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Wootton Junior Mixed School

West elevation of Wootton Junior Mixed School about 1875 [SB58/9]
West elevation of Wootton Junior Mixed School about 1875 [SB58/9]

The direct result of the lack of provision of an efficient school resulted in the formation of a School Board in Wootton on 6th April 1875. Separate schools for junior and infants were created. The infants school was next door to the Cock Public House, the junior school across the road on the corner of Bedford Road and Church Road. The school logbook shows what school life was like for Victorian children. Attendance was often poor as children had to help at home or on the farm. This entry for 1st October 1886 is typical: "First week after harvest. Attendance very low: percentage 52". [SDWoottonCP1].

The logbooks also give us an idea of what children were taught at school. The Scheme of work for the year ending October 31st 1901 included:

  • Class II "England. Physical and Political History";
  • Class III "Oral Presentation of easy sentences and dictation of such sentences";
  • History Class I "Stories and biographies from 1066 AD to 1485".
  • Object lessons for Class II were to include (among other things) "parts of a flower, things soluble and insoluble in water, things that melt".

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 Wootton Board Mixed School became Wootton Council Mixed 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 visit to the junior mixed school recorded in the scrapbook was in 1909. the inspector wrote: “The department continues to improve. Order is good, the written exercises are neat and the general level of efficiency is creditable. The regulation regarding Registration must be strictly observed”.

The next visit was in 1910, when average attendance was 140: “This School is carefully taught and in most of the branches of instruction a fairly creditable level of attainment is reached. The chief fault to be found with the teaching is that it does not call for sufficient effort on the part of the children. The removal of this defect would lead to an all-round improvement in the quality of the work”.

In 1913 the inspector reported: “Order and tone are good and in most respects the school is in a fair state of efficiency. But it must be expected, in future, that more advantage will be derived from the fact that the entrants to it from the Infants’ School come unusually well prepared. At present they, to a large extent, so little more than “mark time” for a year. Also much more care must be taken in marking and correcting the exercise books in the second class”.

The First World War interrupted the pattern of school inspections across the county. Wootton Council Junior Mixed School was not visited again until 1923, when average attendance was 148: “The new Head Teacher of this school has made an excellent commencement. The general atmosphere has been entirely changed, apathy has disappeared, and keen interest, earnest effort and the development of self-reliance are now the noticeable characteristics, at least in the upper part of the school. In the work itself the most commendable features are the Arithmetic, the greatly improved methods of teaching Composition, and the Writing, Drawing, Physical Training and Singing of the upper divisions, all of which give great promise. It will take some time and will require vigorous teaching to bring the lower classes quite into line with the upper, and in all cases close attention to audibility and distinctness of speech will constantly be necessary; but the further progress of the school as a whole is anticipated with every confidence”.

In 1926 the inspector was solely interested in the school garden. Teaching gardening in a rural community made a lot of sense as it fitted boys for agricultural or horticultural labour and encouraged them to tend their own garden and grow vegetables for the family table as well as teaching them elements of science. “A good garden capably used as an educational instrument. The work includes vegetable, fruit and rose culture. A suitable course of science is associated with it. No records of garden work are kept this year. The keeping of these should be resumed, and the development of fruit propagation, flower culture, and plot experiments would add further to the value of the work”.

In 1927 Bedfordshire was valued under the terms of the Rating Valuation Act 1925; every piece of land and property was inspected to determine the rates to be paid on it. The valuer visiting the school house noted that it was a brick and tile building with a dining room, drawing room, kitchen and scullery downstairs, three bedrooms and a box room upstairs and an earth closet and barn outside. The valuer noted that it was an "Excellent house" with a "fair garden".

The final inspector’s visit recorded in the scrapbook came in 1934, when average attendance was 152: “This is a thoroughly well conducted school, situated in a fairly large village, which, owing to the personality of the Head Teacher, to the fact that the school is a distributing centre of the County Library, and that, therefore, parents see lists of marks and examples of work on the walls, and to the interest which the school garden arouses, it is a live centre. The authorities of the Brick Works have generously provided a field of which full use is made”.

“The work of the school is very good on the character training, citizenship, art, music, and physical sides. The other work is also very good; but the actual ‘show’, if one may use such a term, owing to (1) the deliberate policy of the Head Master to stretch the children by searching examinations, and (2) the presence of a decidedly lower range of intelligence in a good many instances, might be misleading. The written English is rather remarkable in its freedom of expression and initiative; the notes in History and Geography are genuine children’s work; the Arithmetic of the better children is sound”.

“The Assistant Staff deserve credit for their work. The Assistant in charge of a Standard I – whose attainments were not up to the usual level turned out by the Infants’ School – has done really excellent work with them; and the teacher of the Second Class, who has only been here a short time has also got to the root of the matter. The other, unfortunately, is not very well, but has put in unremitting attention to her duties”.

“The children as a rule obtain good positions when they leave the school”.

The outbreak of war in 1939 brought changes to the schools. Children were evacuated to Wootton from Wykeham School in Willesden, London. 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.

Wootton Council Mixed School thus became Wootton County Primary Mixed School. The mixed school and the infants’ school were merged to form one Wootton County Primary School in 1954. A new school was built further along Bedford Road and opened in 1962, the two old schools being demolished; the respective sites are now beneath modern housing.