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Wilshamstead School in the 20th Century

The junior school about 1910 [Z50/134/14]
The junior school about 1910 [Z50/134/14]

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. Wilshamstead Junior Mixed School thus became a Public Elementary School. A report of 1904 reveals that the premises had serious problems with cracking, many of the walls being seriously fractured because it was built on clay and in dry years this had contracted causing the cracking.

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 1908 the report was very short: “The premises are still in bad order. Many repairs are needed, and a proper system of warming and ventilation should be provided without further delay”. All this had been pointed out in the inspection by the Local Education Authority in 1904.

In 1911 the Inspector reported: The Mistress of the Infants School has been absent through sickness for a very considerable portion of the present year and her place has been supplied, in turns, by two Assistant Teachers of the Senior School. This circumstance combined with the prevalence of sickness amongst the children has had a somewhat adverse effect upon the work of the scholars in the Mixed department. The work, however, as a whole is creditable under the circumstances, but it is rather uneven in quality and in the Lowest Class there are some backward children who will need careful attention”. The next inspection was in 1913, when average attendance was 57: “Owing to adverse circumstances during the year in which the last Report upon this School was made the efficiency was not quite so high as it had been previously; the lost ground has, however, since been fully recovered and the present condition of the School is very creditable to the Head Teacher. Order is excellent, a thoroughly good tone obtains and the instruction is given with marked care and with success. The teaching of Geography in the First Class, the written exercises and the Drawing merit special commendation”.

Due to the First World War the next inspection did not take place until 1921 and things had not been easy; average attendance as now 47. “The present Head Teacher [Edith Lodge] has been here for three months. She has a difficult task before her, as the work of the School has fallen off recently, owing partly to the illness of the late Head Teacher [Frederick Hampton], partly to frequent changes in the staff, and largely to the ineffective discipline and teaching of the Assistant Mistress. The children’s Writing and Arithmetic books are dirty, and full of careless slovenly work which is often badly corrected; the Reading books are in a bad condition and the stock requires replenishing. The Head Teacher has brought about some improvement already. It is advised that the aim for the present should be to obtain well formed Handwriting, and accurate work in the four simple rules, money sums, and simple weights and measures; to give general information on matters of common knowledge, and to improve the speech. At present the children do not concentrate on their work, and appear incapable of thought. The discipline and methods of the Assistant Teacher should be improved”.

A brief, undated report on the school yard seems to date from the early 1920s: “The surface of the yard and the approaches to the offices used by the Boys are very poor. In wet weather the yard is practically a swamp. Improvement is urgently needed here”. In 1924, average attendance 60, the inspector wrote: “This school has made good progress under the new Head Teacher. The discipline, which left a great deal to be desired when she came, is now thoroughly satisfactory, and the children show keener interest and work much more earnestly. The level of attainment, though not yet in all respects high enough, is much higher than it was. Arithmetic is good as a rule, most of the written exercises show more care, Composition is improving, and Reading is quite satisfactory. Geography and History also show decided improvement. Drawing is at present the least satisfactory subject. It is, with certain exceptions, not above fairly good even in the upper standards, and in the lower is rather weak. Physical Training is going on very well indeed, and Singing seems likely to become quite creditable”.

In 1928 average attendance was 59 and the inspector wrote: “Since the last report the school has been visited three or four times and it has been gaining ground steadily. Unfortunately a series of epidemics during the past year has interrupted this progress, and the usual examinations have not been held. At present the tone is good and the children are working: the general level of Arithmetic is fairly good: English – in formal exercises is not a strong subject, and Handwriting and Spelling are weak; but in an essay on a simple subject the children showed some promising freedom in style and ideas, at this visit. Reading and Singing are satisfactory. Physical Exercises could not be taken owing to the weather. The Board’s suggestions should be carefully considered by all the staff, and every effort should be made to keep records up-to-date. A full examination is wanted as soon as the conditions of the school become normal”.

The log book [SDWilstead1] has the following entries which exemplify the point the inspector made about illness:

24th January: “All teachers away ill. School closed”. 26th April: “10 children had to be excluded on account of Scabies”. 13th June: “Several children away with measles”. 20th April: “Twenty children away on account of epidemic of measles”. 27th June: “Numbers fallen to 26. 64 on books. Measles still spreading”. 18th July: “Another ten children returned after measles. 36 present 62 on books”. 16th December: “Attendance very low owing to a prevalence of coughs and colds”.

A more sinister entry is this from 16th November: “An officer of the R. S. P. C. C. [sic N. S. P. C. C.] visited and warned a senior boy in respect of his behaviour to a girl pupil at the Infant School”.

In 1932, when average attendance was 46, the inspector wrote: “The last permanent Head Mistress left the school on 15th October 1928. From that time to the appointment of the present Head on 3rd March 1930, the school log book records 12 changes of Supply Head Teachers. Since the present Head Teacher has been in charge there have been 2 changes of staff, the first a weak disciplinarian, the second (the present Assistant) in her first permanent appointment; and the school has been decapitated and is now a Junior Mixed School. In the school now are 3 children who are always specially examined as subnormal, two others who are very backward, a new Welsh child who cannot yet read, and two others who have not been here long. So the circumstances are not altogether easy – apart from the difficulties of premises”.

“The work done varies considerably. In the top class the response to 16 mental questions of an easy “table” type was very good on paper: orally it took several minutes before the children, as a whole, would answer with confidence. It then appeared that there were half about normal and of the rest, several were slow, but only the subnormal were much below par. In written work the 3 best children worked the sums given correctly, but a simple multiplication sum puzzled the rest. In the books, the sums were usually worked well both in this class and in the lower; but the formation of figures and general neatness of setting out were not nearly as good as might reasonably be expected. The formation of handwriting also wants improvement in both classes, especially in the lower”.

“Recitation was fairly good in the top class, but dramatisation of History Scenes was rather better: in the lower class Recitation is more confident and promising. Reading is fluent, and should become good. This subject is hampered by a serious shortage of books: all the books have already been read in the lower class (in the top section they were repeating again what they read last year) and the children promoted to the top class and read some of their class books which were borrowed last year. So that procedure has not bee repeated. The output and style of English written work suffers from this shortage also”.

“Handwork is promising; the beginnings of Book-binding and leather work as well as Needlework and raffia are carefully supervised. Singing of songs was tuneful”.

“The children behave very well in school; and those coming from the school have an excellent character for adaptability and intelligence from the Head Mistress of the Senior School. Attention to written work, more scrupulous correction, and a better supply of reading matter would soon bring about a great improvement. The Head Mistress [actually Mistress] and Assistant are both working well, but these points are certainly not above criticism”.

The inspector had to make a correction on the point about twelve changes of supply head teachers: “The last permanent Head Teacher but one left the school on October 15th 1928. From that time to the appointment of the present Head Teacher on 3rd March 1930, the School Log Book records 12 changes of Head Teachers, of whom one, appointed as permanent Head, remained in office for about 6 months and the others were in temporary charge for various periods of time”.

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. Wilshamstead, after some debate [P22/29/6/18] became a voluntary controlled school.

In 1951 the school managers decided that they no longer had the resources to carry on either the infants or the junior school, both in old buildings which were below standard. Notices to Discontinue were approved by the Diocesan Board of Education [P22/29/6/24]. Both schools were, therefore, taken over by Bedfordshire County Council as Local Education Authority and run as county primary schools, in their existing buildings, until they were merged together as a single county primary school on a new site in the angle of Cotton End Road and Luton Road, which opened on 4th April 1958. The old school stood empty for some time and the parochial church council’s plan to purchase it for use as a church hall fell through [P22/29/6/24]. Today the site is occupied by housing and so, presumably, the Diocesan Board of Finance, the ultimate owners of the property, sold it to developers in the 1960s, though there are no records to this end held at Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service.

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. Wilshamstead thus became a lower school. On 1st April 2009 Bedfordshire was abolished and the new Local Education Authority is Bedford Borough Council, a former district council upgraded to a unitary council with the functions of first and second tier authorities.

Wilstead Lower School March 2012
Wilstead Lower School March 2012