Formidable women who inspired Estelle

The Education Secretary pays affectionate tribute to her teachers in a new history of her school. Biddy Passmore reports

"Do you want to change your mind? It's a woman's privilege but it is not admirable."

That is how Miss Garner would invite a girl to check if she had given the right answer to a question in her maths class during the years of the Second World War.

This formidable, witty teacher is among many remembered with affection by former pupils of Whalley Range high in Manchester, alma mater of Estelle Morris, in a book launched today.

"We were taught by elderly (at least 45) spinsters on the staff," recalls another pupil from the Miss Garner era. "We laughed at their old-fashioned hair styles, and the corset bones visible under their tweed skirts, but we respected them, and were grateful when they dragged us through the School Certificate by the scruffs of our well-scrubbed necks."

Whalley Range teachers just about managed to drag Ms Morris through the successor to School Certificate in the late 1960s. She scraped through seven O-levels but came to grief at A-level, failing English and French. (She has blamed failure to adjust from primary to what was then a grammar school.) In a foreword, the Education Secretary says carefully: "Not only does it bring back memories but it gives a clear insight of the place of our school over almost a century."

She singles out Miss Timpson, former head of science and senior sixth-form tutor, as her inspiration. "Even when things did not go well she still believed in me," says Ms Morris. "She always told me that I could still make it. She told me not to be afraid to go after something I really wanted."

An earlier heroine, credited with passing her love of literature to many, was the large Miss Handford. A pupil from 1942 recalls: "H is for Handford though robust is she She trips like a fairy down to 3B."

Whalley Range girls fought for women's suffrage, were interned in the First World War evacuated in the second, and customised their uniforms in the swinging Sixties. The book draws on archives going back to the school's foundation in 1891.

As Ms Morris remarks: "There are many of us who have reasons to be thankful to those who have taught and guided pupils over the decades."

'Looking Back With Love, History of Whalley Range High School 1891-1975', pound;6 including postage. Ring Clare Debenham on 0161 861 9727

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