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Milton Ernest School

The Old School - 1 Church Green February 2011
The Old School - 1 Church Green February 2011

The Bedfordshire Times of 11 January 1851 carries the following article: "Opening of new National School in the … village of Milton Ernest, the want of a good school-room has been much felt, but now we are happy to state, that want has been supplied by the respected vicar, and the gift has been received by the parishioners with the liveliest feelings of gratitude. A neat and capacious building has been erected, and the completion having been certified, it was determined to celebrate the opening by a festival. On Thursday, the 2nd instant, the event took place, and the interest excited by it was not confined to the parish of Milton Ernest. There were several visitors from different villages in the neighbourhood. The company assembled in the new school-room in the afternoon and a procession to the church was formed by the children and teachers of the Sunday and National Schools, and several visitors. The church was nicely decorated with holly and evergreens. Prayers were read by the Rev. C. C. Beaty-Pownall, the vicar, and an excellent sermon was preached by the Rev. F. Palmer, vicar of Felmersham, from Galatians VI. 7. At the conclusion of the service, the procession was again formed and the children and their friends returned to the school, where they found six tea tables nicely laid out and furnished. The room being decorated by evergreens, flowers and flags and being well lighted up, had a most cheering and agreeable appearance, and the anticipations thus excited among the children were fully realized by the refreshments being most liberally dealt out to them. Amongst those assembled were the Rev. Fielding and Mrs. palmer (Felmersham); Rev. J. J. and Mrs. Goodall (Bromham and Oakley); Rev. J. T. and Mrs. Day (Bletsoe); Rev. B. Trapp (Thurleigh); Rev. G. Thornton (Sharnbrook); the Vicar of Milton Ernest; Mrs. Beaty-Pownall and family; Miss Lythe; Mr. James Ball and Mr. Newill, churchwardens of Milton; Mr. D. Hanlon, the new master of the school from the National Society's Central Training School, Westminster &c. Sunday and Daily scholars, between 70 and 80; some pupils at the Sunday School, and other inhabitants, altogether about 140. As soon as the agreeable meal had been concluded, the Vicar made an address to the children, which was received most cordially. He concluded by proposing that they should give their thanks to the Rev. F. Palmer for his excellent sermon. The proposition was carried by acclamation, and Mr. Palmer's response was received with cheers. The Vicar then proposed that thanks should be given to the Rev. B. Trapp, of Thurleigh, and the other gentlemen who had visited them that day, and had taken such a warm interest in the proceedings. The proposal was carried amidst the loudest cheers. The Rev. B. Trapp acknowledged the compliment, and delivered a most admirable address, which elicited repeated manifestations of approbation both from the children and the company. The Vicar then proposed that thanks be given to the ladies who had attended and taken interest in the proceedings. Rounds of applause were given. The Rev. J. Goodall, on behalf of the ladies, acknowledged the compliment; and addressed a few words of advice to the children; his speech was cordially received. The thanks of the meeting were given to the Vicar and Mrs. Pownall, with a warmth of feeling that must have been very gratifying to them. The children were afterwards addressed by the Rev. G. Thornton, of Sharnbrook, the Rev. J. T. Day, of Bletsoe, Mr. Ball, one of the churchwardens, and Jeremiah Abbott, the oldest of the Sunday School teachers. The Vicar took an opportunity of introducing the new master for the school, Mr. Hanlon (from the Westminster Training School), who made a most excellent address".

"Several of the ladies kindly played some good pieces of music, which gave a pleasing variety to the proceedings and in the course of the evening the children had served out to them fruit and sweetmeats. The proceedings terminated with the National Anthem, and the company then dispersed. It was evident that all had been much gratified with the meeting". This school building still exists, though today it is a private house.

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 Milton Ernest simply stated: "Milton Ernest National School. Accommodation for 96 children".

The vestry minute book [P80/8/1] gives, in 1870, details of the new school site, just a few yards from the older school building and given by Joseph Tucker. The local landowners contributed £250 towards the cost of the new school buildings. Tucker conveyed the site on 28th December 1871 to the vicar and churchwardens of Milton Ernest. The land measured one rood, five poles bounded north by the public road from Milton Ernest to Thurleigh, west by the high road from Bedford to Wellingborough [Northamptonshire] and east and south by other property of his. The land was to be held in trust to build and maintain a school "for the education of children and adults or children only of the labouring, manufacturing and other poorer classes in the Parish of Milton Ernest and for no other purpose". The school was to be in union with the National Society [CRT130MiltonErnest11].

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 and Luton Archives and 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 inspection at Milton Ernest in the scrapbook took place in 1907: “All divisions of this School are carefully and suitably taught. The excellent School Garden, the work done by the boys with their pocket knives, and the practical Botany of the girls are all most excellent features. Tone and order are all that can be desired. Systematic ventilation is needed in both rooms”.

In 1911 average attendance was 53: “This School fully maintains its reputation for careful, conscientious and intelligent teaching and the level of efficiency reached is very creditable. The organisation is skilful. “Hand and Eye” training receives considerable attention and the excellent School garden affords the boys opportunities for preparing themselves for the needs of after life and at the same time develops their intelligence and stimulates interest in their rural surroundings. Tone and discipline, as usual, are excellent”.

The third inspection was on the eve of the First World War, in March 1914: “This school continues to maintain its reputation for careful and conscientious work on the part of the teachers and steady progress on the part of the scholars. Much of the work is very praiseworthy and order and tone are excellent”.

There was no inspection during World War One due to shortages of resources. The first inspection after the war took place in 1923, when average attendance was 42: “The last report on this School was submitted in 1914. A new Head Teacher has recently been appointed and the condition of the school is as follows: -

“Reading begins well in the Infants’ room, and is a good subject through the school”.

“Writing varies from poor to very poor except in the case of three or four children who write fairly well”.

“Arithmetic is rather below fair as regards mechanical work. Problems are not well set out, and seem to have been neglected”.

“Singing has been taught entirely by ear: the tone is not bad, but theory, reading and production have not been taught”.

“Drawing is very poor indeed; it has been simply copies from cards”.

“The records are meagre and worthless. Very little recitation has been done. Composition (apparently a fair copy per week in the past) is very poor: History and Geography have not been taught intelligently; there are no draft books for Needlework, and it is not easy to find what any child has ever made. The last years examinations did not include tests on any subject except Composition: Reading: and Arithmetic and show very inferior work. At the last visit of inspection Physical Exercises were found to be practically of no value”. The new Head Teacher is aware of all this: she has been granted temporary help in order to enable her to get to the root of all the weaknesses; and seems able and willing to make a fresh start on good lines”.

In light of the above it is, perhaps, surprising that the next inspection report was not carried out until 1927, when average attendance was 48: “This school has been most unfortunate in the last few years. Since the last report a series of teachers have been in temporary or, nominally, permanent charge. No one has been there long enough to effect any lasting change; and the present newly appointed Head Mistress has a very exacting task before her. The Infants’ teacher is promising; but the Head Mistress has, she says, left the elementary matters to the Junior Teacher in her previous appointments. They must work together to see that methods correspond in this school, if any improvement is to come. There is some shortage of up to date books of all sorts, and of storage; and the teacher’s desk is not very convenient; but it is hoped that papers will be properly sorted and arranged and the school given a suitable curriculum before much more time has elapsed”.

The next inspection was in 1930: “There are 61 children on the books with an average attendance for the year of 56. These are divided unevenly into two classes and the Head Mistress has a class of 42 in five different groups for Arithmetic. The Infants’ Division has a new teacher, the fifth change since the Head Mistress came three and a half years ago. The present condition of this section is not entirely satisfactory, but the teacher who has had only one month with them has begun on good lines and improvement seems probable”.

“The work of the upper class might be better. The children are intelligent buy they are listless and careless. They are, on the whole, well behaved but they cannot concentrate on what they are doing. This lack of mental discipline is reflected in the careless spelling of simple words, in a lack of punctuation and in too many ill-formed sentences. The Arithmetic lacks proper statement with consequent errors in the conclusions reached. A silent reading test particularly showed this lack of concentration”.

“In oral response the older children showed intelligence and a keenness to answer in subjects in which they are interested. Indiscriminate answering by the better informed spoilt the efforts of the remainder. Singing is good and some of the colour work very creditable. It is a school with possibilities. More training in systematic work and self discipline would do much to effect improvement”.

In 1932 the average attendance was 49: “Considerable improvement has been effected in this school during the last 12 months. Reading is very good, even the Infants being able to answer questions on subject matter: Recitation, especially of the older children, shows a good deal of natural dramatic power: Singing is tuneful: and in all these branches of speech work much better aspiration and purer vowel sounds are evident. Handwriting has much improved also, and some of the older children spell very well. In Arithmetic progress has been made, but it is still a weaker subject”.

The final inspection in the scrapbook was made in 1938: “There are, at present, 46 children on the books of this two-teacher school. The Head Mistress, who was appointed in April 1935 has maintained and developed the good features which existed at the time of the last report (November 1932). She has also brought about improvements in other branches of the work notably in Arithmetic, in Handwriting and in Physical Training. The Infants are taught by a kindly and painstaking teacher. The older children are making favourable progress in Reading , Writing and Number. Singing is well taught and suitable provision is made for the older subjects, particularly Handwork and Art”.

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. Milton Ernest became a Voluntary Controlled 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. Milton Ernest became a Voluntary Controlled Lower School which it remains at the time of writing [2014], though now federated with Eileen Wade Lower School in Upper Dean, the two schools sharing a headteacher.

Milton Ernest Lower School April 2011
Milton Ernest Lower School April 2011