The 1696 Education Act called for the heritors of each parish to provide a school and a schoolmaster for the parish. Kirkcowan, like many other places, found it difficult to wring the required support from those legally responsible to provide the necessary funds.
During the 18th century there were repeated attempts to get the school established. In 1722 there were building proposals put forward to a visitation committee, but three years later there was still no schoolmaster for the village.
The Earl of Galloway offered to pay 100 merks (£60) toward a master’s salary, but the other heritors still refused to help. By 1749 the schoolhouse needed repair. At that time a curriculum of English, writing, and arithmetic had been agreed upon by the reluctant heritors and, the schoolhouse, as yet uninhabited, had been repaired in readiness for a proposed opening date of the long— awaited school, Whitsun of 1750.
The Statistical Account of 1791—1799 does not mention the existence of a school in Kirkcowan, although it may be assumed that there was one at the time.
In 1830 a school was built for the parish at Ball green. A second parish school was opened at Dirnow and, in the Statistical Account of 1841 it is stated that there were just two schools in the parish. The salary of the schoolmaster was at that time supplemented by £35 a year in school fees and £5 a year for his service as postmaster to the village.
Schoolmasters mentioned during the 19th century in various records were: Alexander Livingstone, schoolmaster and postmaster, Rey. Samuel Paterson, also an elder, James Cowan, John Bennett, Adam Tait, Mr. McNaughton, and the last schoolmaster to teach at Ballgreen School, Mr. McCallum.
In 1862 the first part of the buildings which comprise the modern Kirkcowan school was erected and the school moved, as did, the church, from the southern end of the village to its northern end. Mr. McCallum moved with the children to the new location, but his assistant was not given employment there. The assistant, a Mr. William McKie, a club— footed man, started his own private school which was held in a building situated behind Kirkcowan’s first post office, on the eastern side of the road about half—way between the Newton Stewart Road and the Church Road. This school was noted for its good curriculum, but also for fairly riotous behaviour.
Gifts of money were taken to Mr. McKie at Candlemas and, in exchange, the children were given oranges. The school, with a roll of about thirty pupils, existed until the death of the master.
A second private school, situated in the house of Beechgrove, was taught by a Miss Steen or Steven. Hers was a flourishing girls’ school which taught mainly sewing. In 1873 the school had 41 pupils.
It was still in existence in 1880.
The third private school was Peggy Mark’s school, situated near where St. Couans Hall stands.
It was for younger children who left to attend either the parish school or William McKie’s school when they were eight or nine years old. For fees, each child was required to take a peat a day and a penny a week on Monday mornings. Gifts of silver money were expected on Candlemas Day and, on that day, the children were given a whisky toddy (whisky poured into a pot of hot water). The minister, it is said, visited the school on these occasions:
Eighteen children attended this school. They sat on benches around the wall of the room, which was the ordinary room of an ordinary cottage, containing a bed and usual kitchen utensils. While Peggy Mark taught , she supplemented her income by making “Kirkcowan wab” a much sought after Kirkcowan embroidery or lace edging. The school operated for five full days each week, plus half a day on Saturday. There were three holidays in the year, two Fast Days and New Year’s Day.
In his history of the Kirkcowan schools, the headmaster Mr. Douglas Rae described these earlier times: “The main subject in the curriculum was reading. A start was made with the Penny Book’ and after this had been gone over several times the children went on to the Gospel of St. John (because it contains the smallest words) and then carried right on to Revelation. The whole of the New Testament from Gospel of St. Matthew was gone through again and then a beginning was made with the Old Testament, the children finally reading right from Genesis to Revelation. There were no other Readers in the school.
“A question from the Catechism and four lines of a Psalm had to be repeated every morning, and when the children were more proficient they had to say one half of the catechism one Saturday and the other half the next
“In arithmetic, the tables had to be learned, but no sums were done, probably for the lack of pencils and slates.
The new parish school of 1862 consisted of two rooms. The main room was where Mr. McCallum taught, and the second was the infant room.
A new schoolhouse was built beside the school in 1863. The old school at Ballgreen became a farm, with the schoolhouse becoming the farmhouse and the schoolroom serving as a byre.
In 1890, the Marquess of Bute gave land on his farm of Craigiach near Kirkcowan for the erection of a large building to serve as a school for the purpose of training orphan boys for work in the agricultural industry. As it was a Catholic institution, Mass was celebrated in the house every Sunday and on holidays at 7:30 am. One of the Premonstratensian Fathers travelled from Wigtown for this purpose.
By 1908, in Kirkcowan’s school, the Head Teacher shared his room which had been subdivided by a wood and glass partition. It was about this time, in 1909, that fees, charged in the school since its inception, were abolished.
In 1911, for the sum of £300, a rather unsubstantial addition of two rooms was made to the school for the purpose of practical courses. Woodwork and cookery were taught in these rooms until a fifth teacher was added to the growing school and the woodwork room was needed for a class room.
During this period there were pupil teachers or learner teachers in the schools. The most outstanding of those in Kirkcowan was Mr. Alexander Hutcheson, who eventually became Headmaster of Boroughmuir School, Edinburgh.
Mr. McCallum was Kirkcowan’s Master at Ballgreen School, at the new parish school, and right through the change to the School Board system of government of education. He served from 1862 to 1898. He was succeeded by Mr. Cuthbert, who had the distinction of being the last Master serving under the School Board. During his time, in 1926, a gravitation water supply was introduced to the school and schoolhouse by means of a windmill pump.
An oversight in planning meant that, in spite of the adequate supply of water, there were no wash hand basins installed in the school. It seemed that the plumbing, sewage, and light supply at Kirkcowan School would never be right.
In 1929 Mr. Cuthbert left his position and was replaced by Mr. Douglas Rae. In 1934, central heating was installed into the school. When the school was reconstructed in 1937—1938, the old partitions were removed. Mr. William Heatlie was Head Teacher at that time.
In 1956, the school became a primary school only, with all Junior Secondary pupils transferred to Newton Stewart.
In 1969, Mrs. M. B. Parker, a native of the village, was appointed Kirkcowans first woman Head Teacher.
After her retirement in 1980, Mrs. Marshall of East Culvennan was appointed to replace her.
In 1984, Miss Dunse became Head Teacher of the now three— teacher school. Visiting, part-time teachers, kitchen staff, and cleaner swell the staff numbers to 13.