Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 10, 2017
Webpage updated: March 30, 2021

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Given that Plymouth-Dock had been inexistence since 1691, it is rather surprising to learn that the oldest educational establishment within the former Borough of Devonport as it was in 1914 was the Saint Budeaux Foundation School, which was founded in 1767.  It was only taken within the Borough in 1898 and had previously served a small rural village.

Plymouth-Dock in fact had to wait until 1799 for the Public School for Girls and then it was to educate girls rather than boys, who were meant to get their education by becoming apprenticed to one of the numerous trades undertaken within the town and the Royal Dockyard.  It was a further ten years, 1809, before the girls were joined by the Public School for Poor Boys.

Worth tells us that 'The Classical and Mathematical Subscription School, long discontinued, was opened in August 1821' and that 'In 1829 the United Mathematical and Commercial, commonly called the New Schools, were established, principally by artizans in the Dockyard, and for many years worked with efficiency.  The building is now the property of the congregation of Mount Zion, whose chapel it adjoins.'

The biggest step in the education of the children of Old Devonport came in 1832 at the suggestion of a Mr Joseph Trounsell.  He had come to the conclusion while walking around the town that there were a lot of children 'whose only school was the streets'.  He immediately set about founding the Royal Naval and Military Free Schools in rooms in the former Assembly Rooms in Cherry Garden Street for the purpose of educating 'the sons, daughters, and infants of seamen, retired mariners, mariners, soldiers, fishermen, and watermen'.  It grew rapidly and had to move premises.  In 1846 the memorial stone was laid for a purpose built building in King Street and in that same year the managers also decided to accept applications from the children of labourers in the Royal Dockyard. In 1910 it became the King Street Elementary School under the Devonport Local Education Authority.

In the meantime School Sites Acts in 1836, 1841 and 1844 had made it easier for sites to be acquired specifically for schools.

Although the National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church was formed in 1811 it was some thirty years before its efforts reached Devonport.  The first such school, Saint Mary's National School, was founded by the Reverend T C Childs, the first incumbent of the Anglican Church of Saint Mary, when the parish was formed in 1846.  It was to be more than another twenty years, 1869, before the school got its own premises, however, being beaten by the parishes of Pennycross, Saint Paul, Stoke Damerel, Saint James the Great and Saint Stephen.

In the meantime the British and Foreign School Society, formerly known as the Royal Lancastrian Society, had taken over the school in the old United Mathematical and Commercial premises adjacent to Mount Zion and renamed it the Devonport British Schools.  The Admiralty had set up a small school at Bull Point mainly, but not exclusively, for children of men working at the Royal Naval Ordnance Depot there.

By far the biggest change in education for the children came in 1870, with the passing of the Elementary Education Act.  This set up school boards.  The Devonport School Board was first elected on January 24th 1871.  It set up or took over schools at Ford, Morice Town, Cherry Garden Street, Stoke, Cornwall Street, Cambridge Street, Stuart Road, Johnston Terrace, Victoria Road, and Montpelier

Although education was now provided by the state there was still room for private enterprise.  The private Devonport, Stoke and Stonehouse High School for Girls was established in May 1875 and soon had its own premises adjacent to the Anglican  Church of Saint Michael the Archangel in Albert road.  However, the School went into voluntary liquidation in November 1895.  Their now empty premises were used by Mr Alonzo Rider for his new Naval, Civil Service and Commercial School in January 1896, the start of what was to become Devonport High School for Boys.  Further private enterprise was shown by Sir John Jackson while he was engaged on the extension to  the North Yard of the Royal Dockyard.  He opened a school at Weston Mill for the children of his workers.  It was never officially named so has always been known simply as Sir John Jackson's School.  It was eventually succeeded by Camel's Head Elementary School.

By the Elementary Education Act 1880, from January 1st 1881 attendance at an elementary school became compulsory until the pupil reached their tenth birthday.  If they obtained a certificate from the school saying that their educational standard was satisfactory then they could leave and start work.  No employer could take on a child under thirteen years of age unless they had such a certificate.  Elementary education was provided free of charge from September 1st 1891 under the terms of the Elementary Education Act which received the Royal Assent on August 5th 1891.  The school leaving age was raised to the eleventh birthday by the Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act 1893 and to the #twelfth birthday by the Elementary Education (School Attendance) (Amendment) Act 1899.

When part of the Parish of Saint Budeaux was absorbed into the Borough the Saint Budeaux Foundation Church of England Junior School, which had been founded in 1717, was taken into the fold and the Devonport School Board erected the new Devonport Victoria Road Board School.

The final meeting of the Devonport School Board took place on Friday May 15th 1903.  The Devonport Local Education Authority, which should have taken over on Wednesday April 1st and then Friday May 1st 1903, finally took over the administration of the schools in Devonport on Monday June 1st 1903.  Alderman W Littleton was appointed the Chairman of the Devonport Education Committee.  By the end of 1903, Devonport could boast 19 schools, over 400 teachers and some 13,000 pupils.

Following the amalgamation of Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport in November 1914, responsibility for education in Devonport and East Stonehouse passed to the Plymouth Local Education Authority.

The Education Act 1918 raised the school-leaving age to the fourteenth birthday, at which it remained until 1947 when the Education Act 1944 raised it to the fifteenth birthday and created Primary schools for the 5 to 11 years olds and Secondary Modern, Grammar and Technical Schools for thereafter.  As from September 1st 1972 the age was the sixteenth birthday, but subject to rules that governed the final date of attending school after that birthday.

In addition to the education provided by the Government and the local authority, there were many privately owned day and boarding schools in old Devonport, of which the Brunswick House Establishment was just one. 

IMPORTANT:  This is NOT the current legal situation in 2019.