The majority of Jersey people seem to have been content over the centuries for their children to remain largely uneducated, and it was only the enormous growth in the population and influx of English people in the first half of the 19th century which brought a big demand for schools. Initially, however, these schools were either run by the church or as private, commercial undertakings.
Those Jerseymen (and very few women) who did manage to get an education in the middle ages would probably have received it at home, from their parents, or a close relative. Perhaps they would have been taught by the Rector. Some were lucky enough to reach a sufficient standard, and have the financial support, to go to a university in England or France.
The great majority of people in the island before the 19th century spoke only Jèrriais, and there were no books in this local version of Norman-French, so even to obtain a basic education in their own island they would have to learn true French. Access to French universities was determined by whether the country was at war with England, as it frequently was, and access to English universities would have required the student to learn English first.
Most who did make it to university usually returned to the island and took up jobs in the island's government, or provided the next generation of clergymen. It was not only nepotism which saw sons succeed fathers and nephews their uncles in so many offricial functions; they were often the only people qualified to take on the jobs.
It was a clergyman, Jehan Hue, Curé of St Saviour, who made the first move to establish a grammar school (for the teaching of Latin grammar) in 1477, when he offered land adjoining the Chapel of St Mannelier in his parish and promised to build a house for Jean Neel and Vincent Tehy, established a similar school, St Anastase, for the western parishes, and additional funding so that St Mannelier could go ahead. The two schools are usually mentioned together by Jersey historians, but somewhat more is known about St Mannelier than St Anastase.
Parish schools were founded as early as the 16th century, because of the stress placed on education by Calvinism, which the island had begun to adopt as its religion in the middle of that century. Parents were required to ensure that their children attended regularly and schoolmasters were expected to identify those pupils of promise so that they could receive support from public funds to pursue their education to a higher level. The States ordered that the parish tresors were used to send students to Oxford, the Constables also made collections for this purpose, and in 1593 the Governor was supporting one boy at university, the Jurats another, the Rectors a third and the parishes another two.
The two grammar schools had a rather chequered history and about 100 years after they were founded, at the end of the 16th century, Laurens Baudains put pressure on the States to establish a new school in St Helier, but even though he provided the property and the money to run the school 'for the instruction of youth in grammar, latin, the liberal arts and religion' the venture failed, and he diverted his funding to providing places at university in England for those islanders who could not otherwise afford to go.
Inspection of schools
By the end of the 19th century, before the big influx of English immigrants which caused Jersey's population to soar between 1900 and 1950, St Mannelier and St Anastase were still functioning, and there was a church school in every parish. In addition, nearly all Rectors took private pupils in their homes. A more formal system of education, largely under the control of the Church of England, was starting to emerge and the schools were subject to inspections by a board of 'visitors' headed by the Dean.
Church monopoly broken
But the Church monopoly on education was about to be broken. Attempts to establish private schools had traditionally been challenged by the Rector of the parish in which the school was started. Because the challenge had to be made to the Ecclesiastical Court, it was no surprise when each successive challenge was upheld. Even an attempt by a schoolmaster licenced to run a school in St Helier to open one in St Lawrence was successfully challenged before the Court.
The only exception was for schools which taught navigation at a time when Jersey's economy was highly dependent on the sea.
In 1787 George Ahier started a school in Trinity and was immediately challenged by Charles Dorey, the licensed schoolmaster in the parish. A major dispute arose between the Dean and the three Rectors who had been appointed as assessors for this case. They won the day and the church monopoly on education was broken.
In the 19th century, a growing population, many of them from England, created a demand for more schools, and all manner of private establishments were founded, some better than others. The Church continued to run the parish schools, but the time was rapidly approaching when the States would have to take charge of education to ensure that satisfactory standards were maintained.
Then in the 1846, with the first official visit to the Island by a reigning Monarch - Queen Victoria - eagerly anticipated, it was decided to revive Laurens' Baudains 17th century proposal for a school in St Helier and Victoria College, as the school would become, was named in honour of the Queen.
Jersey Ladies College
Jersey Ladies College, now the Jersey College for Girls, was founded in 1880. The education of women and girls had not been taken very seriously before, although the parochial church schools were open to girls. In the country parishes girls were expected to help in the home and on the farms and prepare for marriage.
The Ladies College opened in September 1880 in a house in Roussel Street. The foundation stone for the new building at Rouge Bouillon was laid in 1887 and the façade of the building remains unchanged to this day, although the school itself moved to its current home in and adjoining what was Victoria College House in the late 20th century.
- Education history 2, the story continued
- Education history 3, the conclusion