Something to write home about

8th February 2013 at 00:00
A Moray primary is creating an online portrait of its 150-year past

Dorothy went to Keith Primary School in the 1920s and can remember the dress she wore with a little pair of button boots and navy knickers with a pocket for her hankie. She wrote on slates known as "slatties" and her teacher used a wooden cane to point at the blackboard during lessons.

If Morayshire children think 21st-century austerity has made their parents frugal with the heating, then Dorothy had it very much worse 80 or so years ago. "You went to bed with a candle and there were icicles on the ceiling," she says.

Dorothy is one of the former pupils of Keith Primary who contributed to a fascinating online history of their school, which first opened in 1864. The Keith Primary School Memory Blog was set up to mark the closure of the old primary and the opening of a state-of-the-art new school in February 2012. Today's pupils also share memories of their old school and impressions of the new school online.

The result is an intimate portrait created by generations of children, using their words, drawings, photographs, poetry and audio recordings to write a living history of their education in the North East of Scotland. "I think it gave them the opportunity to say goodbye to the old school and to have their name go down in history," headteacher Elizabeth Beattie says.

The blog was the brainchild of primary teacher Claire Griffiths, a teacher who has taught at the school and currently works at Kinloss Primary and Lossiemouth High, where she teaches IT and business studies.

Mrs Griffiths is an experienced teacher of IT for children and for teachers, as part of their continuing professional development. She is also on the committee of CAS Scotland (Computers at Schools), which provides training for teachers and promotes computing schools.

The Keith Primary School Memory Blog she has created gives an insight into children's experiences from the early 20th century through the Second World War and up to the present day. One schoolgirl, Isobel, recalls air raid warnings and gas mask drills. "Miss Bessie would scurry along the corridor announcing whether it was a `yellow' (bombers nearby) or a `red' warning (bombers in the immediate area)," Isobel says.

"Red was the one where all lessons stopped and with our gas masks we filed along the corridor and sat on the floor, then the teacher would sing us jolly songs to keep our spirits up and quell fear."

Another former pupil, Irene, remembers how you could speak the local language, Doric, in the playground, but not in the classroom. "We could not say `aye', we had to say `yes'. We were not allowed to talk about `wifies,' `mannies,' `quines' and `loons'," Irene recalls from school days in the late 1940s.

Former pupils remember the smells and sounds of the old school and have immortalised the personalities of their old teachers such as Miss Bessie, who made them stand in a chalked circle in front of the class for misbehaving.

Children describe their teacher's high heels clicking along the corridors, the sound of gurgling radiators and frozen bottles of milk set beside them to thaw out. They remember Miss Ross back in 1928, who used to beat time on the piano with a ruler as the children sang Psalm 100 - All People That on Earth Do Dwell.

It's an extraordinary series of snapshots of life in a Scottish primary school spanning nearly 100 years and engaging a community in creating their collective history. It's also an evolving history, with today's pupils recording their memories of the old school and sharing experiences of the new school, from the upheaval of the flitting to settling into the brand new building up the road.

And it has been a labour of love for its creator Claire Griffiths, who gave teachers forms they could use with children to write about their memories, and gathered recollections from older former pupils through appeals in the local paper and on visits to care homes.

The blog is well laid out with photographs of all the things children and teachers will miss - the school's old hand bell, the blackboard, an ancient-looking bunch of keys and a nostalgic image of children's coats hanging on pegs along the corridor.

"I thought it would be really interesting to capture the memories of the children in the building before they left, while they were still in the classroom, still experiencing this old school," Mrs Griffiths says, "so that you could say to a child: `What will you miss about being in this classroom?' And they could say: `I'll miss the view' and we could stand up and we could take a photograph of the view. Or: `I'll miss the radiators', so we could take a photograph of the radiators or the sound of the bell and we could record the bell. And that's all on the site.

"And the photo that's right at the top of the site. It's really emotional, it's really funny, but it's just me as a primary school teacher looking down the corridor and all those coats. When they've left they won't be there any more and they will never ever be there. Those coats will be gone and the sound of the children in the corridor and that unique sound that that building had.

"And that's all on that site that we recorded - those sounds of the children and the sounds of the footsteps and the pictures of the corridor and the old school bell," Mrs Griffiths says.

Children such as 10-year-old Carla Stuart have fond memories of the old building and the playground, too. "There were a lot of games spray-painted on the floor, that the rain wouldn't manage to take off. There was hopscotch, snakes and ladders and people used to play lots of times What's the time, Mr Wolf?"

"The new school is better and bigger," says Madison Maver from P6, who has escaped from class after lunchtime to talk about their work on the website. Her 10-year-old classmate Ross Gill says: "The new school is a lot better because the playground is quite a bit bigger."

As Mrs Griffiths points out, any school could embark on a venture like this. "What's stopping anybody in an older school - any school with any kind of heritage doing exactly the same? A school doesn't have to be closing down to do this."

Seventeen miles away in Elgin, Mrs Griffiths was able to build on the work she had done in Keith, developing the format to work with schools as part of a WRVS project. This time, pupils from Elgin High and Lossiemouth High interviewed older Moray residents to find out more about "first jobs and lost skills" to post on the Moray Heritage Memories Project.

This too provides a window into the past, with some of the memories across a huge range of occupations and workplaces collected by S2 Elgin High pupils during an 11-week history elective interviewing older people and visiting local museums.

"It's a partnership project between Moray Council, the WRVS, libraries and schools," Mrs Griffiths says. "The objective of the project is to value those memories and then to find out more information about the places they worked and photographs of where they worked and to make comparisons between working life then and now."

The pupils visited residents in local care homes and also gathered contributions from older people living independently, such as retired teacher and college lecturer Eleanor Webster.

She's in her late seventies and began working in the 1940s, when she left school at 15. "I went as a nurse maid to the infant daughter of the officer in charge of Pinefield Army Camp," says Mrs Webster, who moved to Oxford after she married and studied there before beginning her teaching career.

She has enjoyed meeting the pupils and believes projects such as this bring significant benefits for older people and for pupils who have gone out into their community to visit them. "They seem to respect the older people," she says.

Claire Griffiths presented a seminar on using memory blogs for intergenerational learning at the Bett show at ExCeL London. l



Care-home residents and senior citizens have some amazing stories to tell pupils and volunteers about their past working lives for the "Moray Heritage Memories Project".

One woman talks about meeting Nelson Mandela, another man worked at Spandau Prison where Rudolf Hess was incarcerated until his death in 1987.

Many interviewees were about the same age as the S2 pupils when they left school to start helping out at home or get a job. As Elgin High pupil Aiden Milne, 15, says: "Their life was harder than ours is now, but they just got on with it."

Pupils such as Aiden can choose from a range of creative and curricular electives in line with CfE. "Where this one was different was that they were speaking to people, speaking directly to primary sources and getting evidence from people," Ruth Matheson, history and modern studies teacher, says.

It's this direct contact with real people and their stories that seems to have captured the pupils' interest. "It was really good to compare their life with what we have now - there's a big difference," says Bryony Beck, 14.

Lewis Mackenzie, 14, interviewed Peggy Morrison who was one of the wartime lumberjills, chopping down trees with an axe. "It was a lot better than reading from a book about people or watching a video from people. It was more fun hearing it from themselves."

As well as researching older residents' jobs, pupils identified links to relevant websites that would illuminate the kind of work older people had done and give historical context. They visited their local library and heritage centre to learn more about the history of their hometown.

Lossiemouth High pupils interviewed people at a community Darby and Joan Club and Kinloss Primary children have done artwork using reminiscence boxes from the library and are to meet some of the older residents who are contributing to the project.

The website has more than 200 memories of people's first jobs online and it's hoped it will be developed as an educational tool for further learning in Moray schools.

Photo credit: Fraser BandClaire Griffiths

Original headline: Something to write home about


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