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Early Education in Bletsoe

Bletsoe church seen from the south-east March 2007
Bletsoe church seen from the south-east March 2007

The Bishop of Lincoln carried out visitations to Bedfordshire in 1717 and 1720 and for both of these a list of questions was sent out in advance, one of which enquired about the provision of schools in each parish. At each of these inspections it was reported that there was no schooling available for poor children in the parish

In 1818 a Select Committee was established to enquire into educational provision for the poor. This was no doubt prompted, in part, by the recent foundation of two societies promoting education and specifically the building of schools. The Society for Promoting the Lancasterian System for the Education of the Poor was established in 1808 promoting schools run along the lines pioneered by Joseph Lancaster, who had himself copied those of Dr.Andrew Bell, in which older children taught their younger fellows. The Society was renamed the British and Foreign School Society in 1814,. It was supported by a number of prominent nonconformists, Lancaster himself was a Quaker, and sought to teach a non-sectarian curriculum. In answer to this perceived nonconformist takeover of local education the National Society was firmed in 1811 to encourage the teaching of poor children along Anglican lines, including the catechism. The Select Committee sent a questionnaire to all parishes in the country asking for: particulars relating to endowments for the education of children; other educational institutions; observations of parish needs etc. The questionnaire returned for Bletsoe noted a Sunday school existed "on Dr. Bell's system" and supported by annual subscription containing 40 children of both sexes, which meant that "the poor have sufficient means of education". It is worth noting that this Sunday School was just that, School provided on a Sunday and would have taught reading and writing and, perhaps, other subjects, in addition to the religious knowledge for which Sunday Schools are reserved today. We know from other sources that this school was held in the south transept of the church.

In the country generally the number of schools built continued to grow over the next fifteen years so that by 1833 the government agreed to supplement the work of the two societies, and local benefactors, by making £20,000 per annum available in grants to help build schools. It also prompted another questionnaire to be sent to each parish in England asking for details of local educational provision. The return for Bletsoe recorded a daily school for 12 children, supported by payments from parents and two Sunday Schools, each of 30 children of both sexes supported by a bequest of £8 per annum.