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Inspection Reports for Toddington Church of England School

The National Schools about 1900 [Z1306/126]
The National Schools  about 1900 [Z1306/126]

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 date of the first visit to the Church of England school in Toddington is not included on the report but was, it is presumed, around 1910 and dealt with bot the infants and the mixed departments: "When I last reported upon this school, I had to comment very adversely upon the discipline and tone in the Mixed Department. I am glad to say that with a reorganised staff this serious defect has disappeared and the work is now going on smoothly and well".

"The want of sufficient cupboard accommodation is very noticeable as its result is a want of tidiness in the schoolroom. The gallery in the Infants' room might well be removed and the desks now upon it placed upon the floor with advantage to all, and at little or no cost".

On 14th November 1911 the inspector reported: "Now that the overcrowding of the Mixed Department has ceased and the Staff has been strengthened the School has fully recovered its lost ground. In all Classes very creditable work is done. The scholars in the First Class are bright and intelligent, they do their work well and special pains have been taken to keep up the back work in those subjects which admit of it. The instruction of the Second Class is characterised by much care and thoroughness and the Lower Classes are in good order and make good progress. The Infants continues to be kindly, carefully and well taught and the progress made is very creditable to the Mistress"

The First World War broke out on 4th August 1914 and the next visit was made on 15th October. The observation on the infants was: "This new Department has made, on the whole, a satisfactory start. Still better work may in course of time be expected. The drain in the playground needs attention".

In the mixed department average attendance was 176: "The first class is carefully taught and in some respects a very fair level of attainment is reached, but the discipline and tone of the class are not sufficiently good to secure the best work, especially in Arithmetic. It is, however, only fair to say that the Head Master has been without assistance in teaching this class since he was appointed in March last and there is no reason for him to be discouraged with the results of his work so far. Instruction in gardening should probably be restricted to one class of fourteen boys, and this subject might be taken while the rest of the boys are doing drawing and the girls needlework. The interest taken by the boys in rural subjects is a pleasing feature of the school. Instead of the so-called Object Lessons, a course of Nature Study should be introduced in connection with the Gardening".

"Throughout the School Singing by note should be taught and more attention should be given to securing better work in Physical Exercises, a subject in which the Head Master appears to be well qualified. In the lowest class the methods of instruction should be more nearly approximate to those used in the Infants' School. There are several children in the lower standards who are beyond the normal age".

"It is hoped it will be possible shortly to replace the old desks by dual desks especially as some of those now in use are rickety. The surface of the playground needs attention. The heating of the main room appears to be unsatisfactory in winter. The chimney of one of the classrooms smokes in windy weather".

Due to lack of resources there would be no more inspections until after the Great War. On 21st October 1920 The Mixed Department received its next visit, and an unusually long and detailed report emerged, average attendance was now just 118: "Since the Headmaster returned from military service [17540 Private Bruce Montague Wootton, Cyclist Corps], there has been improvement in the Upper Class work of this Department. Order is better, the children are more diligent, and in some respects a higher standard of achievement is reached. This is largely due to the better Physical Training which is now given. Singing has also improved, and some of the Drawing is good. The Gardening of the older boys has always been well done. Arithmetic is still weak, largely because the children do not use their common sense in attacking problems. The Composition shews that the children have ideas and can express them but the Writing is not good and enough is not taken to avoid mistakes. In History and Geography there are still a number of children who do not exert themselves to answer questions, but the greater number have a fairly good knowledge of what has been taught them. In neither of these two subjects does the teaching go quite deep enough".

"The chief weakness of the school is in the bottom class, in which there have been several changes of teachers during the past two years. It is true that during the past three months the Reading seems to have improved, but the methods of teaching this subject do not follow those by which the children were grounded in the Infants' Department, and, in this as in other cases, the dearth of suitable reading books necessitates the reading of the same book again and again. But the poor written work, both in Arithmetic and Composition, shews that the do not take sufficient pains; indeed the general atmosphere of the class is not such as to lead to painstaking work. The Drawing is of a kind which is quite unsuitable for the lowest class, but the teacher does not seem to have been supplied with a satisfactory syllabus in this subject. Of handwork, with which much of the teaching of young children should be correlated, there is none".

"The middle class of the school has long been fairly well taught. The children work diligently and as a rule take pains. But from year to year methods shew little development. It would be well for the teachers of the two lower classes to change places, the present teacher of the middle class being first given an opportunity of studying the methods adopted in a well-taught junior class of some other school".

"Attention must be drawn to the fact that some 50 per cent of the scholars are in a class or standard lower than that in which they should be working according to their age. Normally the number of over-age children should be under 20 per cent. The trouble seems to arise at the bottom of the School, 15 of the 19 children in Standard I being already over the age at which they ought to have been ready for promotion to Standard II".

Group of Toddington Church School children about 1925 [Z50/142/237]
Group of Toddington Church School children about 1925 [Z50/142/237]

The School was next visited in September 1923, when average attendance was 123: "In the two lower Classes (Standards I-III) of this School there are certainly some children who tend to fall out of line and who need very careful attention, but their numbers are not large. The teachers concerned evidently work earnestly, and progress is fairly good. It is to be remarked that the teacher of the lowest Class was absent through illness from May 5th to July 9th".

"In the next Class (Standards IV and Vb) progress is thoroughly unsatisfactory. The children show little interest in their work and seem capable of little concentration; many of them do not even pretend to work. Arithmetic is bad, much of the Writing lacks care, Spelling is bad and speech is slovenly. As frequently happens, many of the mistakes in Spelling have their root in imperfect speech, as is obvious in such errors as amover (another), direckly, arthernoon and inforts (infants). In Geography and History it is impossible to obtain answers from any but a small minority of the children".

"Such being the condition of the Second Class it is impossible for the work of the Head Teacher's Class (Standards Va-VII) to be what it should be. Arithmetic and Spelling remain weak in Standard Va, but the former becomes good in Standard VII and bad Spelling – and this is creditable to the Head Master – entirely disappears in Standards VI and VII and the writing of these two Standards is fairly good. Still, even in this Class, as might perhaps be expected, it is not easy to rouse the children to effort. Better progress should have been possible in Geography and History, where the answering remains fro from general; but the scheme of instruction in these two subjects is, in the circumstances, too wide, and leaves little opportunity for revision. Speech improves as to articulation in this Class, but is not always audible. The teaching is a little wanting in force and resourcefulness; but it is probable that if the children had a satisfactory foundation on leaving the Second Class they would make adequate progress here".

At the same time the infants department as visited and impressed much more favourable; average attendance was 47: "This is a pleasantly taught school. The children of the first class have, up to this point in the school year, made adequate progress in Reading and Writing, and on the whole in Number, but rather better work might be done in the second class. Speech is sometimes a little indistinct. Handwork receives due attention and the children recite and sing very well indeed. Unfortunately the school possesses no musical instrument".

The next inspections were in February 1926. Average attendance in the infants department was 43: "The Head Teacher was absent from June to October last year and attendance was poor during November and December. In spite of these adverse conditions, however, the children have in most respects made adequate progress, but Number in the small First Class and Reading in the Second need special attention. The Physical Training of the children is not neglected, but as was pointed out at the inspection, the instruction is not quite on the right lines".

Average attendance in the mixed school was 132: "Most of the Arithmetic has improved to some extent, though not enough; but that of the Second Class – Standards IV and V – is still thoroughly weak. In all other respects it is pleasing to be able to report decided progress. The children work more earnestly, and show greater interest. Writing, though, especially in the two upper classes. Not yet quite good, is of more careful formation, Composition is much better, and Reading is very satisfactory indeed. Speech has evidently received particular attention: it has become audible and distinct, and with this improvement has come marked improvement in Spelling. In the First Class oral expression is more clear and exact, but the Second Class has still much to do in this respect. The rest of the work of the school – including Physical Training, which is now well and vigorously carried out – shares in the general improvement. The aim now should be to maintain, even to develop the improvement which has already been made".

The next visit by the Inspector to Toddington was in March 1933 and in these seven years there had been changes: "Since the date of the last report, the two departments of this school have been amalgamated".

"The Head Master is keenly interested in his children who, by their good manners and attention to their lessons, show that they appreciate what is being done for them. The two lowest classes are successfully taught: the handling is sympathetic and the response is delightfully natural".

"In the next three higher classes the teachers show commendable energy and a pelasing line of approach in most of their lessons. In Standards IV-Vb some of the older pupils are showing very marked improvement in their writing and figuring".

"Much of the work of the top class is meritorious, but there is still some weakness in Arithmetic; nor are all the written exercises done as neatly as is desirable. There is, too, here, (as elsewhere) need for keeping rather clearer records of the work covered in History, Geography etc. – records upon which oral discussions can be based".

"Team games are a strong and happy feature of the school's life". The school had an average attendance of 163.

The final report is from May 1938, average attendance 144: "This is a pleasant school to visit. The work done I it is sound, and examination produced creditable results. This is all the more praiseworthy as the conditions are far from favourable: two classes in one room, another very noisy from traffic which – multiplied many times by the passing of brick lorries – is a very real handicap, and another so small as to render freedom of movement for the youngest children an impossibility. Certain aspects of the Teaching were discussed at this visit".

Group of Church of England School children about 1930 [Z50/142/236]
Group of Church of England School children about 1930 [Z50/142/236]