The old school and school house December 2008
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 came into force in 1946 when Stevington duly became a County Primary School.
In the 1970s Bedfordshire County Council, as Local Education Authority (LEA) 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. Stevington thus became a lower school but from 1979 the school was under threat. The County Council was looking to save money by closing a number of small rural schools with falling rolls and concentrate the children in larger lower schools in nearby villages. Both Stevington and neighbouring Pavenham were targeted for closure.
In Stevington an association of teachers and parents formed the Stevington School Action Group to fight the closure and Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has their records [Z555]. The discussion issued by the Small Schools and Surplus Places Working Party in June 1982 [Z555/1] said: "The forecast rolls for Stevington Lower School do not reach a total of 40 at any time during the period between 1983-1987, even allowing for the full potential four year old entry. The question of its closure is thus being considered. If it is decided to close Stevington Lower School, the Working Party would recommend that the children in the Stevington Lower School catchment area should be transferred to Bromham Rice Trevor Lower School".
The Action Group prepared an extensive reply [Z555/2] noting that the school was an integral part of the village. The school helped to bond children into the local community benefiting them and the community equally. They argued that the small numbers meant a better quality of education and noted the stability of staffing, the headmistress having served there seventeen years. Taking village numbers the group calculated that there would be over forty children attending the school each year between 1986 and 1991 and quoted a figure of £10,260 for transporting the children to Bromham.
However, the LEA was clearly determined to close the school and in October 1982 stated [Z555/3]: "The Working Party are satisfied that a case for closing StevingtonLowerSchool has been established". The committee quoted transport costs of £4,600 for transporting children to Bromham and recommended closure. The working party had also looked at closing Cardington, Chalgrave, Dean, Eggington, Hyde, Keysoe, Little Staughton, Milton Bryan, Odell, Pavenham, Podington, Stagsden, Steppingley, Streatley, Sundon and Tempsford Lower Schools and, not surprisingly, confirmed that all should close with the exceptions of Dean, where further consultations were deemed necessary and Hyde and Sundon where the distance involved in travel was considered too great, though the desire to close them remained strong.
The Action Group prepared a detailed objection [Z555/4] under nine headings:
- The Authority, in proceeding with the closure of the school, is failing in its duty under Section 76 of the Education Act 1944, in that it has disregarded the express wishes of parents of the children who are, or will become, pupils of the school.
- A school of locally recognised educational value would be lost to the community.
- The children would be educationally disadvantaged by the close of StevingtonLowerSchool.
- The saving to the Local Education Authority budget would be minimal.
- The LEA has failed to take into account the rising roll and population forecasts for the village.
- The social disruption and educational disadvantage outweighs any financial savings.
- The process of consultation adopted by the Authority in purported compliance with the Department of Education and Science Circular No. 2/80 (A. 4) was inadequate and resulted in County Councillors making their decision on incorrect information.
- The closure of the school would be an unreasonable exercise by the Authority of its powers.
- The LEA has failed to take into account the fact that Stevington conforms to national trends as outlined in DES Press Notice 175/82.
A deputation met with local M. P. Trevor Skeet and Minister for Education Rhodes-Boyson and felt they had had a "very sympathetic hearing". Sadly, however, they lost their battle and the school closed on Friday 22nd July 1983. The headmistress, M. K. Tysoe, wrote a poignant final entry in the logbook [SDStevington3/6]: "StevingtonLowerSchool will close today. The revd. Cowley kindly took the last assembly to which parents were invited. At lunch time some of the mothers prepared a barbecue meal for the children and then entertained them with games and races in the field. In the evening a presentation to the staff took place followed by a supper and dance. And so one hundred and twenty years of education in Stevington comes to an end".
Inevitably the County Council wished to maximise its profits by selling the buildings. Stevington Parish Council wished to buy the school for community use but the market price was too high and eventually, in 1986, a Bedford developer was given planning permission to demolish some of the buildings and convert the rest into two private dwellings. In 2008 the former teacher's house was put on the market [Z449/2/30]. The ground floor comprised: entrance; reception hall; living room (14 feet by 11 feet 10 inches); kitchen (11 feet 10 inches by 10 feet 2 inches); family room/study (18 feet by 13 feet); shower room and lean-to conservatory (11 feet by 4 feet 6 inches). Two bedrooms and a bathroom lay on the first floor. Outside lay a 110 feet by 60 feet plot; a working well; a patio; a pergola; a carport; a workshop (11 feet by 8 feet 10 inches); a greenhouse and a shed.