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Bedford Road Schools Kempston

Bedford Road Lower School July 2007
Bedford Road Lower School July 2007

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.

The questionnaire for Kempston noted the first schools built in the urban part of the ancient parish of Kempston - a Church of England Mixed School at Up End for 55 children and Up End National Infants' School in Saint John’s Street for 135 children. Both of these were built in 1854 and the report noted "In course of being supplied: Enlargement of Kempston Church of England Mixed School at Upend. Accommodation for 122 children". Unfortunately this estimate was grossly short of what was required and a notice appeared in the Bedfordshire Mercury in 1875 stating that unless schools for 400 children were provided within six months a School Board would be formed for the parish to drive the building programme forward. A School Board was duly formed on 18th February 1876.

For the first twelve years the Kempston School Board was ineffective in dealing with the problems of a growing and changing district. Improvements occurred when the right people were elected. The Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume 67 The Bedfordshire School Child edited by David Bushby quotes a letter from Eastern Division Schools Inspector, a man named Synge, in 1890: "Across the river from Bedford lies the important village or suburb of Kempston. Two years ago it was, so far as education is concerned, almost the most backward place in my district. Since then a large new infants’ school has been erected, existing premises have been improved, and additional teachers and apparatus procured. Considerable progress has already been made, and the outlook is most hopeful. To Mr Edwin Ransom, of Bedford, the energetic chairman of a new board, belongs the credit for these improvements".

The infants’ school in Bedford Road was opened, according to directories, in 1889. The mixed board school at Up End was made into a school for boys only in 1896, the girls being sent to a newly opened school in Bedford Road on the same site as that used for the infants. The Bedford Road site would be used for two separate schools for more than fifty years.

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. The girls' and infants' schools in Bedford Road duly became Council 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].

The first report comes from the infants’ school and is dated 15th March 1910: “In spite of the over-crowded state of this School and of the large, unwieldy classes, good work is done throughout and the order is praiseworthy. Article 14 of the Code is violated in Classes 1 and 6, and Classes 4 and 5, comprising 85 children, are taught for part of each day in a class-room which does not provide nearly enough accommodation, to the detriment of the health and progress of the children. The Babies’ Class of 70 children is too large for one Teacher to manage, and the floor space in the class-room is quite insufficient for their obvious needs in free movement. The unsuitable desks, which encumber one of the class-rooms and the gallery in the main room should be removed and replaced by modern furniture”. The Board of Education in London remarked: “I am to enquire what steps will be taken to secure compliance with Articles 14 and 19 of the Code”. The Local Education Authority replied: “A special report will be made on this School”.

A year later the girls’ school was visited, average attendance was 265: “Order and tome are very praiseworthy. The instruction is, in all the Classes, characterised by care and intelligence and the condition of the School reflects credit upon the Head Mistress and her conscientious and hard-working Assistants”.

Elevation of the extensions at the Bedford Road Infants' School 1911 [UDKP300]
Elevation of the extensions at the Bedford Road Infants' School 1911 [UDKP300]

Both schools were visited in September 1914, soon after the outnreak of the Great War. Average attendance for the infants’ school was 283: “Owing to the enlargement and improvement of the premises there is marked progress in the work of the School, which is characterised by good order and efficiency. In one or two of the classes the children are perhaps a little too restrained, and the teaching does not quite make enough demand on their individual activities. But, except for this, the work is carried on on very satisfactory lines. The attainments of the children in the first class are creditable and they take interest and pleasure in their occupations. A few of the best specimens of Handwork might be kept on exhibition from one lesson to another as an encouragement to the children”.

The girls’ school’s average attendance was 262: “The Head Teacher and her Staff all devote themselves heartily to the work of the School and a very fair standard of attainment is reached by the older children. To secure further progress the Girls should be led to depend more on themselves and concentrate their attention better on their work. This habit of self-reliance is especially important in the top two classes, which are taught in the same room. The third class meets in a separate classroom, an advantage of which the teacher makes good use. The three lower classes have been carefully and on the whole well taught. The attainments of the children entering the lowest class and very varied and the progress they have made is much to the credit of the teacher”.

A note applied to both schools: “A portion of the playground should be asphalted for Physical Exercises”.

The next inspections were not until after the Great War. The infants were inspected in December 1919, when average attendance was 266: “In spite of short staffing the work goes on mush as usual, and the progress of the children has not seriously suffered. But the circumstance makes the Head Mistress’s task a hard one. The teaching would be much facilitated were the children trained to be more self-dependent. Simultaneous work prevails, even sing-song repetition prevailed till recently, and simultaneous answering has not been entirely suppressed. Too much help is given the children, too much suggestion, and the teachers are apt to intervene unnecessarily, so that little opportunity is given for self-expression, or for self-reliance and the quiet absorption of the children in their individual tasks”.

“Apart from this general criticism, the methods of teaching the individual subjects are good and shew much forethought, and the great majority of the children will go up to the Senior Departments well prepared. In the Nature Study of the First Class this year the children have taken home their seeds to germinate; in fact the need for encouraging self-reliance is already receiving attention. The teachers are earnest and devoted to the interests of the children, and the happy relations that exist between children and Teachers are evident both within school and outside”.

The Local Education Authority noted: “The normal staff is adequate for an average attendance of 295. Since the commencement of the School Year, 1st April 1919, the only period during which the School was under-staffed was from 7th December 1919 to 1st February 1920. It will be observed that at the date of the Inspector’s visit the school has been under-staffed for one week only. Even then, the staff was adequate for and average attendance of 260 scholars. H. M. Inspector’s criticism on this point is difficult to follow”.

The school was visited again on 8th December 1920, average attendance 260: “The points on which allusion was made in the last Report have received attention, and the school is now in a decidedly satisfactory condition”.

The Girls’ School was visited in January 1923, when average attendance was 228: “This school has a good tone, and is taught with obvious care; its general condition is very creditable. Arithmetic (Classes I-III) is good, as also is the Composition of Classes I and II, whilst that of Class III is weak only in punctuation. In most classes Writing is capable of improvement; it is somewhat lacking in style, and is not always sufficiently careful. The Reading of the lowest class scarcely reaches average, and speech should be more audible and distinct; but in other classes where the subject was heard it was very satisfactory indeed. History has received adequate attention, but there is a certain tendency to indiscriminate answering. The Physical Training of the Girls is going on well; with a little more effort and precision this important branch of the work promises to become quite good. Singing is very successfully taught. It is to be noted that the work of the school has been carried on at a disadvantage during the past twelve months, as several of the teachers have been absent for a considerable period through illness. Many of the Reading Books are in a dilapidated condition”.

The final reports from the two schools were in 1925. The Infants’ School was indpected in June, when average attendance was 191: “This School, which has suffered severely during the past few months from epidemic sickness, is doing very sound work in the top classes on lines which are very well thought out though they do not include individual or group work for the more advanced children. The Head Mistress takes various sections in certain subjects to help on retarded children, and the general impression gained on this visit was that her re-organisation will enable lost ground to be recovered quickly. There are now four classes averaging 51 on roll; of the five Teachers the Head Mistress is trained, and one Assistant is Certificated. The proportion of Certificated Teachers is therefore not satisfactory; and when the appointment of another Teacher, which will be necessary next term, is made, a Trained Teacher should be selected”.

The Girls’ School was visited in September, average attendance 218: “The work of this Department also was seriously hindered during the first quarter of this year, owing to low attendance through mumps. In most respects Arithmetic is good: there is a rather weak section in Class 3, and in Class 2 statement and figuring need some little attention. Writing and Composition are not quite up to their usual level, but they are, under the circumstances, quite satisfactory. A considerable number of girls in Standard I are below the average in Reading, but the rest of the Reading is distinctly good. The remainder of the work of the School is, at least, under the circumstances, very creditable, and calls for no particular remark. Indiscriminate calling out of answers still lingers in certain lessons: it is desirable that it should not be permitted at all. It is probable that a better system of classification might be adopted. The present system seems to involve the keeping down of a certain number of children each year, and this is certainly to be avoided”.

In 1928 education in Kempston was reorganised. The former Girls’ School premises became Kempston Senior School whilst the former Infants’ School became an infants and junior school for both sexes under the name of Bedford Road Council Junior Mixed School. There are two inspector’s reports for this school in E/IN1/1, the first being in 1932 when average attendance was 227: “In the re-organisation of four years ago this, the old infants’ school, became a department for infants and for juniors up to the age of eleven. The present Head Mistress was appointed at that time and the children now in the Standards are mostly the product of the re-organised school”.

“It is well conducted. It is a large department for the Head Mistress to have a class, and although conditions are easier than a year ago when there were 283 in the school there are still 249 on the roll. At such times as the many odd duties call for the personal attention of the Head Mistress, her class of 27 joins the class below of 31 taught in the same room. These classes are also grouped for oral lessons, when the two top classes are re-arranged into three groups of Drawing (boys) and Needlework (girls), for which latter subject the Head Mistress makes herself responsible. In fact it is obvious that the Head Mistress has so arranged matters that as little inconvenience as possible is caused, as the numbers on the roll in the other classes are 52, 45, 42 and 52. Any absence of one teacher from these classes would gravely overtax the powers of the teacher left with two of them to deal with. Further it should be pointed out that methods of teaching in both sections of the school call for a supervision which it is not possible to give now”.

“The infants’ section is carefully taught, partly on modern and partly on traditional lines. The four classes of juniors do good work. In the Second Class intelligent response was always forthcoming from some children, but not from the greater portion, owing, it is believed, to the fact that the organisation has necessitated promotions to this class during the year. The highest class responded well and showed that they are taught to understand what they learn, and not merely to learn facts and rules. In all classes written work is neat, well set out and cheerfully corrected”.

“The cheerful attitude of the Head Mistress, her Staff and the children to their work is a great factor in its success. The behaviour of the scholars is very good”.

The final inspection in the volume came just before the outbreak of World War Two, taking place on 4th May 1939, when average attendance was 228: “The difficult teaching conditions in this department which has a recognised accommodation of 250 were set out in the last report (April 1932). There were then 249 children on the roll; there are now, owing to housing developments in the locality, 276”.

“It is because of the untiring efforts of the Head Mistress, who, herself, takes entire charge of a large class, and of the devoted service rendered by her staff that the standards of work and behaviour throughout the school are so creditable. The methods of teaching both in the Infants’ and in the Junior classes reflect a careful study on the part of the teachers of modern ideas and ideals. Some of the creative and recreative activities are hampered by lack of space. The dramatic work has to be done in crowded rooms whilst Folk Dancing is only possible when weather conditions are suitable”.

“Because of two recent partial promotions, five of the six classes show wide ranges in the ages of the children who are, however, classified so far as circumstances permit according to their attainments. In all classes a note of happy industry prevails”. Someone has written in the margin, in pen: “Congratulations”.

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. Bedford Road thus became a County Primary School.

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. Bedford Road became a lower school.

In 2007 a Surestart Children's Centre, managed by Spurgeons to support parents of children aged 0-5 was built in Hillgrounds Road, just behind the school. The local pre-school also moved into the building. A close working relationship between the school and the team based at the centre is expected.

On 1st April 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished. Its functions in the north of the county were taken over by Bedford Borough Council. This was a district, or second tier, authority which was upgraded to a unitary council with both first and second tier responsibilities – a county and district council rolled into one. It this became Kempston’s local education authority.

The following list gives all the sources relating to education at the various Bedford Road schools held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service. Due to the terms of the Data Protection Act records containing personal details of living individuals will be closed in total, or in part, depending on the nature of the information.

Modern additions to Bedford Road Lower School July 2007
Modern additions to Bedford Road Lower School July 2007

Bedford Road Board/Council Infants' School

  • E/TE5/1: details of teachers: 1904-1908;
  • E/TE5/2: details of teachers: 1908-1912;
  • E/IN1/1: School Inspector’s reports: 1910-1925;
  • UDKP300: plans for extension to the school: 1911;
  • CTM17/109: mortgage for enlargement of premises: 1912;
  • CTM17/119: mortgage for enlargement of premises: 1914;
  • Z311/16: Bedford Road Lower School 1889-1989.

Bedford Road Board/Council Girls' School

  • SDKempstonUpEnd2/3/2: Inspector's annual reports: 1879-1902;
  • SDKempstonUpEnd6/1: duplicate returns: 1881-1928;
  • SDKempstonUpEnd4/1: school logbook: 1896-1922;
  • X768/2: photograph of class no.3: c.1900;
  • UDKP136: plan for additions to the school: 1901;
  • E/TE5/1: details of teachers: 1904-1908;
  • E/TE5/2: details of teachers: 1908-1912;
  • E/IN1/1: School Inspector’s reports: 1911-1925;
  • AU10/39/1: Kempston Musical Society performance at the school: 1926;
  • Z311/16: Bedford Road Lower School 1889-1989

Bedford Road Council Junior Mixed/County Primary Junior/Lower School

  • E/IN1/1: School Inspector's reports: 1936-1939;
  • Z377/3-4: photographs of school group: c.1944-1945;
  • CA8/263: building maintenance file: 1966-1975;
  • Z1301/1: survey of Kempston by Police Cadets at Mander College, Bedford: 1968;
  • CA8/1008: building maintenance file: 1975-1984;
  • CA10/9: maintenance contract - taking down redundant chimney stacks: 1980;
  • CA10/24: maintenance contract - external repairs: 1980;
  • CA10/29: maintenance contract - demolition work: 1980;
  • E/TE3/4: summary of staff: 1981;
  • E/PM6/2/4: school opposition to abolition of corporal punishment: 1985-1986;
  • E/TE3/7: summary of staff: 1987;
  • E/MS3/2/2: kitchen and other details: c.1987;
  • Z311/16: Bedford Road Lower School 1889-1989