To serve the needs of the growing population of the parish in the Hanley Swan area, St Gabriel’s school was built on church land in 1862, also serving as a Chapel of Ease (a church building for the ease of the local community) until St Gabriel’s church was built in 1874.
Initially the school catered for children up to the age of 14 and by 1901 the average attendance was 114, including about 25 boys from the nearby Home of the Good Shepherd (a home for ‘waifs and strays’). That year an inspector’s report noted, “Vigorous steps should be taken to compel more regular attendance on the part of many scholars, and to put a stop to illegal employment”. Children often stayed away to help pick fruit or work on the farms. The following year the inspector reported, ‘Children in good order; work proceeding satisfactorily. The offices require thorough cleaning and lime washing.’ On 14 October 1908 the school logbook records: “Punished two boys for trespassing in the lane adjoining school yard. Three stripes on each hand, the rest on back part of body.”
During the First World War children picked blackberries and sold them to raise money for war charities. They also collected horse chestnuts, which were used to make acetone, which in turn was needed for the production of cordite, the smokeless powder used as a propellant in ammunition. Children also ‘dug for victory’; each had a small plot and only vegetables could be grown. An attendance officer came every week in his pony and trap to inspect the registers. Any child who had been absent had to stand on their seat and give an explanation; a good telling off followed and a visit to their parents. The vicar came once a week to take scripture and a scripture inspector came once a term to see if the children could recite the catechism from beginning to end and if they could answer questions about bible stories. At Christmas Sir Edmund and Lady Katherine Lechmere provided a Christmas tree from the estate. It stood in a corner with a present for every pupil and one for the staff.
In 1929 the school was reorganised as a junior mixed school for children from 4 to 11, but in 1947 its infants department was transferred to St Mary’s Primary School, returning when that school closed in 1972. The school was extended in 1957 and plumbed cloakrooms installed, replacing a latrine block fitted with two long planks into which holes had been cut, one side for boys and the other for girls, emptying into a channel that had to be regularly cleaned out.
The school caters for around 100 children and has a teaching staff of seven. Recent extension work has improved office and staff-room facilities and enlarged the computer suite. In 2005 St Gabriel’s achieved the highest added value rating of any primary school in Hereford & Worcester and came in the top 1% of the 13,700 schools in the country. ‘Value added’ is a measure that shows the degree of improvement achieved by pupils between the ages of 7 and 11. The Department for Education and Skills says the “value added measure gives a greater indication of a school’s effectiveness than its overall results.’”