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Meppershall School

Meppershall Academy March 2015
Meppershall Academy March 2015

Information about the creation and early expansion of the National School at Meppershall can be found in one of the Parish Registers [P29/1/8], in which the Rev John Henry Howlett made a selection of Memoranda "for the information of his Successors". Here Howlett records that "In 1839 the Rev[eren]d Henry Howarth, then Rector of this Parish, granted a part of the Orchard belonging to the Glebe as a site for a National School Room, which was erected at a cost of one hundred and forty pounds from Her Majesty's Treasury, a grant of ten pounds from the National Society, a grant of fifteen pounds from the Bedfordshire Board of Education, and voluntary subscriptions". A copy of the deed which conveys this land is also held in the parish records [P29/29/1]. Within six years the money generated by Emery's Charity was no longer used to fund the Charity School but the National School which had, effectively, replaced it [P29/25].

Howlett's next entry regarding the school explains that "in 1867 the National School Room… was rebuilt on a larger scale, with the addition of a dwelling-house for the Principle Teacher". This was funded by grants from the National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, the Bedfordshire Board of Education, and voluntary subscriptions". Again, a copy of the deed conveying additional Glebe land for this purpose is held within the parish records [P29/29/2].

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 return for Meppershall explains that the existing school was a National School with 83 spaces. It noted that the parish required accommodation for 25, which would not be necessary if a grant were given to increase the size of the existing National School. Rev Howlett reported that in 1875, a further class room was added "to meet the requirements of the Education Department of Her Majesty's Privy Council", as well as a third bedroom at the Teacher's dwelling-house.

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. A snapshot of the school as it existed in 1904 can be found on the 'Meppershall School in 1904' page.

Registers of teachers for the years 1904-1912 reveal that the school employed a total of seven teachers during this period, although it is unlikely they were all employed at one time. The headmistress, Alice Kate Kittridge, was supported by Alice Francis, Ellen Harriet Ayton, Ellen Knight, Maggie Parsons, Lenness Hilda King and Florence Mary Clayton [E/TE5/3-4].

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]. In 1912 the inspector of Meppershall 'Church of England mixed department and infants' noted that "The continuity of work has been interrupted by the ill-health of the Head Teacher, but despite this drawback, the efficiency of the school is well maintained. Order and tone continue most praiseworthy and a creditable level of efficiency is shown both in the classes for elder scholars and for infants." The suggestions for improvements are limited to improved lighting and the provision of 'more modern desks'.

By 1913, the lighting had been improved by "the removal of some semi-opaque glass in the windows' of the main room. The inspector noted that the infants' class was 'taught in a most culpable manner and its condition is in every respect very satisfactory indeed and highly creditable to the teacher." The older pupils were found to be "in excellent order, and they are taught with care and thoroughness and make very creditable progress. Physical Exercises, the reading of the lowest class, and the Composition of the highest, deserve special mention." However, the inspector did suggest that "Some of the children in the First Class should speak rather more audibly".

The inspector in 1922 found that the school was "a very good little school indeed in many ways." They explain that "The clear and carefully formed handwriting which characterises the Infants' Department develops into really good writing in the top of the school: equal care is taken to secure as clear and bold speech as is possible, and Reading and Spelling alike benefit. The teaching of Composition, b9oth oral and written, requires some development in the Second Group of older scholars. Drawing is improving and the Singing is well taught.

In 1925, the work of a recently arrived new headteacher was praised as having initiated "a very decided step forward… The work is all satisfactory, especially Arithmetic, Drawing and Singing, as are the discipline and tone. The school has the advantage of an Infants' teacher of much experience, under whom an exceptionally sound commencement is made." However, later that year a report was made of the Church of England School that the cloakroom was "dark and unventilated: the temperature of the main building is unsatisfactory: the firls' offices are dark and are placed too near the school and are approached by the girls and infants either by passing the window of the teacher's house – some way round – or through the school. These offices and those from the boys are cesspits which are offensive at times. The playground is very small".

The report from the inspection of 1927 is especially congratulatory towards the teaching staff themselves, and reads as follows: "The work of this School, especially in the lower half of it, is very praiseworthy. The Head Mistress herself has worked well; but she could not have effected so much had not the work of the Infants' Teacher, who is now about to retire been of exceptionally sound and conscientious character/ The children in her care have, year after year, made a good start and rapid progress; and it is felt that her diligent application and sympathetic methods deserve a special note of recognition."

This level of excellence was not to be maintained though, and the report following visits in both 1932 and 1933 records the following findings:  "When this school was an all Standard school the Head Mistress conducted it with great success, until during its last year and a half or so the Teaching in the Infants' room was far from satisfactory: her own work was interfered with by illness. It became a Junior School in January last year, and a new Infants' Teacher inexperienced by more willing to learn was appointed in March. The general response orally, is fearless and usually good; in mental work the Juniors, and in recitation and story work both sections are very promising. In written work in Arithmetic there is a good proportion of accurate working, but the books in use for the Juniors do not seem to provide much practice in setting out problems. In Written English – rather ambitious for First Class and Standard I – there is throughout, on the whole, good power of stating facts in quite an interesting way on subjects within the children's experience or knowledge. The writing of the Junior Class is clean and legible, but has not at present any style. This was discussed: Spelling too needs improvement. These weaknesses are due to the inferior Teaching of a year or two ago. The work of the Head Teacher herself is as good as ever; and that of the Infants' Teacher, with further experience and some further help, should become useful. The behaviour of the children in the school is excellent."

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.

A Governor's report for the school dated 1992 mentions "problems caused by leaking sky lights and the flooding of the playground", but concludes that "The Fabric of the school remains in good condition". [PC Meppershall 26/4]. A report from 1994 explains that "The replacement of the front and side windwows is almost complete" and describes the removal of a mobile classroom following inspection. [PC Meppershall 26/5]. The head teacher at these times was Mrs L. Murray.

In 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished, being replaced by the district councils which now had to take on vastly greater responsibilities. Mid Bedfordshire District Council and South Bedfordshire District Council were merged to form Central Bedfordshire Unitary Council which became the LEA for the Meppershall area. Within the last few years [2015] the school has followed the latest trend in education by becoming an academy, free of LEA control though, in the case of Meppershall, still affiliated to the Church of England.