The ‘wee school’, also called ‘the academy’, was a school in the Upper Tweed valley for about 40 years. It was only a small corrugated iron building with painted wood panelling in the interior, measuring  about 14ft by 9ft.  It opened in the late 1890s, closed in 1938-9, was said to be the ‘smallest school in Scotland’, and has an intriguing educational history.

 Teacher and pupils outside the school in about 1900

Viv Billingham, in her book Tweedhope Sheep Dogs, reproduces an account by the last teacher, Jean Fleming, in a fascinating account of the ‘comprehensive’ education in the ‘wee school’. As a young, new teacher in 1936, Miss Fleming was horrified to find that she had been allocated to a small, remote school near the source of the Tweed. At that time there were only 4 pupils. The set-up was primitive: no running water (carried up from the nearby burn); the toilet was perched over a burn with a little hut on top; children brought their own piece and teacher made cocoa at lunchtime. But what attention and education they had! They had the basics: reading, arithmetic, English and writing but also had geography, history, some music and religious discussion. The afternoons were for nature study. The children had joint projects. For example, one on wool: they collected wool, dyed it, spun it, roughly wove it. Unfortunately, there was no provision to follow it through with a visit to one of the commercial mills further down the Tweed valley.

Some children lived close by. The McTier family with 18 children added to the school role greatly over the years. Others walked to school. In 1929 the youngest, aged 6, walked 3 miles to school. In poor weather some children could not attendThe school is little more than a corrugated iron shack but Viv Billingham renovated it with enthusiasm when she lived in Tweedhopefoot. She acquired school desks, and had a fine collection of photographs and books. The ‘wee school’ is still being preserved by its owner, Charlie Dobson and maintained with the volunteer help of Kenton Brown. It still has school desks, an old ink box, and some books, magazines of the ‘50s and ‘60s and long forgotten coat.. 

This unique school is an intriguing example of the provision for rural education in the early 20th century. From the accounts of Miss Fleming, it provided a remarkable education. Much learning was achieved without centrally-driven targets for knowledge. Its continued  existence is a demonstration of people in the community volunteering time and effort to maintain this fine example of rural history. 

 

Duncan Davidson

 

The interior restored by Viv Billingham.

 

A coat hangs on a peg. The last teachers’s coat?