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From an interview with Rae Drage on 18th May 2010, transcribed by Jacky Lawrence
Newton Road Infant School - Ruth Webster
Teacher 1957 - 1986

Newton Road School

Newton Road School in 1955
When I went in the beginning of the summer term in 1957 the school was quite different from what it was when I left in 1986. Things that I specially remember was that I was in reception class and one of the things that you could not miss was an afternoon rest. From half past one until two all reception children had a small metal bed which they unfolded and had their rest. Over them was a grey blanket to keep them warm because in those days we had an open fire in the reception room which was of course guarded but, never the less, that was one of the chief ways of heating the room.

Another thing that I remember about reception class was that they had to join in all the activities and one that was quite difficult at times was when they used to have to walk to Portland Road every day for school dinners. For 4½ and 5 year olds in very bad weather this could be quite difficult, but it’s what happened and it didn’t change until roughly 1974 when we started to have school meals in the school hall.Then eventually of course that changed to children bringing their own packed lunches so that there was school meals and packed lunches all going on at the same time in the hall. Another of my early memories was that we only had outdoor toilets and the children had to cross the school yard to the toilets, whatever the weather, and that too could be quite difficult.

Class sizes were very big, some of them in the 40s and the curriculum was quite formal. It was at the time when all the children learnt tables and did spellings. A number of them had to sit in dual desks in rows with a teacher’s desk at the front and this didn’t change until roughly the late '60s and early '70s when all the dual desks were taken away and we had tables.

Something else that always happened that would surprise people today I guess was that we always celebrated Commonwealth Day. On Commonwealth Day we had a special assembly when the children came into the hall, stood in rows, the Union Jack and photograph of the Queen was put up at the front and the children used to walk past and salute the flag; many of them having quite a good grin on their faces as they did so.

Talking of assemblies, every day except Friday we would have formal assemblies. The children came into the hall about 9 o’clock, after the register had been taken in their own classroom, and they would stand in rows. Friday was the day when we practised the hymns for the coming week but the assembly always took the same pattern at that time. It would begin with a hymn, followed by the Lord’s Prayer, very occasionally a short reading from the New Testament and a hymn to close. Then everybody marched out and went back to their classrooms and the day proper began. I would say assemblies began to change a little in the middle and late '60s because then we had an RE syllabus which we had to follow.
Infant School staff in 1966

People like Ronald Goldman were writing books about readiness for religion and this began to show itself in the syllabus that we had to follow for RE. I can remember that Northamptonshire County changed their syllabus about three times in ten years because the idea of schools and religious education was changing so much. Something else that was changing was the way they came in to assemblies. They used to come and sit on the floor now, they didn’t have to stand in rows and it was much less formal. Probably music to come into the hall with and children taking part and sometimes reading or talking with a member of staff about something interesting that had been happening to them. On a Monday they’d perhaps tell us about something they’d been doing at the weekend.

Now things that happened out of school. I can remember the first time we had activities at Hayden Road sports’ field and in the summer we’d have races skipping and running, quite competitive really for the 7 year olds. Reception wouldn’t be quite so competitive and it used to make a really lovely day. Then, as things developed, we had other out of school activities. We started hiring a coach and taking the children out to places like Woburn Abbey and Safari Park and Stevington Windmill. The juniors of course had much more exciting things happening, going off for weekends but we didn’t do that in the infants school but we really enjoyed our days out. We greatly appreciated the help of parents who used to come to help with the children during the day because we always took packed lunches and had them sitting out.

That reminds me of something else that developed during the '70s and early '80s. Parents became much more active in what was going on in the school and we developed a parent-school association and they were really very helpful times because the parents would come and help with money raising events so that we could have a few extras. It was in the days before computers and they would help to provide extra things that the children could have in school. A few of them also started coming into the classrooms, to hear readers and to take part in things that the early years were doing. The reception years with things like water play, sand play and painting, the parents were really most helpful in this sort of way.

Reception class 1981
We were also having different people on the school governers. We had one very talented gentleman, Don Aspinall, who during the summer holiday, I think this was in the early 80s, spent a terrific amount of time helping to make the playground a more interesting place. He painted pictures of children’s fairy stories, Hansel & Gretel, The Three Bears and Snow White on the walls of the outdoor toilets to make the playground a bit more interesting. Then, eventually, we had a school garden over in the corner next to what used to be the Co-op butchers and supermarket with plants the children could plant themselves and watch them growing.

The school started changing inside, modernising, an extension being built off the hall so that we could have indoor toilets. I remember we had much lower ceilings so that we could heat the premises in a much more environmentally way which made quite a difference especially to winter months.

I haven’t said anything about the school balcony have I. This used to be a great enjoyment during my early years when we were putting on school entertainment in the hall and some of the children used to love to sit up in the balcony to watch what was going on. I don’t think they were very happy when eventually, because we needed more space in the school ,the balcony was boarded up so you could no longer see it when you were standing in the hall and it became the storage area.

Because the classes were so big and we were overflowing and needed extra space, the room upstairs, which in the old days I believe was called the board room, had to become a classroom. Obviously you couldn’t have such a big class there but I can remember that for at least ten, if not fifteen, years it became an upstairs classroom. Eventually numbers decreased. Mainly because South End had new school in Wymington Road and all the Newton Road children who lived at the top of Newton Road and along Avenue Road left to go to there. That did make quite a difference, we no longer needed to have an upstair classroom and it eventually became the staff room. The classes were becoming smaller, not greatly so, but in the top '30s which made quite a difference.

The late '60s and through the '70s teaching for young children became much more informal and you didn’t do class lessons as much but you would do group sessions with children doing different things in different parts of the classroom. Some would be working on number activities and some on writing, writing their news or having a reading group. This was quite a big development and made quite a difference to the way that teachers had to organise their day.

Something else that was coming in too, during the '80s, was that we started having pupil profiles where every child’s work was recorded throughout their time in the school. When they left the individual profiles went over into the junior school so that a written record was made of every child’s work and progress during the time they were at the school.

So there were great changes coming, I retired and when I returned to the school in the late 1990s to see the changes that had been made in the school building, a great deal of money was spent modernising the school. The junior and infant school became one school under one headteacher, which was a great change ,but I think someone else will have to talk about that because that was really a big development.
A modern classroom

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