The Parents' National Educational
Schools in Edinburgh
"In the 1950s, there were three Parents'
National Educational Union (PNEU) schools in Edinburgh:
1. Queen Margaret's PNEU School
1940s to mid-1950s: 100+ pupils
Darnaway Street, later re-located to 29 India Street.
2. Mrs Fisher's PNEU Nursery &
Primary School Belgrave Road
3. PNEU Primary School
3 Cluny Gardens.
By 1970, all 3 schools had closed."
The Parents' National Educational
Schools in Britain
"There were well over 50 Parents' National
Educational Union schools at that time, mostly in England, where only
three remain today. These schools followed the Charlotte Mason
educational methods and their teachers trained at the Charlotte Mason
College in Ambleside.
They were all girls' schools following the
same curriculum, term exams and uniform with blue, white and brown
striped ties. All the pupils wore the school badge with a skylark
flying upwards and the PNEU motto: "I am, I can, I ought, I will."
encircled it, with 'Parents National Educational Union School' at
Charlotte Mason firmly believed that girls
should aim for the stars (like a skylark) and her education methods
should give them the confidence and the ability to get there..
PNEU schools adopted a gentle approach to
girls' education, encouraging harmony and understanding - both inside
and outside the classroom. PNEU girls had a good relationship with
their teachers and socialised with girls from all age groups."
"Charlotte Mason invested her life in
improving the quality of children's education. Her ideas initially
led to one of the primary methods of home schooling, the education of
children at home and abroad by parents or professional tutors, rather
than in a public or private school.
Charlotte Mason was born in Bangor, Wales.
She was an only child and was educated at home by her parents. She
enrolled in the Home and Colonial Society for the training of teachers
and earned a First Class Certificate.
She taught for more than ten years at
Davison High School, Worthing. During this time, she began to
develop her vision for "a liberal education for all", a generous and
broad curriculum for all children, regardless of social class. ...
The Parents' Education Unionwas formed and
quickly expanded. In 1891, Charlotte Mason moved to Ambleside, in
the Lake District, England, and established 'The House of Education', a
training school for governesses and others working with young children.
In 1892, 'The Parents' Education Union' added the word 'National' to its
After her death, the training school became
'Charlotte Mason College' and the headquarters of 'The PNEU' "
"Probably the best known of Charlotte
Mason's methods is her use of living books instead of dry, factual
Living books are usually written by one
person who has a passion for the subject and writes in conversational or
narrative style which is 'alive' and engaging.
Textbooks were allowed if they meet that
criterion and are not written in a manner which would insult the child's
intelligence. Living books were used with as many subjects as
Charlotte Mason advocated short lessons for
younger children, growing progressively longer as the child matured.
Elementary-age children's lessons were no longer than 15 or 20 minutes
on one particular subject. In this way, the habit of full
attention was encouraged and children received a broad and varied
Here are examples of teaching methods for a few of the classes that
Diana refers to:
Spelling: This involved giving the pupil
a sentence or passage to study until she was sure she knew all the
spelling, capitalisation and punctuation. The teacher would then
dictate the passage to her, one phrase at a time. The teacher
would watch and any misspelt words were corrected immediately.
... Great ideas of men and women of history were revealed in their
works, whether paintings, writings or music. An appreciation was
taught through Picture Study, which introduced the child to the works of
a great artist one at a time, allowing her to look at it undisturbed,
then she was asked for a narration of what she had observed. Music
was taught in much the same way, by listening to the works of great
- Nature Study:
... in Primary Schools, one afternoon a week was
devoted to spending time outdoors. For nature study, children took
along a sketchpad to draw and label the different aspects
of nature they observed. Regular
nature study paved the way for meaningful science instruction.
Charlotte Mason emphasised the importance of
children's understanding of mathematical concepts before ever doing any
paper and pencil equations. They were encouraged to think through
the whys and wherefores of solving word problems such as how mathematics
applied to life situations.
Poetry was an integral part of daily life in
Charlotte Mason's schools. However, poetry was not presented in
order to be analysed, criticised, and told what to think about it.
Poetry introduced the child to great ideas ... . The pupils
over 12 years also studied two Shakespeare plays a year memorising
passages for end of term exams.
- English Language:
Since Grammar is the study of words, not things,
Charlotte Mason thought it a difficult concept for young children to
grasp. She recommended postponing the formal study of grammar
until the child had reached the age of ten. ...
- Bible Study:
Charlotte Mason recommended that the Bible was
read every day ...
History was considered most relevant to
children through the use of living books, biographies, autobiographies
and narration. In addition, Charlotte Mason students kept a 'Book
of Centuries' which was similar to a personal time line in a notebook.
They added people and events to the pages as they studied about them.
Just as history was the story of what happened
to a person, geography was the story of where he was and how his
surroundings affected what happened. Geography was taught through
living books with maps to supplement.
Charlotte Mason ... students learnt French as a
second language ... taught in a living setting.
Charlotte Mason chose new books each year,
for each grade. Her PNEU schools never re-used curriculum She
believed in finding the very best books, using her very high standards,
to continually fill her students' minds with ideas and exposure to the
"In Edinburgh from 1899, parents who
were regular subscribers to the 'Parent's Review' (the monthly magazine
of Home-Training and Culture which was edited by Charlotte Mason) had
established organized meetings in Edinburgh. ... This led to a
PNEU school being established in Edinburgh, possibly in Miss Frances
Blogg's house . It would only have had about a dozen girl pupils
Memories of my Education
Mrs Fisher's PNEU Nursery and Primary School
"I attended Mrs Fisher's PNEU Nursery and
Primary School, Belgrave Road, Edinburgh from the age of
three-and-a-half until I was five years old in 1955, when my family
moved to Aberdour in Fife.
Mrs Fisher's school consisted of one class
room in the large front room of her house. There were about 15
children, mostly girls. There were possibly three boys in
the nursery class and two assistants.
Mrs Fisher's pupils wore a PNEU Uniform
which consisted of:
- a brown blazer and beret with the
- a brown skirt
- a PNEU blue, white and brown
I remember learning to read and write,
including numbers, before I was five. I also remember drawing and
designs before being taught letters.
I still have a mat which I made at this
school. I was happy there and am still friends with another former pupil
(Lillah) who also went on to Queen Margaret PNEU School."
Memories of my Education
Queen Margaret PNEU School Edinburgh
"I travelled from Aberdour by train to
attend Queen Margaret's PNEU School from 1960 to 1966.
- The Headmistress was Miss Janet
- Her deputy was Miss Ida Moffat.
In 1960, there were about 100 pupils ranging
from nursery to 18 years old. Boys were admitted to the Nursery
The uniform consisted of:
- a blue blouse
- a PNEU tie of blue, white and brown
- a grey skirt or gymslip for younger
- a blue and white striped dress, in
- a grey cardigan with grey blazer
with PNEU badge,
or grey tweed coat with a PNEU blue, white and brown scarf, in winter.
In the summer, we wore a panama hat, and in
the winter a grey tweed hat, both with a blue, with and brown ribbon
around it and the school badge. The senior girls were allowed to
replace the hat with a grey beret with badge.
We were proud of our uniform and thought it
the best in Edinburgh, but perhaps we were biased!"
"The school was in the middle and basement
flat at 29 India Street, Edinburgh. This was Miss Smith's house.
Her living room and bedroom were on the ground floor. Pupils used
her kitchen and bathroom.
She was a lovely lady who seemed to me to be
a very old lady. She had to be in her 70s! She was very
proud of 'her girls' and always saw the best in them.
Miss Moffat also appeared elderly, but was
possibly in her 60s. She was more formidable than Miss Smith.
When we were younger we were quite frightened of her at first, but she,
too, was a kindly spinster who lived for 'her girls'. ...
- Miss Smith taught the girls
aged 9-12 years.
- Miss Moffat taught the girls aged 12
to 14 years.
We had special teachers for:
Art: Miss Parkington
Geography: Mr Gibb
Biology: Mrs Duff
"There were roughly 6 to 8 girls in each
- There were four class rooms on the
- The Assembly Hall on the ground
floor was used for nursery pupils.
- The kitchen was also used as a
Biology class room.
- Miss Smith and Miss Moffat each had
a large class room where they taught three forms. They were always
This gave us a very good opportunity to
learn to concentrate, although it was often hard not to listen to the
more exciting lessons of another form, rather than finish an English
exercise. ... ."
The School Day
"The school day started at 8.50am with
This consisted of:
- a hymn
- the Lord's Prayer
- a roll call
followed by deep breathing exercises or
jumping on the spot before classes began.
Mornings were devoted to the more academic
Midway through the morning, Mrs Stewart took
us up to Queen Street Gardens for PT (Physical Training). This
consisted of relay races and occasionally rounders.
Afternoons were a time for hockey, netball
or tennis in the summer, or enjoying an orderly 'crocodile' to the
Botanical Garden, Inverleith Park or the Edinburgh Art Galleries.
We then returned to school for an hour in
the afternoon to study Shakespeare, Singing, Art or Music Appreciation,
before going home at 3.45pm."
"Up to the age of 14, when we started
studying for the London GCE 'O Level', examinations, Bible Study
was the first lesson of the day.
We had to memorise a chapter from the Old
testament, one from the New Testament and a Psalm, to be recited as part
of the twice-yearly examinations. ...
We were taught
- French (starting at 10 o' clock)
- Latin (starting at 11 o' clock)
- Ancient & Modern History.
I also remember the history drawings , where
we would copy illustrations of historical artefacts which taught us more
about the period, captured our interest and gave us practice in accurate
We studied Geography, Citizenship, Music and
Art Appreciation - Constable, Rembrandt, Monet, etc. Some of their
works remain vividly in my mind.
We also studied Science and had nature walks
to the Botanic Garden and pond.
"Narration was one of the main PNEU methods
of teaching which differed from other schools.
At the start of a lesson, we would be asked
to narrate what we had learnt at the last lesson on the subject, and
when the lesson finished we were asked to narrate what had just been
learnt by deciphering the knowledge and putting it in our own words.
We took this in turns decided by the teacher.
This was an excellent way to train the
memory to stay attentive and not daydream. ... The teachers
were friendly and gave us great encouragement. Comparisons were never
made between the pupils. We were not discouraged from enjoying
subjects that we were not good at.
Twice yearly, we would sit the PNEU
examinations which were set at the PNEU headquarters at Ambleside for
all PNEU schools, as we all followed the same curriculum. Our
examination papers were marked by an external examiner at Ambleside.
Their reports did not have percentages or marks as such, but a word
assessment, such as 'excellent', 'good' or 'fairly good'."
"We had fun at Queen Margaret's PNEU school
too, putting on plays like 'Toad of Toad Hall' at Adam House in Chambers
Street, and the unforgettable Elizabethan Fair, where we performed
Morris Dancing and sang songs from Shakespeare's 'Midsummer Night's
Dream', which I still remember ... .
We went on summer outings to such places as
Traquair House and the Borders. I can still see Miss Moffat taking
off her stockings to cross the stream!"
"The teachers were very trusting. I
travelled from Aberdour, Fife, by train each day with another girl, Ann,
who was in my class. We were often late as we dallied to school,
and always blamed the trains. On one occasion we said that a cow
was on the railway line, and they believed us!
When Ann and I heard that the Beatles were
coming to Edinburgh to play at the ABC in 1965, we raced up at lunch
time and actually met them as they arrived in a taxi and were locked
We could hardly wait to get back to school
to tell everyone. We even told the Headmistress, Miss Smith, and
Miss Moffat. They did not have the heart to admonish us, so they
rejoiced with us."
"Miss Moffat and Miss Smith were very
strict about uniforms. Every so often, they would carry out a
'Beret / Hat Inspection'. Miss Moffat would stand outside the
Locker Room as each pupil passed by, one by one, with a beret or hat on.
Little did she know that half the school
went out with the same beret on, as it was passed through the Locker
Room window. As the last pupil caught the beret flying through the
window, Mis Moffat had walked into the Locker Room, just in time to
witness this crime. She was horrified. 'You deceitful girl!'
"When I was 16, I was one of twelve Queen
Margaret pupils who boarded the school ship, 'Devonia', to Greece,
Italy and Turkey with our games mistress, Miss Stewart, in charge.
What an exciting trip.
We travelled by train to Gatwick, then flew
to Venice to meet the ship. I don't think there was one of us who
had been abroad before. We toured the Acropolis, Pompeii and
the temple of Diana in Ephesus - all places that we had read
about at school in Ancient History."
"Our PNEU education was unique and
enjoyable. We were expected to do our best, to learn, to
concentrate and to be polite - always to try and never to
give up. We were often reminded of the PNEU motto:
'I am, I can, I ought, I will.'
together with the skylark on our badge,
flying upward throughout life. This education established good
study habits in us which were a great help in later studies.
We were treated as intelligent persons and,
in being given well written and interesting books, were encouraged to
love learning for its own sake, thus beginning the process of life-long
Charlotte Mason firmly believed that girls
should aim for the stars, and that her PNEU education methods should
give them the confidence and the ability to get there and become 'La
Crème de la Crème'."
Diana Maxwell, Aberdour, Fife, Scotland: 17, 18, 20, 21 April