Christian Foundations of The March

The introduction to the SIAMS Framework (September 2023) sates that ‘having a clear Christian vision for education enables the translation of a school’s original foundation and purpose into its present-day policies and practices, thereby enabling people to flourish’. 

The March CofE Primary School in Westhampnett opened in 1968. It was constructed to serve the communities of the villages of Westhampnett and Oving, the latter lying some 2 miles to the south-east of the former. Children from Oving were included in the catchment for the March School because their own village school closed permanently on 21st December 1966. The history of the foundation of Oving School is shown below the photograph. Similar information about Westhampnett School is shown after that of Oving.

The second Report of the Commissioners for the Education of the poor (1819) recorded that Stephen Challen left 40 shillings per annum in his will to pay a schoolmaster to teach five young children from Oving to read. Our foundation stems from this act of Christian charity. It was followed by a more substantial charitable donation by the heiress of Shopwhyke Manor, Miss Katherine Woods, who directed that a school should be built opposite the church. This fine flint-galleted building opened in 1839. By 1855 it was a ‘private’ school with education for the working class children of the village paid by the Woods estate with the curriculum based on Dr Andrew Bells’ rote-based learning supervised by the incumbent of St Andrew’s Church.

The 1870 Forster’s Education Act stipulated that where voluntary education was considered insufficient (an early Ofsted!) schools should be supervised by a Board. Oving school was judged to be ‘sufficient’ and continued to be funded by voluntary contributions, principally by the Reverend G H Woods, a relative of its founder. This strong link between the church and the school formed its firm foundation which was, and continues to this day, to be maintained. 

When the Reverend Woods died in 1879, responsibility for the school passed to the parish. Charitable donations were supplemented by a payment of one old penny per child. Four years later average attendance was 60 children. After the First World War this rose to about 80, taught in the two classrooms (senior and junior) by three teachers, two of them living in the central section of the school. In 1931 the school choir comprising 35 children won a competition against other schools. Inspirational leadership and music continues to be part of school life today. 

Ten years before the school closed, it received praise from school inspectors who noted that the junior class ‘was in the hands of an experienced and qualified teacher who shows clear understanding of young children and their ways of learning. The room is bright and attractive and there is much purposeful apparatus to help children with their work and in the pursuit of familiar and new interests’. This attitude is reflected in the March School today after the Oving School baton was passed to it in 1968, one hundred and twenty-eight years after it was founded.

The substantive part of the Westhampnett village school was built in 1839, paid for through the patronage of the fifth Duke of Richmond.  Its foundation, similar to that of Oving School, was connected with a concern for social and religious improvement at the time. The school provided for the basic educational requirements of local working families who were mainly in the employ of the Goodwood Estate, and orphans from the nearby Westhampnett Workhouse. Its Headmistress from the end of the nineteenth century until 1937 was Mrs Florence Hughes. She was buried in the churchyard of St. Peter’s Church, who Assistant Rector is an active Governor of The March, so Mrs Hughes’ legacy continues to this day
Westhampnett village school closed in 1967 when The March was formed. The two tributaries of faith-based education from Oving and Westhampnett created the confluence of worship and learning that flourishes in The March School today, and forms the bedrock of its ethos.