The Parents National Education  Union (PNEU) School at Tankerton


The P.N.E.U was a private school located in a large 'residential' property at No 1 Gloucester Road - close to the junction with Castle Road (known then as Church Street Road). It had a brief but eventful existence - starting shortly before World War II, operating throughout the years of conflict and closing a few years after peace returned.

Despite its short lifespan, it is fondly remembered by former pupils and it is thanks to them that we have been able to produce this page.

The Proprietor

The school was established by a Miss Margaret Proctor who moved to Whitstable in the late 1930s. It was affiliated to the Parents National Education Union (PNEU). This gave it its name and probably influenced its approach to teaching.

About the PNEU

The PNEU was a parents union that adopted the ideologies of a well known and much respected Victorian/Edwardian educationalist called Charlotte Mason.

Mason was born in 1842  and trained as a teacher in her early adult life. Her teaching experiences and general study of education, led her to develop her own revolutionary theories on education. She believed that...

From the 1880s until her death in 1923, she shared this philosophy in a number of ways. She lectured at teacher training colleges, published material on educational theory and produced books for children.

She also recognised the need for parents to be better informed about raising and educating young children. She addressed this in a series of  lectures and these speeches were later published in book form. The desire to engage parents in education actually paved the way for the formation of the Parents National Education Union and the many schools that chose to be affiliated to it.

PNEU schools stll exist today on a worldwide basis although numbers in the UK are now relatively small.

Tankerton School - Beginnings & Intake

The school commenced in the late 1930s - catering for mixed pupils at lower ages but restricting its intake to "girls only" at senior level. This can be seen from the photo below - kindly sent to us from Tasmania by Peter Wheeler. It was taken circa 1947..... and Peter is seated on the extreme right of the front row.


PNEU School Tankerton - School Photo 1947

The Tankerton PNEU School - Circ 1947

As you will note, there are "older" girls... but no "older" boys. Senior male pupils transferred to "all boys" schools such as The Whitstable & Tankerton Collegiate School in Shafsbury Road.

This was a similar arrangement to the nearby Dunelm School and it was a common practice in many small private establishments of that era. It was probably felt that male and female pupils had different educational needs and required different facilities and different learning environments as they grew older. Another factor might have concerned the fact that the Tankerton PNEU had a largely female staff and this was not considered the best arrangement for boys approaching teenage years.

In those non-PC days, schools prepared boys and girls for very different roles in life . It would be many decades before equality arrived and we started to see hod carriers called Sharon and house husbands called Bert. ;-)

If you read our article on The Sir William Nottidge Secondary Modern, you will find that the state education system followed a very different approach  from the early 1950s.... by introducing co-education on a wide scale . I am sure arguments for and against co-ed will continue for many years to come!!!

Day School  v Residential

Most pupils attended on a daily basis which suggests that the school catered primarly for local families. However, it did accept a very small number of residential pupils. These "lived in" during the week but returned home at weekends.

The 'local focus' makes it very similar to the Dunlem but quite different from another nearby private school - namely The Kings Leigh of Northwood Road. The Kings Leigh was a residential boys school that took pupils from far afield - possibly from military families and those involved in the diplomatic service. In that situation, pupils were accommodated for whole school terms and returned home only at holiday times.

Classrooms & Staff

Junior pupils were taught on the ground floor whilst seniors occupied a classroom upstairs. The school occasionally made use of All Saints Church Hall for events. Miss Proctor's main teaching colleague appears to have been a Miss Skelding.

Other teachers included Mrs Vine (French), Mrs Smith (Art), Mrs Pye (Music) and Mrs Cobb. It seems possible that some or all of these were part time. I also wonder if some might have been freelance tutors and it will be interesting to see if their names crop up in connection with other private schools in Whitstable of that era.

Curriculum & Staffing Ratios

At the time, private education offered a number of  benefits over state education.

From the teaching appointments mentioned above, I think it is safe to suggest that the curriculum was a whole lot broader than anything offered at local state schools..... and, of course, it was in line with the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason.

Another advantage concerned staff/pupil ratios. Peter Wheeler's photo shows 32 pupils. Assuming that Miss Proctor continued to have a full time colleague in 1947, the teacher/pupil ratio was "1 to 16".... and it was probably even better than that bearing in mind the involvement of those additional "subject teachers".


It is quite clear from Peter's photo that the school implemented a uniform to some degree. If we enlarge an extract, we can see that the girls' attire (probably summer attire) may have comprised a light coloured dress with dark trim and buttons....

Left: The girls' uniform at the Tankerton PNEU School

PNEU School Tankerton - Girls' summer uniform

However, whilst a broad theme is in evidence, there is some  variety of style between pupils and this might suggest that the school wasn't big enough to encourage local shops to hold large stocks of uniform items. Some of the girls are also wearing dark jackets and striped ties. I suppose this may have been the winter attire.

PNEU School Tankerton - Girls' winter uniform

Right: Girls' jacket at the Tankerton PNEU School

The boys appear to be wearing light coloured pullovers and ties bearing horizontal stripes. Of course, we cannot decipher the colours from a black and white photo. So, if anyone can supply this information, please let us know.

School Badge & Motto

Our only evidence of a school badge comes from Peter's photo.  Unfortunately, if we take an extract and enlarge it, we end up with the very indistinct image below....

PNEU School Tankerton - school badge

Left: The Badge of the Tankerton PNEU School

Nevertheless, there may be enough detail here for us to hazard a guess as to the format and content. It appears to be a circular design with a central emblem and some text around the perimeter.

If we search the internet, we find that several PNEU schools have circular badges based on a common theme. The central emblem is a skylark in flight - set against a pale blue background representing the sky. This encapsulates the basic ideology of the PNEU - ie creating a learning environment in which pupils are free to explore and reach the heights. The perimeter lettering varies a little between schools. Some include both the school name and Charlotte Mason's motto, "I am, I can, I ought, I will". Some just have the motto. Some just contain the school name.

It seems very likely that the Tankerton School based its badge along similar lines and used the general PNEU motto. In fact, that blob in the middle of our extract looks more and more like a skylark every time I look at it!!!!

School Closure

We know very little about the reasons for or precise timing of the school's closure. Peter Wheeler's photo confirms that the establishment was still operating towards the end of the the 1940s and, I suppose, it may have tiptoed into the 1950s. What we do know is that a number of pupils transferred to the nearby Dunlem School in Tankerton Road. This was a logical move bearing in mind that the Dunelm was very similar in terms of set up.

It is worth noting that a number of local private schools closed in the decade or so following the war. Finance may have played a part in those austere post-war days of the 1950s but I also wonder if they found it difficult to compete with a fast improving state school system.

The Butler Education Act of 1944 revamped state education - raising the school leaving age to 15, making secondary education a right for all, introducing a tripartite system (ie secondary modern, technical and grammar schools), removing fees for grammar schools and building many new high-tec school premises. We descibe all this in our Sir William Nottidge Secondary Modern history page.

Private schools still offered the advantages of a very broad-based education and low teacher/student ratios.... BUT could they compete with the spacious classrooms, modern science laboratories, gymansiums, workshops, sports facilties and specialist teachers of schools such as The Sir William Nottidge and The Simon Langton Grammars? More importantly, could they do so in a world that was becoming ever more sophisticated and technological?

The days of cramming pupils into a residential property (and charging fees for it) were perhaps numbered. Only those private schools with real money and extensive facilties would survive the onslaught.

With Thanks To...

We would like to thank Peter Wheeler, Anita Tuckwood, Mike Bune and Meryl Coulter for supplying information about the PNEU school.

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