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Eaton Bray School

Eaton Bray School on a map of 1926
Eaton Bray School on a map of 1926

A School Board was formed in Eaton Bray on 13th July 1893. It took over the premises of the Wesleyan School the following year [CCE98/12] and the school was thereafter run as a Board School. The school stood, as one might expect, in School Lane; it was on the south-east side close to the junction with the High Street. In 1895 £594 was raised by mortgaging the premises to the Public Works Loan Committee so that they could be repaired and improved [CCE/SB12/3].

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.

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]. Reading them one is drawn to the conclusion that Eaton Bray was not the healthiest of places, with three epidemics in seventeen years, or the most popular with prospective teachers at this time. The first report is from 23rd June 1910. The inspector visiting the Infants Department wrote: “The Infants are taught with exceptional ability and success, and the condition of the school reflects much credit upon Miss Whitehouse”.

“The attention of the Managers is called to that part of the last Report on this department which refers to the removal of the galleries and to the desirability of providing a pianoforte. The previous Report to which reference is made reads as follows: “I hope the galleries will be removed as soon as possible and replaced by suitable furniture. A piano here, as in all considerable and deserving Infant Schools may be considered, I think, a necessary part of the apparatus”.

The report on the Mixed Department read: “The past year has been one of special difficulty owing to the prevalence of epidemic sickness and to changes in the staff, and in consequence the level of efficiency reached in previous years has not been maintained. The Arithmetic of the three lowest classes is weak and Composition is only fair. Owing to the fact that the organisation does not provide for systematic revision of backward work much that was learnt last year has already been forgotten. The tone of the school is good and well kept gardens attached to the school are a very satisfactory feature”.

The next visit was in June 1912. The Mixed Department (average attendance 104) was the reported as follows: “Owing to changes in the staff and to the fact that during part of the year the staff was inadequate the continuity of work has been interrupted. In spite of these drawbacks the level of efficiency has, on the whole, been creditably maintained but, I am afraid, maintained at a cost of considerable strain on the Head Teacher. Order and tone are both very good. The school garden is a credit to the school”.

“It is very desirable that the staff should be strengthened as soon as possible, and that lessons on Simple Cookery and Housewifery should be given to the elder girls”.

“Care should be taken that the regulations respecting registration are fully observed”.

Things were better, once again, in the Infants’ Department (average attendance 68): “This is a bright, well-taught infants’ school. The methods are good, the teachers work conscientiously and well, and the level of efficiency reached is most creditable to them”.

“I must once more draw the attention of the Managers to the absolute need for the removal of the gallery in the class-room. It would be well to remove both galleries and to replace them by more modern and suitable furniture”.

“A pianoforte would prove of great assistance in teaching Singing and Games, the teachers work so hard, and so well that they deserve every assistance in carrying out their duties”.

The next visits were in 1914, less than two months before the outbreak of war. The inspector to the infants reported: “The improvement effected by the Managers in the premises has greatly increased the facilities for teaching and has added to the comfort both of teachers and scholars. As a result, in spite of interruption to work from epidemic sickness, the school – excellent as it was when last reported upon – has during the year made further advance. A bright, happy tone prevails, the children are kindly and sympathetically treated, they are suitably and well taught, and the condition of the school reflects much credit upon the Mistress and her assistant”.

Things were still problematic higher up the school: “In a difficult year good work has been done. Inadequate staff for part of the time, and the illness of the Master have interrupted the continuity of the work, but have not had so serious an affect on the efficiency of the school as might have been expected. In the lower part, which suffered from the absence of skilled teaching from December to Easter, the effects have been most felt, but under the present teacher the lost ground is being recovered”.

“Order and tone in all classes are creditable”.

The next inspections were not until after the Great War except for a note about the Mixed Department dating from 11th March 1915: “The Department was found closed. No notice of closure has been received”. In December 1920 the inspector visited just the Infants’ Department where average attendance was now 51: “This is a school of about 60 children. Except for a week in November, the Headmistress has been without assistance since the Summer holidays. Under such conditions it is inadvisable to admit fresh children under five years of age, for they increase the difficulties without getting advantage themselves”.

“The school has long been distinguished for its good work and, as far as possible with so short a staff, its efficiency is still well maintained. The methods of teaching are sound, the curriculum is well balanced, and the children are trained to depend on themselves. The attainments of the First Class are exceedingly creditable”.

“There is no piano” [still!]

Remarks by the Board

“The Board will expect steps to be taken to secure that the requirements of Articles 10 and 12 of the Code are satisfied”.

Observations of the Director of Education

“Constant advertisement of the vacancy at this School has been made since 1st October 1919, but no suitable applications have been received. Temporary assistance has been sent from time to time”.

“The instructions of the Sub-Committee are desired as to what action, if any, shall be taken regarding the admission of children under five years of age. At the present time there are 60 children on the roll of whom 12 are under five years of age”.

The following December the inspector returned to find a grim picture: “The discipline in this school is so bad that it is difficult to judge the work in the main room. The children are very ill-behaved and are completely out of hand. The Head Teacher appears to have knowledge of suitable methods, but owing to her lack of control, is no not able to apply them”. Another visit was made in September 1922: “The Mistress of this department has now gained the confidence and interest of the children; the arrangement of the classes is different from that obtaining at the time of the visit upon the results of which the last report was based; and the introduction of certain methods and devices which were discussed at the Authority’s Course for Infants’ Teachers at Whitsuntide has been successful. It is only fair, therefore, to say that the school is now a good example of what may be obtained by kindly free discipline wisely used. The older children read well, and are being taught to speak carefully; they are beginning to listen well, and are interested in Number and Recitation. The younger children are friendly and are kept busily employed. The other activities are well considered in the schemes, and it is felt that the school is doing quite good work for children of whom a certain proportion are rough and come from poor homes – so much so that it is hoped it may develop into an unusually good one”.

In 1923 the Mixed Department, average attendance 92, was visited: “This school has many commendable features. The teaching is undoubtedly careful, there is a good tone, and the children take pride in their School. The Head Teacher shows praiseworthy activity in promoting and superintending school sports; through his efforts, too, a piano and other musical instruments have been acquired”.

“The work as a whole does not yet reach so high a level s is to be desired; the children hardly put enough determined effort into it. Arithmetic, Composition and Spelling are on the whole satisfactory in Standards VI and VII, but decidedly below the average in Standards IV and V. Much of the writing of Standards II and III should improve, but elsewhere this subject is mostly satisfactory. In the bottom class about one-third of the children are backward in Reading and will need special attention; in Standard II also, where the majority of children are too old and seem a little inert, there are backward readers, but the Reading of Standard III is quite good. History is satisfactory and Physical Training is going on very well indeed. It is not easy to form an exact opinion of the Drawing, the books and papers often being undated; it appears however, to be really promising, though the pencil work is capable of further improvement. Some progress has been made in Note Singing”.

“The Staff consists of the Head Teacher and two Uncertificated Assistants, and there are 107 children on the Registers. Of these no fewer than 53 – Standards IV-VII – are taught by the Head Teacher himself, which is certainly more than his share. A different grouping is desirable”.

In 1926 the Mixed Department’s garden was visited. In days of subsistence, of large families and houses with relatively large gardens, adding to the food on the family table was important. In a rural area like Eaton Bray it was doubly so as many of the boys could expect to work in agriculture: “The teacher has been at the school only six months and has had no training in Gardening. Plots are in a fair condition but have received no manure this season: surface soil should be kept looser. No fruit or flowers are grown and no plot experiments carried out. Fair notes are kept by the scholars. No science work is done. Boys showed interest and answered fairly well”.

Both departments were visited in 1927, the infants in February and the mixed department in December. The infants’ report reads as follows: “During the past year the department has suffered from a series of epidemics: for 11 weeks the certificate of under 60% of average attendance has been given; and there have been few weeks of attendance approaching the normal. For three weeks the average attendance was under 7, under 12 and under 15, out of 51 on roll. In these circumstances it would be absurd to expect that attainments could reach a really good standard: in Writing and Number, however, the children do very fair work indeed; songs and games are varied, numerous and enjoyed. The weakest side is speech – whether Reading or reciting, and this must be most disappointing to the Head Mistress, whose work in preparation of apparatus and in giving special attention to individual children is most praiseworthy”.

“The most serious side of the matter is that all the First and Second Class children are (except 8) over 6½ now – and some are nearly 8. They ought, in fact, to go to the upper school in April. But their attainments will hardly fit a very appreciable number of them for promotion. It appears to be desirable for the Managers and Teachers to consider the problem, and decide whether they shall go up, wait a year, or whether some system of promotion at intervals should be devised. Among the children are very late entrants and a few of very low mentality”.

The mixed department had an average attendance of 90: “This school has been under its present direction for nearly two years. It is conducted with ability in a pleasant atmosphere of freedom”.

“The schemes are well planned; the methods of instruction are good; the work generally reaches a satisfactory level and the children are bright and happy”.

“In the top class the written exercises are well done, the children are following a wide course in Reading and Literature, and are being trained in methods of private study”.

“The second class has been without a regular teacher for two months and the work has suffered to some extent. The newly-appointed teacher of this class has made a good start and bids fair to do well”.

“The third class is conducted in an admirable manner by the Mistress who is also responsible for the good Needlework of the school”.

“This class contains a number of retarded children from the Infants’ department (referred to in the report on that school on the 16th of February last) for whom special measures have been adopted”.

Newspaper cutting showing the school about 1977 [Z467/22]
Newspaper cutting showing the school about 1977 [Z467/22]

The mixed department was next visited in December 1930 when average attendance was 111: “No member of the staff has been here two years. For the first three month of the present year a supply Head Teacher was in charge and the present Head Master began his duties in April”.

“The conditions of work of the senior woman assistant in Needlework and games have now been improved. A further change for the better is the substitution of practical arithmetical problems of a domestic nature for senior girls instead of Geometry which they took formerly. The Head Master’s help with the English of the middle part of the School while the senior girls are thus occupied should prove of great use”.

“The two lower classes are doing satisfactory work especially the lowest which is a bright, responsive set of children. Spelling and Speech-Training are most in need of attention”.

“The Head Master is doing good work with the senior children but has a somewhat difficult task. The spirit of freedom commented on in the last report as the method by which the school was worked under the last permanent Head Teacher would have been admirable if self control had gone with it but this is what is lacking. Under tuition the children are not only attentive and orderly but alert and responsive; but they are not capable of concentrated effort in private study: this judgement was confirmed by a test in Silent Reading and other tests requiring careful continuous effort”.

“The Head Master is fully alive to this defect and is doing his best to remedy it. Improvement in this aspect will be looked for”.

The following November the infants’ department was again inspected (average attendance 43): “Since the last report the work of this school has always been found to be good, sometimes very good. Some falling off occurred owing to the growing lack of vitality and interest of the lowest class Teacher who had, eventually, to resign by Doctor’s orders. This naturally threw more work on the Head Teacher whose difficulties were seriously increased, as, after the resignation of the Assistant, she was left alone, without any help from 1st June 1931 till 17th July 1931. During these seven weeks the average number attending was 47.8; 46.8; 51.4; 53.4; 53.4; 53.3; 53.7 and 47.8. The children ranged from 5 year olds just beginning school to those who, over 7.3 years old, would in a normal year have gone into “Standard” I or II in the other department. Naturally the work suffered”.

“None the less, the work is again very promising, and the children may catch up. The Head Mistress deserved high praise for her single-handed effort, and congratulations on her measure of success in these discouraging circumstances”.

“N. B. Since the receipt of this Report, the following communication has been received from H. M. Inspector: -“

“I certify that the numbers in average attendance at Eaton Bray Infants’ Department from 1.6.31 to 17.7.31, as copied from the Log Book were 47.8; 46.8; 51.4; 53.3; 51.7; 51.5; 47.8 and not the numbers entered in the Official Report sent to the Local Education Authority”.

“I have written to the Board of Education telling them that there was a typist’s error, and that I have given the Director the correct figures”.

The next report, from the mixed department, in July 1933 was quite critical of the head teacher and the mistress conducting the youngest class. However it is crossed through as “withdrawn by the Board of Education”. The next report is dated 21st June 1934: “This school, with 101 children on the books at the moment, is taught in 3 classes. In the lowest class, taught by an Uncertificated Mistress, there are 33 children between 7 ad 10 years of age; and in the Second Class, numbering 37 on books and taught by a Certificated Mistress, there are 7 children of 9 and 10, 15 children of 10 to 11, 10 children of 11 to 12, and 5 of 12 to 13 years of age. Of the 31 children in the highest class, taught by the Head Master, one child is 11 years of age, 13 children are between 12 and 13, 11 are between 13 and 14, and 6 are between 14 and 15. To classify the children strictly upon a basis of age would no doubt be difficult in a school of this size and character; but it is both feasible and desirable to transfer some of the oldest children in the Second Class to the highest class under the Master”.

“The school is in several ways pleasant to inspect. The children are friendly and generally responsive. Moreover, there is evidence not only of their having remembered what they have been told by their teachers, but of their having observed and read for themselves. The written Compositions of individual children, alike in the First and in the Second Class, show some familiarity with books and some power of accurate and lively perception. Much the same is true of the oral answering of the more promising children both on their work and on questions arising out of it. They are not always as distinct of speech as they might be; but this is a defect which is engaging the teacher’s attention. The more mechanical parts of the work are in the main suitably cared for. Some of the handwriting is good and the figuring and setting out of the sums is satisfactory”.

“Practical Work. At the moment there are no facilities for the teaching of Handicraft to the older boys or of Domestic Subjects to the older girls. The older boys receive instruction in gardening from the Head Master: the work is confined to the growing of vegetables, but it is creditable as far as it goes. The Certificated Mistress in charge of the Second Class is entirely responsible for the teaching of Needlework and she has all the girls under instruction at the same time. The work she secures from the children is good and it is made the vehicle of a useful practical training. The Uncertificated Mistress is responsible for the Craftwork of all the boys who do not learn Gardening: she manages them satisfactorily and she seems likely to develop the work suitably. The singing of the children of the Head Master’s class is good”.

“The discipline of the school is in general sound. In particular the Mistress in charge of the Second Class deals with her children very effectively and gets their ready co-operation. The newly appointed Uncertificated Mistress manages her children well. The children in the Head Master’s class are quite amenable to control, but some of them are inclined to whisper to one another or to let their attention stray when they are not immediately under observation. They respond at once however to any direct call that is made upon them and they are capable of solid effort”.

The final report in the scrapbook is for the infants’ department and is dated 13th March 1935: “The numbers in this school have fallen since the last Report; it is now a single handed Head Mistress with 26 on roll, and there is, apparently, not much likelihood of the numbers rising above 30 for the next few years”.

“The school work is almost entirely individual, and is well directed. The Reading of the various grades is going on well, with a few really good readers already at the top and the rest working with interest. Except a couple of new entrants all the children said pieces chosen from a great number which had been learnt boldly, and their speech is carefully corrected. Handwriting is promising; and the children are interested in their Handwork, Knitting, and construction of articles from waste material. The planting of bulbs in design for the garden of a doll’s house and for a cleverly contrived rock garden or water garden in a bowl has been a great attraction and interest, and the flowers in vases or in pots is helping this valuable aesthetic interest. The Singing of many songs from a varied and tuneful repertoire was very pleasant. There is abundant room for indoor Physical Exercises which are enjoyed. The Number work was not seen at this visit”.

“The Mistress, who was ill last year, has carried out her difficult task with conspicuous success”.

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. Eaton Bray duly 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. Eaton Bray County Primary School thus became Eaton Bray Lower School, still in the old Wesleyan School premises.

By the 1980s it was clear that the old school buildings were no longer fit for purpose and so new buildings were designed [E/SA2/4/3]. These are also in School Lane but are further up the road and on the other side. The school moved to these new buildings in March 1988. The old buildings were sold to S&S Homes on 8th February 1990 [CCE98] and demolished to make way for modern housing.

On 1st April 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished and its functions as Local Education Authority taken over by a new unitary council, Central Bedfordshire, comprising a merger of the two former district councils, Mid Bedfordshire and South Bedfordshire. Exactly two years later the school removed itself from LEA control by becoming an academy which it remains at the time of writing [2012]. The school caters for childreh from four to nine years with a pre-school for children of two and upwards.

Eaton Bray Academy March 2012
Eaton Bray Academy March 2012