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Heath and Reach School

Elevation of Heath School 1845
Elevation of Heath School 1845 [AD3865/19/1]

1846 to 1902

Heath and Reach National School was completed in 1846 on the western side of Birds Hill. It was built on glebe land and on copyhold land owned by the Manor of Leighton Buzzard alias Grovebury. The copyhold land was enfranchised, that is, made into freehold land, and the whole conveyed by the Curate of Heath and Reach, Thomas Stevens of Eggington, the Lord of the Manor (the Dean and Canons of Saint George's Chapel, Windsor) and the tenant of the manor (Chandos, Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh) to the Vicar of Leighton Buzzard under "An Act for the affording further facilities for the Conveyance and Endowment of sites for schools" on 20th April 1846. the land was described as: an allotment of twelve poles in Heath and Reach and it was on the north of an allotment [at inclosure] in possession of the Poor of Heath and Reach [in other words charity land], on the south of an allotment belonging to Anne Russell, widow, on the east of an allotment belonging to Charles Major and on the west of the high road leading from Woburn to Leighton Buzzard [P84/29/2]. The building, as can be seen from the plan below was a very simple one.

 Plan of Heath School 1845
Plan of Heath School 1845 [AD3865/19/1]

A national enquiry by the Church of England about its schools was undertaken in 1846/7. 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 return for Heath & Reach was included in that for Leighton Buzzard because Heath and Reach was still a hamlet of the civil parish of Leighton Buzzard and, although a separate ecclesiastical parish, it was tended by a curate, appointed by the Vicar of Leighton Buzzard, rather than its own vicar. The return stated: "After very considerable exertion the private subscriptions are not yet sufficient to meet the Government Grant and the grant from the National Society, so that although the building is complete, operations cannot be commenced in the Day school". Heath and Reach was notoriously impoverished in the early 19th century; it also had a large proportion of nonconformists (Baptists, Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists) who would not necessarily have been keen to subscribe to a Church school.

 Heath School site layout plan 1862 AD3865-19-2
Heath School site layout plan 1862 [AD3865/19/2]

More ground was conveyed for the use of the school on 12th December 1863 by Henry Hanmer of Stockgrove [Buckinghamshire], Lord of the Manor of Leighton Buzzard alias Grovebury and the curate and the trustees of Heath and Reach Poor Lands Charity (Thomas Swinstead of Reach Green, John Britten of Overend Green, William Adams of Heath and George Smith of Heath and Reach, all farmers), to the Vicar of Leighton Buzzard of land described as part of an old inclosure formerly called the Chapel Yard at Heath and then called Old Chapel Close containing forty poles 22 square yards [P84/29/3]. This extra ground allowed for a substantial enlargement of the school including a schoolhouse for the teacher to live in.

 Plan of Heath School in 1862 AD3865-19-3
Plan of Heath School in 1862 [AD3865/19/3] - to see a larger version please click on the image above

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. Heath & Reach had become a separate civil parish in 1866 and so sent in its own return which showed that the National School had accommodation for 101 boys, girls and infants; 24 places for boys and girls and a separate school for 84 infants were required.

Even with a well established school, attendance was not always exemplary. The financial needs of the family would often override those of the children's education. Thus boys were often absent to do agricultural work, or girls to do straw plaiting. On 11th April 1902 it was noted in the minutes of the Leighton Buzzard Poor Law Union [PULBMC6]: "The School Attendance Officer reported that owing to permission having been given by Mr. Mills [the Lord of the Manor] to the people of Heath and Reach to gather wood at Stockgrove, children, instead of going to school were left at home, whilst the mothers went gathering the wood; the Clerk was therefore directed to request Mr. Mills to limit his permission to Saturdays so that children could attend school".

1903 to 1946

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 & 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]. Separate reports were made on Heath and Reach Infants' and Junior Mixed Schools, both on the same site in Birds Hill.

Heath and Reach Infants' School

The first visit by an inspector recorded in the volume was on 22nd September 1911, when average attendance was 71. The inspector commented: "In spite of interruption of work caused by the enforced absence of the Head Teacher through sickness the efficiency of the School is well maintained". The next visit came in July 1913 when it was noted: "The condition of this department is creditable. Order and tone are good, the instruction is carefully and intelligently given, and good progress has been made during the past year".

The last visit to the infants department alone was in 1923 when average attendance was just 41; it was noted: "The Head Teacher works earnestly and has the best interest of the children at heart". The inspector considered that discipline ought to be firmer "indiscriminate calling out will have to be suppressed".

Heath and Reach Junior Mixed School

The first visit to the junior mixed department was recorded in 1911 when average attendance was 125: "The Mixed School continues in a creditable state of efficiency. All the Teachers work well and with satisfactory results". At the time of the next visit in 1913 progress of the younger children had been mildly hampered by changes in staff. The inspector noted: "The schoolrooms should be kept cleaner and more tidy; additional cupboard accommodation appears to be needed".

In 1919 average attendance had fallen to 109 and the inspector reported: "This School is not in a satisfactory condition. Reading and Wordbuilding are weak in the lowest class. Writing and Spelling are very poor in both the lower classes and, though these subjects are much better in the upper classes, the Composition remains weak in construction. Arithmetic is poor throughout…" These problems were blamed on changes in staff and "the employment of teachers of little experience". This had obviously made the Head Teacher's job more difficult and it was acknowledged: "The Head Master has always given his best to the work of the School and has always been open to suggestion. The only hope appears to be to strengthen the staff by the appointment of more highly trained Assistants".

At a visit on 13th February 1923 it was recorded that a new Head Master had been appointed two years previously: "The whole standard of attainment and discipline needed raising. Some progress has been made but much still remains to be done". At the same time an inspection was undertaken of the buildings which found: "The building in which this school is conducted is dismal and dreary. It is in need of paint and whitewash, there are no pictures to brighten the place - or to help the education of the children. There is no accommodation for washing except one bowl on a stand in the classroom for Standards I and II. The surface of the playground is unsatisfactory; it becomes a quagmire after rain, and a large proportion of the surface is covered by a pool which collects and does not drain away".

It seems as if the new Head Teacher did not stay long as a report of 15th October 1924 begins: "The present Head Teacher, who came a year ago, found the age classification far from satisfactory". The report notes: "It does not appear that the condition of the School - which is one where it is not easy to rouse the interest of the children or to get them to work earnestly - had been at all markedly improved before he came".

In 1925 a detailed investigation of the buildings was undertaken on 1st January 1925: "The School is conducted in two buildings quite close together. The walls are worn in several places and require refacing; pipes are defective and gutter spouting is broken away; some of the woodwork (of windows especially) is rotten, and the urgent need of repainting and repairs is very evident, throughout the Buildings. There are five class rooms which are, or could be made, satisfactory; but the position and condition of the Offices, and the condition of the cloakrooms, the playground, and external fencing are all seriously defective.

The girls' offices which are approached through a door in the end of the Mixed Department lie about five yards from the building. The girls have to pass through the two divisions of the main room to reach them, and there is no direct access from the playground. On the other side of a wall with a gate in it, so low that the bigger girls must see over it, is the Boys' Urinal in full view. There are four compartments for the girls, from one of which the door has gone; they have not been painted or lime washed for a long time, and there is indecent scribbling on the walls. Smell from them reaches the school in warm weather. The boys; urinal and office were very offensive at this visit; their position is unsatisfactory and they should be removed. The Infants' offices (two compartments for 66 on roll) practically touch the school wall. They are in need of paint and limewash. No earth for the pails was seen at this visit. Complaint of the offensive smell from them is made when the weather is warm. They are most unsatisfactory, and should be removed to a more sanitary position.

The approach to the School is of badly warn asphalt which slopes so that the surface water goes down on to the sand covered playground.; this is badly drained, as has already been reported. From this water, water from the Infants' Department roof where the gutter spouting has gone, and rain water on the surface which cannot drain away, a pool is formed which, as it dries away, leaves a deep muddy surface. In dry weather the sand blows about and some lies on the lid of the well for drinking water. When this is lifted, the sand falls in. The well should be protected - and the playground surface should be made good". The report went on to discuss the shortcomings of the cloakrooms, classrooms and heating (in winter the temperature did not even reach 50 degrees centigrade). The Board of Education insisted on: (a) removal of all the Offices to a more sanitary position; (b) the improvement of the cloakroom accommodation; (c) the draining of the playground and protection of the well; (d) the improvement of the heating; (e) the improvement of the ventilation; (f) external and internal repairs and re-decoration.

In 1926, when average attendance was 138, it was reported: "The Staff of the Infants' Division has been unsettled since a permanent Teacher left at the beginning of October last. It does not appear that this Teacher improved the class much: the children write well, but they are not in very good order, and the rest of their work is only fairly satisfactory on the whole" By contrast: "The lowest class of older scholars is very well taught indeed. The work of the class is now carried on with no undue noise…" Of the school over all: "It should be said that the age classification is becoming more normal".

Obviously the long list of faults with the building was addressed, for in 1927 it was noted: "The premises have been so greatly improved that the Teaching conditions have entirely altered; the Teachers have taken full advantage of this and there is much better type of work done". The next inspection, in 1933, when average attendance was 154, however noted: "This school presents difficulties to the Head Master and his staff, the reasons for which are not at all obvious" The report goes on to note that the staff lack experience and ends: "The impression gained was that the school as a whole needs pulling up: in this the Head Master agrees".

The final report in the book dates to 1936 and states: "Since the last report the school has been visited three times: once while the late Head Master was still in office and twice since the appointment of the present Master. There has been a progressive improvement since February 1933; though there are still traces of the presence of the difficult groups reported at that time. the Head Master has pulled the general standard up, has dealt with difficulties in a firm but kindly spirit and has been assisted by a good working staff. Illness among children and staff alike has been somewhat of a handicap occasionally, and the changes in staff for a few weeks have meant some slackening in the rate of progress. As the school stands now, the written work has become clean, clear, and normal, with much that is really pleasing. The speech work is very much improved, some of the Recitation being good, and in the Dramatic Work, evidence of interest and clear speech came, somewhat unexpectedly, from children whose Recitation was only fairly good. There is now no need to criticise correction: and the efforts to benefit by the advice given at the Day Refresher Course in the Autumn are becoming successful. The Head Master and his staff may well be complimented on their work"

 North-west elevation of Heath Schoolhouse 1862
North-west elevation of Heath Schoolhouse 1862 [AD3865/19/5]

The teacher lived in the schoolhouse, on the same site as the school. The Rating and Valuation Act of 1925 ordered every piece of land and building in the country to be assessed to determine the rates to be paid upon them. the valuer visiting the schoolhouse [DV1/C205/104] noted that rent was £1/8/0 per annum and that occupation "terminates with appointment as Head-master". The house was built of brick and slate and comprised a parlour, a living room and a scullery downstairs with three bedrooms above. The valuer remarked: "good"; "just repainted" and "shut in by school".

1946 to date

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. Heath and Reach became a Voluntary Aided County Primary School.

 Saint Leonards Lower School October 2008
Saint Leonard's Lower School October 2008

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. Heath and Reach became a Voluntary Aided Lower School. By this time the Victorian premises were in a poor state and in 1980 land for a new school was conveyed to Bedfordshire County Council as Local Education Authority. This was behind numbers 10 to 44 Thrift Road and the new school was subsequently built there. The old school site was sold, the premises were demolished and replaced by modern houses. The school is currently [2009] known by the snappy title of Saint Leonard's, Heath and Reach, Voluntary Aided Lower School. Bedfordshire was abolished on 1st April 2009 the new Local Education Authority being the newly created unitary authority called Central Bedfordshire Council.

Site of old Saint Leonards School Jun 2008
Site of old Saint Leonard's School Jun 2008