In this final piece from the Cwm School Log Books, we look at the seventies and the eighties. So familiar perhaps, but the world has changed in so many ways
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 and the doors were shabby. Not only that, but also they had been given an open-plan teaching area and the teachers were not that keen.
You can read 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 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 when classrooms were recreated. The school ‘looks less barn-like,’ we are told.
But the building was still in a poor condition. The boilers failed at intervals and the temperature in the school once dropped to 10˚c in the middle of winter. This was also a time of huge financial difficulties in the public services. The head teacher was 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’ as the worst ever. Things never seem to change.
But it wasn’t just building and finance. By its very nature the log book records significant events that can 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 things like this take time to sort out.
Sometimes the log gives the impression that the school was a dangerous place. But these were the things the head was obliged 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 the ‘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. You can see that there was some uncertainty about the most appropriate type of floor polish to use. But the wider world continues to intrude, as it always has.
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. There was tension and arguments. 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 was sometimes closed due heavy snow and teachers had 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.
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.
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 action, but even the most generous of teachers would not be able to resist a small smile at the thought of a precious selection of specially chosen Country and Western Hits abandoned 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.’
Schools cannot exist separately from the world that surrounds them There is another example of the professionalism of teachers which 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 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 such an ending, the future lost an unrivalled window into the past.
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Here is another video presentation – this time about Grave Tales From Wales