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Monday, 13 April 2009

Juggling Children

The founding Head Teacher of the school was Joe Witherinqton, a red faced Yorkshire man who hid a warm spirit behind a stern, uncompromising exterior. He surrounded himself with a praetorian guard of the academic - and Northerners. This was at one time a striking feature of the school. When you consider it was a Welsh school, the amount of Northern accents about the place was quite frankly bizarre: a bit like a school in Boston staffed by Texans, I guess.

Also bizarre was the record of work. Each member of staff had a large green diary in which you had to write the objective and method of each lesson in a two inch square. Every week these were collected by Joe and signed, sometimes with a comment.

Neil Campbell, not a northerner, more excitable, taught science in a wooden cabin where the less able children had their science lessons. One week – Friday, Period 3 – he wrote ‘Einstein’s Theory of Relativity’. On Monday he got it back signed. The following Friday he wrote ‘Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – Practical Demonstration.’ This was also signed, which shows that Joe didn’t always read what he signed, or like all good teachers tolerated the eccentric.

And he did tolerate the eccentric. There was Mike McGowan who dressed as an Arab sheik, and who later had the good sense to leave teaching for the more fulfilling job of driving trucks, JB Blisset who looked like an anaemic Charles 1st and spoke in a worry-some bleat. Another man who only spoke one word in his lessons: Quiet…Quiet…Quiet. It was said in the strained, desperate tone of a Dalek who couldn’t pronounce exterminate.

And despite all this Joe Witherinqton ran an ideologically contentious but well managed school. It was a true comprehensive. Being the only Catholic school for miles it attracted every kind of child from every kind of family, and these Joe rigorously streamed. The academic, irrespective of money or class enjoyed a ‘private school’ education that allowed many to escape their roots. As a result the middle class and those wealthy enough to send their children to Private School but preferred not to waste their money, sent their children to St. Joes. The Middle streams did okay too.

The casualties were the non academic who – even with the best of teachers – saw themselves as the bottom of the heap, and behaved accordingly.

Problem was, when the system changed to loose banding and mixed ability a lot of the highly academic went elsewhere. Juggling is difficult. Juggling children, interesting - especially when they're not your own - but hard to keep in the air for any length of time.

Parents always put their own children first, and schools, like oil tankers, take some time to turn around.

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