Web Page 2092
28th September 2014
Those Early Days at School.
We all have strong memories of our first few days at primary school, although nowadays most children tend to go to pre-school, so it is not such a shock to the system for them as it was for the children of the 1950’s and 60’s!
When we started school there were no state pre-schools or nurseries, so for most children just turning 5 years old, their first day at school was the first time they had been on their own, away from home. Most mothers did not work outside the home, so for many of us this was also the first time they had been apart from their mothers. Consequently the first day of infant school was a very tearful event for both child and parent! My first day was in the Solent Road Annex in a wooden hall behind the Methodist Church in Station Road. In fact Keith Conlon and I both started school together.
Having got over the first pangs of separation, school life soon fell into a predictable routine. School milk was part of this routine. In Post War Britain school milk, a third of a pint per child per day, was introduced in schools to supplement the child’s diet as food shortages were still rife. In 1971 school milk for the over-sevens was withdrawn by Margaret Thatcher, then Secretary of State for Education – for this she was dubbed 'Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher' in the press. During the harsh winters of the late 1950’s it was a common sight to see the small crates of milk outside the school gates with the shiny bottle tops standing proud above the bottles on a column of frozen milk. Of course the only way to defrost the school milk was to place it by the radiator, or in some classrooms round the coke stove. This had the effect that we were then forced to consume watery, lukewarm milk. And forced we were – “milk is good for you child, you WILL drink it all up!”
The School Broadcasting Council for the United Kingdom had been set up in 1947 and the wireless or radio played a great part in the education of school children in the 1960’s but I cannot ever recall listening to a radio programme during any lesson in Infant, Primary or Senior school. For some schools ‘Music and Movement’ was one such program and all over the country in school halls, children could be found leaping and stretching to the commands on the radio, but not us. We had PE or PT lessons and in the lower schools there was no such thing as ‘gym kit’ so the children just removed their outer clothes and did P.E. in their vests, knickers or underpants and bare feet or plimsoles (usually purchased from Woolworths).
Another such program was ‘Singing Together’ where the class would gather to sing traditional folk songs and sea shanties such as ‘Oh soldier, soldier, won’t you marry me’, ‘A-Roving’ (see below), ‘Michael Finnegan’, ‘The Raggle-Taggle Gypsies’ and ‘Oh No John’. Again this was not something we experienced although we did have singing lessons and learnt most of the songs. However, when as an adult you examine the content and meaning of some of these old folk songs, you ask yourself whether they were indeed suitable for the under 11s is another question!
Visits from the school nurse would break up the daily routine. The nit nurse used to make regular visits to check for headlice and all the children in each class would line up to be examined in turn, their hair being combed carefully with a nit comb to see if there was any infestation. There were also routine eye and hearing tests, and visits from the school dentist.
There was the polio vaccine, given at school to every child on a sugar lump but before this could be administered mother had to be present. Measles, German Measles and Mumps were not vaccinated against; most children contracted these diseases in childhood and it was common for healthy children to be taken to play with infected ones so their immune systems could be built up. German Measles, or Rubella, can affect unborn babies in the womb if contracted in pregnancy and so if a girl in the class caught German Measles, it was not uncommon for her mother to throw a tea party for the rest of the girls so they could also catch the disease.
Class sizes in the 1950s and early 1960s were large, often between 30 and 40 children to a class, as these were the ‘baby boomers’, us children born after the Second World War. The teachers had to cope on their own as there were no classroom assistants and so discipline was usually strict. It was quite common for a disruptive child to be rapped over the knuckles, on the buttocks or on the palm of the hand with a ruler or for more serious misdemeanours the cane came out, but only for the boys.
When we went to school it was very much ‘talk and chalk’ education, with the teacher at the front of the class and the children sitting at desks facing the board. Reading, writing and arithmetic (the Three ‘R’s) were very important, as was learning by rote. Times tables were learnt by chanting aloud in class and poetry such as Wordworths’ I wandered lonely as a cloud’ would be learnt by heart for homework. Neat hand writing was seen as very important and practised daily ( I never got the hang of that!)
Nature study was popular and often the only science taught at primary school with the children being asked to bring in things such as leaves and seeds for the teacher to identify and then placed on the Nature Table and later on these items were used in art and craft work.
Of course this was also the age of the 11-plus. We would practise previous papers in school in order to prepare for these tests, which included writing an essay, a maths paper and other papers. There was even a non-verbal reasoning paper which was designed to test a child’s IQ with a puzzles and problem-solving questions. This was always – and still so today - a contentious method of school selection, the 11 plus system did facilitate social mobility, as places at the grammar schools and other senior schools in the 1960s were allocated according to the results of these tests, and not on ability to pay.
It all seems a very long time ago as it is almost 65 years ago. I really am getting old!!!
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News and Views:
On this Day 28th September 1960-1965
On 28/09/1960 the number one single was Tell Laura I Love Her - Ricky Valance and the number one album was Down Drury Lane to Memory Lane - A Hundred and One Strings. The top rated TV show was The Army Game (Granada) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 28/09/1961 the number one single was Johnny Remember Me - John Leyton and the number one album was The Shadows - Shadows. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 28/09/1962 the number one single was She's Not You - Elvis Presley and the number one album was Best of Ball Barber & Bilk. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 28/09/1963 the number one single was She Loves You - The Beatles and the number one album was Please Please Me - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 28/09/1964 the number one single was I'm Into Something Good - Herman's Hermits and the number one album was A Hard Day's Night - Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 28/09/1965 the number one single was Tears - Ken Dodd and the number one album was Help - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.The big news story of the day was LPs cost 12/6d.