Miss Elizabeth McKay opened the White Flat National School late in 1857. It was distinctive being run solely by women. Her sister Miss McKay assisted her as work mistress and another woman Miss Pike assisted as a monitress.
The school was held in a wooden building thirty feet by fifteen feet and was not very ‘ostentatious or ornamental in outward appearance’. Its interior was partly lined with canvas and there was no fireplace. However it was well ventilated ‘to protect pupils from the injurious effects of a low and heated wooden roof’.
The White Flat School was recognized by the National Board of Education, and given a stipend from that source. Around 70 pupils attended the school, 23 of whom were boys aged from 4 to 14 years and 45 of whom were girls ranging in ages from 4 to 16 years. The inspector was quite pleased with the ‘intelligent answers’ from the pupils to questions he put to them. He found that they were ‘well acquainted with the elementary parts’ of grammar, geography, and arithmetic.
However the inspector was adamant that when a teacher such as McKay was confined to ‘one apartment’ it was not advantageous. He said ‘It is utterly impossible to confer the same benefits on the pupils as they would derive under the advantage of a judicious separation of old and young, male and female. Where children are crowded together like sheep in a pen, it is impossible for a pupil in an advanced class to study with advantage, or even study at all. So long as boys and girls, old and young, occupy the same apartment, the irrepressible prattle of the younger class of pupils will distract those of that age when children may be expected to learn from choice and not from compulsion.’
Other National Schools were also operating in the late 1850s, among which were Doveton Street with around 115 pupils on its rolls, Red Hill with around 80 pupils, Bakery Hill with around 70 pupils, Brown Hill with around 80 pupils, Mr Knox’s school of around 70 pupils and White Flat which catered for around 70 pupils. The total number of children on the rolls of these five National Schools open was 485 before Knox’s school closed in early 1859. They catered for around 250 families and operated concurrently with Ballarat’s Denominational Schools.