The first pupil register from Sunderland High School’s archives

Miss Gilliat with the staff and pupils of Sunderland High School.
Miss Gilliat with the staff and pupils of Sunderland High School.
Have your say

Sunderland High School shaped many young lives in the city.

And when it closed, its archives were donated to the Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

Mary Gilliat.

Mary Gilliat.

Trevor Thorne, from the society, takes a first look at its history.

The first pupil register is an interesting document.

It shows that the daughters of many of the town’s notables, including shipyard owners, doctors, solicitors and merchants, all went to the school.

One of the oldest items is a printed pamphlet detailing the 1887 dispute between the first Head Mistress, Miss Mary Gilliat and a pupil teacher.

The school opened at Easter 1884 and Miss Gilliat was Head until 1895 before leaving to become a missionary at Nassau in the Bahamas.

At the age of 16, the lady in dispute first became a pupil when the school opened. Her mother was a widow with four other children. After she had been in the school a year, it was agreed that she could become a pupil teacher without pay but saving her fees.

In 1846 a National Pupil Teacher Scheme was introduced to elementary schools. The period of training to qualify as a full time teacher in Victorian times could be as short as six months. The new scheme was for those who wanted to be teachers but could not afford the cost of a full time course.

Pupil teachers could begin training for the required five year period from age 13 onwards. They were “apprenticed” to the head of the school, often being chosen from its pupils.

They taught during the day but also got 90 minutes extra instruction from the head after normal hours.

Male pupil teachers were usually paid £10 annually, while females received £7. The head was also paid a fee.

At the end of a satisfactory five years, pupil teachers were awarded a certificate of training which allowed them to sit for a “Queens Scholarship” exam to gain a place at a college.

Once there men would get a £25 grant and ladies £20. The alternative was to be an “uncertificated teacher” who would be paid less. This meant the scheme was important to those who could not afford the full time course.

A letter from Miss Gilliat to the pupil teacher in January 1887 sets out reasons why the pupillage was not extended beyond the first year.

Bitter correspondence between the parties - during the remainder of January 1887 - was set in print, presumably for distribution to interested parties.

The pupil teacher sought to dispute the accusations made by Miss Gilliat, rather than meeting her to resolve the problem. The main issue was whether the young student had lied about failing some art examinations.

At the time Sunderland School of Art held evening classes. Those with sufficient ability would sit exams set by Kensington School of Art.

After 1890, the classes were held in the newly built town hall.

Miss Gilliat was having second thoughts about her student and would need to be persuaded about her future suitability before continuing with the arrangement.

The young lady defended herself to prove her innocence but, in doing so, seems to have closed the door on a teaching career with the High School.

In support of the girl’s case it appears she was a better art student than her sister who also took the exams. She was expected by her teachers to pass in two subjects but when the results came through it was her sister who was successful and the girl herself had failed.

It surprised her art teachers who considered whether the pass had been given to the wrong sister.

The girl, in the end, did not become a teacher and by 1891 she was a governess for her sister-in-law’s children.

The High School archive can be viewed at the Sunderland Antiquarian Society’s Heritage Centre in Douro Terrace.

For opening times, see the Sunderland Antiquarian website at http://www.sunderland-antiquarians.org/