Primary School Learning in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The school I attended from four years old until eleven was a very small primary school in a remote rural village. The year I left to go to the high school there were 28 pupils in the school which gives you an idea how small it was. Because it was such a rural area, some of the children from outlying farms came from a mile or two away. I was mostly happy in school, I liked the teachers and I worked hard. Many years later, in my early forties I trained for a second career as a primary school teacher. The differences between learning in the 1950s and decades later when I was teaching are many! I thought I’d look at some of the subjects, how they were taught and what we learned. I’m not criticising my teachers. That was just the way it was then and we were not at all disadvantaged by the education we received.

History

I have no memory of finding out about any world history in primary school. As a teacher I loved teaching children about Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, The Vikings, World War II and so on. Our history in the 1950s was very Britain centred and consisted of learning about famous people and heroes like Scott of the Antarctic, Florence Nightingale, Nelson etc. There were no opportunities for finding things out for ourselves by looking in history books or encyclopedias. We were told their stories and we copied out passages from text books.

BBC - History - Scott of the Antarctic
Florence Nightingale - Wikipedia
Scott of the Antarctic and Florence Nightingale. Two of the historical figures I remember from primary school lessons.

Maths

I didn’t come across geometry or algebra until high school. Our maths from four to eleven was strictly arithmetic. Times tables were learned off by heart. This was done by the whole class reciting them together first thing every morning. Other tables which were recited were the weights and measures ones such as ‘Twelve inches to a foot, three feet to a yard, one thousand seven hundred and sixty yards to a mile, eight eighty yards to half a mile, four forty yards to a quarter of a mile . . .’ and so on. This was repeated for weight and time. In our final year we had to sit a test called the ‘Eleven-Plus’ to decide on where you went for your secondary education. The maths we did was all geared towards this test. We had to solve written problems, work out fractions and percentages and even learn how to calculate simple and compound interest.

Exercise book
All our school exercise books had these tables on the back cover.

English

My main memories of this subject are of handwriting practice, comprehension exercises, spelling tests, writing ‘compositions’ (stories, we’d say now) and learning very serious, old-fashioned poems off by heart then reciting them. In readiness for the eleven plus we also had to learn proverbs off by heart. ‘All that glitters is not gold’, ‘A stitch in time saves nine’, etc. were learned and we were tested on them.

Music

Like our history lessons, the music we did in school was very traditional and serious. We learned to play the recorder which I loved. The songs we learned and sang – or played on the recorder – were hymns, in both Welsh and English, and songs like ‘Over the Sea to Skye’ and ‘Hearts of Oak’.

Vintage Recorders for sale | eBay
My recorder was exactly like this one. My granddaughter now has it.

Science

The only science-related activity I can recall doing is when, on a fine day in spring and summer, the teachers would sometimes take us all out for what they called a ‘nature ramble’. They pointed out various flowers, trees and birds and we picked flowers and leaves to take back to school. But I mainly remember how lovely it was to be out of school, enjoying the weather and walking along the lanes around the village. There was hardly any traffic around so road safety wasn’t an issue.

Art and Craft

We did sometimes have art sessions but the only medium I remember using was powder paints. I don’t recall any lessons on colour mixing or technique but the painting was fun. I learned about colours at home from those lovely tins of water colours we used to have back then with the names of the colours written under every little square of paint. I loved the wonderful names they had like ultramarine and burnt umber. Oh, the joy of getting a brand new paint tin for Christmas! I also enjoyed the knitting and embroidery lessons in school.

Vintage Paint Set Divers Design 1960s Children's Paint image 5
I never see paint boxes for children now with the names of the colours written under each block – and I have looked!

P.E.

We very rarely did PE although there in a storage area there were a few boxes of coloured bean bags, balls and quoits. We used to look at them longingly! A few years into my time at the school we acquired a new school radio. Once a week one of our two teachers would tune into a BBC programme called Music and Movement. For fifteen minutes we would follow the instructions on the radio and move around the classroom in different ways. Sometimes we were asked to imagine we were different creatures or to stand still and look like a tree. We absolutely loved it!

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How we would have looked when listening to the BBC’s Music and Movement programme on the school radio.

R.E.

Religious Education consisted of singing hymns first thing in the morning while a teacher played the piano and saying prayers . Being a Welsh school we also learned the story of our patron saint, St David. We all went to church and Sunday School and learned more about the stories in the Bible there. We were completely unaware of any of the other faiths in the world such as Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism etc.

Saint David Biography - Childhood, Life Achievements & Timeline
St David, the patron Saint of Wales.

As always, credit to Wikipedia and Google Images. I make every effort to ensure that I do not infringe copyright but if anyone objects to my use of an image please contact me and I will remove it.

Pens and Pencils

When I started school there were pencils which we learned to write with and pens which we were allowed to write with when we were a bit older, maybe seven or eight. Not much has changed. Except for the pens and, to a lesser extent, the pencils.

The only pens provided in my Primary School were the wooden handled dipping pens.

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china inkwells

desks with inkwell holes

The ink for the pens was held in little china inkwells which fitted into holes in the desks. Each morning the ink monitors would make up a big jug of ink using ink powder and water, fill a trayful of inkwells, then place an inkwell into each desk hole. The standard issue school ink was a shade called blue-black.  I hated the dullness of that colour and longed to write with a bright blue ink. Although the top year in our primary school (eleven year olds) were allowed to use their own pens, the headteacher loathed ball-points (biros) calling them ‘new-fangled rubbish’ and banned us from using them. If you were lucky enough to have your own fountain pen, and I got one for my eleventh birthday which saw me all the way through high school, you could use that in school. I would fill mine from a bottle of Quink at home so that I didn’t have to use school blue-black ink. Parker pens were the most desirable but most of us had the more affordable Platignum pens. There were no other types of pen apart from Dipping pens, fountain pens and biros. Fibre tips, toller ball, fine felt-tips, fibre tips all had yet to be invented or at least to become mainstream. I remember when Tempo pens arrived on the scene when I was a student (and still a fountain pen user) and I loved them! To this day I am still not a fan of writing in biro, preferring ink pens or pencil.

parkerquink

There isn’t as much to say about pencils. There is a vast array of colours and styles available now but the fundamental design hasn’t changed. I do remember we children being very excited in school when the teacher acquired a desk mounted pencil sharpener. What a joy to use! We all wanted to be pencil monitor and have the job of sharpening the class’ pencils first thing in the morning. These gadgets still exist, I have seen them in some classrooms in schools I worked in. The design hasn’t changed.

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Then we come to colouring pencils or ‘crayons’. Again, the basic design remains unchanged. One well known brand I remember well is Lakeland. I loved the tins they came in with a Lakeland scene on the lid. Even the smallest tins of their crayons had the scenic image on the tin.

lakelandvintage-1960s-lakeland-pencil-crayon-tin-with

I didn’t know then but the reason they were called Lakeland was because they were manufactured in the Lake District. The Derwent pencil company began in 1832 in Keswick, Cumbria and remained well known for producing the finest pencils in the world. There is even a pencil museum in Keswick.

220px-keswick_pencil_museum_(geograph_5455667)  Keswick’s Pencil Museum.

 

 

As always, images are courtesy of Google Images and Wikipedia. If anyone objects to my use of any picture please contact me so that I can remove it.

 

School Uniform in the 1960s.

There have always been school uniforms and certain features never change – dark colours, ties, blazers, badges etc. One of the main things I remember about wearing a school uniform is that it was a rite of passage. Back in those times, in Britain, state primary schools didn’t normally have uniforms. My first school uniform was my high school one. How exciting it was, during that summer, to buy all the items on the list in readiness for moving into my new school in September! Learning to tie a tie was one of my tasks over the summer holiday before moving up to ‘big school’.

At that time, in my school and probably most others, the first and second year pupils wore gymslips (girls) and short trousers (boys). A gymslip, for those unfamiliar with the term, is not an item of gym wear but a pinafore dress, much like a skirt with a bib top.  In your third year, as you were coming up to 13 years old, girls moved on to skirts and boys to long trousers. With the skirts, gymslips and short trousers we wore long socks. Girls wore short white ankle socks in summer. Under the skirt or gymslip we wore big, thick navy knickers. They were worn over normal white cotton pants so I can only think they were for warmth and maybe decency – in case your skirt blew up? They were perhaps the least favoured item of uniform.

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The hat was an intrinsic part of the uniform. In our school the girls wore berets, the boys caps. Our berets were called tams. The hat had to be worn whenever you were outside the school premises in your uniform, even if it was well outside school hours. If a member of staff or a prefect spotted you in the town without your hat on you were punished. Most girls pushed the limit by clipping the hat so far on to the back of the head that they looked as though they had no hat on – which was also punishable! We had uniform scarves too, and navy belted gaberdine macs.

There was no choice of school bag style – it was a leather satchel. I had the same one all the way through high school – seven years! On PE day the regulation sports bag was a navy duffel bag.

 

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This is a photograph of a group of girls from my school with two teachers showing the shirts, ties, skirts (regulation length – although we used to roll the waistband over when there were no teachers looking to make them more like mini-skirts) and the white ankle socks.

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As an afterthought, here is a photograph of all the staff at my high school in the mid 60s – no uniform except for the fact that those who had degrees taught in black gowns. . . .

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. . .  and one of a class (we called them forms) with their form teacher for that year, who was our Geography master.

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