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Aspley Heath School

Aspley Heath Council School in the early 20th century [Z251/306/5]
Aspley Heath Council School in the early 20th century [Z251/306/5]

The first record of a school in Aspley Heath held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service is a logbook beginning in 1863 for Aspley Heath National School. A National School meant that the school was affiliated to the National Society which sought to extend education to the children of the poor, the education provided including the catechism of the Church of England. The book gives no indication that the school was new at that date but does note a move to new premises in 1868. This property lay between Sandy Lane and Woburn Road in the vicinity of the modern Aspley Court.

The first Education Act was passed in 1870 (more correctly it was known as the Elementary Education Act). It was a milestone in the provision of education in Britain demonstrating central government's unequivocal support for education of all classes across the country. It also sought to secularise education by allowing the creation of School Boards. These were groups of representatives, elected by the local ratepayers and the Board had the powers to raise funds to form a local rate to support local education, build and run schools, pay the fees of the poorest children, make local school attendance compulsory between the ages of 5 and 13 and could even support local church schools, though in practice they replaced them, turning them into Board run schools (known as Board Schools). Naturally, and luckily for local historians, the Act required a questionnaire of local schools in 1870. The Aspley Heath School Board was set up in 1885 and the school was subsequently known as Aspley Heath Board School. 

In 1890, a separate infants’ school opened: Jan 6th 1890: "Opened new infant school on Monday morning, having an attendance of 83" [SDAspleyHeath1/1].  The children were taught a variety of subjects.  Between January 13th and 17th 1890 it is recorded that: "object lessons were given on "A Ship" and "Cotton" to the Lower Division.  A Natural History lesson on the "Camel" was given to the First Class".   The Syllabus of subjects taught during the year ending June 30th 1892 included Songs, Recitations, object lessons, writing, arithmetic and "Varied Occupations".  These varied occupations for Class I included: "Mat weaving (3 patterns), Pricking and Embroidery, basket making and tile laying". [SDAspleyHeath1/1].

Aspley Heath Council School in the early 20th century [Z251/306/4]
Aspley Heath Council School in the early 20th century [Z251/306/4]

A land mark Education Act was passed in 1902, coming into effect in 1903. It disbanded the School Boards and gave day to day running of education to newly formed Local Education Authorities, usually the county council, as in Bedfordshire. The old Board Schools thus became Council Schools whilst the old National, British and other non-Board schools became known as Public Elementary Schools. Aspley Heath Board School duly became Aspley Heath Council School. An Inspection Report from July 1903 revealed that: "The efficiency of the school is being maintained.  The teaching is earnest and painstaking and the children are kindly and sensibly treated" [SDAspleyHeath1/1]. The Infant School was re-amalgamated with the Mixed School in 1926. The two schools formed the Council Mixed and Infants School. 

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service holds a number of reports by the School Inspector for schools in the county for the period just before World War One and then the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. In 1908 the Inspector found the playgrounds useless in any but very dry weather. In 1911 he found the junior school "quite satisfactory" but the infants school had been closed for two months during the year as a result of persistent sickness amongst the pupils. In 1913 the Inspector found that the junior school continued "to maintain a high level of efficiency which has characterised it in past years".

The next report dates to 1924, over ten years later, by which time the infants received "very painstaking" teaching and made "quite creditable progress"; the juniors were beginning to recover from a falling off in standards immediately before the arrival of the new Head Teacher. The report of 1926 concentrated on the school garden which, unsurprisingly, was reported as being on "very light sandy soil" which required a lot of water retaining work - currants were being grown. By 1928 the school had increased in numbers because children of 11+ were being sent from nearby schools "who arrive with very varied attainments, and the best grading is not easy to arrange". It was found that the Headmaster, while doing well was "somewhat inclined to over-rate the importance of minor details and is therefore over anxious". He introduced some novel ideas in the teaching of English which the Inspector did not like noting "the questioning of each other by the children in the top showed that more direction to points of importance or of beauty, or of suggestion, in the context is desirable"; he concluded as a whole "There are many promising features about the school".

The 1933 inspection concentrated on the lack of space in the school which was getting in the way of the work produced, the lack of a playing field and the small, irregularly shaped playground were also found unsatisfactory, suggesting an unwanted garden adjoining the playground be added to it; but the inspector noted "The School comes out very well under inspection". The final report held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service, for 1938 noted "Since the last report conditions have very materially improved in this school; and it now may fairly be said that the curriculum for seniors is a liberal one". New rooms had been provided for woodwork and domestic subjects and poultry keeping featuring Rhode Island Reds had been introduced and seed potatoes were being grown experimentally which were not yet commercially available (perhaps from the Husborne Crawley part of the Rothamstead Experimental Farm?. Given the need for food production in the coming war years this concentration on smallholding style agriculture would probably have paid dividends. The inspector also noted "The school is very well staffed, and a hard working set of Assistants loyally assist the Head Master, who is admirably fitted for this post, to carry out his ideas". The lack of a playing field still hampered physical developments, but the school meals were good!

 Swallowfield prospectus
Swallowfield Conspectus

The third of the great Education Acts was that of 1944 which established the principle of County Primary Schools for children up to the age of 11, at which time they took an examination to determine the nature of the secondary school they would attend until they were 15, the most academically able going to grammar schools, the rest to secondary or secondary modern schools. Aspley Heath Council School thus became Aspley Heath County Primary School.

Swallowfield Lower School in 2006 
Swallowfield Lower School in 2006

In the 1970s Bedfordshire County Council introduced comprehensive education, doing away with the 11+ examination and grammar schools and introducing a tier of school between the old County Primary and County Secondary Schools. Thus Lower Schools now taught children aged 4 to 9, Middle Schools from 9 to 13 and Upper Schools from 13 onwards. Aspley Heath County Primary School became a Lower School in 1977 but it closed in 1981 and moved to a new school in Aspley Guise (on the Fulbrook site on the border with Woburn Sands) - called Swallowfield Lower School.