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Empowering the working class

Today we continue our look at Barbados’ education system focussing on the Vestry Scholarships. Barbados is celebrating 50 years of free universal education.

by Neville Clarke

Minister of Education Ronald Jones (left), Chairman of the board of management of the Lodge School, Patterson Cheltenham (centre) and officials of a construction company examine the drawings for the renovation of the Lodge School.

Prior to the introduction of Free Secondary Education in Barbados on September 6, 1962, access to the island’s leading grammar schools was reserved for the well to do or the children of the working class who won scholarships.

Before the introduction of the Common Entrance Examination in 1959, the 11 older grammar schools held its own examination on a specific day.

Many sons of the working class gained entry to these grammar school on the basis of winning a vestry scholarship. On winning the scholarship, the student was entitled to free lunch, free books, the non-payment of tuition fees and in some cases free uniforms for the duration of his stay at the school. Even though tuition fees at Combermere School was a mere $8 .75 per term, it presented a major challenge to many parents of the working class.

A former Harrison College student told Barbados TODAY that students entering that institution were asked to pay a tuition fee of $28.50 plus a petty fee of $8, while a graduate of The Lodge School said that they were asked to pay a tuition fee of $28 on entering. This was a period when the salary scales in most workplaces were very low and many parents looked forward to their sons winning a scholarship to gain a sound education at one of the grammar schools.

A former principal at one of the newer secondary schools noted that this was a period when there was a clear difference between these schools and the older grammar schools. He stressed that although they were seen as secondary schools they were treated like primary schools with all decisions being taken at the Ministry of Education level.

The former education administrator said these schools were: St. Leonard’s Boys and Girls which were established in 1952; Princess Margaret Secondary School and West St. Joseph Secondary School (Grantley Adams Memorial School) in 1955; the Parkinson Memorial Secondary School in 1960 and the Springer Memorial Girls’ School in 1964.

He pointed out that students attending the newer secondary school were asked to leave school on reaching the age of 14, while those attending the Grammar schools left school at the age of 16 or later.

The difference between the newer secondary school and the older grammar schools was even extended to the length of vacation given to the schools. He said while the newer secondary schools got six weeks during the summer vacation, the older grammar schools enjoyed a summer vacation of eight weeks.

The former principal however explained that these arrangements were changed in 1983 when the principals of the new secondary schools were given more autonomy. He said with the new arrangements in place, principals of the newer secondary schools were able to sit in on interview panels when the school was recruiting new members of staff. On the other hand, our source stressed that prior to 1983, the principals of the older grammar schools had more autonomy.

He recalled that on one occasion when he applied for position at one of the older grammar schools, the interviewing panel included the principal of the school and his executive secretary. 

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