might say unsparing) comments do not reflect this. As with probably the majority of the girls at that time, Adrianne came to the School after her father had died. There is no reflection in these comments of any emotional trauma she may have been experiencing but this was the norm at that period in time. One did not give way to unseemly emotion but ‘bucked up’ and Got On With Life.

Having been introduced to Shorthand and Business towards the end of her School career, and clearly taking a shine to it, Adrianne went on to make that her employment. In 1939, she is recorded as a shorthand typist in Salisbury, living with her mother, and in 1957 there is also a fleeting reference to her in a travel document as having a ‘secretarial’ occupation. So the skills she learned in 1931 stood her in good stead throughout her working life.

Presumably she recovered from having “the worst report in the school” (1929) and became a perfectly competent shorthand typist, enough to earn a living from and to support her mother. Who knows? Perhaps the despair felt by the teacher who recorded this comment forged in Adrianne a determination to succeed despite being “thoroughly unsatisfactory”!

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