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Thurleigh School

South elevation of the school about 1875 [SB46/6/2]
South elevation of the school about 1875 [SB46/6/2]

In May 1875 Thurleigh School Board was established and the patron of the living and Bishop of Ely transferred the school premises to the board [SB46/1]. A good part of the reason for establishing a School Board was to build a new school. An architect named Jackson was asked to report: “The old Schools have done their work, and though I do not like to condemn them, they are not suited to the requirements of the day; I should myself therefore strongly recommend new schools, so constructed that a master’s residence could at any time be added. I need hardly say to you that there should be a decent lavatory and earth closet or proper provision in the yards as an essential part of the Education of the young … The present School is defective in many respects; It should have a boarded floor. It should have sash windows, a better system of ventilation; the chimney shaft taken down and rebuilt and when these matters are rectified it has only 9 inch walls, which are in a very dilapidated condition and subject to atmospheric changes both of heat and cold” [SB46/1].

In January 1876 the Vicar, as chairman of the School board wrote to the Education department in London proposing a new school: “The present School is built on the Glebe and is my private property. The Board would not enlarge it unless it was conveyed to them and I was not willing to do this without receiving the value of the Building and the additional land required. Also Mr. Jackson, the Architect employed by the Board reported that “the Building was not sufficiently substantial to admit of considerable additions without great additional outlay amounting to the same cost, or nearly so, as new schools. I offered the Board a more desirable site, free, on a small school estate, of which the Vicar is Trustee and on which stands the Mistress’s residence and for these reasons the Board proposes to accept it, if my Lords do not object, and build on it their New School. The site is in close proximity to the old and very central” [P97/25/1/1]. The offer was accepted and the present school built.

The first school log book [SDThurleigh1/1] notes on 24th May 1876: “Children left at 12.5 to see the foundation stone of the new school laid”. Around this time the teacher often notes that various numbers of boys are absent due to having to work or, in one instance, gathering cow-slips. One entry simply reads: “W Feasey a very naughty boy”. The teacher’s punctuation was not her strong point, another entry reads: “Thin school children broke up for Harvest Holidays”. Whooping cough in the first months of 1877 greatly reduced the numbers of children in school. W. Feasey was not the only naughty boy, order and behaviour often seemed to be bad, one entry, 23rd April 1877 reading: Class II kept in for bad order with S. Chandler and for destroying their reading books”.

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. Thus Board School thus became Thurleigh 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]. In 1911 average attendance was 74: “This is quite a satisfactory School. Order and tone are excellent and instruction in all the Classes is careful, intelligent and thorough”.

The next visit was in 1913 when average attendance had fallen to 58: “This school is in thoroughly good order, it is taught with much care and on the whole a very creditable level of efficiency is reached, especially in the Upper Division”.

The next inspection took place after a gap of ten years, largely owing to shortage of resources during the First World War. Average attendance was then 61: “The present Head Mistress succeeded to a school whose condition at that time (6 years ago) was far from satisfactory. She has worked conscientiously, and with very fair success; but has been hampered by weak assistants in the Infants’ room. At present the newly promoted Standard I are far behind what they should be, and (though it should be noted that the heat of the day was against any real brightness) the Infants were listless and the Teacher has no resource to keep them profitably employed. Through the school, Reading is hardly as good as it ought to be: the formation of writing is not good, and the appearance of Arithmetic is bad, owing largely to the over economy of paper which prevents clear and distinct setting out. Examinations should be kept for reference for a term at least. Singing and Drawing are creditable, order is good in school; and the upper children and the Supplementary Teacher with Standard I are working well. The Registers of last year were not signed at all – and this year’s have not yet been signed by the Correspondent”.

The next visit was in 1925 when average attendance was 56: “The School has a pleasing tone, and all three Teachers work well. Arithmetic is good as to accuracy and intelligence, but still leaves something to be desired as to clearness and directness of setting out. Geography, History and Drawing are above the average. There is not now much fault to find with the Reading (Standards I-III) and Physical Training and Singing are satisfactory. Writing has probably improved somewhat, but is still not of very good formation. Composition is fairly good. The Head Teacher, it is understood, is shortly about to retire. If she can bring about some further improvement in Writing, Composition, and setting out in Arithmetic she will leave the School in quite a satisfactory condition. A marked change has been made in the Infants’ Class by the present Teacher. The teaching is now resourceful, the listlessness noted in the last Report has entirely disappeared, and good work is being done”.

In a communication of 1927 it was noted: “The supply of Reading matter is short. Historical and Geographical Readers are wanted for classes above Standard II, and a Graded Reader (of the “Reading and Thinking” type) for all the Standards. There is not much available story, or continuous, or individual Reading and the Infants’ room has a good many bundles of pages which do duty for books”.

The following year average attendance was down to 40: “At the first visit the Head Mistress was away, ill. Her absence covered a period of eight weeks, which was a distinct disadvantage to the school. The work of the school is conducted in an atmosphere which is certainly happy, but might be rather more firm in discipline without loss of happiness. The attainments of the children – a very varied set – are on the whole satisfactory, if not very satisfactory. There is a slowness in mental calculation which could certainly be ‘speeded up’; a close approximation to good Writing which might be brought up to the definitely good standard; and a willingness to recite, uncertainly, which would show really good knowledge and articulation. The written English has much promise. The children have been taken, late at night, to an interesting Exhibition. Children of seven to ten years of age wrote excellent appreciations, most naturally, of what they had seen. The natural expression involved grammatical faults, but it was a very good performance, this aspect apart. The Infants are making a good start, and there is a distinct attempt to teach them and the older scholars to read with intelligence. Not yet in the first flight of the Junior Schools of the County, the school is definitely promising”.

Spread over September 1932 and March 1933 the next inspections noted average attendance as 49: “This school is well conducted; examinations are full and are marked and commented on fairly. The children are industrious and well behaved in school. In Arithmetic the majority do very accurate work in mechanical sums; in problems, the result is a little disappointing, but there is increasing power of statement which should improve this side of the work. But in this subject and in written English, there is a clean and neat setting out, though formation of figures and letters might be better. The second visit was paid during the time when the Annual examination was proceeding: the rest of the school were in the large room. Over 40 were doing an Arithmetic test: at the end of the first half hour there wasonly one blot or smudge among the whole lot, and a good many sums had been worked. This shows good training. Reading and Recitation are both good in class; the children are rather shy in answering questions on the content of the paragraph read, or on pictures bearing on the matter. In Geography, History and Nature Study there is much evidence of interest. The Infants’ Class are progressing very well. Both Teachers deserve credit for their work”.

The final report in the volume is from April 1938, when average attendance was just 31: “This school, in which numbers have fallen considerably, is in a very efficient state. The speech training, recitation, and power of expression in written English is unusually good in the junior section. The handwriting, too, is neat, clean and generally well formed; and the children evidently enjoy examinations in which questions on all subjects are set. The infants are given a very good start by the teacher who is now leaving, and the Head Mistress makes the most of the promising material sent up to her from the infant classroom. She may be congratulated on the good work she is doing and on the response readily obtained from both classes”.

Thurleigh School in 1951 [Z55/1/75]
Thurleigh School in 1951 [Z55/1/75]

On the outbreak of war in 1939 children were evacuated from London and towns along the south coast to places less likely to be bombed or be in the front line of an invasion. A school from Islington, Saint John the Evangelist Roman Catholic School was temporarily evacuated to Thurleigh [E/PM3/1/4N]. 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. Thurleigh Council School thus became Thurleigh County Primary School.

In the second half of the 1960s additional land was acquired for the school [CA2/714] and in the early 1970s re-modelling was undertaken and extensions built [CA2/435].

PCThurleigh26/1-2 reports 1973-74. 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. Thurleigh County Primary School thus became Thurleigh Lower School which it remains at the time of writing [2015]. In 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished, the county being split into three unitary councils, the new Local Education Authority for Thurleigh being Bedford Borough Council.

Thurleigh Lower School January 2015
Thurleigh Lower School January 2015

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