Margaret Wright - Education

I am Margaret Wright and I was born in County Durham and went to Neville`s Cross College in Durham. It was a two-year course then if you wanted to teach primary school children. My first job was at Easington, a coal-mining village on the coast. We had two hundred infant boys in the school, they were lovely little lads. I was there at the time of the great mining disaster in 1952 when 80 men were killed. The next day there were only eight children in school. I stayed there for four years and when Don and I got married we moved to Sheffield. I taught at a big school with a large playground but no garden. I went to school for 2d on the tram. My father-in-law was the head of a primary school in Durham and it so happened that one time we were on holiday when he was still working so I went into his school one afternoon to help out. My father-in-law said to the children, `Be careful how you treat Mrs Wright because she is used to tough city children not paper tigers like you`.

We stayed in Sheffield for six years and had two children. When Angela was seven and Chris was four and a half, I went back to teaching. Don got a post at Stoke Rochford College. We lived in Grantham for a while before moving here to Colsterworth.

I started at Colsterworth School when there was a staffing crisis in 1967. The then head master, Mr Philip Isaac, had a notice put up on the notice board at Stoke Rochford College where Don was working, that he was in desperate need of supply teachers at his school. So I did two or three afternoons a week supply work at Colsterworth. That became two or three days, which became a term, and ended up being thirteen years altogether. I taught the reception class. I can`t recall how many children there were but not many. I shall never forget going in the first afternoon. The children were sitting like ramrods and didn`t make a sound. I said to Mr Isaac, `What`s the matter with them?` They just looked terrified. They were used to a strict discipline which I think I relaxed quite a bit.

We were in the old building down School Lane, now a house, which was built in 1824. It was built as a National School by the Turnor family of Stoke Rochford Hall. The room I was in was a huge room, very high ceiling , very high windows the children could not possibly see out of the windows with wooden desks with lift-up seats, each seating two children, and on the back wall was a row of old desks which contained sand. That was the sand tray and was really the only thing that they had to play with. There were no pictures on the wall. I must say it was a most peculiar room. There was a huge mahogany table belonging to the Rectory, one cupboard and a teacher`s tall desk at which I sat with my feet off the floor. In the desk was the register and not much else. So there were many things to change, which I think I did.

There were two rooms in the old stone building of 1824 and the head had the oldest children in one of them. In the brick extension built in 1895, needed when the school became seriously overcrowded, there was one huge room divided by a big hefty screen.

There were separate playgrounds for the boys and girls. The girls` playground was a long thin area up by the side of the church cemetery. The girls called that `up-toppy`. Never the twain shall meet, the boys did not play with the girls. The toilets were at the top of the playground in a separate building, one of which had a lock and was for the teachers and the other two for the children. They were flush toilets which often got frozen up in the winter and Mr Isaac had to bring in hurricane lamps. It was not easy.

There was a tiny cloakroom in the part of the school which joined the old stone building to the newer brick part. This tiny room had wash basins with cold water and some pegs for coats. It was very primitive really for 1960. The heating in the classroom was by means of a large coke stove, with an enormous fireguard round it; an awful thing which kept going out. The only advantage was that in snowy weather it was festooned with hats, scarves and gloves. Health and Safety would not approve these days. The trouble with the stove was that it was forever going out. I recall Mr Isaac getting furious when the stove went out yet again. It had been lit by the caretaker but had gone out. He sent me off to fetch the lady back to relight it. It might have been easier to relight it ourselves really. But you had to have the stove going because it was such a big room to heat.

The headmaster lived in the house across the yard with no telephone. This was quite difficult at first when he was also a full time teaching head.

Storage space was limited. When we were going to paint it was `cover the desks with newspaper and get out the pots of this and that`. Nothing could be left out because of the lack of space. I`m sounding as though it were very difficult but it was enjoyable just the same. There was not a lot of equipment. When the children got on to pen and ink, they had a small ink pot that sat in a hole in the desk and the ink-monitor would go round filling the pots. It was a dirty business. The pens had a nib and if you crossed your nib your writing was not very good. You had to have a new nib. Miss Lowe and Miss Waller were very good at making things. They boiled up fish glue and stuff like that. I remember them doing a project on Africa and they made magnificent shields with feathers stuck on them. They were very good with their craft work. There was not a lot of anything so they never threw things away. They saved everything that could be used again. I was quite horrified really at some of the things I was expected to do in the name of saving.

There was a very nice garden which the children worked themselves. I remember having a competition for the best garden with flowers and vegetables. Also on the site was a large wooden derelict sort of hut containing flags, an old maypole and other stuff. I don`t know what happened to them. I wish we had saved them. Anyway, the hut disappeared somehow.

The school door was locked at lunch-time. There were only five children who needed to stay for lunch. They came from out-lying farms and brought their own sandwiches. One dinner lady came to look after them. Around 1970 school meals came in. We had to take the children across the road to the old wooden Village Hall no matter what the weather, rain, hail, or shine. I can`t remember what the meals cost but it would only be a matter of pennies.

When I started at Colsterworth School, there were two very experienced teachers who had been at the school for many years, Miss Lowe and Miss Waller. After I had been there a year one of them, Miss Lowe, reached retiring age and as they were very good friends, living together and teaching together, they both decided to retire. So we had one more teacher at first to replace them. That was Mrs Rosemary Betts and then eventually Mrs Brenda Lucas came down. But that was still just the four classrooms. Mr Isaac was a teaching head and took one of the classes.

Then the new school was built in 1971 on Back Lane where the playing field was behind the Police house. That was just absolutely fabulous after the old building we had had to work in. We thought it was bliss. The rooms were lovely, the loos were clean, there was heating, plenty of light, lovely floors and a hall which had wonderful equipment with ropes and climbing bars. The children thought that the hall was the best thing of all. We also had a library, a pottery room and a staff room, which we never had at the old school. There was a new piano which was Mr Isaac`s pride and joy.

We took children from Stainby and Skillington now and their village schools were closed. This meant we were a much bigger school and I think we started off with five classrooms. There was provision for an extra one. The frame work was put up and that did eventually get built. I took the reception class again and at first I was quite worried about the very young children coming from the other villages on the bus. But they took it all in their stride and settled down very happily Children started school at five years of age. It used to be in the term after their fifth birthday, and then it changed to starting at the beginning of the term when they had their fifth birthday. Now it is at the beginning of the year in which their fifth birthday falls. You can have children starting who have only just turned four. The eleven plus was still in force then so they stayed until they had taken the eleven-plus and then they went either to the King`s School or the Kesteven Girls` High School, St Wulfram`s at Grantham, or The Charles Read School at Corby Glen. They were bussed to school. At one time they stayed at Colsterworth School until they were fourteen and then went out to work.

While the school was being built we took the children up for regular inspections. It was like looking at a plan of the school laid out. The fact that the playing field was there, all grassed ready, was wonderful. The only children who had used this playing field previously was the football team. It was such a hike to get up there. You needed two teachers to take the children and you had to carry all the equipment. It was fantastic to have it on the spot.

Mr Isaac did not take a class here. He had a headmaster`s office which was wonderful and a secretary`s office. Gwynneth, his wife, was the secretary at the time. Although he did not teach, he was very generous with his time. Every Friday morning after assembly he took all the children in the hall which gave the teachers some time off the only time off we had during the week. He took the school until ten o`clock. He would play the piano and the children could sing anything they wanted to, it was not just a hymn practice. Some days it sounded a bit more like Fats Waller, there was a song for everybody. There was a lot of music in the school. He was very keen and Rosemary Betts was too. We did musical plays and to celebrate the 150 years of the school we did a pageant going back through the life of the school including historical events. It was wonderful. Each Christmas we had a musical Christmas Nativity play. We couldn`t do anything like that at the old school. With difficulty we did manage a Christmas party. There was no room for the parents to come and watch.Parents did not step into the school in those old days, unless there was a problem. We could not have Open Days, though we did start that at the new school. The parents were as keen on the new school as we were. We had a parents` group which helped to raise money which was necessary. Also they were invited to come in and help with various activities which again was something quite new and very useful.

We seemed to have much more freedom and equipment and were able to expand the timetable. We could move the furniture about easily and there were areas outside where you could take a group for art work or anything you liked. We could say ` Let`s go outside and see what we could find on the field`. It was much more flexible. Lots of new things were coming in anyway. When I started teaching you had to make work cards for the children. There were no booklets with illustrations, no maths books with everything arranged for you. It made things so much easier for the teachers and more interesting for the children too when we got them ready made. Mr Isaac would ask us to look through the catalogues and choose what we liked. I don`t remember how much we actually got out of what we ordered.

I concluded my career as head of Long Bennington School. Altogether I have taught for thirty years. Thirty years seems a long time looking back. I would certainly do the same again. I think it is a lovely job, perhaps not quite so much now with all the interference from the Government and the paper work and so on. But if you like the company of children, there is nothing more rewarding.