Ruth Harper, (Parent) 1980s

St. Kenelm's C.E. Primary School, Romsley
Centenary Celebrations
1915 – 2015

Memories of Mrs Ruth Harper - Parent - 1980s


History repeated itself when our daughter, Claire, started at St. Kenelm's in September 1982 at the age of five. I had left the school exactly twenty years earlier to go onto secondary education in Stourbridge. From the moment she started school, Claire loved every minute of her time there. It was still the first school era of three classes with headteacher, Mr Ben Ruddick; deputy head and infants' teacher, Mrs Irene Hutchinson and Mrs Edna Powell, who taught the lower junior class.

Education seemed to be full of fun if the children's memories of that time are to be believed. Everything stopped when the sun came out so the entire class could go outside and explore what was happening in the pond. Mrs Powell would drop everything at a whim, or so it seemed, to take the children into the woods and afternoons in every class were spent on craft activities or playing with toys....or so we parents are led to believe. According to the children proper work was secondary but this cannot possibly be true as so many have gone on to achieve university degrees and wonderfully successful careers.
Whatever the education policy was in those days it seemed to work for most (although sadly not all!) of the children. The 3Rs were a priority and were taught daily with emphasis on reading, spelling and tables – the vital roots for learning. This was at a time when it was fashionable for teachers to ignore such "boring activities" and introduce child-centred learning (Would you like to do number work or painting this morning?!!!), team teaching, vertical grouping (deliberate choice to have different aged children in one class), open plan teaching (no walls between classrooms) and many other crazy, soon to be forgotten initiatives. I know – I trained under the instigators of such educational philosophies. Fortunately for us parents the teachers at St. Kenelm's saw what was important in the development of children and stuck to their principles.

Claire attended the playgroup (later to be known as the Pre-School Nursery) which by that time occupied the vacant downstairs' classroom next to the Reception class – ideal! Not ideal for Claire, however, as she point blank refused to be left there on her first morning and I point blank refused to stay with her. I was a teacher after all and I knew best, naturally. An impasse was reached and resulted in my removing her from playgroup altogether. She actually, therefore, was almost school age when we came to a suitable arrangement and she agreed to give it a go. Naturally by then she was that bit older and she loved it and so was heartbroken after one term when we explained that she had to move onto "Big School".

Once she started in Mrs Hutchinson's class, however, she was hooked and loved school from that day on. She was heartbroken again when she left St. Kenelm's to go to Hagley Middle School (loved it there too), heartbroken when it was time to move on to Haybridge ("Best school ever – I shall come back and teach Science there!") and even more heartbroken when she left there to go onto university in Birmingham ("I am going to become a lecturer here – it's brilliant!)

Our son, David, followed his sister a couple of years later into playgroup but he loved it from Day One. It was just playing after all! However, when it came time to start school it was a different story altogether. He had to be prised from my arms by Mr Ruddick and I walked back through the playground to the sound of his screams. He soon settled down but never really became a lover of school from then onwards. It was just something to be tolerated until you could get outside and play sport. David was at St. Kenelm's just long enough to witness Mr Ruddick's retirement in 1988 and have one year under Mrs Maureen Burns before he too had to leave to go to Middle School at the age of nine. He enjoyed his year with Mrs Burns very much as he reckoned that all they did in the afternoons was to play. Somehow I don't quite believe him as he did manage to get to university (albeit under sufferance until he got there and found that it wasn't as bad as he imagined) and to acquire a good degree.

During this period I was persuaded to support my musician friend, Margaret Pickford, in her teaching of recorders to groups of the eldest children. On occasion I used to join in with the playing and always was amazed at what a dreadful row was forthcoming from our little group. So bad was it, that I was forced to stop playing in order to identify the culprit and put them straight. Almost immediately the performance seemed to pick up. It happened every time and so somehow I never did manage to find which child it was who was struggling. Most strange!

So much for a little village school in the 1980s with mixed-age classes, three somewhat old-fashioned teachers and few resources (one television for the whole school and definitely not a computer in sight!) No National Curriculum, no SATs, no Ofsteds and no written assessment of their children's progress for parents other than very basic reports at the end of each year. How on earth did the children manage to survive and progress, I wonder?

We can never thank the then staff (teaching and non-teaching) of St. Kenelm's enough for the part they played in our children's development and education.

PS. Having shown these memories to my daughter, Claire, she informs me that in fact these was a very basic computer in school in the late 1980s on which she remembers playing games but not for any form of academic activities. She also states that there was a certain amount of formal testing which required sitting at desks in the school hall. These may have been CAT and Richmond tests and could have been marked externally but neither of us are totally sure. Apologies for not being better informed.

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