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Early Education in Flitwick

Flitwick church from the south-east January 2010
Flitwick church from the south-east January 2010

Volume 81 published by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (2002) is a series of episcopal visitations undertaken 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. In 1706 the curate noted: “There is no Lecture, School, Almeshouse or Hospital endowed within this parish”.  In 1717 and 1720 it was reported that there was still no school in Flitwick.

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 Poor was 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 curate replied that there was no dily school and no Sunday school in Flitwick.  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. The vicar commented: “The poor would thankfully embrace any means of education for their children”.

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 correspondent replied that there were two Sunday schools in total teaching ten boys and twenty-four girls, supported by contributions.

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 vicar of Flitwick, W A Dawson, wrote: “There is no school. The Incumbent is anxious to have one. A few children attend school at Westoning”. In 1852 the new incumbent, W C Berkley Calcott (who had been instituted in 1850) conveyed part of a fir plantation on the Flitwick glebe and the newly-built school house standing on it to the vicar and churchwardens as trustees for the school, which was in union with the National Society.

The Old School April 2017
The Old School April 2017