I have been following the blog of Jennie Fitzkee for some time now. Jennie is a teacher in America, and she teaches the youngest children during their earliest experiences of school. Her posts are truly inspirational, and I would love to have had a teacher like her.

Reading about her class often makes me reflect on my own time at school in London, so I thought I would write about that today. When I started school in 1957, I was five years old. I remember I didn’t want to go, unlike some children. I didn’t fancy having to do what I was told, or be surrounded by strange kids, and adults who might tell me off. I was an only child of course, and used to a fairly easy life. But I had to go, and my Mum took me along to that first day at Deptford Park School.

(Photo copyright Stephen Craven)

The huge Victorian building was scary enough, and I held on tight to my Mum, shedding lots of tears. But when I was escorted inside by a kindly lady teacher, I soon settled down. Inside the classroom, there were lots of things to do, and I noticed a small wigwam had been set up in the corner. I crawled inside there, and hid for as long as I was allowed to. But school wasn’t so bad, and I didn’t need to be dragged there the next day.

Not long after I started, my parents moved. It was a relatively short distance in the same area of South London, but the school catchment area was different, so I had to change schools. After just getting used to one, I had to start all over again at a new one. Not much past six years old, I was transferred to Alma School.

(Photo copyright Stephen Craven)

It was another old Victorian School, but I was ready this time, and not nearly so frightened. And there was a bonus in that many of my new neighbours went there, as did one of my older cousins. I settled down very quickly in that school. We still had an outside toilet block, (it was 1958) and I was now having school meals at lunchtimes too. We had free milk back then, and had to help to fill the inkwells on the desks, as we still used ancient ‘dipping’ pens, with metal nibs. Most of the teachers were quite old. They didn’t just seem old, but were actually old. Much older than my parents at least. I learned the basics of writing in a joined-up way, and how to write an essay. I was taught numbers, sums, and times tables, learning by rote and repetition.

Discipline was strict. Talking in class was frowned upon, and bad behaviour could be punished with being caned across the hands. We were a little afraid of the teachers, to be honest, and also scared that they would tell our parents if we were naughty. There was still a morning assembly every day, as well as compulsory sports and gymnastics every week. By the time I was almost eleven years old, and ready to go to the school where I would stay until I was seventeen, I had won some prizes for writing, and developed a pretty good relationship with quite a few of the teachers. I also had a group of close friends, and was sad to discover that none of them were moving to the same school as me.

In 1963, I went to Walworth School, an easy walk from where I lived.

Although this had some Victorian buildings too, it also had a modern central block, recently built. As you can see from the photo, it was rather out of place, looking like a 1960s office block, in the middle of the main school.

I have written before about how great that school was. The young teachers with fresh ideas about education, and a wonderful attitude to the children in their charge. The enthusiasm, the urge to inspire the pupils, and to develop young minds. I was lucky that I made that choice.

It is almost fifty years since I was last a schoolboy, but I never forget the time I spent at school, the teachers who taught me, the buildings, and the unfamiliar surroundings that became such a familiar part of my life. If you are at school now, cherish it.

They will be the best days of your life, if you let them.


55 thoughts on “School

  1. All of the schools I spent the most time in are gone. One was in a village built to support a munitions plant in WWII-a temporary structure from the beginning. Was in the process of condemnation when I attended and that was on a very expensive commercial site.
    Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you have such fond memories of your school days Pete. I had overwhelmingly positive experiences with school up until high school. Once there it was a mixed bag, I had some fantastic teachers and was very involved in singing and theater groups and had a bunch of close friends, but somehow attracted the attention of some bullies. Add to that my father’s death when I was a junior, and you’ll probably understand when I say those last four years weren’t the best of my life.

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    1. I did know a few people who found school very difficult during their teens. Some used to skip classes, or pretend to be ill, anything to avoid not having to face insecurities every day. But most settled into one group or another, and made the best of those years from 11-17.
      I was lucky to be in what was known as the ‘top group’, where we did well academically, and also mixed socially with almost everyone (including some of the teachers) too.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely hate primary school but I loved high school. I could walk to school, which gave me some independence and I really enjoyed the environment of being at an all girls’ school. I had lovely friends and some good teachers ad I got involved with lots of interesting extra curricular activities from flower arranging to debating to charity blanket making. I even ended up getting married in my old school hall.

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  4. That made me think….the elementary school I attended Barr School was tore down in the 70’s…..and then I went to an international school in Mallorca for my informative years….I returned to the US and found just how far Americans are behind the rest of the world….some fun thoughts…thanx chuq

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  5. I was the odd man out at my school and compulsory gymnastics sucked because of locker room indecencies and my classmates all shunned me because I was poor and unable to socialize at their level and if the authorities were to take the wrecking ball to my old school, I would want to be present so that I could relieve myself on the rubble and laugh!

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    1. I was never at a boarding school. They were reserved for the Royal Family, and the very rich, in the main. I would have hated it, but they gave us almost 99% of our leaders, politicians, generals, and public figures. The schools also divided the classes, and still exist today of course.
      Not much changes, in the hierarchy of English society. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete. x


    1. I think I had hope in school, Sue. Perhaps even some faith in people, and the future. I lacked the cynicism that came with experience. I believed in a way that I would never believe again, and I had great confidence in my own character and abilities. The working environment shook me up, and made me realise that money talks, and you can be a modern day Dickens, but nobody could care less. Turn up for work, do your job, and don’t make waves.
      The total opposite of my school experience. That’s why, for me at least. they were the best time in my life.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Schools have been a mixed bag for me. Was bored at my infant school (I could already read and many of my class couldn’t), moved three times during primary so didn’t make many friends, loved secondary, but suffered bullying by a group of secondary modern girls (I went to a grammar school) for several years. Loved sport and geography though have never played any sport since leaving. As for my own fairly recent teaching career, that was the biggest career move I ever made! Hated it. More bullying by staff and pupils! I have never cried so much in my entire life as those few years and nothing would entice me back into the classroom.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I might have been OK in Paris, in the 70s. I had gained a scholarship to the Sorbonne, based on anticpating the results of exams that I never actually sat. I had a bit of a ‘meltdown’ in 1969, left school, and didn’t sit my (5) ‘A’ levels. I regretted it for a long time, but once I was in the Ambulance Service, I discovered my ‘niche’ in life. 🙂 x

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        2. It was too many. I was pushed to study them, and the pressure was too much. One of many reasons why I left at Easter that year. I think each teacher had great faith in me, and wanted me to be one of the few to fly the flag for the school, at a time when academic achievements in working class areas were generally quite low.

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          1. Yes five is a lot. I studied 2 + a GCSE in one year before I went to Uni and although I loved studying then, I still had a young family. Looking back I don’t know how I managed. As a 17 year old it must have been a strain.

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  7. They look like my schools, although yours look a few storeys higher. Makes me think of damp parquet flooring, sour milk and the rank smell of stewed meat dinners.
    It’s hard to overstate the importance and influence of early education on the man, or woman, though I look back at mine thinking there was “room for improvement” – and that’s exactly what many teachers chose to write on my annual report book. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I find, as I get older and more curmugeonly, that much of what I disliked in the past looks stellar compared to current times. It gave me an insight that part of what I felt critical about in the past had to do with expectations, something like, “Ah, school’s okay and I love to learn and I appreciate this and that other teacher, but later, in high school/college/somewhere, it’ll be even better, with much better people.” Looking back from 3756586 years on, I see that no, most of it wasn’t better at all, and much is and was drastically worse. I don’t whine so much though, but just avoid what I can of the unpleasant parts and appreciate the good–it’s a stress saver for me!

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    1. Perhaps I was lucky. My schooling from the ages of 11-17 was superb. They took us from little more than working-class drones, and made us aspire to knowledge, experience, and travel. I think I went to school during a ‘Golden Age’ of education, at least in London.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I went to Catholic school in the US from ages 6-17 or 18, and the quality of education was uniformly excellent, with good discipline as well, and it was just late enough not to get hit by the nuns. It sounds like we were both lucky in our quality of education. I still read paperbacks in bed every night and enjoy them.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I hated school until I moved on to college (undergraduate in Missouri/France, and then graduate in Arizona). The result of all this hard work: an M.A. in French Literature—and no job. In my 30’s, I returned to school in order to acquire a degree in mathematics, in hopes of finding a job as an actuary. But my marriage, already sour, took a turn for the worse, and circumstances forced me to abandon classes after several years of adult education at three different institutions of learning (two community colleges, plus a state university). My last course was Linear Algebra. I was only a handful of credits shy of getting my degree… Twelve years after moving to Nevada, I again returned to school. This time, my goal was to become certified as a K-8 teacher. After three years of study, I achieved that goal, and taught for seven years. During that time, I also secured a K-12 endorsement for French, but never had an opportunity to use it. Looking back, the best times I had as a student were in France and Arizona. As for teaching, it was not what I’d hoped it would be. Not even close.

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  10. I feel so nostalgic when something reminds me of school, which is mere five years away. I am not able to fathom how you must be feeling about the leaving the school/growing up part.

    It was really fun to read about schooling in London during 1960s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shame about that bullying. I was lucky, and didn’t get bullied. I was in with a mixed group of friends, including girls, and we got left alone by the notorious school bullies. Some kids suffered though, not just physical stuff, but name-calling, and exclusion from the other kids was rife at one time.
      Cheers, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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