Jean Court: Education and Schooling (Part 1)

‘Mary found her schooldays quite acceptable but I did not.’ (p. 6)

Within Jean Court’s memoir, education and schooling are two recurrent themes. We begin to learn that Jean seemed to have a hard time within school, mainly due to punishments and her poor arithmetic skills. We also become aware that Mary is seemingly more intelligent: ‘she was a bright child and we later tried for a scholarship to the Red Maids School’ (p. 6). Although Mary is academically more advanced than Jean, there are no malicious or jealous remarks towards her sister. It appears Jean has accepted her sibling being smarter, prettier and more loved (by their grandpa) from a young age.

Jean gives the impression that her grandfather and her mother are well-educated. ‘He had been well educated at the Blue Boys school’ (p. 1). This must have been at the ‘bluecoat charity’ school in Bristol, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital or the City School as it was known locally. However, this schooling did not seem to fully contribute to his future, as I explore within my post on life and labour. Jean also hints at her mother’s education: ‘mother had taken lessons in her youth.’ (p. 4) She writes of a piano within their family home and reveals that her mother once played. This suggest that Jean’s grandfather had enough resources to give his daughter a piano and music lessons, something only the better-off class of working people could afford.

While ‘Mary found her schooldays quite acceptable’, writes Jean. ‘I did not. She was a bright child and later on was tried for a scholarship to the Red Maids School but the teachers had little patience with the pupils and Mary’s teacher ended up throwing a book at Mary’s head and she never passed the exam’ (p. 6). But, according to Jean, ‘I was a perfect dunce at arithmetic…unable to work out the problem I was dismissed contemptuously and slunk back to my seat hating myself and everyone else’ (p. 6). School was a difficult time for Jean and we are told of her continuous embarrassment due to her mathematical mistakes. Due to her errors or ‘some failing in my behaviour of which I was unconscious I was not at all popular with the teachers’ (p. 6). The disapproval from her teachers resulted in her unhappiness  as well as regular punishments. Many schools in this period were becoming more child-friendly, argues Jonathan Rose: ‘The later elementary school was often a livelier, more original and imaginative institution’ (Rose, 1993). Sadly this did not apply to Jean Court.

‘I received canings for every little mistake.’ (p. 6) Jean she writes. Although it was likely she was not alone in receiving this punishment, the regular canings severely affected poor Jean. ‘My nerves were in a bad state owing to the treatment at school’ (p. 7). Jean recalls the damage her mistreatment caused, ‘and when the door opened and the headmistress came in to collect the papers I banked out.’ (p. 7) After fainting at school from sheer fear of her headteacher, Jean was taken to hospital. She claims, ‘I was always getting swollen glands and being taken up to the Children’s hospital and my appetite grew worse.’ (p. 7) It is evident that her school was not benefiting her in an educational or mental way, which resulted in a positive move for young Jean.

Canes in School During the 1900s

Other children received similar harsh treatment: ‘And I knew I was in trouble. Two slaps of the cane was the result.’ (p. 3) This statement is from another autobiographer, Thomas McLauchlan, he writes of canings within school, as does Dorothy Squires. Caning was an extremely popular method of punishment within schools during the 1900s and continued until fairly recently: ‘Twenty years ago…legalisation banning corporal punishment in UK state schools became law,’ (Gould, 2007). Luckily, physical abuse was banned by parliament in 1987, although it remained active within private schools until 1999.

However, things would improve for Jean: ‘I was obviously unable to cope at the school and [ ] I was to be transferred to an Open-Air school situated in Knowle’ (p. 7). I will explore the move to her new school and Jean’s positive recollections about it in my second post on Education and Schooling.


188 COURT, Jean, ‘Living in the Lane’, TS, pp.11 (c. 10,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Canes in Schools. [IMAGE] URL:

Gould, Mark. ‘Sparing the Rod,’ The Guardian. (2007). [ONLINE]

Rose, Jonathan. ‘Willingly to School: The Working-Class Response to Elementary Education in Britain, 1875-1918’, Journal of British Studies 32. 2 1993, 114-138.

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