As I have said before, I loved Harehills C.P. School, and I think it was my experience there that set me on the road to becoming a teacher and spending my working life dealing with children, those who attended the school, those who worked there and those who sent their children there.
One of Mr. Harold Wilson’s introduction was the ‘Tryers’ badges’. These were red felt shields, with a safety pin at the back. They were awarded, one to each class, for the child that had tried the hardest to achieve, behave or some other worthy cause and were presented in assembly each Friday. Mr. Wilson was being quite progressive for these times as stars were awarded for achievement, charts showing how students were behaving and points for houses were the norm. It was a time of dog-eat-dog. Students were ranked for every subject and streamed by ability, so recognition of non-academic merit was something new. I don’t think Mr. Kelly was too keen on this as he would look at the register and ask who hadn’t received one that term or year and then choose one at random. Maybe he thought the top class didn’t need them to motivate themselves. Anyway, I do know that I was always delighted when I received mine in assembly.
The opposite was corporal punishment and I do remember witnessing children being slippered for some misdemeanour or other. Usually it was a gym shoe, or pump as they were known, sometimes modified by removing almost all the shoe but the sole, and this had the effect of producing a very impressive ‘THWACK!’, without too much discomfort. I do remember being told to attend a teacher’s classroom after lunch for not lining up properly. I don’t know the teacher’s name, but it was one of the lower Year Four classes, to the left of the stage and behind it. There was a very long list and we marched forward, bent over and got an almighty whack with a blackboard ruler, one of the wide ones, and then we marched back to our classes. I can only think he was a young teacher who was struggling with a difficult class and thought discipline and respect came from fear. He was definitely wrong, but they were different times. I also remember one or two being slippered, I don’t think caned, on stage, in front of the school. I can only think this was for something very serious as it had a big impression on me. At Roundhay school, it was very common, but I was never caned. Slippered, yes, and slapped in the face by a teacher, but never caned. I guess my teenage smirk and attitude was too much for some teachers to bear!
Part 1 of the new audio book, Hell Fire. New part each week.
On a lighter note, I do remember in Mr. Kelly’s class making pin hole cameras. I believe that there was to be an eclipse and it was too dangerous to look with the naked eye, so we made boxes with a tracing paper sheet at the back. By putting a small hole at the front you could make a pinhole camera that allowed light to pass onto the sheet of tracing paper and if pointed at the eclipse, you could safely look at the small image on the tracing paper without harming your eyes. On the day of the eclipse, at about two in the afternoon we traipsed out into the playground to point the cameras at the sun and be thoroughly disappointed by the tiny image of the eclipse. I also remember him informing us that he was going to bring in a cow’s eye to dissect the next day, as part of science, and on another day it was a heart. This was far more interesting and we watched as he struggled to cut a slimy large eye with a safety razor blade. It was hard going, but in the end he managed, removed the lens, showed us the vitreous humour and grossed some of the girls, but certainly captured most of the boys. The heart dissection was similarly gory, but we saw valves and learnt about the basic structure.
It was about this time I bought a book that is still available in a very modified form today. 365 Things to Do in Science and Nature, was quite a hefty book, with 365 experiments for eager scientists to carry out. I must add a safety note here. Most of the experiments are now banned for safety concerns as they involved poisonous substances, explosive substances, or things that now are illegal. How to blow birds’ eggs is no longer thought of as an acceptable pastime. Taxidermy is not something a ten year old should be carrying out, particularly on the family pet or the old aunt. Crystal growing is fine, but all the chemicals suggested are now recognized as unsuitable as they are poisonous. Potassium permanganate, copper sulphate and others worked brilliantly, but are not in primary chemistry sets. Neither are magnesium ribbon or phosphorous, for obvious reasons. Mind you, much that we did at high school is no longer permitted. Pouring mercury around the desk is rather frowned on in these P.C. days.
One thing I did enjoy though, was the choir and also the recorders. I remember taking the note home that asked for permission to buy a recorder. I believe they were ten shillings, but I can hardly believe they would be that much. My mum signed the note, provided me the money and Mr. Kelly collected it the next morning and the order went in. Now, the creation of the recorder is clear proof that the devil does exist. No benign God would allow such an instrument of torture to be created. After forty years in schools, I can still wake in the early hours of the morning shuddering with the memory of a class of children playing a recorder. The descant is by far the worst. It reaches a pitch that even dogs can’t hear and makes the scraping of finger nails on a blackboard seem like a wonderful melody. With only a few holes and the instrument supposedly tuned, it is difficult to see how much could go wrong. No one could prepare a teacher for the onslaught of a class of ten year olds blowing recorders like their lives depended on it. I now understand why Mr. Kelly’s hair was white! Eventually we, or at least some of us, improved. A recorder group of the less ham-fisted and ventilatingly challenged, were chosen and we would play for school sometimes in assemblies. Choir was similarly selected. During my time in teaching, any child wishing to join the choir had to be accommodated, but in those days careful selection was made to separate the wheat from the chaff. I wonder how many were emotionally scarred for life as a result. Choir had to perform at some out of hours concerts and we had to wear a white shirt and red tie. I have always loved singing and somehow I slipped through the vetting process. We also did a children’s operetta called something like, ‘Storyland’. Some children had quite big solos and I had one line. I still remember it well. The cast introduced their characters and I had to sing, ‘I’m Aladdin and not a sham’. This was followed by someone singing, ‘I’m old King Cole, Ho! Ho!’ Everyone then came in with the chorus of, ‘Storyland is both wide and fair, everybody can travel there, big folk and little folk think it’s grand. Stor -y-land, Stor-y-land!’ Oh what fun!
Another aspect of schooling in these times was the ‘Eleven Plus’. This selection test was designed to separate those for an academic education from those who would pursue a future technical or practical education. For parents, ‘passing’ the tests and being offered a place at a grammar school was a measure of their success, whereas, I don’t remember being too phased about it. Friday was test practice day and parents were asked to buy, Progress Papers Books in Maths, English and General Knowledge. Every Friday we would do one of each of the tests from the books to prepare us for the ‘Eleven Plus’. I enjoyed doing them and luckily for most in Mr. Kelly’s class they were in a similar position. On the days of the Eleven Plus exam all the fourth year did the test in the hall. Chairs and desks were arranged in rows and we were all facing the front in alphabetical order. When instructed we opened the booklets and worked our way through them. Afterwards we all gathered and discussed how we had done. Because of the streaming, we were unaware of how some children were stressed. When the results came out almost all of our class were picked for grammar school and a handful from the next class down, but the majority of children in the year, were not chosen for a grammar school education and were selected for a range of high schools. I was pleased to be going to Roundhay School as that was where most of my friends were going, but really had no understanding on how that would impact on mine or all the other children’s lives.