Saturday, 14 May 2022

Old style education!

Yesterday along with a range of ‘Boris’ quotes,  Michael Rosen also posted a picture of his primary school class, circa 1955, 36 children all sitting up straight with their arms folded, bright and attentive. It could have been an almost identical photo of my husband’s primary school class from the same decade. 

Here’s what he wrote about it:

“This is Miss Goodall's class in about 1955. The ceiling was made of Weetabix. The beam you can see is steel. And you can see it. It's not encased in plaster board so that everything is  'flush'. The 50s were famous for making everything flush. Apart from our new school. The floor was made of something that was perfect for throwing 'dip pens' into. They stuck there like darts. This classroom is still there. 

I can name over half of the people here (36 of them, actually, including myself). I've only ever met two of them since - at a school reunion in 2004. You can count how may of us there are. As I said, we are the 'bulge'. I think teachers were anxious about that. There must have been over a 100 children in our year. About 75 of them failed their 11-plus in 1957. 

The food at the school was sensational. We sat at tables that had what I thought were magic surfaces: cloth mixed in with some kind of glass, I thought. It was formica. I had never seen formica before. I was a dinner monitor. I wasn't the bell monitor. The bell monitor was whoever sat nearest to the bell. You got to be nearest to the bell if you were 12th. EAch week we changed places according to how well we had done in the weekly tests. I was never 12th. I was often 20th. 21st. 22nd. Never 12th. 

When I visit the school, I ask if I can ring the bell. I go out on the playground and ring it and ring it and ring it. As if I'm 12th.”

Comments showed how many of us from that era had a similar experience of school life. 

“Your timeline mirrors mine. I remember the weekly tests and the changing desks. But only in the next to top class - todays year 5. In our school, the top ten that week sat next to the bottom ten in the tests. I was always around third, my friend Bill was often third from the bottom so we often sat together. I think there were 40 in my class. Only about 10 of us passed the 11+ and went to the grammar school.”

“What a well-behaved looking class! ๐Ÿ‘ My friend and I were mop and bucket monitors - cleaning up after the milk crates from morning break. We obviously knew our place ๐Ÿ˜† - we loved it as it got us out of maths and we took our time and used to sit chatting to our lovely caretaker in his lair in the warm boiler room.”

“Those desks bring back memories. And the dip pens. I was cack handed with them. And do you remember the funny coloured ink they gave us? It wasn't blue and it wasn't black, it came in large containers and was impossible to shift when you got a blot, which you invariably did because the nibs were always split! I still love fountain pens, though.”

Those desks pop up as tables nowadays in trendy cafes, which also use old sewing machine tables, and tastefully mismatched crockery from the era. 

My primary school class didn’t have weekly “positions” from the regular tests, although we had daily spelling and mental arithmetic. We had exams twice year in all and went through a frantic time of working out our average mark and from that our position in the class. Personally I must have undergone some kind of enlightenment in Junior 4, now Year 6, because I suddenly went from jogging along in the middle of the class ranking to being one of the top 4.

I think we all experienced the delight of those dip pens, and the inkwells clogged up with old blotting paper. You had to demonstrate your prowess at writing neatly in pencil before being allowed to use a pen at all. Progressing to secondary school meant moving on to a fountain pen, some of which also leaked ink all over your fingers, and in the top pocket of your school shirt of you were foolish enough to keep it there. 

I wonder what today’s primary school children will reminisce about in 50 or 60 years’ time. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

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