Pupils I'll never forget

31st October 2003 at 00:00
John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, remembers the Valentine brothers

My first school was Bow boys' secondary in east London in 1972. Technically I was still a probationer, but such was the teacher shortage then that within a year I was head of art.

Two years later, I moved to the Templars special school, still in Bow and now called Harpley school - in every sense, a special place. It had a great head in Bill Hatchard: a no-nonsense man with an enormous respect for kids.

And these were kids with moderate learning difficulties, kids who had been rejected by their previous schools, sometimes by their own families.

I stayed for 15 years. We had super facilities, great support from professional artists, and close links with the Whitechapel art gallery under Nicholas Serota. More than once the gallery put our kids' work on show.

And that's where the Valentine boys come in - unforgettable, near identical triplets: Horace, Hubert and Howard. West Indian; very big, but unsure of themselves and vulnerable; probably autistic; when they were young, they had been kept indoors. I think the term in those days was "delicate".

Horace was sharp and thoughtful but very shy. Hubert was steady and more outgoing. Howard was prone to outbursts and, consequently, some of the other pupils used to try to wind him up. All in all, though, the attitude of the rest of the pupils was one of affection.

If you gave them a pencil and a large sheet of paper they were transformed.

They drew alike, and they drew big. Their sense of line and space was amazing. Suddenly, from an apparently random line, a perfectly positioned, perfectly conceptualised object would appear. It was a remarkable talent and they all got excellent passes at O-level.

I don't know what happened to them. We got lots of kids to O-level, but keeping them at college, under the pressures they faced, was a devil of a job. I often wonder, though. And I still miss teaching art.

John Bangs trained in the fine arts department at Reading University, and taught art in London from 1972 until he joined the NUT staff in 1989. He still paints and exhibits. He was talking to Michael Duffy

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