It is unknown when the school first opened but it was certainly in existence in the 1840’s.
On the 3 August 1849, the school was inspected by T W Marshall Esq, where 31 boys and 34 girls were in attendance. He reported that it was impossible to keep the children at school in consequence of the great demand for their labour, which commences in the coal pits at 7 years of age. In general, he found it a pleasing school and creditable to the teachers and mangers.
It is reported in the ‘Gateshead Observer’ on 9 June 1855 that a clock and bell were donated to the school by M W Dunn of Hedgefield. The new, ‘current school building’ is now 34 years old and has approximately 210 children on role and 52 part time Nursery places.
First opened in 1976, St Mary and St Thomas Aquinas has, in very recent years, undertaken a number of building expansion projects in order to accommodate the increasing pupil numbers. The most recent construction venture being the replacement of four demountable classrooms for the children in Key Stage 2, an ICT Suite housing 16 PCs with interactive white board and a new administration block, which were officially opened on 5 December 2002 by the Rt. Reverand Ambrose Griffiths, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.
We do not know when the school at Stella first opened but it was certainly in existence in the 1840’s. Fordyce in history of Durham (1860) stated that there were good schools in connection with the chapel, new building having recently been erected to accommodate the increasing number of children. He described the two schools, each 30ft long by 17ft broad with a classroom attached to each 16ft by 12ft. The centre of the school was surmounted by a clock. A report in the Gateshead Observer on 9th June 1855 describes the donation of this clock by the munificent liberality of M.W. Dunn of Hedgefield and which would prove of great service to the locality. It was understood that the clock was manufactured by Messrs Lister and Sons of Mosely Street. The windows of the school were under pointed arches and a portion of the window facing east was filled with stained glass. The desks were in groups appropriate to each class. The schools were under government inspection and received grants from the Committee of Council on Education.
The school was inspected in 1849 by T W Marshall Esq. On the 3rd August. There were 31 boys and 34 girls in attendance on that day. He found the desks and furniture fair, books and apparatus good, organisation mixed, the master he found diligent and studious, not highly qualified, but conducting his school in a creditable manner. He also reported that it was impossible to keep the children at school inconsequence of the great demand for their labour, which commences in the coal pits at 7 years of age. In the girls school he found the organisation, discipline and methods unusually good for a school of this class. The children read, spell and sing (from notes) remarkably well. The mistress was intelligent, laborious and fully competent to guide and instruct her pupils. In general he found it a pleasing school and creditable to the teachers and managers. The demeanour of the children was particularly gentle, and they appear to receive with great willingness the instruction provided for them, though mental arithmetic had been hiterhto neglected.
Mr Marshall again visited the school in 1850. This time he found the boys school inconveniently crowded with furniture, organisation capable of improvement, methods mixed and deficient in accuracy, the Master industrious and anxious to improve his qualifications and in general he found new life was evidently beginning in the school and the attention of a zealous and talented clergyman was constantly directed to its gradual improvement and there could be no doubt that a full measure of success would result from plans now in operation to remedy the existing defects. He then reported on the girls school where he found the books somewhat decayed from use, a new supply to be obtained immediately. The children were extremely amiable and well mannered. The mistress was very respectable and well disposed, but not talented nor possessing a wide rage of information.
The school seemed to be conducted with less zeal and good sense, but it is less remarkable for the progress of the children in secular knowledge, than for the moral results which have been obtained in it. The great facility for obtaining work in the neighbourhood – girls being employed in the mines at seven or eight years of age – is a serious obstacle to the completion of their education. A larger amount of instruction is conveyed than in times past and a more active life developed in the school. The first class sing ecclesiastical music with some precision.
He again visited the girls school in 1852 when he found the accommodation again limited (it was proposed to build a new school). He felt a gallery was wanted. The school playground was in the neighbouring lanes. He found the blackboard not sufficiently used. The discipline was good due to the careful supervision of the clergyman and the patient industry of the laborious and conscientious teacher. The two classes read the fifth book of the Irish Commissioners with good expression, spell accurately, w rite fairly, and have a good knowledge of grammar. Their progress in arithmetic, geography and history is less remarkable. They have good knowledge of vocal music, and sing with good effect the admirable hymns of the Rev F W Faber. The deportment of the children was unusually gentle and pleasing and the school is evidently accomplishing some of the most valuable results which can be expected from such an institution. There were some 52 girls at the school at the time of this inspection.