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Keysoe School

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. The returns of 1706, 1709, 1717 and 1720 stated that there was no school in the parish.

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 Keysoe return stated that there was no school but “the poor are desirous of having the means of education”.

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 return from Keysoe read: “Two Sunday Schools, one (commenced 1833) consisting of 24 children of both sexes, who are also instructed in writing in the evenings during the week; the other of 40 scholars, is supported by a congregation of Dissenters; both by voluntary contributions”. 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 former National School and adjoining cottage March 2016
The former National School and adjoining cottage March 2016

The school was built in 1840, according to the date-stone outside, though school accounts exist from 1837 [P48/25/3]. It stands at the top of Mill Hill, almost opposite Church Road. The building was listed by English Heritage in March 1993 as Grade II, of special interest. It is built of orange-coloured bricks and has a Welsh slate roof.

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. In Keysoe there was a Sunday school for 19 boys and 14 girls and the newly-built daily school had 33 boys and 20 girls: “There is great difficulty in keeping a school together. The children are all brought up to lace-making”.

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. There was still no efficient school in Keysoe. The school near the church needed to be made efficient for 118 children and a school for infants provided in Keysoe Row: “If the school at Keysoe be at once made efficient by being put in proper repair, by building offices, and by appointing a certificated teacher, and if it is enlarged so as to accommodate 118 children, the accommodation required will be reduced to the item marked (a)” which meant the infant school.

A School Board was formed in Keysoe on 20th July 1873 with the intention of building a new school, as the one in Mill Hill was too small; once the new school was built the old school building became a Sunday school for the church. A site for the new school was acquired at the junction of Keysoe Row East and Kimbolton Road, known as Shop Pightle, formerly land of leading Baptist Joel Miles who died in 1825 [CCE/SB24/4].

Keysoe School about 1900 [X396-150]
Keysoe School about 1900 [X396/150]

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. Keysoe school this became a Council School.

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 visit was on 14th March 1910: “Order and tone are thoroughly good throughout and the older scholars continue to be most carefully taught, and to make very satisfactory progress in all directions. The Infants, too, are taught with much care, and their attainments are, on the whole, creditable. The method of teaching reading needs some attention”.

“The warming of the Infants’ room is still thoroughly unsatisfactory, and the gallery, which is most inconvenient and takes up much-needed floor space, still needs removal”. This occasioned remarks by the Board of Education in London: “The warming of the Infants’ room should be improved and the gallery removed without further delay”. The LEA responded: “The County Surveyor has been asked to consider the question of warming the Infants’ room”.

The next inspection was on 24th January 1913, when average attendance was 98: “The school continues to be well taught and is in a very efficient condition. Discipline and tone are excellent, the instruction is careful and thorough and all the work is good, the outstanding feature being the very superior character of the written work including Composition. The Infants’ Division also is in good order and is carefully taught, though greater progress in Reading is to be desired here. The Infants’ Room is much more satisfactorily warned than formerly and it has been greatly improved by the removal of the gallery and the provision of suitable desks. The surface of the playground also has been considerably improved”.

Due to lack of resources there were no inspections during the Great War, the next in the scrapbook being 24th September 1920 when average attendance was 73: “The first of the three classes into which this school is divided is very carefully taught, and the progress of the children as they pass upwards through this class is on the whole satisfactory. The attainments of the children of the Second Class are not so high as they should be, but this is to a considerable extent due to the condition of the Infants’ Division, which has for some time past left much to be desired. A marked improvement in this Division will be necessary if the school as a whole is to make progress”. The Director of Education observed: “The Director of Education will visit this school and submit a report to the Sub-Committee”.

On 19th February 1923 the next report noted average attendance as 83: “The illness of the Head Teacher and epidemic sickness and the consequent closure of the School have affected the work since November: the present level is hardly so high as might be desired. In Class I (Standards III – VI) Arithmetic is fairly good in III and Vin and weak in IV and V. In Class II (Standards I – II) it is satisfactory. Writing is good on the whole in Standards V and VI, elsewhere it is only fairly good. Composition in Standard VI is good; in III – V it is fairly good. Reading was heard only in Standards I and II; in the former it is satisfactory, in the latter only fairly so. Geography and History in Class I are not without good features, but the answering is sometimes scarcely audible. In Class II also speech needs attention. Singing (Class I) is satisfactory, and Drawing, decidedly the best subject, is creditable throughout. Order is good”.

“In the Infants’ Division Reading shows improvement in the First Class and perhaps a little in the Second. Number might easily be better. In both subjects there are children who do not make adequate progress chiefly because they are not trained to deal with their own difficulties and because the teaching is too largely directed to the brighter children. Speech is decidedly poor and requires more attention. Writing and handwork are generally satisfactory”.

Average attendance was 116 as reported by visits in August 1926 and April 1927: “This school, to which children over 11 years of age now come from three neighbouring villages, is under a Head Master. An excellent building for Practical Instruction and Cookery, which also serves as a dining room for the midday meals, has been erected and the school has been improved by a partition”.

“The Head Master is an enthusiastic and capable man who has taken full advantage of the new possibilities; and under his control the school has justified the policy of reorganisation abundantly. The children have new opportunities and a new outlook in several ways. They have been taken to compete in the Musical Competitions in Bedford; they have a good school magazine: esprit de corps is fostered by a school cap and badge: they meet other and larger schools in sport, and may perhaps soon have a playing field. Apart from these advantages and those obtained through Practical Instruction, the change in the character of the work demanded and the work produced is very striking. Two of the three contributory schools were not in a high rank. But under sound and critical examination on a curriculum far more advanced than they would have had, had there been no change, the names of children from all the villages appear among the first six or so in the classes in which they are placed; and much of the work not only of these but of the whole class is distinctly creditable. Competition has helped to rouse an interest formerly lacking and on the results obtained and the signs of future development the Staff and the Head Master are to be congratulated”.

The next inspection was on 15th January 1929 when average attendance was 113: “This school has had a very much disturbed year owing to shortness of staff for eleven weeks and an even longer period without a settled Infants’ Teacher, as well as the presence of a temporary inexperienced assistant for a month owing to illness of the permanent assistant. The newly appointed teacher for Infants has much to learn in management, and her own speech is occasionally ungrammatical. She is, however, very willing and is given the character of a good worker. She has a very difficult post, as the Infants have suffered during the past year. The next class is also in the hands of a teacher inexperienced in children’s work above the Infants’ stage. She appears to be shaping well. The Second Class shows improvement. On the Reading in both these classes certain comments were made at the visit in discussion with the Head Master. The top class is a good class, and the Head Master has done well with them. The social side of the work is also good – a reunion of the old scholars of 11+ from the contributory schools was very successful. In sport, too, the school is doing useful and successful work”.

On 16th March 1933 average attendance was 89: “The Head Master has been in charge of this interesting school since March 1931. There are four classes in all, and of the 63 children in the two “Senior” groups 39 were admitted from three other schools. On the whole, the children are receiving a very valuable training. The Head Master has ideas and the requisite energy to carry them out. Nor is his work on behalf of his charges confined to actual school hours: admirable arrangements are made for the midday meal and for meeting other schools in various kinds of field games”.

“In the more formal work, too, there is much that is highly creditable to his leadership. The lowest group is making a steady advance in the essential subjects and, although in the two middle classes, which are in the hands of inexperienced teachers, (one of whom was absent on the day of the inspection) the standard of attainment is not as yet as high as it should be, the children are learning to work to good purpose. In the highest class the instruction in most respects is sound and intelligent: the Composition of the brighter pupils is especially worthy of note. With few exceptions, however, the children do not speak well; and it is suggested that vigorous steps should be taken to make the course in Speech Training more effective”.

The final inspection in the scrapbook took place on 18th October 1938 and 6th February 1939 when average attendance was 70: “This school taught by three teachers has, at present, some 94 children on the books. From three village schools in the area the children of 11 years plus are transferred here in order to have the advantage, among other things, of practical instruction in Handicraft, Gardening and Domestic subjects. Of the Head Teacher who was appointed in May 1937 without previous experience in the management of a school, it may be said that he has made a very promising start especially when it is considered that his two young assistants are both in their first teaching posts”.

“The school is not an easy one to organise in three classes: the influx of children from the other schools makes it difficult if not impossible to group all the seniors suitably. Again the small classroom in which the middle group is taught provides accommodation for only 30 children. It would be an advantage if the screen dividing this and the larger adjoining room were moved in order to make two rooms more or less equal in size”.

“Much of the work in Classes 1 and 2 especially in the formal subjects reaches a generally satisfactory standard. Points were discussed concerning the teaching of Art and Music and developments in these subjects may be confidently expected. The lowest class consists of Infants and standards I and II. The young teacher has done fairly well with the older children but it is clear that she is unacquainted with the modern methods of teaching Infants. She should, when possible, visit a school of similar type where such methods can be observed”.

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 the early 1980s the county council needed to save money and began consultation with a view to closing a number of small rural schools with few pupils on the roll. Keysoe Lower was one of the schools potentially in line for closure [E/SC1/Key1-5]. In 1983, however, it was decided to merge Little Staughton and Keysoe schools to form a new lower school – Kymbrook Lower School – in the old Keysoe buildings [E/SC1/Gen7].

In 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished and the local education authority for Keysoe became Bedford Borough Council, the existing district council, now upgraded to a unitary authority (with both county and district functions) within its existing boundaries. In 21st century the school became a foundation school, part of the North Bedfordshire Schools Trust. When the trust was dissolved Kymbrook remained a foundation school, without a trust.

Kymbrook Lower School March 2016
Kymbrook Lower School March 2016