THERE aren't many primary schools in York - or anywhere else, come to that - which can trace their origins back 300 years.

Robert Wilkinson Primary Academy in Strensall can do just that, however.

Today the school, which has more than 600 pupils aged from 3 to 11, is a member of the Ebor Academy Trust.

But it dates its beginnings all the way back to 1718, when Strensall farmer Robert Wilkinson left some money in his will to be used 'for the instruction and education of the young, to teach and instruct the children of Strensall for ever.'

Forever's a long time. But 300 years isn't bad. We trust Farmer Wilkinson would have been pleased to see a school bearing his name still going strong all this time later.

This evening, staff and pupils alike will be taking part in a special service at York Minster to celebrate the school's 300th birthday. There will be a choir, readings, and competition winners.

It's quite a setting for a birthday party. The school has been based in several different buildings over the last 300 years, none of them quite as grand as the great cathedral where tonight's service will be held.

But throughout it all, Farmer Wilkinson's name has lived on. And the school which bears his name has taught countless pupils down the years.

Perhaps its best-known 'old boy' - in military circles, at least - is Harry Blanshard Wood.

The young Harry was a pupil at the school in the 1880s. He was a corporal in the Scots Guards during the First World War - and won a Victoria Cross for gallantry. His sergeant was killed while their platoon was trying to cross the River Selle at Saint-Python in France on October 13, 1918. The bridge was guarded by enemy snipers. Undeterred, Corporal Wood carried a large brick into the space in front of the bridge, lay down behind it, then gave covering fire while his men worked their way across the bridge.

A few days later, on November 11, an armistice was signed, bringing the war to a close. Corporal Wood's old school closed early that day, at 3.30pm, so the children could attend a church service. We know that, because it is recorded in sloping italic handwriting in the school's official log-book.

It's a very low-key entry, given the momentous nature of the occasion. "Signing of armistice," someone has written. "School closed at 3.30pm. Children's service in church."

The log book gives a fascinating glimpse into life at the school down the years. It records - in language that is often every bit as low-key as that account of the Armistice - events both trivial and significant.

The log book for 1911, for example, records how on June 30 that year 'Reverend William Osborne visited pm and presented the children with mugs of the commemoration of the coronation'. The coronation of King George V, that is.

On the bottom of the same page, a note in the same handwriting notes: 'Doris Mitchell excluded with face eruption'. Poor Doris - but at least she made the same page in the school log as the new King.

Another entry, from April 1942, records - once again in unfussy language - the impact on the school of another major event in York's history.

"Several absences this morning, owing to a post-midnight 'alert' being cleared about 4am," someone has written. You'd almost think, from the disapproving time of the entry and the way that 'alert' is put in inverted commas, that this was some kind of false alarm, or even prank. But no. "This was the occasion of the 'blitz' on York," reads the next sentence.

As well as the log book, the school kept a 'bad behaviour record book' between 1938 and 1956. This recorded misdemeanours, and the punishments handed out for them.

Pupils listed in the book were caned on the 'hand or the rear' for behaviour ranging from being late to disobedience, running across the road and persistent talking.

In November 1945, for example, five pupils each received one stroke of the cane on the hand for making disrespectful remarks to their teacher. And in 1950, a boy was caned four times for 'insulting behaviour to an old man passing in the street'.

That would never happen these days, of course. The caning, we mean, not the insulting behaviour. Children these days are just as prone to that as ever...

Stephen Lewis