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Shillington School

The elevation of the new school [AD3865/39]
The elevation of the new school [AD3865/39]

The school in Shillington was established in 1856 as a National School, for which plans survive [AD3865/39]. The site was behind old almshouses. The new buildings could accommodate 120 children and comprised two schoolrooms, one for boys and one for girls according to the plan [AD3865/39].

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 Shillington stated that accommodation for an additional 210 children was needed.

In 1874 a School Board was formed for Shillington, taking control of the school away from the church. By 1875 there were 200 at the school which was, thus, overcrowded and a new infants' room was built. The number became 300 just three years later and the church was used to teach overspill classes. Eventually the Board bit the bullet and decided to build a new school, the Education Department in London estimating that there were 440 children between the ages of 3 and 13 in the parish. A piece of land adjoining the old school was bought and new schoolrooms built, the children moving to them in 1878 [SDShillington1/1]. As it turned out numbers began falling so that by 1903 there were only 200 on the books!

 The former Junior School March 2014
The former Junior School March 2014

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. Shillington 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 entry is for 1910 when the inspector visited the junior department: "In the Mixed Department cloak-room accommodation for the girls is insufficient and for the boys almost entirely wanting. I regret that this serious defect in the premises, which have bene greatly and liberally improved in recent years, was not pointed out before".

The first visit was to the junior department in 1910: "The condition of this department is not in all ways satisfactory. The children in the first class are very backward in reading, while in the second class the teaching is lifeless and the order is poor. The babies appear to be kindly and suitably treated". A marginal note reads: "The Managers are taking steps to effect a change of Teachers in this Department".

In 1911 the inspector reported of the mixed department that it was: "well organised and both carefully and intelligently taught. A good tone prevails and the level of efficiency reached is very creditable to the Head Master and his Staff". In 1914 average attendance of juniors was 112: "The school is in excellent order and is taught in a careful and painstaking manner. The work of the upper division is very creditable and that of the middle division is, in most respects, satisfactory; the lower part of the school is a little weak but is evidently rapidly improving". The inspector in the infants department wrote: "The Infants' School has very much improved since last reported upon. Order in all classes is now good. The children are kindly and sympathetically treated and make good progress".

In 1914 the inspector visiting the infants, average attendance 50, reported: "The Infants' Department is kindly ordered and suitably taught, and in spite of a good deal of hindrance through epidemic sickness good progress has been made in all subjects".

The next visit did not take place until after World War One, due to shortages in resources caused by the conflict. So in 1922, when average attendance in the mixed department was 121, the inspector reported: "The School is very carefully taught and the work of all Classes, in spite of recent poor attendance owing to illness, is, as a rule, quite satisfactory. The Geography of the First Class and the Composition and Spelling of the Fifth Standard fall below the level of the rest of the work, but marked progress has been made in History in which the children now take considerable interest. It is somewhat surprising to find that the Head Teacher, whose work in other respects is very thorough, appears to be unconscious that the children's Speech throughout the School is very faulty, indistinct, and often almost inaudible. Many of the Reading books are in a dilapidated condition".

In 1924 it was the turn of the infants to be visited, average attendance was 46: "It is many years since a report was submitted upon the work of this Department. The Head Mistress and her assistant may fairly be congratulated upon their earnest thought for the children, and, on the whole, the success of their methods. The power of reading is up to the average, possibly slightly better than average. Writing is clear and clean, but might in some cases be criticised for want of regularity. Number is interesting in that experiments with much of the Montessori Apparatus and largely on the lines of that system, have been conducted. The children appear to enjoy dealing with and talking of very large numbers; their attention has also been directed to small fractions and, informally to "tables". This part of the teaching wants clinching. Their answers, at an afternoon visit and in unpropitious circumstances, seemed to show that the foundation work still wants precision, young though they are. Recitation is well known, rather more individual confidence in speaking out is desirable, and it is shyness of utterance which prevents the reading being really good. The singing is fairly good. The Teachers have difficulties with which to contend: it is hoped that they will go on in the spirit they are now showing".

In 1925 both departments were visited. Average attendance in the infants' department was 34: "The attendances at this school since the 14th May last year have, for 14 weeks been very low, ranging from 35 per cent to 85 per cent, and there have nee months of closure also. The sickness prevalent and persistent through the year has in fact made it impossible for the work to reach a high level. Certain aspects of the work and methods of teaching were discussed at this visit, and, given better attendance, there seems no reason why the attainments should not be quite satisfactory in future".

The average attendance at the junior school was 119: "As in the case of the Infants' School, the work of this school has been very seriously affected by long closures and much unsatisfactory attendance during the past twelve months. Under the circumstances creditable progress has been made. The subjects which have suffered most appear to be Writing, especially in the lower half of the school, Composition, History, Geography and Physical Training; but Arithmetic and most of the Reading and Singing do not fall greatly below their usual level. Given satisfactory conditions the lost ground bids fair to be recovered during the present School Year. The girls of the First Class should speak out better".


The former infants' school March 2014
The former infants' school March 2014

The last visit to the infants' school was in November 1926 when average attendance was 46: "These two visits were paid at the request of the Local Education Authority. No report was submitted in January, as the School work had been seriously hindered by epidemic sickness; but a communication on the state of affairs then found was made, and a further inspection was desired. There is on the whole little change to report in the work from the condition recorded in the report of 31st March 1924. There is very definite interest on the part of the children in Reading and Number, both of which are taught individually. Their interest keeps them at work, and apparently, hard at work. Reading is very good up to a point; they know their sounds and can help themselves as a rule over strange but straightforward words. Where they fall short of the usual standard is in phrasing. Even the best children – and every child was heard – read words and there is no attempt at phrasing. Number, however, seems to be a manipulation of groups of beads, and an elaborate series of tables, made out by the beads and constructed (or copied, for the work is sometimes copied from previous tables) ten times. At both these visits, and at a visit paid in April 1925, it was quite evident that mental work wanted more attention and that the reliance on the apparatus was bad for calculation".

"This was the main criticism of the report of 1924. To sum up Number is not at all good. Handwriting is on the whole satisfactory. Recitation is most unsatisfactory. The children will not volunteer to say the very small amount they have learned and that senior infants only will say small Nursery Rhymes is a serious confession of weakness. The children are too reticent".

"In the "Babies" room, the work has much improved. The children there answered with confidence questions in Number over which the older children with three exceptions (of the 11 round the table at the time) hesitated. Writing has improved. In fact this room is better. There is no doubt that much thought is expended on the School – but the results are in no way commensurate with the trouble expended. The methods are all too theoretical – and the work wants clinching".

In 1928 attendance at the junior school was 109: "This school continues to make steady progress on sound lines. The Headmaster has recently introduced a House Sustem, which, when more fully developed should be far reaching in its effects. Already the children are shouldering their new responsibilities with credit and a new spirit has entered the School. The work shows evidence of sincere and sound teaching though this is more evident in written work than in oral. The former is good throughout and in the top class reaches a particularly good standard. English Composition must be specially mentioned for its fluency. There is some interesting Light Woodwork that might be successfully developed if a few more tools were added to the present inadequate equipment. Points in connection with the teaching of Arithmetic and private study methods in History and Geography were discussed with the Head Teacher at the close of the inspection".

The inspection in 1933 was the first since both infants and juniors were integrated into the same school instead of separate departments, average attendance was 155: "This is a good country school in which there is clear clean written work. Good oral work, rather better alertness in Mental Arithmetic than is often found, and a generally good level in the other subjects. The examinations are thorough and are critically marked; especial interest is shown in Geography and fretwork by the boys. There is no Practical Instruction or Domestic Subject work here. The Teachers and children are working very conscientiously and the school is in a very creditable condition".

The final inspection in the book dates from 1938 when average attendance was 146: "The older children are about to be transferred to Shefford when the new Senior School is opened there. The Head Master has raised a fairly good school into a model village school, and may be warmly congratulated on the spirit of enterprise and working hard which he has obtained, the excellence of the results of this work and the variety of the activities he has successfully introduced. He has very able assistance in the second and fourth classes, too; and the Physical side of the work is unusually sound and vigorous".

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. Shillington thus became a county primary school. By the late 1950s concerns were being raised about the old 19th century buildings and the need for a new school. In 1961 the Local Education Authority informed the parish council that new school buildings were a high priority and that plans had been approved [PCShillington26/3]. At the same time the standard of catering at the school was criticised [PCShillington26/5].

 Shillington Lower School April 2015
Shillington Lower School  April 2015

In the early 1960s problems were experienced in getting staff as lack of housing affected recruitment, the school house adjoining the school needed repairing and was still owned by the Saint Albans Diocese as it had been built as accommodation for a teacher at the school when the school was a church school [PCShillington 26/8]. By 1963 overcrowding had become a real issue and the village hall was hired as a temporary measure [PCShillington26/9], in January that year the children attended school for three weeks in sub-zero temperatures, sitting in their coats for lessons at one point it was so cold there was no water as the pipes froze [SDShillington1/3]. That Spring the children finally began moving to the new school premises in Greenfields off Bury Road [SDShillington1/3]. Today [2015] the old school buildings are private houses.

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. Shillington became a lower school. On 1st April 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished and the new Central Bedfordshire unitary authority became Shillington's local education authority.

Shillington Lower School sign April 2015