Category: Cwm School Records

Oct 08 2011

An introduction

Cwm School Records – an Introduction

The closure of Cwm schoo lwas the end of a  little piece of history. A place which had been a focal point for  a small community and holding so many  important memories for so many people. My wife’s family all  went there and so did my own children for a  while. It  always was a warm and comforting place.
I  have had the great privilege of access to the school log books and they are a  fascinating insight, not only into the history of the school but also into the social  history of the area.
They were carefully compiled over almost a  hundred years in by Head teachers, often in elegant flowing long hand. Much of  the first book was written by   Ann Bevan who was Head of Cwm Board School  Infant Department for 34 years following her appointment in 1879. The books  record attendance, the appointment of staff, inspection reports and daily  activity. As a teacher I find the similarities and differences between then and  now very interesting indeed.

The first thing that strikes you is how important the weather was. Indeed the  school record becomes a detailed record of the weather. When it rained heavily  then the children couldn’t come to school, probably because they only had one  set of clothes. If they got wet they had nothing else. The teachers could do  little themselves to dry them, especially if the fireplaces were broken or the  fires not lit. What else could the mothers do?
And of course it rains a lot in Swansea, so there was frequent disruption. The  log keeps saying “School closed due to the severity of the weather.”  The teachers would do their best to dry them  and then amuse them with “singing and games” until it was dry enough to send  them home. On 15 February 1900 it rained so heavily that only 9 children turned  up.
Attendance was compounded by illness.  Dangerous deadly diseases could run through the school almost unchecked. “Many  of the children are in delicate health” it says in 1903.
They were at the mercy of epidemics of  childhood diseases, especially in the winter months. Diphtheria, measles, mumps,  whooping cough, scarlet fever are all regularly recorded. The school would be  closed or holidays extended in an attempt at infection control. In May 1898, 80  children were absent, 75 with measles, 4 with scarlet fever and 1 with  influenza.    In 1911 they closed for 3 weeks due to a  measles outbreak. In September 1919 it is recorded that “one child died this week in hospital suffering from diphtheria.”  These must have been awful times for parents,  facing these silent killers.
What the children were taught in school  also reflects the priorities of the time – the marching lessons, the knitting  and the sewing and the darning. After all you didn’t replace your clothes, you  mended them.
There was also a sense that the school  represented its community and responded to the wider world in a way that we do  not. They didn’t have the constant entertainment we have. Theirs were much  simpler times. So the school would be closed for fairs in Llangefelach and  Llamsamlet or when a Barnum and Bailey show came to town. One day they all went  off to see Bostock and Wombwell’s Menagerie and a good time was had by all. They  closed for a parade of horses in Swansea, a cyclist’s carnival, the Band of  Hope Competitive Festival, the relief of Mafeking in the Boer War, the  assassination of President McKinley. In 1896 they closed the school for the  afternoon so the teachers could attend a bazaar in aid of the NUT at the Albert  Hall in Swansea.
But the school day was also interrupted for  more chilling reasons.
The log book tells us that “Recreation was  suspended this morning until 11.20 am to enable the children to see the troops pass  on the Great Western Railway. It was 28 October 1914 and they were going to  war.

Oct 07 2011

Times change. Issues don’t.

Times change. Issues don’t

One of the great fascinations of reading  the log books is the way that you can suddenly be surprised at how contemporary  some of the issues appear to be.  The  same issues appear to have been facing schools for over a century.  Look at some of the examples I have unearthed  from the period before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
Attendance is a big issue right from the start. It is recorded  daily and reflects the considerable influence of the weather. Wet children were  a big issue. How do you get them dry? When children had few clothes to wear,  families would keep children at home when it rained. How could you dry them if  the fires weren’t properly maintained by the authority or if there was a  shortage of coal? Often the children who did turn up were entertained with  stories and singing until the rain stopped and they could go home.
Concerns over the effect of social deprivation were common even then.  Some children were held back a year “owing  to their backward condition, the result of early neglect” Sadly many of us  are saying the same things today. On 23 March 1892 they admitted Samuel Allen  aged 7 years and 6 months, who had never attended school before. Evan Evans was  admitted from Morriston in 1894 and was “found  unable to anything.” No change there then.
Wrestling with new technology – 4 March 1902 received instruction to discontinue  the use of slates in school. A vain hope actually.
The well-being agenda was already firmly in place. Childhood illnesses feature throughout the  record. The school would be closed because of epidemics of measles or  diphtheria. In May 1887 there was less than a third in school. Doctors were  always turning up to measure the children or to inspect teeth and hair.
There was great concerns over the condition of school buildings. The  fireplaces fell into disrepair causing much correspondence. The rain came  through the roof. The School Board wrote a ratty letter to the council in 1908  in response to an inspector’ report. “I  am to point out that the need of an urinal was brought to your authority’s  notice in 1905 and again in 1906.”
A vocational  curriculum was already pushing to be included. There was some criticism  that “marching is not included in the  physical exercises. Thimble drill should be taught. Perhaps that was the  reason why the inspectors felt the need to say “Hemming stitches should be larger and more distinct on the right side  of the hem.” I know, it is hard to believe that such slackness had a home!  Shameful!
Intruders? In September 1979 the head was “very much annoyed by boys from the works.” The feeling then as now  was that you must deal with such issues on your own.
Teachers’  attendance? One teacher was away with toothache  which became a “gathered face” (probably an abscess). The head had to go into  the classroom to cover.
The Curriculum?  It has always been a big issue. Children had to learn songs like Tiny Little Snowflakes and prepare recitations  such as The Little girl who would not say  please and I love little pussy, about which I must maintain a dignified silence.
Bilingualism? Lots of the children struggled though because most of them came  from Welsh-speaking homes and lessons were almost entirely in English, apart  from half an hour a week right up until 1913.
As far as Collective worship is concerned, the log book shows that  inspectors insisted that The portion of  scripture read must be recorded every day
What about resourcesThere are but three desks in the school so  that these children have to write on copy books in relays. Just think. A  real opportunity for Working with Others was missed there.
The school in April 2010

Oct 06 2011

Two Marys

Two Marys

(as originally published in the Times Education Supplement April 2010)

A local school is closing. All that it  represents will be consigned to history. Cwm School, a warm and productive  place, will cease to be in September after over 130 years.
I have been able to look at the School Log  books which act as a record of the history of the school and they are so  fascinating. They were written by the head teacher and record the daily  activity of Cwm Board School Infants Department.
And they open a window on professional  lives that were not a great deal different from our own. The anxieties and the  pressures haven’t changed much, especially when it comes to Inspection.
First of all some background. Some of the  classes in the school were taken by pupil teachers who worked largely as  apprentices. They took charge of classes themselves but also had examinations  of their own, with a requirement for example to complete recitations of 100  lines of Paradise Lost or  Shakespeare’s King John. Their teaching  performance was a focal point of the inspection process since they had to  achieve certain standards or the school’s budget was reduced. In 1879 the two  pupil teachers started to cause concern, Mary Ann Hughes and Mary Jane Davies.
Mary Ann was first in trouble when she was  cautioned for neglecting her home lessons and thus failed the inspection.  Clearly not a girl for working at home. Perhaps she had better things to do.  But as a teacher at any time in history, if you can’t come to terms with the  preparation then you will struggle.
At the start of 1880 it was Mary Jane who  was in trouble. She hadn’t come to terms with this teaching business either. The  School Examiner Frederick Cole wrote in the school log book
Found Mary Jane Davies in charge of a  small class in the entrance porch working crochet – a thing forbidden in Board  School. She knew she was doing wrong, for she attempted to hide the work under  her handkerchief.
Oh dear. Same trouble, different times.  Today it is mobile phones. Thus in the next inspection she was told that she  must improve. Sadly, Mary Ann failed again. You could hardly say it was going  well though.
A year later the log book says their  classes “showed a little laxity in discipline, the children being inattentive  and talkative.” It was ever thus it seems to me but Inspectors have never liked  it. Their assessment was very clear. Mary Jane “passed an unsatisfactory  examination” and if she didn’t improve and failed the next inspection again,  then the school would receive a lower grant, since they would in effect be  employing an unqualified teacher. As always when money is mentioned then the  pressure is cranked up.
A week later in September 1881 the head  teacher recorded “Lessons neglected by M. J. Davies” and so Examiner Cole  returned to check on standards. Nothing much changes really, does it?  This time he wrote
I regret to remark that I detected M. A.  Hughes in a piece of deception during my examination of her class. She told a  child the answer to one of the sums given.
A teacher trying to save themselves by  inflating pupil performance? It is hard to believe isn’t it? These were clearly  troubled times.
The head and the managers of the school  were now on a mission. On 8 October 1881 it is recorded that lessons were  “unlearnt by Mary Jane Davies and Mary Ann Hughes.” Mary Jane’s response to  this pressure was quite simple. She was absent from school for a month.
This left Mary Ann in the spotlight alone.  She didn’t learn her history lesson and Examiner Cole was called in and issued  her with a caution. Whilst this was going on Mary Jane was dismissed by the  school board on 23 December 1881.
This must have created a sense of panic in  poor Mary Ann. She was unable to learn the lessons of history; literally so  since her history lesson was “unlearnt” three times in May 1882. Examiner Cole  said that her class had been “rather imperfectly taught in reading writing and  arithmetic.” It is clear that there was not a happy match between school and  pupil teacher.  This is a long time  before identification n of training needs or bullying tactics were considered  at all. No one asked what retraining she had received, No home visits or  supportive measures or return to work arrangements. Just an expectation that  Mary Jane would get on with it. But obviously she couldn’t. Her attendance  became an issue and on Wednesday 4 October she too was dismissed.
Perhaps it was for the best, who knows, but  it is a sad little story. What became of the two Marys? Perhaps I shall never  know but I hope that they found a job which better suited them both

Oct 05 2011

Cwm at War

Cwm at War

The First World War did not impact much on  Cwm School. They delayed playtime in 1914 so the children could watch soldiers  go past on the train. At Christmas 1915 they held a concert and a collection in  aid of wounded soldiers and on 17 July 1919 the school was closed for a “Peace  Celebration,” but generally the ordinary life of the school went on. However  the Second World War was different. It reached out into communities and homes,  threatening children and families.
The references in the log book begin even  before war is declared. On 4 October 1938 Miss Rees went to the Guildhall to be  shown how to work out “the size of mask (gas) suitable for each school child.”
These are chilling words, confirming the fear that everyone carried with them  into the conflict, the fear of  poison  gas.
Of course normal school life continued for the children who are usually  untroubled by world events. But then the summer holidays in 1939 were extended  to the end of September because of the “declaration of war between England,  France and Poland and Germany.” Simple words which were to have  a huge impact.
At first of course, nothing happened at  home. The school bank was paid out at Christmas as always (more than £300 in  total), attendance was disrupted by epidemics of measles and chicken pox, the  school nurse turned up to inspect the children’s heads and another one came to weigh the children who get free school milk.
But the Whitsun holidays in 1940 were cancelled owing to the “invasion of  Holland and Belgium.” And suddenly the war became horribly real.
The air raid warnings began. On 10 July 1940 there was a raid between 10.15 am  and 11.00 am which kept the children away from school in the afternoon.  It established a pattern. When the siren  sounded during school hours the children either went to the shelter across the  road or they ran home if they could. How frightening that must have been.
All raids and incidents are meticulously recorded in the Log Book.  “ARS” is noted (Air Raid Siren) and then “RP”  (Raiders Passed.)  Sometimes it might  last only 15 minutes. On other occasions the warning might last for almost 2  hours.
Attendance at school  of course was completely disrupted. If the  siren sounded during the night the school would open late. This happened  constantly through July and into early August. The school repeatedly opened at  11.00 am. Then in September the log says very blandly, “No children came to  school as there were unexploded bombs in the neighbourhood.” To us it is  impossible to believe that the words children and unexploded bombs could ever  appear in the same sentence. But in those times even a small infant school was  forced to confront life and death.  Is it  a surprise that parents refused to send their children to school? I don’t think  so.
This was the very worst time of the war for  Cwm Infants School. The planes kept coming and the weather was stormy, ripping  slates off roofs during November and December. It must have felt as if the  whole universe was hostile. In January 1941 the school was closed
“owing to damage done by the falling of a high calibre  bomb which demolished a block of houses next to the Mixed Department during  Friday night’s blitz. All rooms suffered some damage.”
These words obscure a human tragedy – of  families killed, of bodies found on roofs nearby. Such memories survive in the  community even today.
The school was closed for five weeks. But  here was no respite. Heavy raids continued until April 1941.
At this point the log book starts to talk  about “evacuation”. On 9 April 1941 the school carried out a census.
82 parents were against evacuating their child
32 were for
20 failed to reply
As a result in May 1941, 31 children were  evacuated to Llanwrda near Llandovery with a teacher, Miss Rees, who had  attended the gas mask instruction. At the back of the log book I found the  original Registration Forms for the Evacuation Scheme. Parents signed the front  to give permission for their child to be sent to a safer area…with the school party when evacuation is ordered. These scraps of paper bring the whole thing to life. Nine year olds like Iris  and Vivian Hancock, William Roberts, Graham Williams and seven year old Peter  Donald and Sydney Carter, sent into Carmarthenshire, a place so very different  from Bonymaen.
The air raids continued until 14 July 1941  and then stopped. Despite the continuing danger the evacuated children started  to drift back home.
In early March 1942 Miss Rees returned from Llanwrda. The threat seemed to have  passed and although the sirens sounded again in July, the war left Cwm School  alone. The school returned to concerns about the weather and childhood  illnesses.
Miss Rees though hadn’t finished with the  school log book. She slipped in the playground in a PT lesson and bruised her mouth and gums. Two teeth were  loosened.
The war slowly drifted away. When it came  back it was in a different form. Mrs Mason , a teacher, had leave of absence  because her husband was home on leave and then, finally,  on 8 May 1945 the school was closed for VE  celebrations.

Oct 04 2011

Into the Seventies and Eighties

Into the Seventies and Eighties

In the  final surviving log book from Cwm School we arrive at the Seventies and we can  continue to examine issues big and small.
In 1974 the  school moved into refurbished buildings, but with a sense of disappointment,  especially with the standard of the work. The toilets didn’t flush properly  because they were blocked by builder’s rubble. Floor tiles started lifting  immediately, the doors were shabby. Not only that, but they had been given an  open-plan teaching area and they were not that keen.
There is a  constant series of complaints – pipe joints in the larger toilets were  constantly parting, the attempt to establish a children’s garden failed because  the soil was so poor and it was filled with rocks and stones.
By 1977  much of the work to create the open plan space was reversed. It was no longer  the fashion and everyone was much happier. The school “looks less barn-like,”  we are told.
But the  school was still in a poor condition. The boilers failed at intervals. The  temperature in the school dropped to 10˚c in the middle of winter. It was also  a time of huge financial difficulties in the public services. The head teacher  is called to a meeting in December 1980 by the Director of Education where he  described “the current and forthcoming Budget situation facing the education  service.” Things never seem to change.
By its very  nature the log book records significant events that suddenly change the nature  of the school day. For example there was a drama in November 1978 when a child  made up a story about a man trying to strangle his sister on her way to school.  The police were called and parents were naturally perturbed. However the sister  was quite clear that her brother had invented it all. But all these things take  time.
Sometimes  the log gives the impression that the school was a dangerous place. But these  are the things the head had to record. And what makes the record so valuable is  that the head teacher, Sylvia Rees, recorded everything in such careful detail.
A boy had  an accident with a dog in the yard – he fell and banged his head. A boy put his  hand through a pane of glass and escaped without a scratch. But another child  in December 1983 lost an eye in an accident with a pair of scissors.
And whilst the diseases of the previous century which filled the earlier  records were now more controlled, there was some anxiety about an outbreak of  dysentery in April 1986. Previously there had been a period of concern about “5th  Disease” (otherwise called “slapped cheek.”)
The book also  celebrates the nobility of the ordinary unchanging things of school life  –reading tests, trips and visits, school photographs, typewriters serviced, teacher  absence, dental inspections.  There is  some uncertainty about the most appropriate type of floor polish to use. But  the wider world intrudes as it always has done. Immediately after half term in  February 1977 a Caretaker’s Strike closed the school for 10 days. Teachers had  to report to the church hall where the children on free school meals also  reported. At the start of 1979 there were more strikes – first NUPE and then  the teacher unions. On 11 May the head teacher herself went on strike for the  morning, “according to union wishes.” Strikes continue to be logged through the  1980s. On the other hand we are also told that the staff and children were  “thrilled” by the announcement of the engagement of Prince Charles and Lady  Diana. They were exciting times.
But however sophisticated we think we are, we have never been immune from the  weather. The school is sometimes closed due heavy snow and teachers have to  report to their nearest school. In “dreadful wind and rain” doors and windows  were broken. A member of staff was “marooned in West Cross” by heavy rain.
The school  started to change rapidly. Education became more electronic. First of all, it  was tape recorders and over- head projectors. Then in 1983 computers start to  appear, bringing with them considerable training needs. The head teacher  herself took an important lead both in the school and across the authority.
But of  course this electronic equipment made all schools, Cwm included, more  vulnerable to break-ins and these are recorded, along with acts of vandalism.  On one occasion, liquid detergent was squeezed all over the floor. On 4 July  1979 there was a break-in when stationery was stolen and a message was left  behind in chalk on a board – “Thank you for all the stuff.” In 1978 trees had  been vandalised leaving 11 stumps poking dangerously from the ground.
One of the consequences of the break-ins was that when they had a Christmas  Fayre in 1982 the parents were concerned about keeping their things in school  the night before. Mr. Ford, “a karate expert” volunteered to be on duty in  school all night. In 1983 a child repeatedly brought stolen goods to school,  like hacksaw blades and drills. Following an intrusion in October 1985 the  record remarks “Our goldfish are dead.” Shotguns were apparently fired at  windows during the weekends. In October 1987 a used petrol bomb was found close  to the nursery.
In November  1984 an inspector involved in a survey of Special Education had his car broken  into and “valuable tapes were stolen.”  Of  course nothing can condone such actions but even the most generous of teachers  could not resist a small smile at the thought of a precious selection of specially  chosen Country and Western Hits rejected and unravelling themselves in the  gutter.
Throughout  the record there are indications of the professionalism of teachers and their  identification with the community in which they worked. The annual trip to  Penscynor Wildlife Park always included a picnic which often took place back in  the school hall due to inclement weather. In 1977 the log book tells us that  “The PTA paid for the trip and most of the food. The teachers provided the food  for the children in their own groups.”
Of course  schools have always been part of the social fabric. There is another example of  the professionalism of teachers comes from July 1983.
“This morning it came to light that a child in  the reception class had marks on her back which were not there the day before,  when she paddled in Brecon.”
A home visit was made by the head teacher and the deputy.
“We spoke to the mother and father, and  father immediately and readily admitted that this was the result of his having  hit her on the previous evening, when mother was out. Father quickly thanked us  for calling.”
The next day the mother brought the child to school.
“We were told the father had been told to  pack his bags and leave the house, because it had happened on previous  occasions.”
Whether he did or not, the log book doesn’t say. But it is a small example of  what it is that teachers do. That sense of  professional responsibility and human decency  is there in all the log  books right from  the very start of the first volume.
Sometimes  life can bring us full circle. There is an entry from March 1983. Sylvia Rees records  that she went to the funeral of her mother in law, who had been born in 1890  and who had been pupil herself in the school in the previous century.
The legal  requirement to maintain such a log book ended in June 1999 and with ending the future  lost an unrivalled window into the past.

Oct 03 2011

The Punishment Book

The Punishment Book

I am so glad we don’t have such a thing  today. The book speaks of a more brutal time – “A Record of Cases of Corporal  Punishment” – as it tells us on the inside cover. The one I have found in Cwm  School dates from 1959 and what strikes you first of all is the range of  misdemeanours which were deemed worthy of physical punishment. In some cases it  seems disproportionate and certainly in some completely unproductive.
The first entry concerns Vivian Thomas who  was a persistent truant, for which he received two strokes of the cane. Many of  the other entries concern more serious offences, such as bullying. Some  families appear repeatedly, as well as some individuals. Clearly as a deterrent  the effect of the cane or the slipper was limited. And of course all the  victims are boys.
Vivian came back for more when he was  punished for bullying two pupils, one of whom suffered “severe lacerations” to  the wrist. In brackets after his name it says “This child is very naughty.”
He wasn’t the only repeat offender.
One boy kept getting himself into trouble  over a period of about 4 months. He seemed to have a particular problem with a lunchtime  supervisor. Swearing at her, then locking her out of the school at lunchtime,  and being found in possession of a knife taken from the Dining Room – and using  it, though we are not told what he actually did with it. Damage to the drinking  fountain in such circumstances was perhaps a step too far. As a result he was  given two strokes of the cane.
James got himself into trouble for fighting  with pencils in class, “resulting in a pencil being driven into Mark Lewis’  hand.” For this he was suspended. For “indiscipline to the class teacher” Paul  received “one slap on the buttocks with a gym slipper.” His friend had one  stroke of the cane “in the presence of his mother” for throwing a stone and breaking  two front teeth of a boy with the unfortunate name of Dean Stone.
Swearing (or “dirty language”) and smoking  are common misdemeanours. In fact two boys aged 9 were caught smoking after  stealing four bottles of milk and thumping another boy. One of them “spoke  truth.” He received one stroke. His accomplice, Jeffery, at first lied about  it, so he received “one stroke to persuade and one as a punishment.”
Sadly he was back for more a couple of weeks later. Jeffery was part of a gang  of boys who set upon Stanley. But then Stanley had his turn a couple of months  later when he himself was caned for truancy.
It would be wrong to think that this was a  violent school. There are, in fact, few entries, no more than four per year. But  violence was certainly rewarded with a violent punishment. And the same names  keep cropping up for the same offences.  It  is hard to see what good it did. I imagine that the cane was regarded as an  occupational hazard. For some of the boys it certainly didn’t modify their  behaviour.  It just reinforced the fact  that the exercise of physical power is the way to achieve what you want.
Of course it can be dangerous to judge the  past by the standards we employ today, but I know that I am happier having  worked in schools during more enlightened times

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