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Billington School 1903-1959

The Primitive Methodist Chapel with the school behind about 1900 [Z49/1015]
The Primitive Methodist Chapel with the school behind about 1900 [Z49/1015]

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, as happened with Billington.

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 visit in the volume was made on 14th February 1911, when average attendance was 46: "The School continues in good order and is carefully taught. The points needing special attention are greater distinctness in speech and more attention to Physical Exercises; when weather permits these exercises should be taken in the playground. I hope the stove in the main room will, when worn out, be replaced by warming apparatus of a more sanitary and comfortable type".

In June 1913 the Inspector reported: "The older children are in excellent order, and in spite of the fact that an Assistant was absent through sickness for seven months, a good year's work has been done and the condition of the school is very creditable. The Infants' Class is much less satisfactory, only a fair level of efficiency obtains and the children in the first class are ill-prepared to take their places in the school for older children. An effort should be made during the forthcoming year to raise the level of efficiency in this class".

Then the First World War intervened and the next inspection was not made until October 1921: "In this School the children are well behaved; the Infants' Section is kindly and successfully taught; in the upper Section a fair start has been made in Note Singing, and Reading is satisfactory. The Arithmetic of the upper children is weak, though Composition is about of average quality and writing is fairly good, the general level of attainment should be somewhat higher".

By 1923 average attendance had slipped to 37 and the Inspector reported: "This small school has, in certain directions, improved during the last two years. The work all seems to be very genuine, and the beginnings of Reading and Number and Composition in the infants' room, as well as the handwork, are really very creditable to the Supplementary Teacher in charge. The writing is hardly so good in comparison with the other subjects. In the top part of the school the writing is rather better than the reading. Composition has made great progress; some of the essays on subjects of local interest are full of information, and the "memory test" compositions on History are in many cases unusually good and show the children have taken pleasure in the subject. The work done recently in their books is in advance of that done for the Term Examination in July. All through the school special attention is now paid to clear pronunciation of words in reading; the older children have hardly benefited as much as the younger; as yet - and the aspirate, carefully pronounced in reading, is too often dropped in singing. The Handwork - basketry in raffia, and rugmaking - is creditable. The drawing, at the last examination, was not more than fairly good. Arithmetic, judging by the July papers, is rather better than it was. The children are very well behaved in school".

In the early 1920s the school was reorganised as a junior school, those children of eleven and over going to school in Leighton Buzzard. Consequently, by the time of the next inspection, in 1928, average attendance was only 17: "This school, now conducted as a School for children under 11, has 22 on the books of whom three are new comers. The response is in almost all cases excellent; some of the younger children in Number are unusually advanced and alert, while the older ones speak out in recitation and in reading in a most creditable way. The written work in Arithmetic and English is improving rapidly; and Drawing is better than it was. The tone is very good and the industry and application of these junior children reflects great credit on the Teacher's own work".

The visits in 1931 and 1931 were just as positive, the inspector concluding: "The Mistress may be congratulated on the progress her twenty scholars are making". At visits in 1933 and 1934 the inspector reported: "At the second visit the Head Teacher was away ill, but a Supply Head Teacher was carrying on the work well, and the records and books were available. At one or two of the visits most of the work done in the school was seen; and, though the exceptional standard of Arithmetic found on one occasion is not reached, yet the level reached is normal, and in other subjects, Recitation and Reading especially, it is as good as ever it was here. Clearness of articulation and suitable expression in the Recitation are particularly marked. Writing is much improved in the books of the older children, and the infants have made a promising start. The children were anxious to show their work, which is very creditable to the teacher".

The final visit in the volume occurred in October 1937, when average attendance was 24: "In this school there are now 29 children on the roll, all of whom were present at this visit. A teacher, whose work and control were far from satisfactory, recently left, but another has been appointed whose attitude towards the work seems to be satisfactory. The younger children certainly have suffered, but the energetic, or rather enthusiastic, manner of the Head Teacher has, even in the few days since she took the whole school, aroused interest and response. As has always been the case here, the Arithmetic - especially the oral work - is rather remarkable in the quickness of uptake and correctness of answer. The Singing and Recitation is good or promising; and the beginnings of Writing, Drawing, formal written English, and Reading are satisfactory, even very satisfactory, in the circumstances".

"The premises are in need of redecoration. In some respects the offices are quite unsuitable; two undivided seats in both the boys' and the younger girls' closets, the last of which are very badly lighted; and the damp approach to all of them require drastic remedy. The flooring at the door approaching the girls' cloakroom is giving way, and the beam over the door leading from the cloakroom, which is not at all a good one, to the older girls' closet is rotting away. The spouting in some places wants clearing. The playground is mainly loose gravel on a slope and should be made more suitable for Physical Exercise".

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.

Billington became a Voluntary Aided School but did not long survive. Because numbers had fallen and the buildings needed repair the Diocese of Saint Albans considered it uneconomic to keep it open. The school closed in 1959, after a history of 96 years, the last entry in the log book [SDBillington6/4] being that for 18th December: "The children went to a service at the Church this morning taken by the Rev. Rogers. One of the children read the lesson and carols were sung. This is the final closure of the school at Billington, the children being transferred to Stanbridge C.P.School. 12 on roll".

The former school January 2009
The former school January 2009