On The Shelf

26th January 1996 at 00:00

I now agree with John Major about something. In his foreword to Colin Brock's history of his old school, Rutlish, he first reminds us that he "did not regard school days as the happiest days of my life" and then goes on to say that hindsight provides "a clearer eye on many happy events and kindnesses". Oh yes! Thus it has been for me, and no doubt for many others who even in middle age suddenly remember the influence of people and events of all those years ago.

Each volume of school history has a limited audience, and yet the genre makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the times through which we and our forebears have lived. Mr Brock's well-researched book is very welcome on these terms, even if it does contain a photograph of the most fearsome looking PE teacher (one Miles Davey) I have ever seen. Rutlish School, The First Hundred Years is available from the school, Watery Lane, Merton Park, London. SW20 9AD. Pounds 15 flexicover, Pounds 25 hardback, plus Pounds 3 postage.

Another approach to the writing of school history is demonstrated in On Top of the World by "the Pattemore Penpushers", a group of retired people led by Gladys Pattemore and based around Eye in Suffolk. Working with Year 8 pupils at Stradbroke High School, they have produced between them a lively and valuable account of school memories - Mike Simmons, for example, tells of being a milk monitor in the Fifties: "I was very proud of my trolley, I used to oil the wheels to make it run more smoothly." I recommend this book not only for its warm-hearted content, but because it may inspire other teachers to build on their community links in a similar way. Pounds 3 from Stradbroke High School, Wilby Road, Stradbroke, Eye, Suffolk IP21 5JN.

Yet another way of doing it is demonstrated by The Northfield Log by James A. Hutt (Pounds 5.95, Bridge Publications, 2 Bridge Street, Penistone, Sheffield S30 6AJ). Northfield School, in South Kirkby, near Pontefract in the old West Riding of Yorkshire, exemplifies so much that has happened in education this century, including the move to, and from, middle schools. As a former West Riding pupil myself, I enjoyed this book very much, and particularly appreciated how much it added to my knowledge of that great educator Alec Clegg, CEO of the West Riding from 1942 to 1974 - one of a breed whose like we will surely never see again.

One of my own school memories is of being medically examined. We would stand in a queue and one-by-one our chests would be sounded, our teeth tapped and our eyes tested, usually by a kindly doctor and a starchy nurse who made up a CID-style "nice and nasty" team."

The Health of the Schoolchild by Bernard Harris (Open University Press, Pounds 16.99) told me that this all started in 1908, and emphasises just how important was the work of school medical officers, particularly in the days before the NHS, and then again during the Fifties and Sixties when the battles against polio and tuberculosis were at their height.

It was my infant class teacher who suspected, and the school doctor who confirmed, that I was short-sighted. Wearing strong glasses at school makes life difficult, and I have, therefore, just the beginning of an inkling of the challenge that classroom work poses for children with true visual impairment. A pamphlet from the National Association for Special Educational Needs - Visual Impairment by Heather L. Mason (Pounds 6, less 10 per cent for NASEN members, NASEN Enterprises, 4 Amber Business Village,Amber Close, Tamworth. B77 4RP) is one of a series that supports the special needs code of practice and gives good information for teachers.

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