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Souldrop School

The Old School April 2015
The Old School April 2015

A daily infant school had been built in Souldrop in1846. Souldrop Church of England School was built in 1868, financed by the Duke of Bedford, it is built of gault brick with some stone dressings. The house for the teacher is in the south side of the building.

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 Souldrop noted that the school had accommodation for one hundred children.

The Factory and Workshop Act 1878 required numbers of children at schools to be tabulated. For the four weeks ending 15th August 1879 the school had been open 40 times with an average attendance of 47 of the 65 children on the books. The breakdown of the children by age was as follows [E/SA3/1/1]:

  • Under 5: 8 boys, 6 girls;
  • 5-10: 14 boys, 25 girls;
  • 10-14: 5 boys, 7 girls;
  • Over 14: none.

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]. In 1910 the average attendance was 51: “This school has been visited several times since it was last reported upon, and at each of the visits the work was found satisfactory. Order and tone are very good and the level of efficiency reached is creditable”. In 1911 some modernisation of the school buildings was carried out, part of which was installation of a clock.

In 1913 average attendance was 49: “The school is in satisfactory order, and in the hands of a new Head Teacher seems likely to do good work. The instruction is characterised by painstaking care and in most branches of instruction the children make creditable progress. Arithmetic and Writing are, at present, not quite so good as the rest of the work”.

There were virtually no inspections in the county during the Great War due to lack of resources. The next inspection at Souldrop was in 1923, when average attendance was 48. “This school is taught in s thoroughly painstaking and conscientious manner, and though none of the work is at all of an outstanding character, there is little of it which may not be described as satisfactory. The best points are the Arithmetic of Standards V and VI and the Composition of Standard VI; these are on the whole good. The Writing is not always of sufficiently careful formation, and Speech needs some attention in some cases; but the only really weak subject is History. Both Drawing and Singing are very creditable, Physical Training receives due attention, but the exercises are not always quite correctly performed, and rather more life and precision are needed if full benefit is to be derived from them. It should be stated that six of the upper girls were away at Cookery on the day of inspection”.

“The Infants and Standard I are going on satisfactorily on the whole. The teacher works quite earnestly, but if the children are to make as much progress as is to be desired the discipline will have to be firmer, especially in Standard I”.

In December 1926 average attendance was 42: “This school, which is now a Junior School, is doing excellent work in every way. Reading and speech training call for particular notice; and the work of the Head Teacher and of her assistant is very thorough. These children should do very well when they go to the Senior Department at Sharnbrook”.

By 1930 average attendance was down to 27: “This Junior School, without reaching the excellent standard of four years ago under the last Head Teacher, is doing some very promising work and the response and industry of the children are pleasant features. The Infants’ Section does very well in groundwork of all sorts. The older class has two distinct types of children: the better ones do very creditable work and the less able are improving. Speech work in recitation – which is well known and appeals to some rather unlikely looking boys – might be more polished. The reading is, on the whole, good: handwriting generally is good, some of it very good; the Arithmetic appears to be very well understood as far as it goes. The other activities of the school are quite satisfactory”.

The final inspection in the volume took place in 1935, when average attendance was 25: “This Junior Mixed School, with an average number on books often on the border line between the obvious necessity for two Teachers and the reasonable hope that one could do the work satisfactorily, has been visited several times since the issue of the last report. The population of the school has been to some extent migratory – visitors of varying (generally poor) capacity occupying a few seats for a few months – and to some extent of fairly clearly divided grades with one or two marked retarded on their medical cards. The most outstanding successes are the clear speech and good aspiration in Reading, answering and Recitation which is almost universal: the setting out of the story of the sums: and the improvement in the weaker children from year to year. The better children reach a standard quite up to, if not better than, the normal by the time they reach the full age of transfer, and the general interest in Dabcing, Drawing, History Stories, and Nature Lessons, has been evident at one visit or another. The writing is not so well formed in many cases for the ages of the younger children as usual – though an improvement is usually marked in the last year. It is a well conducted school and the Teacher is doing well with the children with whom she has to deal”.

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.

Souldrop duly became a county primary school. However, the writing was on the wall for a school in so small a village. An inspector reported in 1948 [SDSouldrop1]: “At the time of inspection this small school situated in a remote part of the County has 15 children on Roll of whom 11 were present”. The last entry in the log book was made on 20th December 1962: “School closed this afternoon for the Christmas Holidays and for good. The children will attend Sharnbrook School next term and I am to go to Stevington CP School as Headmistress”.

Plaque and clock on the Old School April 2015
Plaque and clock on the Old School April 2015