Robert Thoroton Secondary School
Preparing for the Robert Thoroton Secondary School
The national educational scene in the 1930s and 1940s
Education, and particularly education for children over eleven years of age, was widely discussed in the 1930s. There were conflicting points of view about the most appropriate way forward. These ranged from the educationalists who argued that all children would benefit from a different type of schooling from the age of eleven, to the education committee of the Federation of British Industries who considered that only a small minority of children over eleven years were 'mentally capable' of benefiting from change.
In 1938 an Education Act stated that the school leaving age would be raised to fifteen in September 1939. However, the declaration of war prevented the Act from being implemented. At various times during WWII, city children were evacuated to rural areas and many village schools had to accommodate extra pupils. This mixing of children from urban and rural communites raised awareness that the standard of education varied across the country.
Education was severely disrupted during the war and many towns and city schools were damaged or destroyed during heavy bombing. So, it is not surprising that, as the country began to plan for peace, schools and education were once again to the fore in national debates.
The 1944 Education Act
As early as 1941, the Board of Education began to sound out opinion about the way in which children should be educated once peace was declared. Interestingly, the replies indicated that there was as much interest in young people's health and moral welfare as in their educational attainments.
In 1942, Richard Austen Butler (1902-1982) was appointed as the President of the Board of Education and he began work in drafting an Education Bill. The Bill was ready for discussion by December 1943 and in August 1944 received the Royal Assent.
The 1944 Education Act divided education into three sections: primary education, secondary education and further education. Local authorities were obliged to provide secondary education for all young people, in schools which were able to offer suitable 'instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities and aptitudes'. The Act indicated that the school leaving age should be raised to 15 from 1945 (although this did not happen until 1947), and to 16 at a later, unspecified date. Raising the school age from 14 to 15 meant that, across the country, places had to be found for 168,000 extra pupils.
Interpreting the 1944 Act to take into account 'abilities and aptitudes' was left to local authorities and generated considerable debate during the 1950s. However, it was clear that more schools, and 70,000 new and more appropriately qualified teachers were needed before the Act could be implemented.
Nottinghamshire's Education Committee decided that one of their new schools should be built at Bingham. However, because there was insufficient money and building material to do this, the authority was forced to continue with war time attitudes of make-do-and-mend. This meant that sites had to be found which already had some accommodation, and unwanted RAF and army huts were on the list of possibilities.
RAF Syerston identified as a site for a new secondary school
RAF Syerston had been built in December 1939 in fields to the west of Flintham on land which was compulsorily requisitioned from Judge Hildyard who owned Flintham Hall and its estate. Nissen huts had been sited in the woods of the Hall's parkland to provide accommodation for service men until more suitable housing was built. The vacant huts remained on site after the war and the Education Committee considered these huts could accommodate a secondary school until a new school could be purpose-built at Bingham.
Tentative negotiations began in April 1948 between Judge Hildyard, who owned the land, and the Air Ministry which owned the Nissen huts. Although the Judge was prepared to lease 1.5 acres to the Education Committee, nothing happened. The situation was complicated because the Air Ministry had requisitioned the land at the outbreak of the war. Until the land was de-requisitioned, the Judge could not do anything with it. The County Valuer wrote to Judge Hildyard in November 1948 to say that the Air Ministry 'was not prepared to part with the occupation of the hutment buildings standing thereon'. The Ministry seemed intent to hang on to all the land which had been requisitioned, although for what purpose is not clear.
Even though there were site problems, plans for the school continued. By February 1949, the Education Committee was recommended to enter into an agreement with Judge Hildyard 'in respect of 14 acres of land or thereabouts to be used for a Temporary Secondary Modern School at a rental of £5 per annum'. The Air Ministry was prepared to allow the school to occupy the huts at an annual rental of £25 but still would not give up the land.
By May 1949, the school was being referred to as a 'Rural Secondary School'. The Education Committee had asked the Air Ministry for a figure to buy the huts outright and they were offered at £750. At the same time, estimates of approximately £7,500 were received to adapt the Nissen huts. Although the figure may have seemed high, it did include the 'making of a kitchen and dining room'. It was estimated that the cost of fitting out the kitchen would be £204 7s 11d (£204.39). In July 1949, W.Woodsend Ltd's tender of £8,692 was accepted for adapting the huts, including two huts not in the original tender. But still nothing happened. The Air Ministry would not budge and, to make matters worse, other organisations began to lodge objections to the site being used for a school. These included the Divisional Road Engineer who was concerned about access from the main road.
Eventually, the Air Ministry wrote to Judge Hildyard, 14 November 1949, to say that the Ministry was prepared to de-requisition part of the site. They wanted to keep the rest for the time being, but were willing to pay the Judge £12 10s 0d (£12.50) a year in rent. The Judge replied with a string of questions which the Air Ministry was able to answer satisfactorily. Within a week the County Council had drawn up a lease with the Judge so that the work could begin in December preparing the Nissen huts for their new use. The lease was for nine years at a rent of £5 a year. If the Bingham school had not been built by that time, then annual leases would take effect.
Naming the school
In all the paperwork, the new school was referred to as a 'hutted school'. At what point the name 'Robert Thoroton', was given to the school is not known. However, Judge Hildyard was a descendent of Robert Thoroton, a seventeenth-century physician who is better known as Nottinghamshire's first historian, and who published a history of Nottinghamshire in 1677. So the name was probably chosen because of the connection between the site and the family who owned it.
Work began adapting the huts and, in May 1950, the Education Committee agreed to buy an additional hut at a cost of £100 and to take over the site of a transformer station at 5s (25p) per year. The Committee also agreed to allow the installation of hot water, and in July 1950, accepted estimates of £155 'to form a science room, house craft room store and library', and £60 to extend the woodwork room so that space could be found for a lathe. By August the school was ready to open.