According to its log book, Steeple Aston Infants School was opened on March 4, 1872.
The mistress, Mrs Judith Neale, was wife of the master of the mixed school to which the infants were transferred at the age of 7/8.
Fees were payable but could be remitted for poor parents.
As a National School, the school belonged to the Oxford Diocese and so most inspections were carried out by their own appointed staff and the clergy visited regularly. One of the reports is today’s illustration.
The compiler speaks well of the school and high standards are maintained over a considerable time.
An especially interesting aspect of the entries is references to annual events in the village that attracted children and their families. Typical is May Day when sports events were held.
Throughout the log book there are recurrent themes. One of these is attendance and more especially absences.
Most of these are linked to day to day weather conditions but also illnesses such as whooping cough and measles.
A typical weather comment occurs in mid-June of 1882. The end of a particular week which was particularly wet has been linked to a marked drop in attendance.
The reader is left to wonder if this was due to lack of protective clothing. Vagaries of health clearly influenced the situation. Later in the year one child’s inability to attend was brought about by the ravages of winter, and another was transferred to a Union Workhouse. A child of 5-6 was kept at home to look after the baby.
Very occasionally hygiene was an issue. The entry for December 1890 records that a boy was sent home to be washed. He had arrived at school both dirty and untidy.
Events within the village could be a reason for failure to turn up. Polling Day is quoted as a cause but the same outcome was sometimes averted by allowing a half-day holiday for a village feast, festivities at the local co-op store, and a Royal Wedding.
Compared with today some reports about certain pupils came straight to the point about poor progress. On March 7th 1891 it was stated that two boys newly admitted ‘knew nothing’. Three other children aged 7 were described as ‘dull, backward children’ and not at all good enough standard for transfer to the nearby mixed school.
Music played a big part in the curriculum. On October 28 1892 it was reported an old harmonium had been transferred from the local secondary school for use with the infants. Shortly after and in early 1893 musical drill was introduced into the Infant School.
Perhaps surprisingly it is April/May of 1896 before the head records concern about unacceptable language used by some children both in the playground and in class.
Did this relate to a particular set of admissions or had this problem been suppressed in the interests of achieving consistently good reports from inspectors?
The entries in this Log Book cover the whole of the First World War yet comparatively little mention is made of how hostilities affected the school.
Staff and managers seem to be especially sympathetic to the needs of the Red Cross Movement.
Early on children stuffed pillows for use with wounded soldiers and on June 7, 1918 the teaching area was made available for a Red Cross Bazaar.
It might have been expected that Steeple Aston Infants would have had greater involvement with refugees from the bombing.
However the only related entry refers to a Gilbert Singer who was admitted for a few weeks respite from the air raids on London.
The annual round of village festivities appear to have been largely unaffected until the end of the war: celebration of May Day 1918 was cancelled due to the scarcity of food.
Finally on a happier note school closure at the end of the summer term 1919 amounted to 6 weeks and incorporated 1 week to mark the return of peacetime.
lMy thanks to John Walton for the log book.