Web Page No 2294
5th September 2016
Top Picture: A typical sand tray except that we did not have coloured sand!
Second Picture: Nitty Norah, the bug explorer
Third Picture: Typical school uniform
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 1950s!
At that time 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 of our mothers did not work outside the home, so for many children this was also the first time they had been apart from mummy. Consequently the first day of school was, for some, a very tearful event for both child and parent!
On my first day at school I formed a friendship with someone that has lasted, with a few breaks, over 65 years. That friendship is with Keith Conlon and despite all odds we both remember going off to Solent Road Infants School which was housed in the Methodist Church Hall in Station Road, on our trikes, which our mothers had to haul to and from the school twice a day as we both came home to lunch.
Having got over the first pangs of separation, school life soon fell into a predictable routine. School milk was part of this routine, uniformly detested by all, especially in the summer when it was warm. In Post War Britain school milk, a third of a pint per child, was introduced in schools to supplement the child’s diet. In 1971 school milk for the over-sevens was withdrawn by Margaret Thatcher, then Secretary of State for Education – for this she was dubbed 'Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher' in the press.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 winter of 1962-3, or the big freeze of 1963 as it became known, 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, and then we were forced to consume watery, lukewarm milk as – “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 as far as I remember the wireless played no part in our education then or throughout the whole of our school life.
There was no ‘gym kit’ in primary schools 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).
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 also the polio vaccine, given at school to every child on a sugar lump. Measles, German Measles and Mumps were not vaccinated against; most children contracted these diseases in childhood. German Measles, 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 all also catch the disease.
Class sizes large normally between 35 and 40 children per class. There were no classroom assistants, just the class teacher and so discipline was 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.
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 would also be learnt by heart, but this wa normally in the Junior School. Neat hand writing was seen as very important and practiced daily, it never worked my handwriting still looks the product of a demented spider! Nature study was popular and often the only science taught with children being asked to bring in things such as leaves and seeds for the teacher to identify and to be put on the nature table.
One of the things that I remember from infant school days involved a friend, Edward (Bungy) Wells. One day in the first week we were all sat down and we were each given a small sand tray and told to draw a picture in the sand with our fingers. We all set to with a will, all except Bungy who just sat their staring into space but made no design in his sand tray. When the teacher told him that he would have to draw something he reluctantly placed his finger in the sand and dragged it down leaving just one vertical line. When the teacher asked what it was a picture of he answered, “A walking stick!” In case you are wondering what happened to him in later life, he has just retired as a well-respected solicitor in the West Country.