Silsoe School Since 1903
School House Mews March 2011
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. The Silsoe schools, having been church schools, became public elementary 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]. The scrapbook contains two reports for SilsoeInfantsSchool and nine for the MixedSchool. The first Infants School report dates to November 1909 and was undertaken separately because the school occupied different premises to the Mixed School, being a few doors south, also on the east side of the High Street: "The babies are very well handled by Miss Martin, but in the other two classes there is much room for improvement. The order, the methods and the attainments of the children are not satisfactory". A marginal note of the report for the main school (see below) reads: "The Head Mistress of the Infants' Department has resigned since the receipt of this Report".
The second report dates to November 1911: "Most marked improvement has been effected in this Department since the present Mistress took charge, and the present state of the School is very creditable to her. Order, methods and attainments of the children are now good: the instruction is given with brightness and intelligence, and for the first time for some years the children are being well prepared to take their places in the School for older scholars". After this reports on the infants were made by the same inspector and at the same time as those for the main school, following a move to new premises.
The first inspection of the Mixed School in the scrapbook also took place in 1909. "This department continues in a most creditable state of efficiency. The instruction is given with care and intelligence and the tone and discipline are excellent".
"A most commendable feature of the School is the successful attempt to make the instruction of the older children as practical as possible. The interest shown by the scholars in their well-kept School Garden and the Poultry Rearing is most marked; they are learning valuable lessons which cannot fail to be of lasting benefit to them".
The second report dates to November 1911. "This is an excellent rural School; organisation is good, the methods are sound and intelligently applied, and in all Classes good progress is made. Order and tone are all that can be desired, and in the School Garden and Poultry Yard, and in the use of tools, the older boys are receiving a good practical education which, doubtless, will prove very beneficial to them in after years. If arrangements could possibly be made for a little practical instruction in Cookery and Housewifery for the girls the usefulness of the School would be much increased and the disadvantages under which they suffer, as compared with the boys, would be removed".
The first inspection of the whole school took place after the Great War, in June 1923, when average attendance was 76. "This school is in very good order, and seems to be going on quite satisfactorily under the new Head Teacher. Improvement is to be desired in Arithmetic – though there is actual weakness only in Standards VI and VII – in the writing of the lower group, and above all in Drawing, which is much below the average. This matter was discussed at the visit of inspection. Oral expression and ability to listen need careful cultivation, and indiscriminate answering, to which there is some tendency, should be suppressed. These are the points which, as the Head Teacher takes the School over, most call for special attention. The rest of the work is generally satisfactory, though not often at present quite good. The best points are the Composition and Spelling of the first class which, at least in Standards VI and VII, fall little short of good, and the Physical Exercises, which are smartly and vigorously carried out, and need only to be brought a little more into line with the latest Official Syllabus to be very satisfactory indeed".
"Apparently the Infants have not yet moved into the premises in which the Senior children are taught. Their class room stands empty. Their work was not seen".
In April 1925 average attendance was 87. "There is not very much really marked progress to report. The Arithmetic of Standards VII and Ex. VII is now good, but the Composition of these children is hardly as satisfactory as it was, though that of Standards V and VI is good on the whole. Drawing has improved, but like the rest of the Arithmetic and most of the Writing it should further improve. It is evident that considerable attention has been given to oral expression, which in most ways is considerably better than formerly, though it is not always easy to hear what the children say. The rest of the work shows no great change. In Geography and History, and Note Singing it is noticeable that certain children – only a minority, however – need some rousing to keep them on the alert".
"In the Infants' Class, Number should considerably improve, but the rest of the work, though not of outstanding merit, is quite satisfactory. The children show a tendency to prompt one another. This should not be permitted". Clearly the infants had now moved from their old site, today's 24 High Street, to the School House Mews site.
In June 1926 a report was devoted to gardening. This was an important part of the curriculum, especially in rural schools. It must have paid dividends in World War Two when digging for victory was an important way to keep the country fed. Though to judge by the following it is surprising that Silsoe did not starve. "Crops in general are poor, some plots are weedy, and the practical work as a whole is rough and lacks finish. The arrangement by which each boy is responsible for a small plot on which only three or four vegetable crops are grown should be discontinued. Tools ought to be kept cleaner and to be stored in a more orderly way".
"No notes or records are kept. The garden work is disassociated apparently from other school work and at present does not justify the time spent on it".
In November that year a report on the whole school was made, average attendance being 86. "This report is written at the request of the Local Education Authority. There is but little change in the condition of this school, in which the work as a whole hardly reaches a standard equal to that of schools in similar circumstances. There have been some changes in method at the lower end of the school which, it is hoped, will improve the writing. Reading is generally satisfactory; and Arithmetic is weak in Standard I, varies from Standard to Standard but always is slow, probably owing to excessive work on scrap paper. Physical Exercises and behaviour in school are satisfactory. A report on the Gardening was submitted recently".
In June 1928 there was little new to report. "There is, again, little change in the condition of this School. The Master is working on old fashioned lines which do not stir the children to much effort on their own account. The examinations, for instance, give only four sums to do, which are not as a rule very difficult or in any sense severely testing: the Dictation exercise also was easy – a very large proportion of the children made no mistakes and the same piece served for two or three standards. Notes are written by the Master and copied by the scholars; and in the garden, the practical work which is now in the hands of a gardener, it would seem that planting or setting is largely done by him, and that the children's work is mainly confined to weeding. There are few, if any, notes or observations made by themselves. In Arithmetic the response was very poor; the Geography lesson on climate of India provoked much intelligent answering, so that there seems no reason why practical questions, well within their compass in Arithmetic, should prove so overwhelmingly puzzling to the children. The speech and reading of the lower class require much attention; they were being taken by a temporary assistant who found them hard to hear or understand. On the whole the older children, in recitation, for instance, speak much more clearly, but they are inclined to say the poetry much too fast".
By 1930 there had been a few improvements. "When the school was inspected a supply teacher was temporarily in charge as the Head Master has been absent for some weeks owing to illness".
"Several points criticized in the last report have received attention. The terminal examinations have been improved in the lines indicated then. The upper children now make their own notes in Geography as text books have been provided. Copying notes from the blackboard continues in other subjects, as text books have not yet, the Head Master stated in an interview, been provided".
"Tests were set to the three Upper Standards in Arithmetic. Many of the errors found in the work were due to the lack of method in setting the sums out properly. A test in Composition suffered not so much from positive errors as from poor vocabulary, arrangement, and power of expression".
The final report in the scrapbook dates to December 1933, when average attendance was 61. "The Head Mistress has had control of this school – which is about to be transferred to new premises – since September, 1930. During these three years her task has not been a light one; but she has shown commendable energy and much common sense in dealing with the various problems which have had to be faced".
"To-day the school is healthy in spirit. The older children work steadily, take a pride in their achievements, and make honest attempts to discuss their difficulties intelligently with the Mistress. In spite of methodical teaching, however, the class is not as yet very sure of its Arithmetic and is only slowly acquiring facility and correctness of expression in their Mother Tongue. But in Art and Music work of a good standard is being done; and when the children have record books for the History, Geography and Nature lessons an even keener interest should be shown in these subjects".
"Sound, all-round progress is being made by the second group. Here the children show a considerable liking for what they are taught and respond readily when questioned".
"The Infants' Class contains several quite young children for whom the teacher does much that is sensible and stimulating. So far as conditions will allow, adequate freedom of movement is afforded and, on the whole, the teaching of the essential subjects produces happy results".
"It was suggested that, throughout the school, rather more definite instruction in all phases of oral language training should be given".
In 1934 the school moved from the School House Mews site to a site further north along the High Street and on the west side of the road. The new buildings were a few yards east of the present  school buildings,very close to the road; the site of them is now the school car park.
The old school buildings remained in the ownership of the Wrest Park Estate. Its owner John George Murray tried, unsuccessfully, to sell the estate that same year. The sale particulars included the old school buildings in School House Mews. The particulars described them as:
The Old Schools
brick-built and slated with large Yard, very suitable for Garage or Warehouse. The building, as now planned, containing Four Large Class Rooms, two Cloak Rooms, together with Outoffices.
AVAILABLE WITH VACANT POSSESSION
The old infants' school was listed just after 22 High Street, called King's House. It was described thus
The adjoining property, formerly the Infants' School, and now utilised as
Club and Reading Rooms
together with Yard and Garden.
AVAILABLE WITH VACANT POSSESSION
During the Second World War children were evacuated from London to Silsoe. The school logbook shows that this caused some problems in accommodating so many children in the existing buildings. 15th September 1939: "School reopened: with evacuees and visitors over 150 children presented themselves: impossible to seat them, even on the floor: alternative accommodation sought" [SDSilsoe5].
The logbook entry for 18th September 1939 reads: "Alternative accommodation found – evacuees (with their teachers) have taken possession of same: school resumed nearly normal procedure, with 97 children on books" [SDSilsoe5].
Some interruptions to the usual school routine were more exciting than others as this extract shows: 6th March 1940: "This afternoon, Mr D. J. Douglas, the headmistress' brother, who is here on leave from the SS Mataroa (Shaw-Saville Line), visited the school and talked to the senior and junior children about his recent experiences when chased by a U-boat: he also explained the convoy system, in which he made his return voyage. The children were most interested and several of them came to thank him afterwards" [SDSilsoe5].
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. Silsoe became a Voluntary Controlled school in October 1949.
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 CountyPrimary and CountySecondary Schools. Thus Lower Schools now taught children aged 4 to 9, Middle Schools from 9 to 13 and UpperSchools from 13 onwards. Silsoe thus became a voluntary controlled lower school
In 1975 a compulsory purchase order was made by Bedfordshire County Council by which it purchased three quarters of an acre of land behind a house called Fairways which stood immediately north of the school. The owner objected and a public enquiry resulted. However, the purchase went ahead [PY/E9/1]. A new school was then built immediately behind the former school, which was demolished when the new buildings were ready in 1981, and partly on the land acquired behind Fairways [CA2/324]. Thus the school stands some distance back from the road. The new school opened in 1981 [BP64/37/7-8]. This building continues as the school at the time of writing .
Silsoe VC Lower School April 2011
On 1st April 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished. The county was split into two unitary councils. Central Bedfordshire Council was created by merging the former Mid and South Bedfordshire District Councils. These two districts took on the additional rsponsibilities of the former county council including acting as Local Education Authority for their area.