Schooldays are the best days of your life’ is a familiar phrase and one with about as much credibility as ‘eating fish gives you brains’ or ‘ carrots will make you see in the dark’.
But the response to my article about Westernmere School (Derby Telegraph Bygones; January 17th 2011) makes me think that whoever dreamed it up was on to something!
Borrowash resident James Bagguely’s memories of the 1980s at his Breaston school; its unaccountable closure and subsequent demolition, prompted a wealth of emails from former pupils providing both a fascinating record of Westernmere and a snapshot of a 20th century decade in which education for children changed irrevocably.
Steve Alvey, originally from Villa Street in Draycott, was told by a relative that former Erewash MP, Peter Rost’s reply to his letter protesting about the proposed closure of Westernmere, had been published in The Derby Telegraph!
Steve writes: I was excited to see you are looking for information on WesternmereSchool. I believe the school opened in February 1952 and closed its doors for the last time in June/July 1990. I can only describe Westernmere’s closure as a big loss to anyone that did or would have attended, as the teaching skills and facilities were fantastic.
Steve sent through some black and white photographs of Westernmere, taken by his friend, Martin Mould.
The buildings are typical ‘post war’; similar in utilitarian style to those of my old school,Spondon Park Grammar School.
But while the latter are still doing service for West Park School, Westernmere’s have long been razed to the ground.
Gone, but not forgotten, because Steve and his friends are planning a summer re-union, with an open invitation to all former teacher and pupils.
A Facebook group has been created to drum up interest:
However, Westernmere is apparently still dogged with ill luck because the venue for the Reunion Planning Committee, The Nag’s Head Pub in Borrowash closed down in January.
Next to break cover was Andrew Mendes who appears as his sixteen year old self in a photograph accompanying the original article.
Andrew is pictured strutting his stuff with James Bagguely and friends and his air of irrepressible joie de vivre is more than vindicated by a subsequent career that has taken him to Royal Bankers Coutts as Forecasting Manager; RBS as Head of Operational Planning and now to the post of Customer Service Director at the prestigious cosmetics giant, Elizabeth Arden in Switzerland.
It was in Switzerland that he read the Derby Telegraph article, a present from his parents on their latest visit.
Described by Arden as: the man from the Midlands with a key role in what must be one of the world’s most successful and instantly-recognisable brands – a consummate all-rounder
Andy says that Weston Mere seems like yesterday, and his memories of Claire Tilley in that same disco photograph (pictured second left, wearing dark glasses) need little jogging!
Damning his teenaged self as a geek or a dork, he owns up to the fact that Claire Tilley was the first girl I ever fell in love with. Sadly, the feeling was not mutual although we became friends and stayed friends until after I left for University. As is often the case, one of my friends, Paul Stobo also liked Claire’s friend, Jenny Shiel who also appears in the pictures (second photograph, second left) and at some point in the third year I think, both girls did come to visit for the day. We viewed it as a date, but they most definitely did not!
Andy, who originally lived in Draycott, recalls: I was at the school in the year they announced the closure and whenever I am visiting relatives in the area, it fills me with sadness that the school was knocked down and visibly nothing has ever replaced it.
He recalls taking part in some closure protest marches arranged by fifth year student Martin Makepeace who was dating one of my classmates, Kay Anderton and is keen to be involved in the 2011 reunion.
If so, he is bound to meet Amrit Manku, a London web designer who is in charge of the bash and is open to offers of help with everything from creative inspiration to designs for posters, logos and even ‘reunion merchandise’!
Amrit joined Westernmere in September 1981, one of only three Indian pupils (one of the other two being my sister, a year older), in in the school.
The atmosphere at Westernmere was inclusive and welcoming: The teachers just treated me the same as the other pupils and I never felt different >and Amrit, who came from one of a handful of Indian families living in Borrowash in the 1970s and 1980s feels that his experience at Westernmere: actually gave me a more tolerant outlook, than if I was in an all Indian school. I mix with people from all walks of life now.
He re-lives his daily journey; catching a bus from the shelter in front of the Forrester’s Pub in the morning and at 3.30pm, boarding one of the buses lined up along Hind Avenue ready for the homeward trip to Borrowash.
He made bread and butter pudding and sausage rolls in Food Studies lessons and learned to grow potatoes and carrots in Mr Kimberley’s Rural Studies classes
But Amrit’s passion was Mr Smith and Miss Hull’s Art classes which led to a course in Art and Design at Derbyshire College of Further Education and a thriving career in web design.
He still treasures a box, made in Woodwork lessons at Westernmere: I think in the first or second year – making it about 29 or 30 years old. I just never threw it away and keep small odds and ends in it.
Weston Mere for Amrit is encapsulated by a series of memorable moments: the visit of Olympic athlete Tessa Sanderson; the introduction of the first school vending machines and being one of the last intake of pupils to take CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) examinations, replaced like O levels, by GCSEs in 1988.
Clearly the highlight of his schooldays was the pupils’ strike – inspired by the teachers’ industrial action in the 1980s:
With the frustration of teachers striking in the eighties, some of us pupils decided to strike, so one afternoon, after dinner (well, we could not miss out our dinner, could we?) most of the school walked out of class.
I can vaguely remember going to the tennis courts which were full of pupils and then at the school gates where there was a reporter from The Derby Evening Telegraph.
I got the idea that the teachers knew and just let us get on with it.
Tracey Clements, now Marshall, was prompted by the article to contact me with her own photographs and memories.
Tracey and twin sister, Theresa, grew up in Borrowash; met their husbands at the local youth club and still live in the village.
Like Amrit, she recalls that bus stop in front of The Forrester’s Pub. Nowadays, a senior politician would not be allowed near a bus stop – particularly with a General Election looming, but spin doctors in 1987 were rather more trusting!
So Tracey has unearthed a photograph of the then Labour Leader, Neil Kinnock, posing beside the Nottingham Road bus stop and actually kissing a baby!
The child in question is James Alton – first son of Tracey’s sister and as he licked his wounds from Labour’s 1987 General Election defeat, at least the Labour Leader was spared the resurgence of a Campaign photo – with a post Election headline: Kinnock Misses the Bus.
A highlight of Tracey’s time at Westernmere was the trip to the Isle of Wight with the school football team.
Tracey, her twin Theresa and friend Jane Tilley were cheerleaders for the team, led by teachers Mr Upton and Mr Crighton:
We had a lot of fun during the week. We used to play pranks on the boys and vice versa those with us e.g. putting toothpaste on light switches and soap in beds.
On one occasion, one of the boys came to borrow a book even though he should not have been in our room, so when a teacher knocked he hid in the wardrobe and the teacher, I think, realised there was someone in there. When he looked in the wardrobe the boy said ‘Sorry sir – just checking for woodworm’.
The Skiing holiday to Valmoral in Tracey’s last year was similarly eventful – at least for PE teacher Miss McCadom:
She was staying in our room for the week and we remember one day the male teachers came to our room and made her an ‘Apple Pie Bed’ – this is when a bed is made in such a way you can’t get into it.
But there were sad times too:
We can remember a school boy our age getting knocked down when he walked in front of the school bus by a car on Nottingham Road.
Tracey, James, Amrit, Andy and Steve don’t understand why Westernmere – a school they remember with affection, was abruptly closed down and then demolished in the 1990s.
The 1980s decade was a time of great change for education policy, and papers stored by a former Governor of Westernmere, Peter Ball, help to set this Breaston school in a national context.
Peter, who lives in Station Road, Borrowash, has preserved virtually every document associated with the school and records of Governors’ Meetings show Westernmere gamely trying to adapt to an ever changing educational climate.
A ‘Curriculum Statement’ of 1983 sets out the ‘ultimate aim’ of the school: To contribute to the personal and social development of each pupils’ whole self which would include the promotion of a positive self-concept.
This is an aim that defies precise definition – but staff and governors did not have the luxury of deliberation as they were plunged into a whirlpool of change such as the introduction of GCSEs:
Phase Two training will be held during normal school hours.
Full supply cover will be obtained for teachers who attend this training but must be specifically identified as for GCSE. Travelling expenses will be paid and lunch will be provided.
Mixed Ability Teaching:
Mr Jones, Head of Mathematics, explained the current position regarding his Department and presented his views on Mixed Ability groupings through to the 3rdyear.
Mr Webb presented a similar report on the Science Department and Mrs Sinclair` presented written reports from both the Language and English Departments
and Human Rights:
I have enclosed for your attention a copy of recent reports to the Education Committee on recommendations for the teaching and learning about human rights in schools adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 1985 ( John Evans; Director of Education, County Hall, Matlock).
But as in time –honoured tradition, much of Peter’s paperwork is devoted to the thorny question of school uniform with dictates from County Hall often sharply at odds with the preferences of the school:
The Head teacher was anxious that if there was no control on school dress anti-social and extremist groups could become established. He felt that school dress established a sense of pride and identification with the school.
The Head teacher stated that as the Law stands, it is possible for a school to ban almost any article of dress such as jeans, multi-coloured sweaters, high-heeled boots, leather jackets etc.
After a general discussion, the Governors felt that the present recommended standard of school dress be retained.
Matters of discipline are ongoing – and relate to pupils and staff.
In October 1983, Westernmere Governors approved the three day suspension of a boy for removing the turban of a second year boy, who was wearing it for the first time, and throwing it into the brook.
On May 9th, a Third Year Tutor reported another member of staff to Head Teacher Mr Buckthorpe following complaints from pupils of foul and abusive language.
The staff member was interviewed in the presence of two witnesses and was subsequently dismissed from teaching at this school on the grounds of Gross Misconduct.
Westernmere found itself caught up in some of the big political issues of the day, such as Government plans to introduce legislation , which will force local authorities to open up a range of services to competition from private contractors. These will include cleaning, catering and ground maintenance in education.o:p>
In a memo to Westernmere, Councillor Geoff Lennox, Chairman of the Derbyshire County Council Education Committee states that the County Council is opposed to the proposed changes, fearing that they will lead to poorer quality of services, higher costs, loss of flexibility, lower wages and fewer jobs.
He suggests that the school promote the retention of council-run services by, amongst other measures, giving pupils the chance to meet and talk to representatives from cleaning, catering and landscape to get to know more about services which are often taken for granted.
A novel idea!
Unfortunately, there is no record of whether or not this exercise took place.
The teachers’ strikes of the 1980s were extremely exciting for Amrit and his friends – but Peter’s documents reveal the school frantically trying to play catch up – determined to keep the show on the road at all costs.
The November 1985 Head Teacher’s Report to Governors states September 24th: NUT Half Day Strike, 5 members of staff
In his letter to parents, Mr Buckthorpe reveals himself to be nearing the end of his tether:
I am now finding myself in an untenable position at lunch times, and cannot under the present circumstances be confident about the welfare and safety of pupils. As from Monday October 7th, NO pupils will remain on the site during the lunch break. No other teachers have been assisting with lunch time supervision and in spite of the sterling work done by unqualified mid-day supervisors; behaviour has deteriorated, particularly in these last two weeks
The current position with regard to the teacher union action is that the three largest unions are operating one day cover only. This means that if a teacher is absent sick for say three days, colleagues will only cover the classes for the first day. The Authority will only provide replacements after five days, consequently for four days there will be no cover, and children may have to be sent home. I will always try to give you good notice, but you will realize that this may not be possible, as I am having to make decision on a day to day basis. To the best of my ability I will always have concern for the welfare and safety of the children.
In comparison with these pressures, the pupils’ copy-cat strike must have come as a bit of light relief!
By 1986, storm clouds were gathering over Westernmere, and Derbyshire County Council’s Review of Post Primary Education in the Derby Area/b> sounded alarm bells.
The overall number of pupils aged 11-16 in secondary schools in the Derby area had declined and central Government had informed the County Council that this would mean major ‘re-structuring’ and a consequent reduction in funding.
Smaller schools were under threat and Westernmere was one of four ear-marked for closure:
This school is proposed for closure as it is unlikely to have 180 new pupils a year and there are alternative schools in the area (Developing Education for Everyone’s Benefit; Derbyshire County Council)
Westernmere Governors felt that the school was being wrongly pushed into theDerby schools review and should be considered for review within its natural boundaries of the Long Eaton area.
Tensions rose; an Action Group was formed to oppose closure and it must have been extremely difficult for teachers, pupils and governors to concentrate upon educational priorities.
On 9th January, 1986, Head Teacher, Mr Buckthorpe wrote to parents:
Rumours abound at the moment about the future of this school. I shall hold a meeting for all parents and governors on Tuesday next, January 14th at 7.30pm in the Main Hall. It will be an important and valuable session and I urge you to make every effort to attend. It may well be the first of several meetings and the measure of your support could well influence any decisions being considered County wide at the moment.
But the authentic smell of panic is captured by the hand-outs from Western Metre Action Group:
Please do not forget the meetings.
YOUR attendance is vital
PLEASE DO NOT BE PANICKED INTO MOVING YOUR CHILD
HIS, OR HER, EDUCATION AT Westernmere IS SAFE.
The school closed for the last time in 1990 and was demolished a few years later.
A statement from the Governors, dated January 1986, is a moving testament to Westernmere and the pupils and teachers who worked there.
We do not accept that a reasonable sized 5 F.E. school with a small additional staff allowance cannot offer a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum offering equal opportunity to all pupils and compare favourably with larger units.
We object strongly to the link with the Derby area. We have never been other than in Long Eaton and District, indeed in recent years some may say the leading school in the district.We are a community school. The work, relationships and results have improved dramatically in the last ten or so years. The school has a good reputation in the area ………..We have been producing more pure ‘A’ level candidates than a local school nearby twice our size.
The pastoral system is well proven, and the ethos and atmosphere are respected generally. The average attendance record of pupils and staff is excellent which is indicative of a happy, caring school………
We are committed to this way ahead, and urge the committee not to have pre-conceived ideas based on population statistics and economics when considering the future of our school.
The eighties have been and will continue to be a time of massive educational change and innovation, and Westernmere School should be seen as an asset to the Authority and should be encouraged to develop. The site and buildings are ripe for development, not for closure.
As we look back at the changing face of education from our vantage point in 2011 – a world of mammoth Academies with rolls in excess of 2,000 pupils – these words from the Westernmere Governors seem especially poignant and indicative of a lost world;
The word spreads and extra district parents are seeking places for their children.
Many of the positive points of a smaller caring unit might well be lost in a large.
Tracey, James, Amrit, Andy Steve and Peter would certainly agree and I remain indebted to them for their help in re-visiting Westernmere
But a good school never dies and the achievements of Westernmere are there for all to see in the example of those who those who lived and worked there.
Perhaps the last word should remain with Steve – the child who wrote to an MP in a desperate attempt to save his school – and the person who has , at all times, shown such enthusiasm and loyalty towards it;
Do you know what date the Westernmere article may appear, so that I can make a special trek out to get a copy?
I may pop to the school site tomorrow, just to see how the area looks now…