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Upper Gravenhurst School

Gravenhurst Academy February 2016
Gravenhurst Academy February 2016

Upper Gravenhurst National School was built in 1869. 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 Upper Gravenhurst noted the existence of the national School, with accommodation for 96 children. The return for Lower Gravenhurst noted the same school giving accommodation as 16, presumably the allocation for Lower Gravenhurst children. 

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.

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 in the scrapbook was carried out in June 1911 when average attendance was 63: “Miss Smith manages this School very satisfactorily. The best work is done in the Upper Division of the older scholars, where, among much that is very creditable, special mention may be made of the written work and of Physical Exercises, which are remarkably well taught; there is, however, some weakness in Arithmetic. The work of the lower Division is fairly good”.

“The children in the Infants’ Class should make much greater progress, at present the training they receive is not adequate. The instruction should be more definite in aim and intelligent in method, and the order should improve. The services of a Monitor should be helpful here”. This second paragraph has, as an annotation in the margin, a large question mark.

The next visit was in January 1914 when average attendance was 58: “Most marked improvement has been effected in this school by the present mistress. Order and tone are now very pleasing. Singing is good and all the written work bears the stamp of care on the part of the children and conscientious and thorough supervision on the part of the teacher. Improvement is also shown in the Infants’ Class which is now in a creditable state of efficiency”.

Owing to the lack of resources during the Great War the next inspection was not until April 1919: “This is a good school. The children are bright and well informed and reach a good level of attainment. The success of the school depends on (1) the well-balanced curriculum in which each subject is well taught, (2) the self-reliance of the children, which has been developed especially through Handwork and Nature Study, and (3) the harmony of aim and methods of teaching throughout the school”.

In September 1923 average attendance was 44: “Standards II-VII. A new Head Teacher took charge of this school last April. At the present time the Arithmetic of Standards V-VII is, apart from figuring, good on the whole, and the Composition of Standards VI and VII and the Writing of Standards II, III, VI and VII are fairly good. There are half-a-dozen poor readers, but the rest of the children read quite satisfactorily. Drawing is creditable, but not always dated. These are the best parts of the work. In Standards IV and V Composition and Spelling are not at all strong and the Writing is of very careless formation. Much of the figuring also, especially that of Standards Ii-IV is lacking in care. It is clear, however, that the condition of the school had greatly fallen off in some ways before the present Head Teacher came; for example, the Writing and figuring had become very careless, and there was much poor Spelling. Of Geography and History the children know but little. Physical Training and Singing used to be the two outstanding features of the work, and were really of exceptional merit. This cannot be said now - indeed, the former is only fairly satisfactory. Improvement in this part of the school will be looked for”.

“Standard I and Infants. This class is pleasantly taught, and the children are making good progress”.

The inspection of May 1925 was restricted to the premises: “I am informed that the temperature of the main room is often seriously low, and that the cause is that the supply tank to the boiler is too small. The radiators are excellently placed for proper warming. One corner of the Infants’ room is not damp proof and stores in the cupboard get wet. The drains are at present blocked”.

In December 1925 average attendance was 42: “This school, which had greatly deteriorated before the present Head Teacher came, is making very good progress. There is now a pleasing tone, and the teaching is thorough. The children are learning to face their difficulties, and already a considerable part of the work is at least of average merit. The Lower Division - Standard I and the Infants - is generally satisfactory, but Number should improve, and no prompting should be permitted”.

In January 1929 average attendance was 41: “Two years ago it was found that the Second Class - i.e. the lower division of children from “Standard II - “Standard VI or VII” - were very weak, especially in written English. Many of those children are now in the Upper Section and, though handwriting has improved, the ‘Composition’ does not reach the usual level, and spelling is definitely bad in about 50 per cent of the cases. Also, at that visit, and at one paid a year ago, the school as a whole was open to the criticism that setting out of sums in Problem form was practically non-existent. That criticism holds good today”.

“Apart from this, the school is doing quite good work: on paper the children show up better in their ordinary books than in the over careful written examinations. The writing in the latter is as much better than the writing in the books as the amount and style in the books is better than in the examinations. Orally they are good in recitation, and very diffident in mental arithmetic and in answering questions on other subjects. After they have got over the shyness their answers show they have been taught in an effective way. Singing is well taught, and the Infants’ division is doing well; probably the Number training does not succeed as well as the rest”.

The report of March and July 1935 noted average attendance as 34: “This small, all range school is doing satisfactory work. The Head Teacher is responsible for the children from 8 to 14 years of age and organises them in three divisions. The Schemes of Work are suitably arranged. It is unfortunate that in the past there have been no facilities for Practical Instruction for the older children”.

“The top class is very reticent and more opportunities for speaking should be arranged. The simple Dramatisation, so effectively begun in the lowest class, might be continued throughout the school. The Singing is well done and the children enjoy it. As the written work in English is good, it is strange that so little interest is taken in general reading. Mental Arithmetic is weak: it is understood that a change in text book is anticipated, but it would be well to supplement any text book by practical examples of a type suited to the needs of these children. The treatment of the History and Geography was also discussed at the time of Inspection. In Needlework, stitching is good, but the girls should be trained to take the full responsibility for any work undertaken. A sewing machine is most desirable for the elder girls. The Infants’ Class is happily and effectively organised and good work is being done. The children speak freely and well, and their independence and initiative are a delight to see”.

“The school is fortunate in its playground accommodation and the children are deriving much pleasure from the new scheme for Physical Training”.

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. 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. In 2009 Bedfordshire County Council was abolished and the new unitary Central Bedfordshire Council became LEA for Gravenhurst. However, since then the school has become an academy, outside most of the LEA’s control, and is currently [2017] part of the Bedfordshire East Schools Trust.