Aberlady | Education

The present Aberlady Primary School was opened in 1931 with a roll of 126 pupils under the headmastership of Alex Ross, who remained in office until 1960. In 1945 there were two assistant teachers and 119 pupils, including 39 evacuees from Mayfield House Girls’ School, who lived at Luffness House until their return to Edinburgh the following year. Ten candidates sat the Qualifying Exam or ‘Quali’ (soon renamed the Promotion Exam) in 1945, and a record 22 in 1959. In 1947 there was a summer outing to the Three Lochs, the first school trip since 1939, with a reassuring ratio of 29 adults to 44 pupils! A visiting schoolmaster from Grenada in 1946 recorded his impressions in the logbook ‘a happy and orderly little school.’

Aberlady Primary School.

Aberlady Primary School.

It could not, of course, be all ‘sweetness and light’. Attendance was quite badly affected throughout the 1940s and 1950s by outbreaks of infectious diseases, including whooping cough, scarlet fever, chicken pox, mumps and measles. Immunisation against diphtheria continued at least until 1952, to be followed by anti-polio vaccinations in the later 1950s. As late as 1967, a quarter of the pupils were off school with measles. Monthly ‘cleanliness inspections’ by the school nurse were a regular feature during these and subsequent years.

Weather too could affect the smooth running of the school. When the roads were blocked by snow in the severe winter of 1947 and 32 pupils were absent, it is recorded that Miss Jane Havery, with commendable devotion to duty, walked to school twice from Gullane. When she retired in 1954, Miss Havery had served Aberlady school for 36 years, and was a living link with the earlier school that once occupied part of the Kilspindie Hotel site in Main Street.

In 1950-1, when the school roll rose to 108, an additional (third) assistant teacher was appointed, who used the dining-hall as a classroom. Visiting specialist teachers were still comparatively rare, with none at all in 1959-60. Gradually the situation improved, but there does not seem to have been a full range of specialists until the late 1970s. Under headmaster William Doig (1960-72), summer school outings were resumed in 1962 with a forenoon of cruising on the Forth, a welcome break from school routine even for the four pupils who were seasick! The following year there is the first mention of a cycling proficiency test, conducted by ‘Lothian & Peebles Constabulary’.

Aberlady pupils had long supported National Savings, and in 1968 the school was awarded the John Archer Memorial Trophy by the National Savings Committee for Scotland, of which John Archer had been chairman. With 80 regular savers out of a roll of 94, Aberlady Primary had come top out of 804 entries. Mrs Archer later planted a young oak tree in the school grounds.

The educational experience for Aberlady children continued to broaden under Mr Doig’s successors David Bruce (1972-8) and John Roy (1978-86), though a more ominous sign of changing times was the showing in 1972 of the film Never Go with Strangers. There were more frequent school outings, science lessons in P6/7, mention of social education and environmental studies. In 1977 some pupils appeared in a TV programme about Aberlady Bay, and P7 pupils spent a day at North Berwick High School for ‘familiarisation’, an innovation that was to become an annual two-day event. On Saturday, 23rd May 1981, the Golden Jubilee of the present school was celebrated with a party!

The designation ‘headmaster’ finally disappeared from use when Elizabeth Way became the headteacher in 1987, followed by Dorothy Hermiston in 1989 and Jacqui MacKinnon in 2000. A falling roll – 57 in 1989 – caused concern, but by 2000 it had risen to 90. The school continued to ‘punch above its weight’ with many successes recorded, such as winning the under-11s Scottish Lacrosse Championship in 1999.

The duties of a teaching headteacher became increasingly onerous in the 1990s, with many new directives and initiatives. These included Devolved School Management (with budgetary control), the 5-14 Curriculum, multicultural and anti-bullying policies, national testing, tighter security, and increasing emphasis on Special Needs Education. A nursery class was set up within the school in 1993, with room for ten pre-school children. After initial problems over accommodation and staffing, the nursery unit was finally established in a new purpose-built classroom in 2000, with a full complement of 20 children attending five morning or afternoon sessions.

Following The School Boards (Scotland) Act of 1988, Aberlady school board was established in November 1989. Members took a special interest in the welfare of staff and pupils, being actively engaged with such issues as road safety, school meals, accommodation and staffing. The school was equally fortunate in having a long established PTA, which organised fund-raising activities, notably the annual Autumn Fayre. The links between the school and the village community have always been strong. In recent years, for example, OAPs had been invited to a preview of the annual Christmas concert in the community hall.

(See also – Some Reminiscences of a Country School Headmaster by William Doig, Headmaster of Aberlady Primary School from 1960-72).