Pupils I'll never forget

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Gill Tweed recalls an infants' outing to the pub

I still remember finding three-year-olds Spencer and Gary sauntering hand in hand along the busy Harrow Road.

As a newly qualified teacher I was assigned in 1972 to a nursery class of 36 in a school in Paddington, west London. The head was unsympathetic to early years, NQT mentors were unheard of, cover was a dirty word and the nursery was poorly resourced and ill designed. The children were an endearing bunch of rascals.

Spencer and Gary were enterprising escapologists. Like tiny mice they scampered into the kitchen and scattered grated cheese down the stairs; they infiltrated every other classroom in the school; they pinched empty mini milk bottles to smash down the lavatory pans. They were quicker and more artful than the Artful Dodger. When I alerted the head to potential hazards, he said that if I couldn't cope with 36 three-year-olds I must be incompetent.

One day in my first term, on the umpteenth head count, I discovered again that the class was two short. I asked some juniors to scour the building.

When I noticed that the schoolkeeper had left the main playground door unbolted I rushed out, frantically calling the children's names.

After 15 nightmarish minutes during which I envisaged hideous scenarios, I caught sight of the two boys outside the Fox and Grapes. Before going AWOL they had dipped into the dressing-up box. Tiny Spencer in a pink tutu, with a green felt hat perched rakishly on his head, was nonchalantly swinging a patent leather handbag. Chunky Gary had chosen a floral skirt and cape with a blonde curly wig that framed his beaming black face. Weak with relief I apprehended them and asked where they were going. "Down the pub," came the reply.

With their little hands clasped tightly in mine, I took them back to school and made waves about the lack of security and inadequate staff-pupil ratios. Changes were made.

I am aware that my career and theirs could have been snuffed out then, had fate not favoured us. As it was, I went on to spend another 30 years as a teacher, but I have never forgotten the pint- sized pair who pressed the panic button.

Gill Tweed retired in March 2002 after 15 years at Sheringdale primary school in the London borough of Wandsworth

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