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Early Education in Cotton End

Volume 81 published by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (2002) is a series of episcopal visitations undertaken in the first twenty years of the 18th century, edited by former County Archivist Patricia Bell. At each visitation a list of questions was sent out in advance, one of which enquired about the provision of schools in each parish. In 1709 the Vicar of Cardington (in which Cotton End lay until the creation of the civil parish of Eastcotts in 1866) reported that there was no school in the parish. The same was true in 1717 and 1720.

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 formed 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 return for Cardington, in which parish Cotton End lay until the creation of the civil parish of Eastcotts in 1866, made no reference to any school in Cotton End.

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 Cardington noted that there was now a school “with East Cott’s Chapelry”. This is probably the school noted in advertisement in the Bedfordshire Times of 14th October 1848 which read:



A NEAT COTTAGE, lately used as a School, containing two parlours, large School-room, six Bedrooms, Kitchen and Offices, with Playground and Small garden. Rent £20 per annum.

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. The return for Eastcotts, now a civil parish, stated that there was no efficient school in the parish and that what was required was “A school for 153 children at Cotton End”.

On 14th November 1873 the Eastcotts (Cotton End) School Board was formed. Not long afterwards Cotton End had its school, the logbook [SDEastcotts1] stating that it opened on 26th January 1874.