Chalton Lower School February 2016
The first Education Act was passed in 1870 (more correctly it was known as the Elementary Education Act). It was a milestone in the provision of education in Britain demonstrating central government's unequivocal support for education of all classes across the country. It also sought to secularise education by allowing the creation of School Boards. These were groups of representatives, elected by the local ratepayers and the Board had the powers to raise funds to form a local rate to support local education, build and run schools, pay the fees of the poorest children, make local school attendance compulsory between the ages of 5 and 13 and could even support local church schools, though in practice they replaced them, turning them into Board run schools (known as Board Schools). Naturally, and luckily for local historians, the Act required a questionnaire of local schools in 1870. At that date Chalton was a hamlet of the parish of Toddington and the parish had a National School for 153 boys and 151 girls and a school run by the Wesleyan Methodists for 198 children.
In order to have a school of its own in the village of Chalton a School Board for the village was formed on 31st May 1893. No School Board for Toddington itself was ever formed. A mortgage of £1,000 was taken out with the Public Loan Works Committee [CCE/SB/47/2] in 1894 and land conveyed for the school site in the same year [CCE/SB/47/1].
Headmistress of Chalton Lower School from 1977 to 1981, Susan Lay, compiled a history of the school using log books which have never been deposited with Bedfordshire Archive and Record Service. The school opened on 8th October 1894 when 29 children were admitted. An inspection by Her Majesty's Inspector in January 1896 found: "There is much evidence of efficient teaching. The written work is satisfactory. History is fair. The Infants have been very carefully taught and with another year's work the progress of the scholars will be more assured. The chief defects of the school are the want of self-reliance, a fault in the discipline, which is otherwise good, and a tendency to mechanical work, especially in recitation and in the Object Lessons, which are of little value if they appeal only to the memory of children. Sewing should improve. Some History books are required for the upper standards. The accounts entered in Form 9b must be limited to the income and expenditure of the school".
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. Chalton thus became a Council School.
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 inspection in the album is for 1911 when average attendance was 46: "The results of the past year's work are very unsatisfactory and the level of efficiency of the School as a whole is far below other similarly situated schools in the area. Handwriting is fairly good but Arithmetic is very bad - it could not be worse – and the results of the instruction in Geography and History are most meagre. Recitation is very poor and Physical Exercises have not been satisfactorily taught. The children speak very indistinctly and if any efforts are made in the Reading and Recitation exercises to correct this fault, these efforts have been fruitless. No attempt is made by systematic revision to keep up back-work".
"The organisation, methods and attainments of the Infants' Class are all unsatisfactory. The sympathy, brightness and life which characterise a well-taught Infants' Class are all absent and the physical needs of these little ones do not receive proper attention. Unless marked and general improvement is shown in all sections of the School during the forthcoming year it will not be possible to report that the conditions of Article 25b of the Code are fulfilled. A punishment book should be kept – it appears to be much needed".
The Board of Education's response to this damning report was: " am to warn the Local Education Authority that unless the School is brought up to a proper level of efficiency the Board will have to consider the question of removing the School from the Annual Grant list". Directories reveal that Kate Watcombe (listed in the 1910 directory) was replaced as headteacher by Mrs Cyril Bird (1914 directory)
The next inspection was in 1913: "The School was in a most inefficient state when the present Mistress took charge. She has already succeeded in effecting considerable and general improvement, and on the whole, a fair level of attainment now obtains. Arithmetic is the weakest subject and will continue to need special attention. In Reading and Composition the progress made is marked and both order and tone are good. The Infants' Class is now more satisfactorily taught and a fair level of efficiency is attained in spite of the grave disadvantages under which the work is carried on owing to the want of suitable accommodation". A note stated that the Director of Education would address the latter problem in a report.
Ten years elapsed before the next report, owing to shortages of resources during the Great War: "This school has much improved since the present Head Teacher [Eva E Rayment] took charge some three years ago. Attainments reach a considerably higher level, the children show more interest in their work and are becoming more alert, and the number of old children in the lower and middle part of the school is being steadily reduced. If the improvement is continued and extended the school promises to become quite a good one".
"Marked progress has been made in Reading; Writing, Composition, Singing and Recitation are also much better than formerly, and handwork is very creditable indeed. Arithmetic is still not a strong subject, and in geography the answering, though thoughtful, is not general. Drawing is fairly good. The Physical Exercises are as a rule correctly carried out, but rather more life and effort are needed to enable the children to derive the fullest benefit from them."
"The Infants' Division also has considerably improved, and if the habit of indiscriminate calling out is suppressed and the children are trained to deal with their own difficulties as they arise, still further progress is likely. The class is small enough for the children to receive much individual attention, so that really good work should be quite possible. In this Division also Handwork is good".
"It should be added that there has been a good deal of sickness amongst the children during the past twelve months, and that both the teachers were absent through illness during part of last term".
In January 1927 Chalton was reorganised as a Junior Mixed School with children aged eleven and over being transferred to Toddington Council School. In response eight parents refused to send their children (ten in total) such a long distance and were duly prosecuted by Bedfordshire County Council, the result, sadly, is not recorded on the file [E/PM4/2/1].
In February 1928 average attendance was 35: "The Head Teacher of this school is working earnestly to improve the standard of attainment which is at present backward, especially as regards Arithmetic, handwriting and Spelling. The children are well-behaved, but reticent. The new Assistant in the Infants' Section is promising, and the older Infants and Standard I are progressing fairly well. There is some good work by individuals in written English and Recitation in the upper section, but much hard work is necessary to obtain a really satisfactory level of work".
In 1930 average attendance was 27: "The recently appointed Head Mistress has found this School in an unsatisfactory condition. The written work is slovenly, smudged and dirty; and of no merit in English owing to weakness of expression, spelling and grammar, and absence of punctuation, while the Arithmetic is ni too many cases faulty because of poor foundation work. There are signs of improvement already in cleanness and formation of letters, and "Composition" is now being taught. The habit of copying other children's work and the disinclination to work, as well as the unrest in the school at the present juncture are all additional difficulties which the Head Teacher will have to conquer if the school is to reach a reasonable standard of efficiency".
The next visit was in October 1931, when average attendance was 32: "Since the last report, in several particulars improvements have been made. Attendance has risen from 80 to 93 per cent; the examinations show better work; and written work has become cleaner and of better formation. This improvement is, at present, more marked in examinations than in the ordinary bookwork which, far less dirty than it was eighteen months ago, still needs improvement. Reading aloud varies: the teaching is conscientious and painstaking to the weaker children, and in the top group there is good power of reading, but some hesitation in answering questions on content, owing to a very limited vocabulary. There is a good range of Handwork; evidence of interest in Nature Study; fairly good Singing; and the Infants' Teacher who has taken a course on Infants' Teaching Methods, has benefitted thereby. The children are young; there are a few backward ones, owing to mental or physical disabilities – but there is time for the normal children to be pulled up to a good level before they leave".
The final report in the album relates to July 1934: "The improvement noted in the last report has continued: some of the better children now reach a very good standard in their work, and there is evidence of sound and careful teaching in the elementary subjects, handwork, and oral work. Dancing has been begun with success in spite of the confined space, and Recitation is a better subject than it was some years ago".
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. Chalton thus became a County Primary school.
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. Chalton became a lower school. In 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished and a ne authority comprising the former districts of Mid Beds and South Beds and calling itself Central Bedfordshire became the new local education authority for the area.