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Riseley School

 Riseley School in 1840 [AD3865/36]
Riseley School in 1840 [AD3865/36]

Riseley National School was built in Church Lane in 1840, so it is surprising that it is not mentioned in the 1846/7 survey [WG2053]. Land for a schoolmaster's house was conveyed in 1847 [WG2054]. Kelly's Directory states that the school was enlarged in 1848 and again in 1872.

Plan of Riseley School in 1840 [AD3865-36]
Plan of Riseley School in 1840 [AD3865/36] to see a larger version please click on the image

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 response for Riseley stated that the National School had accommodation for 135 children and that a school for 55 infants in the main street of the village was wanted. In the event, as we have seen, the existing school was enlarged in 1872. No School Board was ever created in Riseley, the school remaining a National School.

Riseley School house April 2015
Riseley School house April 2015

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. Riseley became a public elementary Church of England 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 was on 25th November 1910 when average attendance was 111: "The older scholars are in satisfactory order and their work is of fairly good character. The written work in Arithmetic in the highest Class requires rather more attention. The Infants' Class is in all respects in a most creditable condition. The instruction is thoroughly suitable and kindly, and the children make excellent progress".

In August 1912 the buildings were inspected: "The Infants' room should be provided as soon as possible with suitable furniture, and the obsolete gallery be removed. I hope, too, to learn soon that further endeavours are being made to obtain the greatly needed playground for this large country School" A note at the side reads: "The Managers have removed the gallery, and suitable furniture has been provided".

On 22nd November 1912 average attendance was 105: "The Senior Scholars are in good order and all their work is quite creditable. The Infants' Class, as usual, is in a thoroughly satisfactory condition. The removal of the gallery in the Infants' Room and the provision of a Cooking stove are great advantages. Valuable lessons in Simple Cookery are now given to the older girls and Home Management is about to be added to their curriculum. Light Woodwork has recently been commenced with the older boys and will no doubt prove of considerable educational advantage to them. A playground is still most urgently needed".

The last inspection before World War One was on 16th January 1914: "The older scholars are in very satisfactory order, they work diligently and make good progress. Arithmetic, Singing and Woodwork are all praiseworthy, and the useful practical instruction given in Cookery forms a most commendable feature in the work of the school. The condition of the Infants' division is, as usual, highly satisfactory in every respect. The tone of the school is very good".

Given the lack of resources no further inspections were made until after the Great War. On 6th July 1921 average attendance was 96: "The School Garden is in excellent order. The methods of cultivation are good, the practical work is well done and the principles are well taught. Not only are the boys becoming skilful, but they are also learning to use their intelligence in a rural pursuit, and the subject therefore forms a valuable addition to the School curriculum".

The next inspections took place on 17th May and 6th June 1922, when average attendance was 86: "A report was furnished on the Gardening shortly before the late Head Teacher retired. With the advent of a new Master fresh methods, an extension of the Nature Study of the local Trees, a change in the disciplinary methods and the introduction of more variety in song and recitation have aroused a keener interest, and from this improvement has resulted".

"The work in the books shows very decided improvement in style, formation of Writing and figures, and in the setting out and arrangement of sums. Composition is more varied, and there is some additional fluency though many of the children find it difficult to express their ideas. Drawing is rather crude, still, but shows promise. Reading in the classes 2 and 3 is very fair, and the questioning on subject matter in the second class was searching enough. Singing since the introduction of Folk Song has become lighter and sweeter, and a better selection of Reading matter is producing good effects".

"The upper class is roughly equivalent to Standard VI or V(a); but here and in the second class. Which is about right in its grading as Standards IV and III, there is a tail. Some of the ages in this class are unsatisfactory. The Infants come up well prepared on the whole; it is hoped that they will continue to make progress in the First and Second Standards. Schemes of work are sensible and practical, so that the future of the School seems assured, and will be watched with interest".

In January 1924 average attendance was 87: "The Head Master, who is leaving at Easter has done remarkably good work in this school. The work of the Uncertificated Assistant is praiseworthy, and that of the Supplementary Teacher in charge of Standards I and II has improved: it is hope she will keep this better standard in future. The Infants' Teacher who left at Christmas had done well for some time past; her successor has not, perhaps, as yet got into the swing of the work here. At any rate the Infants are not markedly in advance of their level some months ago. The new Head Master will be able to go on from the point reached by his predecessor, who may be trusted to give him full and unbiased information as to improvements which have been brought about and the weaknesses which still remain to be conquered".

The next inspection, in May 1925, concentrated on buildings as new children would be coming to the school from the recently closed schools in Swineshead [P96/29/4] and Yelden [E/SA5/1/3]. "HEATING – In the main room is satisfactory. In the infants' room the lower end, which with the present number need not be used, is warmed by an old cookery stove. This has a hole from the fire box into the oven. Smoke goes through this hole into the room, and not enough warmth is generated. Lighting and ventilation – satisfactory. The cloakroom, utterly inadequate in every way, is far too small, is unventilated except by a door which provides also the only light at one end, and is a source of delay and inconvenience whenever it is used as there is but the one, awkwardly shaped, for all the children. The Common Playground has a very poor (uneven and unprepared) surface which becomes very bad in wet weather: it is on the small side. The Offices. These are cesspits which are offensive in hot weather. There are only two compartments for Girls and Infants. Girls (41 in number), and the Boys' urinal wants refacing. There is no lavatory accommodation [in the sense of somewhere to wash] – except a small bowl in the Infants' room. There are three classes in the undivided main room".

The next inspection of was in June 1926 and was restricted, once again, to gardening: "The teacher has been at the school only a few weeks and is teaching Gardening for the first time. Plots are in good condition though some crops are planted too thickly. Tools are well cleaned but are not well arranged in the shed. Note-taking should be developed and some science work arranged. On the plots fruit and flower culture and some experimental work should be started".

In November 1927 average attendance was 108: "This school includes, in addition to the children of the village, 35 to 40 children from four neighbouring villages making a total roll of 123. The staff consists of a Head Master with 17 years' experience in two large town schools – he has been in charge here since last May; a Certificated Assistant Mistress holding a degree in Science; an Uncertificated Assistant lately in charge of one of the contributing schools now closed; and a newly appointed Uncertificated Mistress. Thus the conditions of the school are new and the staff is new to the school. The Head Master is supported loyally and enthusiastically by his Assistants in the task of raising the level of the work and even in so short a time, definite improvements have been effected".

"On the English side the written exercises of the children are well done; and in recitation the poems known by the children cover a wide range, and are well recited. On the other hand the Reading in the lower part of the school is weak; improved methods are necessary, as is a wider range of reading material. The Head Master is specially interested in Singing and the results in this subject are already above average. Other satisfactory features include a course in Handwork – the use of water-colour as part of the course in Drawing – and methods of private study and discussion in Class 1".

"The tone of the school is excellent; the children are smart in appearance, bright and responsive. There is every prospect that the existing weaknesses – which are known to the Head Master – will be removed, and that the school will soon be a really good one".

In September 1931 average attendance was 98: "This school is conducted in bad conditions. The premises are on the Black List, and the smell from the offices enters the school from the Girls' side if one wind blows, and from the Boys' side if another prevails. Ventilation is poor – and, owing to the distribution of the scholars, the 45 seniors under the Head Master, in several groups, are housed in the old Infants' room which is very narrow for its length. There is a small combined 'centre' used as a Dining room, which cannot afford relief as there are only 4 Teachers: and the juniors are in a part of the old senior room in two classes divided by a curtain only".

"The school serves as a receiving school for the two villages of Melchbourne and Pertenhall, and for all the children in Yelden, Swineshead and Riseley. From the two first villages children have arrived none too well prepared; but recent improvement in the two schools, particularly at Pertenhall, leads one to hope for easier working conditions for the Head Master, who is making the best of a difficult position. There is little work of outstanding merit; but there is a good deal of sound work, none the less. Children do reasonably well in the Annual examination, and a few go on to Secondary Schools nearly every year. The staff are working as well and satisfactorily as the conditions allow".

The final inspection in the volume took place on 21st July 1936, when average attendance was 88: "This School, in addition to the two visits this year which were paid for the double administrative purpose of seeing progress of improvements which should remove the premises from the Black List, and judging the value of a Probationary Teacher, has had several visits since the last report. Generally speaking it has always been found efficient, with definitely good points in certain classes, and has also been found without a Domestic Subjects or Practical Instruction Teacher for the Senior children, from this and the contributory villages, in the Centre".

"Except that the lavatory basins have not yet been put in, the premises are vastly improved. The additional classroom in the scheme has not been erected; so there are, even with the comparatively small numbers of children on roll, inevitably two classes in one room, and a grouping of classes in all three rooms. This would not in the case of the 40-50 Seniors be serious, were it not for weak discipline in the Second Class. The papers of this class in examination this term are very bad indeed; and the work of the same children in the examinations in their previous classes (which is kept in the School) shows that some have gone back materially, while it is hard to find any marked improvement or progress. The noise, inattention, and worse in this room clearly points to the cause. The Head Master's class is going on well – better in written work by the girls than by the boys; the Supply Teacher in the third group (Standards I to IV) has done well too, and in spite of serious difficulties through prolonged absences of children owing to epidemics, the teacher in charge of the Infants has worked hard, by no means unsuccessfully".

At the start of World War Two children from London and the south coast were evacuated to safer destinations. Two London schools were evacuated to Riseley in 1939 – Saint Joseph's Roman Catholic School [E/PM3/1/4I] and Burghley Central School [P50/28/8].

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.

Riseley Lower School April 2015
Riseley Lower School April 2015

In 1961 the school received a new classroom block, including, for the first time, indoor toilets. The buildings were dedicated in the following year [P50/31/5]. 1962 was also the year Margaret Beaufort County Secondary School opened taking children aged twelve and upwards.

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. Riseley became a Church of England Lower School, which it remains at the time of writing [2015]. In April 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished to create two new unitary councils in the country one of which, Bedford Borough, is now the Local Education Authority for Riseley.

Riseley Lower School sign April 2015