Derby Daily Telegraph - 2 October 1946
When the 22 children who go to Shirley's village school troop in for another day's lessons, the teacher does not have to call out the names as she marks the register.
After doing the job for 21 years, she knows the names, not only of all her present pupils, but of most of their parents, whom she taught in the same school.
To-day she can point to three pairs of brothers and two pairs of brothers and sisters among the boys and girls who sit at the little wooden desks in the class room. It follows that nearly half the children on the school register belong to five families. The teacher, Mrs. Helen Gilman, can remember the time when there were 60 pupils. Up to 1938 the school averaged 40.
But Shirley's birthrate lapsed unaccountably just before the war, with the result that of the 22 children now attending there are now 10 or 11-year-olds and only one nine-year-old.
At this rate the school will have no senior scholars in another two years' time unless families with older children settle at Shirley in the meantime.
Even worse is the prospect at the other end of the scale; apart from one little girl, who is due to start school shortly, it will be four years before any other Shirley children are old enough to go.
The upshot of all this is that Shirley Church of England School, which is celebrating its 102nd anniversary this month, has been put on the redundancy list, and is to be closed.
The infants are to travel two miles to Yeaveley, the juniors have been allocated to Longford, three miles away, and the seniors are to to Ashbourne.
Upon the hard-worked school teacher, the decision to shut down Shirley's century-old school has put fresh burdens. Her newest and most difficult task is to placate the wrath of the village parents, who are demanding that the school shall stay open for infants and juniors.
It may be months or even years before the school is actually closed down but policy and not time is the villagers' grievance. Last week they called a special Parents' meeting to voice their protests.
Against Derbyshire's cutand-dried education development plan, involving the closure of many small village schools, the parents' objections are unlikely to make much impression; but the grounds of their resentment are worth considering as an indication of village reaction generally to the centralisation of schools.
About the proposed transfer of the senior children, the parents have little to complain. The objection is to the removal of the infants and juniors.
Apart from the undesirability of keeping infants and young children away from their parents all day, village life and pride would suffer in places like Shirley if children go to school in other villages, the people say.
The prospect of the village being left all day, every day during the school terms without the sound of young voices or the sight of children playing and romping on the way to school has darkened the outlook for Shirley's future, I was told.
When Shirley's school goes, houever, something equal in value to the cheerful echo of children's voices will go with it: the village will lose its ablest counsellor and official guide— the school teacher.
For no one among Shirley's 200 inhabitants knows more than she does about the village and its most sacred family secrets.
No one has helped to fill up so many forms or has witnessed so many signatures and documents.
National savings, the parish magazine, the parochial church council, pensions, family allowances, advice to doctors, presiding officer at election times these are some of the unofficial responsibilities in which the teacher willingly and voluntarily shares.
Shirley has no vicar and to the teacher go all its troubles and worries.
Mrs. Gilman is overdue for retirement but has agreed to stay on temporarily. What will happen when she goes nobody in Shirley quite knows.
After a chat with her in the old-fashioned porch of the schoolhouse I went away with mixed feelings.
If Shirley can be accepted as fair example, it seems that the closing of small village schools is not going to be an entirely credit transaction.
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