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Flitwick Lower School

The Old School April 2017
The Old School April 2017

In 1852 the new Vicar of Flitwick, 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 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). Flitwick was quick to embrace the School Board principle, the new board being formed on 29th April 1872.

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.

Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service has a scrapbook of cuttings of visits made to most Bedfordshire Schools by School Inspectors for a period from just before the First World War through the inter-war years [E/IN1/1]. The first inspection in the scrapbook was in March 1910, that for the infants school reads: “Methods are intelligent and the teaching is quite suitable. The School, especially the first class, has made good progress during the last twelve months, and the children are considerably more advanced in all parts of their work than they were at the corresponding period last year. This is largely because the order is better - in the more serious parts of the instruction the attention of the children is better secured than was the case formerly: at the same time there is plenty of freedom and play and no approach to harshness and repression of the natural activities of little children”.

As for the junior school: “The condition of the upper division of the School is very creditable, that of the middle division is fairly so, but the lowest class is weak. The teaching is, at times, carried on with rather more noise than is necessary, but a considerable amount of noise is inevitable in the circumstances under which the work is carried on: the room would be greatly improved and the strain on the teachers much diminished by the provision of a glazed screen as was recommended two years ago. A number of the desks are of a very clumsy and unsuitable type and should be replaced by others more suitable”. The Board of Education in London wrote: “I am to enquire whether a glazed partition will be provided in the main room of the Mixed Department, as recommended in the Report”. The reply was: “The provision of a glazed partition would in itself necessitate the displacement of the desks now in use”.

In January 1913 average attendance at the junior school was 128: “Order is good and on the whole the children make creditable progress, especially considering the disadvantageous conditions under which the teaching is carried on. Details of the work which require increased attention are the Arithmetic of the upper part of the School, Drawing, Physical Exercises and Singing. The work of the lowest class has improved, but there is room for further improvement, especially in Reading. A supply of continuous reading books is much required. New desks are still greatly needed”.

In March 1913 average attendance at the infants’ school was 72: “The condition of the Infants’ School is satisfactory. The children receive a suitable training and on the whole make adequate progress. Reading is much the best taught subject. Number is capable of improvement. The general atmosphere of the School is good but the discipline might be a little firmer”.

Resources were short during the Great War so the next inspection, of the infants’ school, was not until November 1920, when average attendance was 57: “In no respect does the work of this school reach higher than a fairly good level. With scholars from three to seven years of age, the school is quite rightly organised in three divisions, of which the Headmistress takes both the upper. This is undoubtedly a difficult task for her, and the children’s work is not so good as it was when she had the help of a Junior Assistant, the reading especially having suffered. But there is room for improvement in the methods of teaching, and even the curriculum is unsatisfactory in certain respects. In fact not only is further assistance desirable, but a thorough overhaul of the whole work of the school is necessary. As a first step, schemes and syllabuses in greater detail than those at present in use should be prepared and sent to the Inspector for approval. The Uncertificated Assistant, who is taking charge of the Third Class for a year before proceeding to College, has made a promising start as an Infants’ Teacher”.

“The number of children whose attendance had been registered was one in excess of the number actually present. It appeared that the registers had been marked and closed at 9.10 and that afterwards a child had been sent home. Had the registers not been closed till 9.35, the time given on the time-table for closing the registers, the mistake woud probably not have occurred”, There are remarks by the Board of Education in London: “Attention is directed to Articles 7(b) and 43(b) and Rule 19 of Schedule IV of the Code which must be observed strictly”. The Director of Education for Bedfordshire County Council replied: “The staff of this School is: - Miss L reeve, Head Teacher, Miss A B Askew, Uncertificated Assistant. This staff is sufficient for an average attendance of 70. The average attendance for the year ended 31st March 1920 was 57. It is presumed that H M Inspector refers to a Minitress when he suggests the appointment of “a Junior Assistant”. In the opinion of the Director of Education the school is altogether unsuitable for the training of a Monitress. A letter from the Head Teacher with reference to registration will be submitted”.

The next inspection of the junior school was not until December 1923 when average attendance was 141: “It is a long time since a Report was made on this School. But its general condition varies little from year to year. At the present time the work is as a rule, notwithstanding recent closures on account of sickness, very creditable indeed. The Arithmetic of Standard V, is less satisfactory than usual, and there are some backward children in Standard I. There is also in the third class a group of about 8 children who are backward and in some classes old. These, however, are the only weak points. The children’s written exercises are, especially in the top class, neat and careful, and Drawing has made marked progress during the last two years and in Standards V - VII, is now decidedly above the average. Handwork has been introduced, and is going on very well indeed. The Physical Training is generally good as it stands, but, as in many other Schools of the area, needs bringing up to date. Order is thoroughly satisfactory. The use of the room recently vacated by the Infants on their transference to another building is a great advantage to this Department”.

The next visit to the infants’ school was in February 1924: “The School is taught with painstaking care and there is no doubt that the Head Teacher has the interests of the children thoroughly at heart. In Classes 1 and 2a, however, Reading and Number must be described as only fairly good, and a considerable proportion of the children are backward. The attendance was certainly poor, through sickness, during the first term of the School Year; but the children, particularly those of the first class, put forth too little real effort, do not always master difficulties as they arise, and do not retain what they are told. Increased attention to audibility and distinctness of speech, too, would make for greater general progress. Writing and Singing are satisfactory. Some half dozen children in the two upper divisions are too old for their classes”.

In September 1925 average attendance at the junior school was 157: “The general condition of this school has not changed much since the last Report was made. Arithmetic is somewhat weak in Standard IV, but in all other cases it is good. The Writing generally, and the Composition of Standard V, do not at present quite reach their usual very satisfactory level, some of the boys of Standards I and III should read better, and Physical Training, as far as the bottom class is concerned, is still capable of improvement. These are the less satisfactory points of the work, and they are receiving careful attention. The rest of the Composition and Reading are fully of average merit, Drawing and Singing are very good, and Physical Training in the top class is now quite on right lines”.

In June 1926 an inspection of the garden and of gardening was made: “The garden is on allotments about 2 minutes’ walk from school. There are 20 one-rod vegetable plots: in addition about [a] quarter of an acre is being cultivated as a common plot on which potatoes are being grown for Sharnbrook School. There is a suitable variety of vegetable crops but no fruit or flowers. Operations are fairly well carried out and the plots are in moderate condition though many small seeds have germinated badly. Toold are a good supply and most of them are suitably stored. They should however be kept thoroughly clean - they are moderately so at present - and more pegs are wanted for hanging hoes and rakes. No notes of any kind are at present kept by the scholars. The practical work is fairly good but it should be brought more into relation with the general school work. Records of operations and observations should be kept by scholars. Some science work related to the gardening taught when work on the plots is not taken, fruit propagation introduced to extend the scope of practical work, and simple plot experiments arranged”.

There is a note in the scrapbook that, as of 17th September 1925 the infants’ school was held in temporary premises. The next inspection was in February 1928 when average attendance was 49: “The present Head Teacher has been in charge of this Department for about three years. She has effected a great improvement in many ways. The school is conducted in temporary premises which the Head Teacher and her Assistant, whose artistic powers are extremely useful, have made into a very attractive room for the children. The general progress is very satisfactory indeed; certain details with reference to some aspects of Number training, of reading, and of written English, were discussed in the light of the Board’s suggestions recently issued. The actual power of reading words and phrases is good: in Recitation the children know many pieces and speak out boldly - far more audibly than they do in Reading or in speaking about stories which they have read silently. The Writing is based on a good style and is satisfactory. Singing is tuneful and the songs and exercises are well managed. The school is well conducted and the children are certainly obtaining a good training”.

In November 1930 average attendance at the junior school was 132: “This is a well organised and well conducted school. It takes the pupils of 11+ from two smaller village schools and in consequence the two higher of the four classes are large enough to contain only one standard each. New syllabuses with considerable extension in mathematics have been drawn up recently. The full benefit of these will be felt when they have been in operation long enough for the scholars to have worked through the whole course. The Head Master sets very good terminal tests in English and Mathematics. The inclusion of other subjects was discussed. In the lowest class errors in Arithmetic should be discovered before sums are re-worked to avoid repetition of errors, and certain basic facts in Geography should be taken earlier than at present in the next class so that they may be used all through the Senior course. The written work is very satisfactory and oral response is thoughtful. Singing is a specially good feature and the care taken in this subject reacts on the speech. The Recitation of the top class was a pleasure to hear for this reason”.

“The boys work a large garden of half an acre and this provides the vegetables for the school dinners. That part of the garden from which the produce had been removed had been dug and was very clean. A large plot contained winter greens for future use. Twenty-four children are supplied with dinners at one shilling each per week. Twenty were preset on the day of inspection and had rabbit pie with parsnips and baked potatoes with a sweet to follow. It was admirably served”.

“The tone of the school is excellent and it is a pleasure to talk to the children - especially to the older ones. Apart from gardening there is no other Handwork for boys or girls except some cardboard modelling”.

At the next visit to the infants’ school, in November 1932, average attendance was 48: “This school, conducted in temporary premises which have been made very attractive by the Teachers, is doing very useful work. The Reading, answering in writing of questions on subject matter, handwriting, and Number are promising at this early stage of the school year; and books kept which show the work done at a later stage are very creditable. The children are keen to recite, and enjoy their songs. There is a pleasant atmosphere in the school, and the children are evidently happy and well cared for”.

The final inspection in the scrapbook referring to the junior school was in December 1933: “The removal of the Eversholt children has materially lightened the burden on the Teachers in this School which caters for children in Standards II to VII: until their removal the children over 11+ numbered more than half the total number on books. In the last school year, the Head Master had 51 on his roll for the first two terms and the Trained Certificated Assistant Teacher had 44 and 43 for the same period. These were housed in a room divided by a curtain, in which a large number of dinners were also served. In spite of these very real difficulties the school continues to give the children valuable instruction. There is a pleasing spirit which provokes intelligent response, and the condition of the school is creditable to the Head Master and his staff”.

The final report in the scrapbook relates to the infants’ school in October 1937, average attendance 39: “This little school, still in its temporary premises, has an enterprising Head Teacher who is not afraid of experiment, and takes trouble to find out new movements in Infants’ teaching. There is a quantity of home-made apparatus and cards for Number: a good variety of reading matter; pictures and charts for Music; lots of illustrations: and all these things are used. In Number the children are busy and generally correct in their calculations. Reading and Recitation are clear and well advanced already: the children are keen to recite, read, or sing. The handwriting is of a good style, and most of the children are getting well in to it; firmness of formation of letters being noticeable”.

“The large expression drawings, on paper some 20 by 20 inches square, done at the end of last term, and already being tried now, are remarkable. The design work, too, is of a very free and often striking character. Needlework and other handwork are going on well. The school is certainly fortunate in its Head Mistress; and in the Supplementary Teacher, whose interests are strongest in Physical Training and Art, but follows instructions well in other subjects. The children themselves with few exceptions seem very receptive: but perhaps the type of Reading makes for unusual keenness”.

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. The act also created two types of successor to the public elementary schools - the Voluntary Aided and Voluntary Controlled schools. Voluntary Aided schools are those in which the Local Education Authority funds the school but the governing body is independent, they are usually Anglican or Roman Catholic schools. Voluntary Controlled schools own their own buildings whilst the staff are employed directly by the governors.

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.

In 1979 the new school premises in Temple Way was built [PY/PH48/1-3]. With its completion in 1981 the old school premises was then surplus to requirements and was leased to Flitwick and District Youth Association for seven years [CCE/SB18/10]. The following year the property was conveyed to the association [CCE/SB/18/11]. In 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished and its role as local education authority for Flitwick was taken by the new unitary council - Central Bedfordshire.