Without checking any maps or having a quick internet search, could you count how many schools there are in and around the Becontree Estate area? Quite a lot, right? Maybe even too many to name them all. Yet when the Becontree Estate was first built, it became evident fairly quickly that there were not nearly enough schools to account for the number of children moving onto the estate.
Existing schools in the area had previously been built in the pre-war council style, with outside lavatories. One condition of the Becontree Estate was for all properties to all have inside WC’s and bathrooms, demonstrating the new emphasis on ‘homes fit for heroes’. While these houses were being built, the lack of schools in the early years of the Estate became very obvious. One main reason for this is that the London County Council actually had no statutory responsibility for schooling; it was the responsibility of the Essex County Council. In fact, the London County Council continued building houses even when it became evident that there would be inadequate school accommodation. Not only were there fewer schools than required, but the birth rate within Becontree was also twice the national average!
There were so few schools on the Becontree Estate, that the vicar of St Thomas’ church based in the Ilford area of the Estate offered up their church hall for teaching. 200 children ended up attending school there! There were also no schools close by to the children living in the North Dagenham area, resulting in them having to travel further away just to attend school (at a time when transport links were also very poor). Yet soon those schools also became overcrowded, with a school in Becontree Heath increasing by 100 in roll during the 1922/23 school year. Wooden huts were available to rent as temporary schools on reserved school sites, such as Green Lane and Chitty’s Lane, costing £5 for 6 months. It demonstrated the urgent matter for a new permanent school. Some relief eventually came to Dagenham North once Green Lane School opened in 1923, deemed as the most modern and largest elementary school in Essex. However, this was of course just one area of the Becontree Estate.
The London County Council continued building houses. By 1925, Dagenham South was also starting to feel the effects of a growing population with very few schools. Dagenham Village Infants School doubled their numbers in the 1924/25 school year and became completely full, while a couple of schools for older scholars also added many to their roll and became overcrowded. The situation was so inadequate that another temporary school was opened at Dagenham Drill Hall to accommodate 200 pupils. Thomas Arnold opened in 1925, allowing space for another 600 children, and Finnymore School (the current location of Godwin School), opened to accommodate an additional 900 children in 1926/27. The temporary Dagenham Drill Hall School was finally allowed to close. Of course, during this time the population in North Dagenham was still growing. Schools such as Charlcote School, Valence Avenue School (formerly Bonham Road School, now Valence Primary), and Richard Alibon School also helped to relieve the pressure in 1926/27 and met the needs of the new houses in the area, linking the Dagenham north and south portions of the estate together. By the end of 1929, the Dagenham portion of the Estate was complete, with a sufficient number of schools built and each child now able to attend a school within easy access of their home.
By the time the Barking portion of the estate was built, it seemed that the Essex Education Committee were more prepared. Excluding the first few months of residents moving to the Barking section, schools in this area were erected in pace with the growing population. Cambell was the first to open in 1930, with departments for all ages and both genders. Dawson School opened in 1931 to meet the needs of the growing population in Barking South, followed in 1931 by Erkenwald and Roding to accommodate children in Barking North. Monteagle opened in 1932 for the area below the railway, and Dorothy Barley brought the Barking portion together in 1933 as it covered the middle section. Education in the estate was beginning to grow.
There is no denying that education was a prominent issue in the first decade of the Becontree Estate, with some children not attending school until the age of 6 or 7. They were often left to play on the Estate and occupy themselves if they had no school to attend. By 1931, there were provisions for 22,270 children made by Essex Education Committee in over 30 schools. All children living on the Becontree Estate finally had a school that they could easily attend, there was higher employment both within the construction of schools and for teachers, and the Becontree Estate was starting to come together as a place to not only live, but to work and learn too.