Keeping on

Front façade of North Primary School

In a recent story we looked at some of the times when education at North School had been disrupted for public health reasons.  This time we thought we’d have look at other interruptions to school life and particularly times when, despite difficult circumstances, schooling has kept going.

The decision to close school is not taken lightly and when school can continue it does, but there have been a few closures over the years for very practical reasons.  A worn-out heating system closed the school for almost a week in 1929 when classroom temperatures were around 7 degrees Celsius. “It is quite impossible to have children in rooms like this” said Captain Twyman in the school logbook on 14 January.

Original plaque for heating system

Bad weather has made it difficult to keep school open, not least because of the difficulties for staff and children to travel to and from school safely. On 31st January 2003 Mr Garnett wrote in the log book: “We are one of the few schools open today. Snow preventing/making travel very difficult. The staff should be commended for their dedication – 65 children absent.”  In the winter of 2009-2010 school was closed both before and after the Christmas holidays due the poor weather.

Occasionally industrial action has impacted on school life with closures or difficulties in obtaining stock. The nine-day general strike in 1926 caused problems with materials.  On May 7, Captain Twyman stated “we are in great difficulty over lack of materials.  No exercise books; pens; pencils; rubbers or blotting paper” and new deliveries were not made until after the strike had finished arriving on 14 May.  This strike had been called by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in support of coal miners and eventually 1.7 million workers took action, mainly in transport and heavy industry.  A teacher strike in April 1979 didn’t close school but “would involve the cancellation of all out of school activities, supervision at lunch times and use of car for school business.” (Mr Kettle, 26 April 1979) 

Mr Chisnell

The rebuilding of the Infant School in 1938 had temporarily relocated all the infant classes to the nearby St Pauls Parish Hall and the outbreak of war in 1939 meant the move back wasn’t straightforward.  School remained closed until October when 6- and 7-year olds (years 1 & 2) were admitted part-time.  The reception intake was divided into five small groups and were taught by one of the schoolteachers in the home of one of the group for the whole term. These groups were visited regularly by Miss Weatherall, Mr Chisnell from the Juniors and other education inspectors.

A previous post mentioned many of the wartime difficulties of continuing education, with many hours spent in the air raid shelters and only part time sessions. Sheila Chadwick, a pupil between 1936 and  1942 remembered

“The war meant half-day schooling for a period, and of course we had our gas masks with us in square cardboard boxes. The masks had a pervasive rubbery smell. We also had Oxo tins, or similar, in which we kept chocolate and other items for emergency rations, in case we were kept for a long time in the air-raid shelters. We wore identity disks on our wrists.  …If the air-raids had been particularly bad we were told to put our heads down on our desks and rest.”

Air raid shelters in the playground
Air raid shelters in the playground

The war effort, with increased work hours for many adults, also impacted the length of the school holidays and in the summer of 1940, the holidays were only two weeks long.  One week was taken from 2nd to 12th August, then back to school for a week of “recreational activities”, then another week off.  The whole afternoon of 15th August, when they were back at school, was spent in the shelters “singing songs and playing games”.

At the time of writing this we are in what would usually be the school Easter holidays.  School has already been closed for two weeks to most children and staff but remains open for the children of key workers, reminiscent of this previous effort.