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Dean School

Brook End and Pear Tree Cottage in 1933 [X504/1]
Brook End and Pear Tree Cottage in 1933 [X504/1]

In the 1870s the curate of Dean tried to build a new school to replace the cottage in which the church or National School had been meeting since at least the beginning of the 19th century. The school house may have been today’s Pear Tree Cottage or, just possibly, Brook End as these two buildings are shown in a photograph album of 1933 and a more modern hand has annotated the photograph: “Peartree Cottage 17th cent once the Joseph Neale Charity School”. No evidence for this assertion is given. By 1875 this house was completely unsuitable as the venue for a school. The curate persuaded someone to donate land for the new building and he also persuaded a number of people to promise funds.

In the event some of the subscribers never actually paid up and so the school remained incomplete. The curate was forced to agree to the creation of a School Board on 22nd February 1877 and sell the part completed school to the Board to finish it, which it did later in the year.

Thus Dean Church School or Dean National School (it is unclear as to whether it was ever in formal union with the National Society) closed and Dean Board School opened in 1877. Kelly’s Directory for Bedfordshire states that this school cost £700 and accommodated 112 children. The previous school closed as soon as the new Board School was ready. The tale is told in some detail in a circular letter from the curate of around this time [WG2890].

Dean School in 1933 [X504/1]
Dean School in 1933 [X504/1]

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. Dean thus became a council school.

School attendance was often irregular and children missed school for many different reasons.  This selection is taken from the logbook [Micf 38/16].

  • 25th February 1898: The children have contracted the bad habit of staying at home for the most trumpery reasons… Fred Bass minding his sister’s baby.
  • 30th March 1900: Harriett Brown has not been to school today.  She is helping her mother clean the church.
  • 14th August 1914: The school opened this afternoon at 1:15 and closed at 3:15 as the boys are required for farm work.  The school closed for this afternoon for six weeks on account of the harvest.

In 1906 a house was purchased by Bedfordshire County Council for use by the schoolteacher. Often these houses were adjacent to or joined to the school but in the case of Dean it lay some way off, on the south side of Shelton Road near the windmill. The house was sold by Bedfordshire County Council in 1969 [CCE28/1-16].

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 report in the scrapbook on DeanSchool was made in March 1905, one of the earliest in the volume. “The School reaches only a moderate level of efficiency, and general improvement will be looked for if an unreduced grant is to be recommended next year”. A marginal note reads: “A change of Head Teacher will shortly take place”.

The next report was made in February 1911 when average attendance was 64. “Order, tone and discipline are excellent. The written work is exceptionally neat and accurate and Composition deserves praise. Throughout the teaching is thorough and on intelligent lines and the level of efficiency attained is very creditable to the Head Mistress and her Assistants. The work at times is carried on under difficulty owing to a faulty chimney: an attempt should be made to remedy this evil”.

In April 1914 average attendance was 67 and the report read: “This school continues to be conducted in a most satisfactory manner. Order and tone are excellent, the teaching is vigorous, and painstaking, and the level of efficiency reached by the school as a whole, is very creditable”.

The next inspection was not made until well after the Great War, in February 1923, when average attendance was 61. “It is several years since a report was submitted on this school. Its present condition is as follows: -“

“Older Scholars (Standards II-VII) Most of the children work harder than they did formerly, and considerable improvement has taken place in the last two or three years. Much of the work is creditable, and some of it is really good. Arithmetic is quite satisfactory, and Composition is good as to ideas and expression. Writing is more careful than it was, but still more care is necessary. Reading is good. History and Geography are, on the whole, satisfactory, but some children do not take their full share in answering. Singing has improved, but it is not yet really good. Drawing, which has made remarkable progress, and Handwork are now both strong subjects”.

“Several of the children in the lower and middle parts of the school are too old for the Standard in which they are working”.

“Standard I and Infants. The Standard I children present at this visit are below the average in Reading, and they do not speak well. The others in this division reach the average level in both Reading and speech. Writing is fairly good on the whole, but Number is weak. Handwork, the best subject, is good”.

“The number of children in this division being small, it should not be difficult to reach a much higher level in Reading, Speech, Number and Writing”.

 Flower Show in the school in 1925 [X504/1]
Flower Show in the school in 1925 [X504/1]

Another visit was made in 1925 and the report was as follows: “STANDARDS III to VII. In this part of the school much of the Arithmetic has become weak, but it appears that for more than twelve months prior to July last the Head Teacher took all the Standards (I-VII) single-handed. In Geography and History, whilst some of the children know the work very well indeed, others do not make so much effort as they should. The rest of the work, however, shows none of this weakness. Writing has much improved, Reading, Composition, Spelling, Drawing and handwork are as a rule good, and Physical Training shows painstaking care and is well carried out. Singing improves slowly”.

“STANDARDS I AND II AND THE INFANTS. This part of the school is weak. The Infants are good in Handwork, and the seven children of Class I write very well; but this represents nearly all that the Class, small though it is, can do. In Reading and Number very little progress indeed has been made, the children speak inaudibly, and the Class in noisy. The matter should be taken vigorously in hand. Suitable Reading Primers for the Infants are urgently needed”.

Another report was made in December 1926 concerning the infants and juniors from Standard I to Standard IV, as the previous report was so negative. “The Infants’ Class is in a very backward condition. The Teacher’s discipline is so weak that children were promoted into Standard I at the beginning of this term, although unfit, in order to make them work. This poor discipline still obtains, and the Speech Training is poor – no attempt is made at any Elocution, and even aspirates and final consonants wrongly placed are not often corrected. Writing is careless and spasmodically corrected: Reading is backward, and Number not good on paper. They are interested in handwork and games, but generally are far behind what is normal”.

“The Standards I and II are in the hands of a Teacher of small experience, but improving. They are better than they were last year, and should turn out satisfactorily in time”.

“Standards III and IV are, in almost every case, becoming capable of a reasonable standard of work. There is much improvement in their case. The School will not however rise to any very high level if the start of the school life is not much better than it is now”.

Obviously the Infants’ mistress was eventually sacked, or left of her own accord, because the report for June 1928 states: “There have been changes in the staff since the last report was made and both assistant teachers are new”.

“The Infants’ Section is now very promising. The Teacher is showing intelligent interest in her work and has introduced better methods. It will greatly enhance the value of the teaching when the various steps have been set out, and the exercises which the children now do properly graded”.

“The lower class of the upper school is taught on narrow lines. The inspection revealed certain weaknesses. In class subjects the children from incorrect concepts while in Arithmetic there is not enough variety. Composition needs teaching and the teachers would do well to study the handbook of Suggestions on this and other subjects”.

“The upper class has not recovered from the ill effects of the teaching or lack of it shown in previous reports. Arithmetic is improving but is about a year behind what it should be. Composition is better but the children have little to say. A silent reading test showed that only one girl had the power of assimilating the substance of the passage read. They can reproduce a story but exercises in extracting information from books should be set. There is no doubt but that the children make headway when they come under the influence of the Head Mistress who has been handicapped so far with the state of the children she has received from the lower class”.

In May 1932 average attendance was 62 and the report was as follows. “The staff of the school consists of a Head Mistress and two supplementary teachers, one of whom takes the infants, and one, whose only teaching experience is limited to two years in this school, takes the two lower standards. While not adversely criticizing the work of these teachers who are doing their best, the composition of the staff cannot be considered a strong one, and in some respects the attainments of the classes of these teachers do not reach the usual level; and when sickness – of which there has been a great deal – overtakes any member of the staff, an undue weight is thrown on the Head Mistress who already teaches more than half of the 72 scholars on the roll. On one such occasion a year ago she had the whole school unaided for a week and two days: this year one teacher was away for 9 weeks, and between 3rd May 1929 and 2nd February 1931, one or other of the staff was absent for periods amounting to twenty weeks. On these occasions no temporary assistance appears to have been supplied”.

“The work of the school is well planned and the Head Teacher renders useful assistance to the other members of the staff both in teaching and in arranging their weekly programmes of work. In some respects the school is better than at the time of the last report, Reading is good throughout and in the highest part of the school the children write good English practically free from errors of expression and punctuation. Arithmetic improves from class to class and the four scholars in Standard VII worked a test in this subject very creditably”.

“Some of the children are of low mentality and this accounts for a number of retardations, but those who reach the upper part of the school show by their progress the influence of the teaching there. It should also be recorded that five children who have not yet reached the age of fourteen from this school have gone on to a secondary school. Had they remained there the work of the top class would have, no doubt, thrown the value of the Head Mistress’ own instruction into an even higher light”. The Elementary Education Sub-Committee took exception to errors in this report as regards the lack of assistance given to the Head Mistress and the following table of absences was inserted regarding no supply teacher being sent:

  • 31st May to 1st July 1929: interval before Miss Judd was appointed: 4 weeks;
  • 5th May to 17th June 1930: interval before Miss Tuffnail was appointed: 6 weeks;
  • 7th July to 21st July 1930, Miss Tuffnail absent: 2 weeks;
  • 26th January to 23rd February 1931: Miss Tuffnail absent: 4 weeks;
  • 5th February to 23rd February 1931 Miss Crump also absent (a supply teacher sent on 16th February for a week): 1 week, 2 days.

In December 1933 average attendance was 33. “The Head Mistress is retiring at Christmas after 18 years of work successfully carried on in circumstances which have often been difficult. The village itself is some miles from a station, and is served only by an omnibus on Saturdays. Several of the children are in very poor condition, mentally and physically, through poverty: attendance has been bad, but has improved lately through successful prosecutions. But, even when left shorthanded by staff, the Head Mistress has managed to obtain creditable work in most subjects, and the children of the better type can do really good work. Her conduct of the school, in short, deserves every recognition; and her reports on individual children should prove a useful guide to her successor”. The Head Mistress’ name, as revealed by Kelly’s Directory for Bedfordshire was Miss Bessie Smith. She was presented with a photo album of school and village scenes on her retirement [X504/1].

The final report was made in September 1938. “There are 32 children on the books of this somewhat isolated all-standard school. The Head Mistress, who was appointed in 1934, had previously taught for ten years in Canada. Since her return to England she has kept abreast of modern developments by attending refresher and vacation courses”.

“There appears to be a wide range of natural ability of the children in the upper class. Four of these children are making poor progress in the academic subjects. The normal children however are doing quite well and although there is no branch of their work which is exceptionally good most of it – especially the Arithmetic and English – is sound and satisfactory”.

“The younger children and Infants are taught with fair success by a Supplementary teacher. Some points regarding the methods of teaching Reading were discussed and the teacher was advised to consider the importance of training the children to recognise phrases and sentences rather than individual words. The lighter activities – including a percussion band – are suitably provided for”.

The school admissions register shows that a number of official and private evacuees joined the school during the Second World War.  They came from areas of London such as Battersea, Walthamstow and East Ham. At the beginning of the Second World War Saint John the EvangelistRomanCatholicSchool from Islington [Middlesex] was evacuated to Dean [E/PM3/1/4D]. A piece called A Village at War in The Bedfordshire Magazine Volume 24, Number 192 in Spring 1995 was taken from the writings of the late Mrs. C. L. F. Mackay Brown. 76 children and four teachers came from Islington to Dean and others went to Thurleigh. The school was actually run from the Wesleyan Chapel in Lower Dean moved to Sheringham in Norfolk before the end of 1939.

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 1972 Bedfordshire County Council purchased 7.054 acres on the High Street as the site for a new school, the old buildings being no longer suitable [CCE2760/1-10]. The new school was entered for an Education School Design Award [CA2/361] following completion in 1973. The old school was sold in 1976 and is now a private house [BorBTP/76/1013]. The old schoolhouse was sold in 1983 [Z449/3/1]. It then comprised the following accommodation on the ground floor: an entrance hall; a lounge measuring 34 feet by 19 feet; a study measuring 12 feet 6 inches by 8 feet; a kitchen/diner measuring 16 feet by 12 feet; a rear hall; a utility room measuring 11 feet 6 inches by 7 feet and a cloakroom/shower room measuring 8 feet 6 inches by 8 feet. On the first floor were a landing, a bathroom and three bedrooms measuring, respectively 18 feet by 15 feet, 11 feet 8 inches by 7 feet 4 inches and 18 feet 6 inches by 18 feet. A swimming pool measuring 30 feet by 15 feet and tiered gardens lay outside.

The Old School May 2011
The Old School May 2011

The new school was named Eileen Wade Lower School after one of the current churchwardens [E/SC1/Dean3]. In 1982 Bedfordshire County Council investigated the possibility of closing a number of schools, principally lower schools in villages. One of the schools considered for closure was Eileen Wade, less than ten years after the new school buildings opened! Had the school closed children from Upper Dean, Lower Dean and Shelton would have been sent to Riseley V. A. Lower School [E/SC1/Dean1]. Ninety two letters were written by local people opposing the plan [E/SC1/Dean3]. In the event, of course, the school was not closed and remains open at the time of writing. On 1st April 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished and from that date the local education authority became Bedford Borough Council.

Eileen Wade Lower School in 1982 [E/SC1/Dean4]
Eileen Wade Lower School in 1982 [E/SC1/Dean4]