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Girtford School - now Laburnum Lower School

An elevation of the new school [X597/17]
An elevation of the new school [X597/17]

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 was the case in Bedfordshire. At that date Sandy had one school, Sandy Church School on the east side of Saint Neots Road close to the junction with Bedford Road. This school was divided into separate departments for boys, girls and infants and, as a result of the Education Act, became a public elementary school.

Sandy had a large nonconformist community, as witness the large Baptist chapel (more or less facing the Church Schools) and a Primitive Methodist chapel, in London Road, moving to Saint Neots Road in 1910. There was also a Salvation Army barracks in Bedford Road at the junction with Church Path. These nonconformists were unhappy about their children attending a school run in accordance with the principles of the Church of England and, in 1905, after a long struggle, they eventually persuaded the County Council to grant a second school to the town, which met for the first time in September1905. The Biggleswade Chronicle of 15th September 1905 reported: "At last Sandy possesses two sets of schools and it is to be hoped that 'the strife is o'er, the battle done' that has raged so long between Church and Dissent over the matter of the education of our children in this otherwise happy village-town. Notices were posted last week that the SandyCouncilSchool will be open for mixed scholars in temporary buildings at the Baptist Sunday School rooms, on Monday, 11th September 1905, at 9 a. m. Parents desiring admission for their children should apply to the head master. In response to this invitation between 130 and 140 children put in an appearance on Monday morning, but as the rooms will not accommodate so many, about 20 had to return to the old schools, and 64 boys and 50 girls remained at the Council School. The head master and mistress are Mr. and Mrs. Huckle, who hold high testimonials from their last schools at Eaton Socon. The managers for the new school will probably be Messrs E. T. Leeds Smith and C. E. Toppon, appointed by the Parish Council, and Messrs F. Pym, A. G. Jeeves, G. A. Gregg and Rev. G. H. Jones, whose names have been submitted to the County Council for approval. If these gentlemen are appointed there will be three Churchmen and three Nonconformists as managers". This last sentence makes it clear that, though meeting at the Baptist chapel to begin with, this was a non-denominational school.

The school moved to its new home in purpose built accommodation in Laburnum Road on 8th April 1907. The building had room for 200 juniors and 120 infants. The juniors and infants were taught in separate divisions.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & 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 report on Sandy Mixed Council School dates to 1910: "The school is in good order and in all classes the instruction is thorough and careful". The inspector was les pleased with the use of space in the school: "I was surprised to find the central hall habitually used by a large class, and so made quite useless the purpose for which it was built. The overcrowding of the school which makes such an unsatisfactory state of things necessary should be ended without delay. There appears to be ample room for surplus children in other schools [i. e. the Public Elementary, ex-National, Schools] in the town". The picture in the infants' department was not so happy: "This department has been visited several times since it was opened upwards of two years ago, and has never been found in a satisfactory state. No report has up to this time been sent because it was hoped that things would improve as the Head Mistress gained experience, in which, when appointed, she was wanting. This hope it seems quite impossible to entertain any longer. The older infants, taught by and under the sole charge of the Head Mistress, are both ill-taught and disorderly. The other classes are far less unsatisfactory but still suffer considerably from incompetent supervision, or perhaps complete want of it, by the Head Teacher. For all this there is compensation. The school might be in a way poorly taught and not very orderly, but still a bright and happy place for little children. It is however nothing of the kind. It is dreary and ill-ordered, and far below in efficiency the ordinary level of the srea in every way".

In reply to the twofold criticisms, about space and the infants' department, the managers wrote: "The Head Master has already made arrangements for removing the classes from the central hall…The school year ends in December and the average has therefore fallen in the natural way, and more rapidly than usual because of the instruction in March last to refuse admission to all new-comers in the Mixed Department. As it appears that unless care is taken the Council School at Sandy will always have a tendency  to be overcrowded, it is suggested that the Head Master should be instructed to take steps not to admit more infant scholars at the beginning of the school year than will bring his roll to 220 scholars…As to the Infatnts' Department it is suggested that the Head Mistress should re-organise her Staff so that she herself may teach the younger children for whom she is better fitted. An Uncertificated Teacher has just resigned and it will be necessary to appoint a Certificated Teacher in her place owing to the growth in numbers at the school". Nevertheless, in 1911 the inspector found little had changed and uttered the dreaded sentence: "I must report the school as not fulfilling the conditions of Article 25(b) of the Code". This meant that the grant paid by central government would not be made.

Following this the Infants and the Mixed School received separate inspections. The next infants' inspection took place in November 1913, and, not surprisingly, the old infants' headmistress, Eva Whittaker, had left the school. "When the present Headmistress [Miss E. Todd]  took charge of this School some eighteen months ago she found it in a most inefficient state in nearly every way. She has improved matters greatly and in most ways its condition is now quite satisfactory. It is a matter for regret that these Infants have so little space for marching and games and are not allowed to use the Central Hall attached to the premises. It is difficult to understand why this hall should be monopolised by the older children".

The next inspection was not until 1922 when it was noted: "this department has improved greatly, and may be considered a very good one…the Head Teacher and her assistant deserve great credit for their work". Two years later the report read: "This school fell off a good deal during the absence of the late Head Teacher through the illness which unhappily terminated in her death. It seems now in a fair way of recovery. The work, though it does not yet reach its former level, is much better than that when the school was inspected last February".

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. The valuer visiting the school [DV1/C30/42] gave the following details on class structure and numbers:

  • Advanced Classes: four classrooms each, capable of holding 48, total 192;
  • Infants' Classes: three classrooms each, capable of holding forty, total 120;
  • Advanced Classes attendance for year ending 31st March 1925 - 189;
  • Advanced Classes attendance for year ending 31st March 1926 - 185;
  • Infants' Classes attendance for year ending 31st march 1925 - 82;
  • Infants' Classes attendance for year ending 31st march 1925 - 80;

"At present the School has about 277 pupils but this averages down as the year goes on".

In 1929 the inspector found the new headmistress absent: "When this department was inspected the Head Mistress was absent unfortunately through illness which had kept her from school for three weeks. A supply teacher was rendering temporary assistance and the work of the three classes was running smoothly. The children are well taught, and much that is modern in the instruction of infants has been adopted. The walls of each room are covered with pictures and with many home-made devices for teaching. Reading and Number more especially - evidence of much thought and careful preparation".

Clearly illness accounted for the career of a second headmistress as in 1932 it was reported: "The new Head Mistress has made a very encouraging start in her management of this Department and is well backed up by her assistant who is responsible for the younger children. There is a cheerful spirit of work and plenty of response in both the classes…they seem well advanced for the time of year [November] and many of them seem to be unusually promising".

The report from 1935 saw the school with an average attendance of 57: in 1913 it had been 107, 93 in 1922 and 65 in 1932. "The present Head Mistress was appointed in September last. She had no previous experience in the management of a school. It is clear, however, that under her charge the school is likely to maintain the good feaures and hig hstandards of attainment for which it has been commended in the past". The inspector's ended: "A short conference was held with the Head Master of the Mixed Department during which methods of securing continuity of educational policy between the two schools was discussed". The final inspection in the volume, for 1938, begins: "There is much to praise in the conduct of this school".

Following the inspection of 1910 the next one at the junior school was in 1912, when average attendance was 184: "The Mixed School is both well organised and well taught. Order and tone are praiseworthy, and good progress has been made in all Classes during the past year". A school logbook entry for 21st September 1914 reads: "There is a continuance of the bad attendance. Employment in the onion peelin gsheds is the chief cause [SDSandyL1/1]. Similarly, in 1915: "The absence of thirteen boys at agricultural work while under 13 years of age and the leaving of all boys immediately they attain the age 13 has so thinned the actual attendance of the older children that a reorganisation of the school took place today". Bad weather also caused non-attendance, in March 1916: "heavy snow followed by flooding kept Beeston children away and flooding of the furnace chamber closed the school". On 18th September 1917 "A half holiday was given for blackberrying to provide jam for the soldiers". An entry from the logbook shows what a different world Sandy occupied in 1920: "On July 27 all the children heard an addres by an American Negro on 'Slave Songs' instead of the Brushwork lesson from 2.10 to 2.45". One might guess that this was the first person of colour many of the children had ever seen.

The next inspector's report [E/IN1/1] was not until after the Great War, in 1922 and thigs had evidently slipped during the war years, perhaps from lack of staff: "The new Head Teacher has been here for about 6 months and has effected such a degree of improvement as justifies the expectation, now that the Staff is to be strengthened, that he will make a good school here. The present condition of the School is as follows. Arithmetic generally is decidedly weak…Writing is faily good; Reading is spoiled by bad speech; and the other subjects are not really up to a satisfactory level".

In 1924 the inspector wrote: "In many respects the condition of this school has improved since the last Report was made". In 1926 the report confined itself to gardening: "Few scholars take the subject more than one year. As a one-year course the range of practical work is suitable. More definite instruction on such matters was weeds and pests given during the course of operations on the plots would be an advantage. Suitable records are neatly kept. The question of putting boys into the class at an earlier age and extending the scope of the course by including fruit and flower culture is deserving of consideration" after all Sandy lay squarely in market gardening country. The school logbook [SDSandyL1/1] noted on 18th October 1928: "Today the boys of the gardening class commenced digging the potatoes on the extra land set with potatoes for the School Dinner Centres [that for Sandy lay at the Public Elementary School] altogether 40 bags of potatoes approxomating 1.5 tons were dug".

In 1929 the inspector wrote: "A good all-round standard of quality is the impression one gets of the work of this department, and certain features are distinctly above the average. There are good points about each of the four classes". Until 1931 children from Gamlingay School in Cambridgeshire were admitted as a matter of course but in that year the Local Education Authority decreed that no more were to be admitted without the LEA's approval [SDSandyL4/2]. In that year the logbook [SDSandyL1/1] reported: "We have commenced a method of supplying milk to pupils who desire it each morning during the recreation period. The scheme is under the auspices of the National Milk Publicity Association, and its purity and conditions as to sterilizing the bottles, cleanliness of dairy and milking operations is guaranteed by a certificate from the Medical Officer of Health. The cost is 5d. per week and 60 children have availed themselves of the opportunity so far".

In 1935 the inspector [E/IN1/1] noted the organisation of the school: "There are six classrooms in this school of 225 children. Of these 111, including 33 who come from four contributory schools, are over eleven years of age. Only five of the classrooms are used…Whilst there is nothing of outstanding merit in any branch of the work, the standards of attainment, especially in the main subjects, are satisfactory…During the visit the possibilities for developments in general ways were discussed with the Head Master. Suggestions offered for consideration included:

(a) The widening of the scope of the lessons in Elementary Mathematics for older boys.

(b) The provision of special lessons in Hygiene and 'Home' subjects for the older girls.

(c) A closer collaberation with the Head Teacher of the Infants' Department in order to secure a stil lsmoother change for the children from one department to another".

The final inspection in the volume, in 1938 stated: "This school has made good prgoress since the last report was issued, especially with regard to the teaching of Geometry and simple Mechanical Drawing for boys and of special Home and Health lessons for older girls, the development of handwork, and closer collaboration with the Infants' Department".

The war years are evoked by a number of entries in the log book [SDSandyl1/2]. In July 1939, nearly two months before war was declared, are the entries: "Gas mask drill taken this morning" and "The air warden and assistants visited to fit gas masks on children who needed larger sizes". In September, nine days after war was declared is the entry: "Owing to the evacuation of London children all the Sandy children in this school have to work in 4 classrooms. The other two classrooms are being used by the London children under their own teachers".

In June 1940, following the fall of France, the Assistant Director of Education visited to see to air raid precautions at the school. "The Headmaster was informed that it was proposed to cover all the glass of the school with muslin and paint to prevent splintering. In the 4 classrooms around the hall, Mr. Pinnock directed that the desks should be removed from the raised platforms and placed on the lowest level of the rooms, so that the heads of the children would be below window level. He also recommended that the windows should be opened upwards for ventilation whenever possible and all framed pictures etc. removed from the school walls. It was suggested that the Infants' and Girls' cloakrooms should b bricked up and children in the two rooms leading off these cloakrooms use the cloakrooms for shelter in the case of a raid". Air raid warnings were common in 1940, 1941 and 1942 resulting in lost lesson time.

It was found in October 1940 that space in the air raid shelters was insufficient for the number of children on the roll. On 18th November that year it was recorded: "Some slight damage was done to the school by bombs, which dropped in Sandy on Friday night about 11 p. m." On 20th February 1941 it was recorded: "It is Spitfire week in Sandy". In November 1941 children at the school were involved in making camouflage netting for the army. On 6th October 1942 "Police Sergeant Sandell of Sandy gave a short talk to the assembled school on dangerous military objects and the dangers of attempting to collect souvenirs and strange objects lying about in fields, ditches etc." Records of Biggleswade Petty Sessions are full of children just after the war being charged with stealing such things as grenades, bullets and dynamite!

The Education Act was of 1944, which came into force in 1946, 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 schools in Laburnun Road thus became Sandy County Primary Infants' and Sandy County Primary Junior Schools.

For five years following the implementation of the new act the school as separate infant and junior departments. In January 1952 schools in Sandy were reorganised with the result that the former Voluntary Primary School became a Voluntary Counrolled County Primary Infants' School, for children aged 5 to 7, still in the former church school premises in Saint Neots Road. Thus the school in labburnum Road became a County Primary Junior School for children aged 7 to 11 [SDSandyC1/2]. In 1966 a swimming pool was built for the school and in 1968 and 1969 alterations were carried out [CA2/149].

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. The Laburnum Road School, renamed Laburnum Lower School in 1976, was intended to still take pupils from age 7 to age 11, the younger children going to Saint Swithun's Lower School. However, four and five year olds were admitted in 1977 and the school became a normal lower school, dealing with the 4 to 9 age range and from 1990 had a nursery attached for those aged three and four.

Laburnum Lower School August 2010
Laburnum Lower School August 2010