Dunbar | Education

Dunbar | East Barns | West Barns

In 1945, there were three schools in the parish – Dunbar, East Barns and West Barns – all of which catered for local pupils up to the then school leaving age of 14. This rose to age 15 in 1947, and to 16 in 1972. Dunbar Public School also offered secondary education to children from the surrounding area – the parishes of Dunbar, Spott, Whittingehame, Stenton, Innerwick and Oldhamstocks (Snodgrass C. P. 1953 p394).

Dunbar was a combined primary and senior secondary school essentially in the same building (1828) at Woodbush, taking infants through to seniors. The site was full of fresh sea air right on the sea front.

New (separate buildings) schools, under a single headmaster (John Muir until October 1970), formed the primary and secondary departments of the grammar school. The primary school became a school in its own right in October 1970. New schools had been planned for Dunbar before the war; the new primary (designed by R. & A. Man, built on a site of 3.97 acres, offering 560 places) south of Belhaven Road began receiving classes in the autumn of 1951 (some classes remained at Woodbush until 1958) and the new grammar in October 1961 (by Cruden, building began on a 10.46 acres site at Sailor’s Park in March 1960, and the school was officially opened 16 February 1962). The primary cost £52,000 and the grammar around £¼ million.

The bare costs hide the loss of around 150 years of education at Woodbush – when the school buildings were eventually demolished there appears to have been no systematic investigation of its building phases. Woodbush was redeveloped for housing, a mixture of terraced and flatted accommodation filling much of the site and old school playground. The two schools remained linked with a shared headmaster until 1970 (Glass, L 1997 pp67, 119), even though the schools were some distance apart

In 1971, Dunbar primary school introduced an Adjustment System, the first in the county. Renamed as the Remedial System, this was later known as Learning Support Education, and the support teacher was able to help both the under-achieving and the under-stretched pupils (Glass, L. (1997 p126), although there had been a ‘special class’ for much of the 1960s.

By the 1990s both schools needed extensive renovation. Both had complexes of ‘temporary’ classrooms in the playgrounds and at the primary a similar set-up housed the entire nursery in its own compound. The £2.4million extension to Dunbar Primary School (eight new classrooms, new library, staff room and offices, a support-based classroom, new toilets and disabled access), announced at the end of 1998 was completed by August 1999. The grammar school extension began in 2003.

Grammar school headmaster John Muir organised a school trip to Paris in 1958. Other pupils went on an EU Cruise on the SS Uganda in 1972. Since then, such trips have become commonplace.

The schools began to plan for their centenary (1997) in the autumn of 1996. Both the primary and secondary, separate since the 1960s, were involved with East Lothian Council Museums Service to present exhibitions and a historical account in 1997.

Dunbar Primary School roll was 546 in 1980, and 501 in 2000.

The grammar school roll was 561 in 1980, and 607 in 2000.

East Barns

East Barns School began as a private venture by the Duke of Roxburghe, William Mitchell Innes of East Barns farm and William Sandilands of Barneyhill farm. The core of the school complex dated to 1849 and comprised schoolroom, master’s house and garden and the children’s playground – although Alexander Sutter’s schoolroom was only 30 x 18 feet. After the Education Act (1872) the school was incorporated into the local school board and was eventually administered by East Lothian County Council Education Department, who extended it several times (adding the playground, dining room and a hall for PT). Pre- war, the school was under a Mr McCulloch, who used the resources found outside for elementary surveying with pole, chain and tape. He was later replaced by John R. Douglas, whose wife taught the infants. By then there were two classrooms, the hall and dining room and washrooms, etc for the pupils. In Douglas’s day, slates were still used, the children sitting at rows of wooden benches. Milk was distributed at morning break (as it was in all schools from before and throughout the 1960s). Sports were played in the adjacent field (usually used for grazing cows and hence with concomitant ‘natural’ hazards).

Mr Douglas was reckoned ‘handy… and overeager… with the strap’, and both girls and boys were punished for what seem today, very minor incidents. Children who were perhaps noisy, doing nothing nasty, were hit. Mr Douglas had a special way of making the punishment worse; he would lay a pencil across the boy’s hand, before bringing down the strap on the hand. William Doig was headmaster in 1960-1. The school was then capable of holding up to 76 pupils and had had 74 as recently as 1939 although in 1955 there were only 40; an assistant helped the headmaster, a typical arrangement in East Lothian’s smaller rural schools. The intake was drawn from East Barns itself, the Pinkertons, Skateraw and Bilsdean; in 1962, there were 31 pupils and 2 teachers. The document that in 1962 discussed the closure of the school stated

There is no village or community at East Barns and the school itself is situated on the Great North Road at a very dangerous corner (NAS ED 48/1650, p3).

This was perhaps a little disingenuous, as from September 1961 the Associated Portland Cement Company had invested £6 million in the cement works nearby.

The school’s last teachers were the head teacher, Mrs Paterson, and Christine Harper, who oversaw its closure and the transfer of the children to the new primary school at Innerwick, which opened in February 1969. The school roll was 63, with 32 children moving from East Barns to join the existing 31 pupils. Pupils from Oxwellmains and the Pinkertons were to move to Dunbar school.

West Barns

The village has three school buildings that can still be identified today: the old penny school (built c1790) now known as the Trows was the first of the parish schools. It was extended twice and regularly flooded; in 2002 it was damaged by fire. The Victorian school on School Brae was built in response to the 1872 Act, which drew in children from a wide area and from all the local farms, hence complementing East Barns. It had a staff of a headmaster and two teachers. The third school is the new and present school, built on a 3.11 acre site (previously a playing field) to the east of the village in 1972.

Head teachers
1902-38 I. A. Mills
1938-72 James Deans
1972-93 James (Hamish) Henderson
1993-date David Wharton

It was not until the completion of council house building that the new school was built, with headmaster and two teachers. At one time the school roll was very low and near to closure, but with the relaxing of catchment areas, the school was able to attract pupils from outside due to the fact it was a small school with higher than average educational attainment. In 1980 the roll was 66, and in 2000 it was 97.

From March 1999, Dunbar was one of two places in the county (the other being Prestonpans) participating in the New Community School pilot (ends March 2003). The cluster of schools under the umbrella of the Community School is: West Barns, Innerwick, Dunbar, Stenton and East Linton Primaries and Dunbar Grammar School. The programme aimed – in Dunbar – to promote social inclusion, support children and families, and raise attainment. The focus is the child, their family and their community; that child’s individual needs, and meeting those needs through an integrated provision of services – teachers, social workers, community education workers, health professionals and others working together in a single team.

The private school at Belhaven Hill opened in 1923. It is a well-regarded co-educational preparatory school, with some 100 boarding and day pupils, aged 8-13. About 85% of pupils are boarders. Day pupils began in 1976; girls attended from 1977-89, and again 1995-date. In 2000, the school roll was 39 girls and 60 boys.

Evening classes have been available throughout the period, mostly held at the grammar school. Upholstery evening classes were popular; a crook maker also gave classes. Until c1980, the University of Edinburgh held extra-mural lectures locally. Latterly classes associated with computer skills were popular.