When School Attendance Was Not a Priority

Absences from school have always caused disruption for teachers. Nowadays, lessons are much more individually tailored so having a child miss school does not usually cause a problem. In the days when our Auchindrain children attended Furnace Primary School it was a different matter though.


Children were arranged according to the (exam) Standard they were working through. Everyone would have received the same lessons and were expected to proceed at the same pace. If children were missing it meant when they returned they were at a different stage than their peer group, meaning the teacher had to somehow get them up to speed while still taking the other students on to the next stage.


There have always been many reasons for absences from school – illness, family problems, holidays which must be taken when the parent’s employer gives them and many others. The Auchindrain children had less in the way of ‘official’ school holidays, but parents seemed to be less concerned with them missing school for a variety of other reasons.


There were, of course, many absences related to illnesses such as scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles and influenza. At least one of these illnesses would be in evidence every winter. However, there are a variety of other interesting ‘excuses’ for not attending school.


Children would be kept at home to help with ‘field duties’. Mostly this was related to potato planting or harvesting but we also have a note of children missing school to go and gather ‘white grass’ or firewood in the woods. The white grass was used for thatching.


The teacher in Furnace would get very frustrated by all these absences. To some degree his salary depended on how many children attended the school and their exam results at the end of the year. The irregular attendance of the girls regularly causes comment. The education of girls was still not seen as important as that of boys, and girls would often be kept at home to help with younger children or spring cleaning or any one of innumerable household chores which needed an extra pair of hands. Their role in life was still seen to be that of homemakers, wives and mothers and so anything beyond basic reading and writing was not seen as necessary.


Boys would go to the local sales to help their fathers with the livestock and we have one entry stating that some of the senior boys were absent as they were helping with a shooting party at Cumlodden Estate. We haven’t been able to make out what their specific job was, but perhaps one of our readers who is familiar with shooting terminology could help out? The line from the log book says they were ‘beating the ………….’ Can anyone tell us what the last word is and what that would have involved?