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Early Education in Chalton

Volume 81 published by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (2002) is a series of episcopal visitationsundertaken in the first twenty years of the 18th century, edited by former County Archivist Patricia Bell. At each visitation a list of questions was sent out in advance, one of which enquired about the provision of schools in each parish. At that date Chalton was a hamlet of Toddington and the parish return of 1709 indicated that there was a charity school "just ready to be settled for 25 poor children, with a Salary of £20 a year for ever. They are to Learn the Church Catechism". The 1712 return stated that the school had seven boys "like to encrease". The return for 1717 stated: "We have no school endowed but about 12 children taught by a private charity to read and write and Church Catechism". The return for 1720 was identical but for the number of children which had sunk to eight.

In 1818 a Select Committee was established to enquire into educational provision for the poor. This was no doubt prompted, in part, by the recent foundation of two societies promoting education and specifically the building of schools. The Society for Promoting the Lancasterian System for the Education of the Poorwas established in 1808 promoting schools run along the lines pioneered by Joseph Lancaster, who had himself copied those of Dr. Andrew Bell, in which older children taught their younger fellows. The Society was renamed the British and Foreign School Society in 1814. It was supported by a number of prominent nonconformists, Lancaster himself was a Quaker, and sought to teach a non-sectarian curriculum. In answer to this perceived nonconformist takeover of local education the National Society was formed in 1811 to encourage the teaching of poor children along Anglican lines, including the catechism. The Select Committee sent a questionnaire to all parishes in the country asking for: particulars relating to endowments for the education of children; other educational institutions; observations of parish needs etc.

The Toddington return for 1818 stated that there was a Sunday school "open to all the parish, supported by voluntary subscription, established in 1815, in which 99 boys and 93 girls are instructed; there are three masters, one at 10 shillings a month, the other two at 8 shillings; a day school, containing 38 boys and 10 girls and one belonging to the Baptists, consisting of 38 children". In those days a Sunday school was just that, a school which met on a Sunday, usually in the church or nonconformist chapel or other similar building, teaching more than the religious topics with which they are associated today.

In the country generally the number of schools built continued to grow over the next fifteen years so that by 1833 the government agreed to supplement the work of the two societies, and local benefactors, by making £20,000 per annum available in grants to help build schools. It also prompted another questionnaire to be sent to each parish in England asking for details of local educational provision. The return for Toddington stated that there were five daily schools, two Anglican containing 20 boys and 15 girls, one containing 24 girls, another, run by the Baptists, 30 boys and 5 girls and the last, run by the Wesleyan Methodists, of 6 boys and 25 girls. "All these schools are supported by payments from the parents; the Rector allows £6/10 for teaching several poor boys to write; 40 of the above scholars also attend the Sunday Schools, of which there are four; one of the established Church, in which there are 54 males and 86 females, conducted by two teachers who respectively receive £6/10 and £5/4 yearly, arising from subscription; one, supported by Baptist Dissenters, contains 20 males and 31 females; and the other two schools (Wesleyan Methodists) contain 128 males and 136 females; the three last-mentioned Schools are supported by subscription".

The next national enquiry was in 1846/7 when the Church of England made an enquiry as to all its church schools. This was against the background of a new Whig government which championed secular education and the increasing importance of nonconformists, particularly Wesleyan Methodist, and Roman Catholics in providing schools. The Anglican Sunday school in Toddington now contained 91 boys and 189 girls "the schoolrooms belong to private individuals and are lent by them".