Am Bratach No. 218
December 2009


History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones

In April 1856 the Rev David Williamson, minister of the Established Church of Assynt, produced a report on the examination of the schools in the parish which had taken place the previous month. The examination included seven schools including the parish school and all of the charity schools. The three Free Church schools were excluded.

There were 371 pupils on the rolls at the time of the examination. The parochial school of Assynt at Kirkton had seventeen on its roll, the Government school at Stoer thirty-six, the General Assembly School at Lochinver twenty-eight, the Society schools had rolls at Elphin of forty-six, at Drumbeg of ninety-three, and at Culkein Achnacarnin of ninety-seven, while the temporary school at Achmelvich had fifty-four on its roll.

Only 314 were actually present on the day of examination. According to Williamson this was “from grown up lads and girls and ragged children being ashamed to appear.” There was no information given of the age-range of pupils, but it was probably quite wide and may well have included some young adults.

All of the 371 pupils were learning to read English, 194 writing in English, ninety-six arithmetic, sixty-seven English grammar, fifty-two geography, thirteen Latin, and one pupil was studying Greek. There were nine pupils at Lochinver learning book-keeping. Seven pupils were learning Gaelic at Elphin where no geography or Latin was taught. In Williamson’s view, the proportion of pupils at most schools learning writing and arithmetic was too small.

The Bible was read daily in all schools, and the Shorter Catechism committed to memory. Schools daily opened and closed with prayer. There were Sabbath schools only at Lochinver and Elphin.

While there were 371 on the rolls in March 1856, as many as 415 had attended at any time during the previous year. But of the latter figure, 176 had actually attended for less than three months, and 338 for less than six months. The exception was the school at Lochinver where eighteen out of thirty-seven pupils had attended for up to eight months.

Williamson claimed that “the attendance of a large proportion is so short as not to be of much use.” He suggested that “the school power or machinery we now possess in Assynt would give more than double the education it at present gives, were parents compelled by law to keep their children regularly a reasonable time at School.”

He had taken notes from the census returns in 1851 when they were briefly in his possession and so was able to compare the individual school rolls with the local population and get an idea of the proportion attending school.

In considering the figures, it is important to bear in mind the three Free Church schools at Strathan, Rienachait, and Clachtoll (a Gaelic school). Williamson understood that the first two were “well attended and well taught.” About 160 pupils attended the Free Church schools.

The parish school at Kirkton had, like the parish church, been affected by the Clearances: its roll of seventeen was not surprising given that the local population had amounted only to 106 in 1851. It was the best performing school, however.

Stoer school suffered from very irregular attendance. The teacher was “well qualified, and had he more of professional earnestness, the attendance might improve, and good scholarship be seen in his school. But the Free Church opposition to this school, on sectarian grounds, is discouraging to the teacher.” Twenty attended from Stoer and twenty-five from Clachtoll out of a total population of 349.

The roll at Lochinver was not as large as it might have been, but the attendance was more regular than at any other school. Seventeen pupils came from Lochinver itself, six from Baddidarach, five from Brackloch, two from Torbreck and seven from elsewhere. Only nineteen had appeared at the examination due to a fear of contracting measles.

Williamson suggested the teacher at Culkein Achnacarnin should be sent for some time to the Normal School for training. Were a good school house there a salary for a teacher could more easily be got.” The Duke [of Sutherland] had spent “considerable sums of money” in recent years on education. All the school buildings with the exception of Achmelvich were classed as “very good”, though there were blackboards only at Kirkton and Lochinver.

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