Schools Inquiry Commission

Report on the Duke’s School, Alnwick, 1868

The Duke’s school at Alnwick, a school wholly supported by the Duke of Northumberland, was originally an elementary school attended by 200 boys. The number has lately been reduced to 100, and the education raised in character, though the subjects of instruction are confined to English. This change, though not popular in some quarters, seems to have been wise and beneficial. It is now a very good school of its class.

The limitation of the numbers and the improvement in the class of scholars have naturally created some dissatisfaction, and one correspondent writes to inform me that very many of the boys belong to the opulent classes, and that none, or hardly any, are admitted who do not show a certain amount of education, ability, and aptitude.

The Duke’s manager, who gave me every facility for inspecting the school, explained to me that the changes recently introduced were not made with any intention of altering the character of the school, but merely to improve its efficiency.

The boys belong chiefly to the poorer classes, but a few are admitted of a higher grade than the rest. As there is considerable competition for nominations to the school, all applicants are first examined by the master, and on his furnishing a satisfactory report the boys are appointed by the manager as vacancies occur in the school. In making his appointments the manager is influenced chiefly by the circumstances and conduct of the parents, subject, however, in every case to the intellectual test above mentioned. The beneficial results of this entrance examination upon the teaching of the school are very evident, and give the master a great advantage over his rival at the Corporation Grammar School, where pupils of all grades are admitted without being required to know anything.

The Duke’s School was formerly under Government inspection; but the late Duke objected to this arrangement, and the yearly examination of scholars has been discontinued.

There is a good school-room, but no class-room, the manager fearing that it might be used for the purpose of bestowing extra attention on the boys of a better class, who in some instances attend the school. In addition to a playground there are 24 little gardens contiguous to the school, which are awarded to the best boys, who receive the profits from their cultivation. All the arrangements connected with this school are pleasing and satisfactory, and the boys are very well-conducted. They belong to every rank in life, from the labouring to the professional class, and some of them remain at the school till the age of 15. Few are admitted under nine years of age, but there is no superior limit of age for admission.

The school is a Church of England school. Instruction in the catechism and attendance at church are compulsory. The master, who has an assistant, is a certificated teacher.

I was much pleased with the viva voce examination of the pupils. No languages are taught, but instruction is given in drawing and in the elements of chemistry. The drawing, which is educational in its character, was in some instances very good. Casts of mouldings taken from Alnwick Castle furnish excellent models.

I set some questions to be answered by the pupils, but the master apparently does not understand the importance of adhering rigidly to the rule that a boy’s work in an examination should be strictly his own. The answers, therefore, which I have received afford no real evidence of what the boys can put down in writing, when they are left entirely to themselves.

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