Don Wright - Education

I am Don Wright and I came to live in Lincolnshire with Margaret my wife in 1960. We came from Sheffield where I was teaching at the King Edward the Seventh School. We lived first in Grantham and came to live in Colsterworth in 1971.

I came to get job at Stoke Rochford Hall. It was called Kesteven Training College in those days. Up to 1960 it was a two-year teacher training course but in 1960 it was increased to three years, taking in more students because of the increasing school population. Consequently more staff was wanted and so I was appointed lecturer in Biology. I started working in what people recognise as the Orangery at Stoke Rochford Hall where it was very hot in the summer and pretty cold in the winter. But was a pleasant place because you had the most delightful view out onto the lakes and the grounds. We moved later to laboratories in the Stable Yard.

Especially working in environmental education it was a delight to work there, refreshing to go in the morning and refreshing to come home in the evening as you got rid of all the stresses driving out of the park on the way home. Students and children coming in could experience the environment at first hand, the real way to learn about plants and animals.

In those days I was interested in film-making and I had only been there for about a year and I found out that the principal had a 16-mm cine camera. So I go involved in film-making and one of the first things I got involved in was the making of a film on teacher training, about the life of a student. It was called `To Whom It May Concern`. It was great fun because it had various scenes around the college and then we took the film crew I was the camera man and the librarian was the commentator to schools and took shots of teaching practice in various places like Spalding and Great Ponton.

When the college closed in 1978 the film disappeared, and various colleagues of mine were wondering where this thing had gone to and it turned up just two years ago actually. One of the former secretaries had it. Sadly I meet many of my former colleagues at funerals these days and in casual conversation it turned out that she had it. I had contact with a person living in Spalding who was part of the Lincolnshire Film Archive. He was able to convert this 16mm film into a video and I have a copy. It is nineteen minutes long and has a commentary.

This year there is a reunion at Stoke Rochford in the summer and I shall be taking it along so that those who turn up, (from 1960-61), can recognise themselves as youngsters. I think they will enjoy it because it is an interesting social commentary as well. If you look at the students, the men are all dressed in jackets and ties and the girls are in skirts, not a pair of slacks in sight, and great politeness is shown. The evolution of how people behaved is fascinating. It is a pleasure to look at it.

Around that time we were celebrating a centenary of Grantham and my colleague, the late Don Marchant and myself decided to put on an exhibition about Sir Isaac Newton and we made a film about the exhibition which is now a film archive. I do know that the National Trust is interested in it for their Science Centre.

In the 1960`s, we were on holiday in Cornwall at the time, we heard, either by the radio or someone sending us the news, that Stoke Rochford had had a fire, and this fire was around the boiler house and causing quite a bit of damage. I rang up the college to ask if we would be opening again in September and should I come back. If they did want me back, I suggested that, as we were on holiday, they would have to pay my expenses. I did not go back! I got some of the information from the Principal and one of the things decided then was to have additional buildings in the park. We had these temporary buildings which stayed there for quite a long time actually. But that is how we coped. We opened in September as usual.

One of the outcomes of this event was that as water from the lake had had to be used, and it is quite a distance as you may know from the lakes to the hall, it was decided to build an emergency water supply much nearer to the hall and to the halls of residence. They did it in the form of a swimming pool and of course that swimming pool is still there today. It has been covered over now, but technically it is the emergency water supply. Whether it was used when they had that dreadful fire in 2005 I don`t know, but again it just demonstrates the need for a supply of water in case of emergency.

Somewhere along the line, I forget when, the powers that be decided that there should be a degree course. All teachers should be graduates. So we embarked upon a Bachelor of Education course. We needed to improve our facilities and resources considerably. By this time I was in charge of biology and I got a new lab which was exclusively for use by the undergraduate students; also a very much enlarged library to cope with the demands of research and work for the students. That was an exciting time really, changing from a three-year course to a four-year course. The degree was awarded by the University of Nottingham. Incidentally, one of the first graduates was Mick Blankley who came along as a mature student. Another early graduate was Jane Ostler who now lives in the village. Some of our students who had qualified under the previous arrangements came back for an extra year and took their degrees. In that year they did not do so much teaching. They were more concerned with the academic background of education. They had a specialist subject too. In my case, they took biology and they had to take it up to a further level. They had to satisfy the examiners in education theory and their specialist subject. They quite enjoyed their time off from teaching. They brought with them good experience and they mixed in with the youngsters. The blend of young and old was quite valuable for both age groups. The mature students had to learn how to study again and the young people realised how focussed a mature student could be once they had settled into studying again. The mature student was very committed.

Just after the war, a special one-year course had been put on in some of the training colleges for unqualified teachers who had worked in schools, some for many years, to gain their teachers` certificate. They were kept quite separate from the two-year students and often referred to rather disparagingly as `emergency trained`. In my day we didn`t use the words `socially-inclusive` or any of that jargon but we mixed young and old to their mutual benefit.

Some people used to say, ` Why is a degree necessary? It is the actual ability to deal with children that counts. Why do they need all this background knowledge?` and so on. So there was some prejudice then about whether three-year and four-year courses were needed. I expect this debate will go on for ages. I supported the value of the longer courses because we had the evidence. It was challenging for lecturers too. We had to rack up our knowledge and understanding so we had to do a fair amount of studying as well. It was very exciting and these were great times.

This was an era of change in society, and students were a reflection of society. The attitude towards teaching was changing, not necessarily the problems they have today but certainly attitudes were not quite the same as when I started there in 1960. Even by the 1970`s it was a question of children coming to school from problem families. Maybe it was single parents and the use of drugs was beginning to be around. At Stoke Rochford we had a tutorial system where a student was allocated a personal tutor so we had a one-to-one situation where you could talk quite confidentially to students about their problems. Occasionally they would refer to their troubled domestic life divorce, separation, or one of the parents disappearing, even drug problems sometimes. This kind of thing tended to increase and that was the difference that you saw from when we first started there in the 1960s. The problems of the students were reflected in the schools, and teachers, particularly head teachers, were talking about this. Although Lincolnshire is mainly rural, we used Peterborough for our teaching practise, and Peterborough was an expanding city. Prior to the overflow, it already had a large immigrant population, Italians. I can`t remember if they came from the brick works south of the city or whether it was from the sugar beet factory. But nevertheless there were a lot of Italian workers who brought along some of their problems as well. So it was mainly in Peterborough that you saw these social changes beginning to show. It didn`t happen so much in the small towns we used, Boston, Grantham, and Spalding.

We developed a summer school for teachers and I got involved quite a bit even to organising them in the latter years. We provided courses for a week for teachers in the county. They could come and relax and get up to date or refresh themselves in a whole range of topics. That was an opportunity to mix with practising teachers and to get their views and comments to see if we were on the right track. So that was an interesting time to have these summer schools, year after year until the late 1970s.

Another event in the 1970s - the Nuffield organisation was providing a lot of money for research into science education at differing levels, sixth form, middle school and primary school. We got involved with Nuffield Junior Science. One of the organisers was a former colleague of mine, a chap called Ron Wastnedge, who later became an HMI ( Her Majesty`s Inspector). We became involved quite a bit, going into primary schools, trying out ideas and such, using schools like Colsterworth and Castle Bytham and Witham-on-the- Hill. There were some very co-operative heads. It was quite amazing sometimes. I was reading a child`s commentary after he had studied some pond water and he described baby snails being born and he wrote, ` The teacher said that snails didn`t have babies, they only laid eggs. But they do have babies because I saw them`, he wrote. This was a very interesting observation because snails do lay eggs but there is one snail that does have babies, the young snails are born alive. It is the snail that goes by the name of Viviparus Viviparus. That demonstrates the value of first-hand work and first-hand observation. When you come across children who show these amazing powers of observation, it is very satisfying. That is just an example of some of the things we did with junior science. The college had a very interesting time being involved with it at a national level.

Going back to my film-making in the 1960s, we decided that we would make some film loops about teaching methods. We had a lot of laboratory animals that we used with children. We had white rats and we had gerbals, and we used them a lot. Students liked to handle them and so did the kids. It was a touchy-feeley aspect of approach to handling animals. The animals were quite tame. There was a calamitous incident one June. I was away at Gibraltar Point with some students on a field course, and I got a note saying that disaster had struck in the laboratory. One of our students had taken some of our white rats into one school and it transpired that one of the parents was ill with Viles` disease which is spread by wild rats` urine on river banks. Fishermen can pick up this disease. When this person heard that the school had rats in the classroom there was a big panic. The head rang to tell the college and in my absence, all the white rats were destroyed. It really arose out of ignorance and somebody automatically put two and two together and made about twenty-four. The white rats are perfectly safe but we lost the whole population of them. These days the use of white rats and even gerbils is severely restricted. It is a loss to young kids. All they have are the furry cats and dogs they have at home to handle and of course they don`t have touchy-feeley animals in the class rooms any more. It is a sad loss.

Even sadder was that in 1975 the then government decided that school populations were declining and therefore fewer teachers would be needed. It followed that less teaching-training was required and so a selection of teacher training colleges around the country would cease to be. We got a notice that 1975 would be the last entry and the college would close in 1978, which it did of course. It was a very sad ending. In a way I suppose it lives on, as the NUT has taken over the college although in their brochure it makes no mention of what used to happen between 1958 and 1978. So twenty years of history at Stoke Rockford is missing from their brochure. Maybe this little commentary here will put that record straight.

I moved to Brant Broughton in 1978 to be the Principal of the Adult Education College. The whole of the staff at Stoke Rochford was made redundant. Some took early retirement and some found other jobs. The worst of all was what happened to the massive library. Students and lecturers were allowed to purchase two books.

The rest was sold off by the yard down to Hay-On-Wye, the huge centre of the second-hand book trade. As I was only allowed two books I said volume one and two comprised one book and then I got another book so I got three in the end. I had to go down to Hay-On-Wye to buy some other books that I wanted. It was amazing to see all these books in the second-hand book shops down there. It was typical of how things were handled in those days. It was all very sad. We did have an annex down at Peterborough and that continued for about a year longer. When that closed I don`t know what happened to their books.

Eaton Hall closed whereas Matlock College stayed open but closed later. The trend was that teacher-training was going to be under the wings of the university. The Clifton College joined up to the university and closed as a separate unit. Eventually almost all the colleges closed and all teacher-training came under the universities. Somehow or other Bishop Grosseteste College survived. Being a Church of England college may have made the difference. It survives today producing good quality teachers.

A lecturer at Stoke Rochford borrowed Colsterworth School Log Books and the school never got them back. Perhaps they were put into the library and someone bought them or they were sent down to Hay-On-Wye. Maybe somebody reading this account knows something of their fate, and the school can get their log books back.

Many employees at Stoke Rochford were residents of Colsterworth over the years. I am the only former lecturer left in the village but several other staff remain. Of course we must remember that Gem Coaches was extensively used for transporting students around, so all in all, teacher training at Stoke Rochford College benefitted Colsterworth`s economy.

Stoke Rochford was a difficult place to move from as it was such a delightful place, and if I could make a few slight changes, I would do it all again. I was very much wedded to adult education and I found the post-eighteen year-old more satisfying than coping with the problems of the adolescent. Primary was not really my forte. I would still go into teaching however.

Since my retirement, I have been heavily involved with Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. As chairman, I travel around the county and region a lot, but I still have involvement with environmental education. This work still underlines the value of first hand experience, which can never be replaced - at any age in my opinion. Discovering at first hand can have a lasting memory.