EDUCATION – A GIFT FOR LIFE:
When I wrote not the concrete cows all those years ago in 1994 I had a chapter entitled education a gift for life and more. black chapter began with this opening paragraph at some future date I'm hoping to Chronicle the history of education in Milton Keynes within a series of features for the Milton Keynes Citizen. II is a full and fascinating tale it will go something like this.
I while ago I saw a sticker on the back window of a car which boldly stated if you could read this then thank a teacher. I will now share with you the chapter from my book not the concrete cows and then I will talk a bit about how education has changed over the decade.
How very true that statement is if you can read this then thank a teacher without the national ability to read we writers would soon be out of a job as would all newspaper and book publishers the likes of WH Smith and John Menzies would join the dole queue and we may as well all go back to living in caves wearing animal skins and hunting with clubs.
Sixty years ago schools throughout the area held a special celebration to commemorate education over the past one hundred years. Souvenir programme for printed, children had special lessons, concert's were given and a number of educational visits were organised. But education in Milton Keynes dates back much, much further than 1934. (Remember this text comes from Not The Concrete Cows published in 1994.)
There is a record of a Chantry Chapel being built onto the church in Bletchley in the early 1300’s and part of the Chantry Priest’s business was a keeper free school for the poor of the parish.
In 1388 at the Manor Court held in fenny Stratford a William Barton claimed that he was owed 18 pence, seven and a half pence, in today's money for services as a teacher. The debt was upheld on ordered to be settled in full.
After the War of the Roses education in North Buckinghamshire began to significantly develop. There is an entry in the Bletchley registrar dated May 15th 1587 recording the marriage of William de Schoolam of Bletchley to Joan Pennington. William taught at the school supported by the lord of the manor.
Seven years earlier a school are been established in the North Chapel of Milton Keynes Church, the teacher had to supplement his income by working as the village sieve maker and teachers today think they are hard done by !
Lands near to Buckingham were rented out in 1423 at thirteen shillings and four pence per year for used by grammar school. The exact location is uncertain but possibly the school was Thornton. Initially it had just six students. In 1574 the endowment the school was receiving from the lord of the manor, Roberts Ingleton, was transferred to the Royal Latin School at Buckingham. That particular school,l of course, is still very much in existence.
Doctor John Radcliffe, who died in 1714, left in his will a great deal of property to University College Oxford for funding medical training. Radcliffe Observatory Hospital and library in Oxford also owe their initial existence to his generosity. In addition the good doctor financed the enlarging of Saint Bartholomew's Hospital in London. the Radcliffe School in Wolverton takes his name from this particular philanthropic doctor.
The Reverend W Cole recorded in 1712 that twenty children in the Bletchley and Fenny Stratford area were being taught in the charge of the church.
In a list of chantry schools within Buckinghamshire, publishing 1720, a school is stated to have been erected in Bletchley although the exact location is uncertain.
A few years later Doctor Brown Willis maintained at his own expense schools in Bletchley, Fenny Stratford and in Whaddon.
On the 10th of October 1726 there was held the first meeting at Newport Pagnell of a society to promote education among the poor of the Newport Hundreds.
Within the coming of the industrial revolution, putting the area on main routes of road, rail and canal, another significance forward step was taken. October 1811 saw the foundation of the national Society for Educating in the Church. This society contributed, in 1815, the sum of thirty pounds towards building a school in Fenny Stratford. This was then maintained by the local clergy, In 1819 there were one hundred and seven pupils on the roll with the Mr Webb as headmaster. He was paid the princely sum of 50 pounds a year as his salary.
In 1838 the Bletchley school united to the National Society. In 1840 land was acquired to build a new school. This was sold by Sir Philip Duncan to the Rector and Church Wardens for just five shillings 25p in today's money. The school stood on Watling Street near to Fenny Stratford Railway Station.
In 1887 the premises were transferred to a school board and 204 students were recorded on roll.
The Fenny Stratford School Board was due to open for business during the last week of August 1887 but was delayed until September the 12th due to an outbreak of typhoid fever in the area. The headmaster of the day recorded the epidemic in the school log book but did not note down how many children were taken out or indeed died.
Local legend has it that this new school building was cited upon a plague pit dating from the middle ages.
Records of schools in the South of the area are still in existence and give a full picture of all that went on. The curriculum at best in the late in nineteenth century can be described as “thin”. The log book records all the poems and songs that children new but pays little attention to mathematics, reading and writing.
Official reports over the next few years criticised the standards and there is a note of at least one teacher being dismissed for failing to bring children up to the expected test levels.
In the north of the area, however, standards were thriving. In Wolverton the directors of the railway took a keen interest in the schooling of all local children, seeing it as an investment to provide for a well-educated future workforce.
Is September 1847 the directors report stated: The school, which is very near to the works, is surrounded by a small court and garden. In the centre is a room for girls from 5 to 9 years of age who are instructed by a governess in reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, grammar, history and needlework. Here we counted fifty-five clean healthy faces. In the east wing there were ninety-five stout, athletic boys of various ages learning mathematics and drawing, including quadratic equations, Elucid, land surveying, trigonometry and even conic sections.
In spite of the high proportion of Milton Keynes children educated today within private schools no traditional public schools were established in our area like of Bedford to the east and Eton to the south.
The Rev W T Sankey became vicar of St Giles, Stony Stratford, in 1859 and founded Saint Paul's School in the town. It costs a staggering £40,000 opening with two hundred boys and very soon established a sound reputation producing many distinguished pupils.
The boys followed a strict routine with morning roll call at 5:45am ! Work began immediately with breakfast not until 8:30am. Tuition continued until lunchtime with games during the afternoon. Lessons then were held in the evening from 6:00pm to 8:30pm. Prefects had the power to fag younger boys and corporal punishment was in daily use. When Sankey died these were taken to excess and the school declined. It eventually closed in 1895.
Another private school in Stony Stratford was run between 1840 and 1870 on the corner of Market Square and Mill Lane by Joseph Hambling. Charles Dickens met him on one visit to the area and based the character of Mr Turveydrop in Bleak House upon him.
Bletchley Conservative Club in Queens may also began its life as a private school.
Sir Herbert Leon and his young wife Fanny came to Bletchley in 1882 and busied themselves in every aspect of local affairs. Although the Leons educated their own sons at Eton they became increasingly involved in the Bletchley Schools. Their latter years coincided with the appointment of Ernest Cook as headmaster and education in Bletchley thrived.
In recognition of their efforts Headmaster David Bradshaw and his board of governors changed the name of Bletchley School to Leon School. Although the new buildings were erected in the south of the town in the early 1970’s the school retains the name.
Ernest Cooke retired at the end of summer term in 1853 after twenty-nine years service. His contribution to education in the south of the city had been tremendous and long lasting.
Harold Wilson's Labour Government of the 1960s introduced comprehensive education to the nation. Although the rest of Buckinghamshire retain grammar schools the socialist councils within the New City managed to turn the area’s schools into the non-selective comprehensive style. They appeared to work very well but the debate and demand for grammar school refuses to go away. As a result private education in Milton Keynes currently thrives.
Gosh ! I found that fascinating. I wrote that some time in 1993 ahead of publication in1994. I remember researching using The North Bucks Times, school log books from Leon School and the writings of Sir Frank Markham. Lady Markham gave me permission to use his work. Their daughter was at the time Headmistress of Castles School in West Blethley. I am writing now in June 2020, I am reflecting back to 1993/4 and thinking how I can share my experience of schools within the developing new city. I am smiling. To transcribe this chapter from my book Not The Concrete Cows I am using a laptop which will allow me to read from my book and the computer puts the words onto the page. If you find any typo’s administered corporal punishment can be administered to the laptop and not to Yours Truly !
Education during the development of Milton Keynes was under the control of Buckinghamshire County Council with offices in Aylesbury. Buckingham was, of course, the original county town but following the demise of The Duke of Buckingham everything moved to a more central location in Aylesbury.
My own teaching career was within the secondary sector. There were just five secondary schools in Milton Keynes in the early 1970’s. In Wolverton there was The Radcliffe School and in Newport Pagnell Ouesdale School. Both remain to this day. Denbigh School was then sited in Cornwall Grove, West Bletchley. Now it can be found in Shenley. Leon School, where I spent so many happy days, was in Fern Grove on The Lakes Estate. The Lakes was not a Milton Keynes Development Corporation initiative but a joint venture with Bletchley Urban District Council and The Greater London Council. Also in Bletchley there was Wilton School and Bletchley Grammar School. So Wolverton and Newport Pagnell each had a school while Bletchley had four.
Bletchley Urban District Council was a Labour council and pro comprehensive. Bletchley Grammar School. Eventually they were to merge as Lord Grey on the Wilton School site. Lord Grey of Wilton. It was not an easy merger, there were prejudices both within the staff and pupils with loyalties to their former schools.
Starting my teacher training course at Milton Keynes of Education we students spent the second week of our first term in a school on “Orientation Week”. I was sent to Wilton School. I loved it. Now returning with a programme called Worktree I visit Lord Grey – WILTON SCHOOL and sit in the school hall which has changed little since I knew it from the early 1970’s.
I was thrilled when I was assigned Wilton School for my second teaching practice. The headmaster was a Mr Smith. I remember he drove a red sports car, far too young for his age. Do you know what a choke on a car was ? In those days all cars had manual chokes to help start the engine. Mr Smith spoke to me as a student teacher, I can so clearly remember him saying: Discipline is like a choke on a car, not enough and the car will not start, too much and the engine will stall. You have got discipline just right. I am not going to be the head of The Lord Grey School but if you want a job there I will make sure you get one.
It was obvious that the merging of Wilton and Bletchley Grammar was not going to be easy and I did not want to be a part of the chaos. Chaos there was !
I ended up at Leon School. It was built for a catchment area of the Lakes Estate, Central Bletchley and Fenny Stratford. However, with the new city estates being put up in the south of the designated area our catchment area expanded to include: Bean Hill, Netherfield, Coffee Hall and Tinkers Bridge. As I recall things there was a bit of pupil snobbery with Coffee Hall being the cool place to live.
When Stantonbury School opened that was the school every pupil wanted ton go to and no traditional teacher wanted to be on the staff. Corporal punishment was in use in every other school in Milton Keynes but not Stantonbury where it was publically disapproved of. There was no uniform and the pupils all called their teachers by their first name. You needed to be a pretty left wing modernist to want to be on the staff of Stantonbury School !
I am not sure if this is a legend too far but I believe a scene in the movie Superman was filmed at Stantonbury School. The school was given a mini-‘bus in payment by the production company. True ? Perhaps.
Leon lost its pupils from the new estates when Sir Frank Markham School opened. I was not happy about that and never forgave the school for robbing us of some great teenagers. I have said how I was allowed to use Sir Frank’s work as I put together Not The Concrete Cows. I met Sir Frank a couple of times and while student governor of Milton Keynes College of Education I knew Lady Markham. I often wonder what Sir Frank would have thought about the school named after him. I think he would have been proud.
So with the merger of Wilton and Bletchley Grammar into a single Lord Grey, Leon, Denbigh, Ousedale, Radcliffe, Sir Frank and Stantobury there were seven secondary schools in Milton Keynes. How many are there today ? I do not have a clue.
We have all this academy stuff, I refuse to address any school as XYZ Academy, it will always be XYZ School. Schools have Headmasters or Headmistresses, they do not have head teachers and they certainly do not have principles. NO that is not a typo even if these pseudo heads do call themselves principals.
When I go into schools today as part of Worktree to help teenagers make lifestyle and career choices I am sometimes asked why I left teaching. I am careful not to put down any modern-day colleague but say teaching was moving in one direction and I was moving in another.
When Tony Blair became prime minister his spin doctors said he was asked what the three most important things were for his government. He supposedly replied Education, Education, Education. If indeed he did say that then he lied. What he meant was Destroy education, Destroy education, Destroy education.
Today we do not have an education system, we have school system. Targets. League Tables. Well done Tony Blair and the flip-flop governments that followed you. But despite all this we have some fantastic schools in Milton Keynes. Education is what happens outside the government imposed schoolings. A good school deals with league tables, budgets, examinations, targets, putting ticks in boxes then orbits the important education around it.
There is one school in particular I go into as part of Worktree. When I say to teenagers: You attend the very best school in Milton Keynes they look at me and say Yes, we know !
I began writing here about Chantry Chapel being built onto the church in Bletchley in the early 1300’s, more than seven hundred years ago. I am proud to have been a part, a very small part, of education in Milton Keynes during those years. I wonder if someone in seven hundred years time, in 2720 will slot my name into a similar account as I am now here sharing with you !