Pencaitland | Education

In both old and new primary schools Pencaitland has been blessed, on the whole, by caring head teachers and teaching staff and those pupils passing on to secondary school are well grounded in their various subjects.

Head teachers
Charles Bruce 1942-62
John Archer 1962-79
Thomas Couper 1979-81
James Marshall 1981-97
Miss Ross 1997-date

The move to the new school was made in 1976. It is a bright semi-open plan building and an additional three classrooms were built in 1998. In 1980, the roll was 152. By the end of the period, this had risen to 225, plus nursery (20 morning and 20 afternoon places); East Lothian guarantees a nursery place for all three and four year olds. Pencaitland Primary School hosts an authority support base for young people from anywhere in East Lothian with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. The maximum class size is six.

John Archer’s years of teaching and his period as head teacher was a time of new methods of teaching; a précis of an article he submitted to the booklet Village School (1994) pages 19-20 are given below.

John Archer was headmaster at Pencaitland School from 1962-79

It is true to say that in the 1960s the changes which took place in primary education, particularly in Pencaitland Primary School, far exceeded all of the changes which had taken place from the occupation of the school in 1870.

Whereas the old school [now Belfry Cottage] was visually attractive and possessed considerable charm, it was far from satisfactory as an environment for both staff and pupils. The heating system was unreliable – with no janitor in attendance, the head teacher had to leave his class to stoke the boiler in the middle of the day. Toilets were situated in the playground subjecting children to the elements. With the replacement of the old insanitary toilets by new mobile units, equipped with wash-hand basins with hot and cold water, great improvements were made

The old dining hall, which had at one time been a woodwork room, was damp and dingy and was replaced by a mobile unit, which was light, bright and airy. Meals were prepared at Ormiston school and brought in containers, which certainly did not add to their appeal.

With the increase in the school roll, a mobile classroom was then erected in the playground, making a total of four mobile units in a rapidly shrinking playground.

During the 1960s it was apparent that the old school was reaching the end of its days as a school, so the East Lothian Education Committee instructed its architects to draw up plans for a new school on land that had been previously purchased from the parish church.

To deal adequately with the great changes in educational philosophy and practices in the 1960s would require a book. In the course of these changes, Pencaitland Primary School was regarded by the Scottish Education Department Inspectorate and by the various teacher-training colleges to be at the forefront of the advance.

Briefly, in 1962 teaching was on a whole class basis, the teacher imparting information for the pupils to assimilate and to try to remember. This method took no account of the vast differences in intelligence, intellect and interests to be found within the range of pupils in a normal class. To change to a system whereby account was to be taken of individual abilities required a revolution in classroom practices. Henceforth the main function of the teacher was not to teach but to create situations and opportunities to teach a child to learn for himself. In Pencaitland this took several years to evolve. Although there were still occasions when class teaching was possible, the emphasis was to swing more and more to group and individual work.

Prior to the 1960s, parental involvement in the running of the school was non-existent. In 1963 the Mothers’ Club was formed in the school. Parents also helped teachers prepare all the materials that were necessary for new methods. With so much parental involvement, discipline slowly improved and the use of the belt was no longer necessary. Another innovation made in the 1960s was the formation of children’s clubs, covering a wide variety of activities, again greatly helped by the talents of parents.

Being in the forefront of progressive education during this period, it was inevitable that the school became the focus of much attention in the educational world. Many visitors came to the school from all over the world – USA, Canada, Africa, Europe, Ceylon, Malaysia, Singapore. Details of these visits can be gleaned from the log book.

For several years in succession I was invited to lecture during the summer courses at Moray House College of Education, Edinburgh, and Dundee College of Education, so that the educational philosophy and practices that were developed in Pencaitland Primary School were dispersed widely and accepted throughout much of Scotland.

This was recognised by the award of an MBE in 1969, and a further MBE to the infant teacher, Mrs Helen Raine, some years later. It would be surprising if any other school in Scotland (primary or secondary) could boast of such a double honour.

Mr Archer’s predecessor, Mr Bruce, was an old-fashioned disciplinarian, but an excellent teacher.

Secondary education was provided at schools in Ormiston (junior secondary) and Preston Lodge (senior secondary) until 1954, when the Ormiston school became primary only, and secondary pupils went to Ross High, Tranent.

1947 was the last year for school leavers at the age of 14. Some of them were not too pleased at the lengthening of their school life, but most of the pupils soon came to terms with their new conditions

Ralph Barker

There is little provision in the parish itself for adult and post-school education, except for evening classes in the larger surrounding towns. In the past, occasionally WEA courses were available, and work-related courses were provided by the City & Guilds Institute at the Edinburgh colleges.

East Lothian Council has a strong commitment to lifelong learning and a wide variety of courses are available which cover hobbies, IT skills, support for parents and so on. Latterly, Alderston House, Haddington, was used as a base for many of these, as are local high schools.

Bursaries are rarely available except for fee-paying schools in the towns or Edinburgh.