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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.