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Yelden School

The old school February 2014
The old school February 2014

A national enquiry made by the Church of England in 1846/47  brought the following return from Yelden: there was a Sunday school for 16 boys and 23 girls, an infants' Sunday school for 22 boys and 20 girls and a daily infant school for 19 boys and 18 girls: "A house for the teacher of the Infant school is in course of erection, towards which the National Society has granted £45". This, clearly, became Yelden National School. Kelly's Directory for 1898 states that the school was built in 1845 (more likely, as we have seen 1846 or 1847) for 72 children; the £15 per annum endowment came from the rector, Rev Edward Swanton Bunting, who died in 1849. The site was conveyed on Boxing Day 1845 by the vicar from the glebe [P119/29/1]. It was described as having the road from Chelveston to Swineshead to the south, the road leading to Yelden rectory to the east, the rectory orchard to the north and the road leading to the glebe to the west.

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 Yelden return tells us that the school was not efficient and that accommodation for 54 children was needed: "If the Yielden National School be at once made efficient by providing desks and other school furniture, and by the appointment of a certificated teacher, no further accommodation will be required".

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. Yelden thus became a public elementary 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 report dates from 7th October 1909: "the School is carefully taught and is well ordered. The warming arrangements are quite inadequate and should be improved before the coming winter".

In February 1911 the inspector reported: "This little school is in excellent order and continues to be kindly and conscientiously taught. The improvements which have been effected in the premises are very satisfactory".

In February 1913 there was another successful inspection, average attendance was 13: "This small school is in admirable order and the tone is excellent. The children are kindly and carefully taught and a creditable level of efficiency is, on the whole, reached. Needlework is very praiseworthy".

There was no further inspection for eight years, owing to lack of resources during the Great War. On 21st December 1921 average attendance was 16: "This little school with 17 children on the books is taught by a single-handed Teacher, and is doing, on the whole, satisfactory work. The writing throughout the school, however, needs improvement; at present it is careless; and the Arithmetic of the oldest children also should be better. The behaviour is good".

The last inspection was made on 24th September 1924, when average attendance was 15: "The Arithmetic of the oldest children has much improved, and most of the work of Standard VI, which comprises five of the eighteen children on the Registers, is quite creditable. Composition (Standards V and VI) should receive special attention – it is considerably below the average – and Writing below Standard V is still wanting in care. The rest of the work shows little change; it is satisfactory on the whole. The children are well behaved".

The school closed in 1925. Its future had been under discussion for some time a proposal for closure having been made as long ago as March 1916 [E/SA5/1/3]. Finally it was felt uneconomic to keep so small a school open. The clerk to the County Council, stating: "No doubt the decision of the Board will be very unpalatable to the Parish, but I have no qualms of conscience". Having, it seems rejected, sending the children to Newton Bromswold [Northamptonshire] it was decided to bus them to Riseley. The last entry in the school logbook evidently expected the school to carry on [SDYelden1/2]: "School closes this morning at 12 pm for Harvest Holidays. Re-opens on September 14th".

In a sense the school did carry on, but not for another fourteen years. On 18th September 1939 the school reopened for children from Yelden and evacuees from London. Miss M A Adlam of London County Council and Mrs Edge, a supply teacher, formed the staff and children were, initially, taught in two shifts due to lack of furniture [SDYelden1/3]. By 22nd September there were 16 children from Yelden and 30 evacuees, 32 more arriving from London on 28th. It remained open through the war.

The school closed again on 21st December 1945, the children, once more, going to Riseley. The headteacher, Lilian M Wildman, wrote: "I would like to place on record the fact that during my 3½ years of service in this school I have received no complaint from any parent nor have I had any disciplinary trouble at all, although I have received one or two scholars who have been listed "on probation". The children have stood up to the war very well and although they come from exceedingly poor homes, they have done some excellent work for me".

The last entry in the log book was for 1st January 1946: "Officers from Shire Hall have removed all books and furniture today. I am handing the school keys over to the Rector, Rev R Paddick". Today [2015] the former school is a private house.