Relics from a bygone age

7th June 2013 at 01:00

There is much discussion at the moment about the history curriculum in England. I think it's an important subject, although I didn't enjoy it at school because it was taught by a tedious gentleman who made it as dull as ditchwater. And the subject didn't turn me on at teacher training college either. The lecturer even managed to put himself to sleep on hot afternoons.

But as a teacher I found the subject fascinating, perhaps because I was making up for what I hadn't been taught. I now find myself reading accounts of the previous century with immense pleasure, probably because I lived through a chunk of it.

As an ageing headteacher, I was often used as a historical resource. The students listened, astonished, when I told them that my childhood home had no electricity. I explained how my father carried buckets of hot water to the bath from the gas-fired copper downstairs, and in midwinter he often had to pour hot water over the frozen pipes.

My passion for history found an outlet in our school museum. I started this shortly after I became a headteacher and we were given all sorts of interesting artefacts by parents and visitors to the school.

Among our collection we had a bus conductor's rack complete with tickets; magazines from the 1950s; a huge early video camera; a gas mask; an ancient typewriter; Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on a dozen 78rpm records; a 16mm movie camera; an early mobile phone and a Lott's chemistry set that came with a Bunsen burner. Health and safety officials would have had a field day.

But, for me, the most fascinating items were the ones in everyday use during my first years as a headteacher. The Digitor, for example. This was a clock-shaped early computer, the size of a dinner plate. It cost #163;170 - a fortune at the time - and by pushing a button the user was presented with 10 sums. Depending on whether a correct answer was given, a happy or sad face appeared. That's all it did, but the children thought it was magical and the Digitor's successors, the ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro, were considered technological miracles.

Musical reproduction technology has changed greatly, and the children had difficulty in working out how our Dansette record player worked. But they were always amused by my playing an early Elvis 78 and explaining how horrified my mother was when she first heard it. When the children showed me the amazing animated movies they produced so quickly on their class computers, I showed them my four-minute, award-winning animated film, made with a Super 8mm camera, which took me almost a year to finish.

My museum wasn't solely for children, though. Inspectors smiled wryly when they saw the enormous original national curriculum documents and binders. The curriculum had to be changed within months because there wasn't time in a school year to teach everything in it.

Mike Kent is a retired headteacher of a school for children aged 4-11 in England. Email:

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