History of rural primary school in the 1960s

09 Oct 2009

 Following my recent Radio 4 series on the history of primary schools I was sent a delightful memoir about life as a head teacher of a Cotswold village school in the 1960s.  I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to tell others about it. So here goes:

The Countryside Our Classroom by Gordon Ottewell tells the story of how the author left his career as a surveyor's assistant in a Derbyshire colliery to take up teaching. One of his early posts was in a primary school where the head teacher's sole concern appeared to be getting pupils through the Eleven Plus. His description of how the other pupils - the great majority who were the Eleven Plus 'failures' - still makes you burn with the injustice of it.

When the results came out, the head marched into the top juniors' class and read out the successful names. As for the rest: 'Mr Bacon spelt out loud and clear to this unhappy little band that hey had only themselves to blame for their failure'.

'Sickened' by this approach the author moved on, eventually becoming head at a small rural school in Oxfordshire. This is where he found the chance to deliver his own philosophy of education, which was built around Plowden principles of learning through doing and experience. In particular, he made use of the surrounding countryside, and a school allotment, to test his conviction that children learn best if they are immersed in their local environment. 

This is a wonderful book, well-written and nicely illustrated and full of lovely anecdotes. Above all, it speaks from the heart and is reminder of the days when schools could do their own thing free from worry about SATs and league tables. 

The children at Gordon Ottewell's school must surely have counted themselves lucky for the rest of their lives. 

You can obtain the book (softback, 128 pages) from Barn Owl Books, 33 Delavale Road, Winchcombe, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL54 5YL Tel: 01242 603464 at £6.99 + P & P.

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