The School, and its drawing board ‘sibling’, Heathfield County Secondary School, were the first secondary modern schools to be purpose built by the Authority under the terms and regulations provided by the Education Act 1944. Each embodied features of contemporary education thinking and idealism. Much in the minds of the planners and the architects were the village college concepts adopted in Cambridgeshire during the pre-war decade.
Developing the Curriculum
Much else was achieved during those early years. A certain idyllic quality pervaded, or so it seems in retrospect, when set against the modern circumstances in which the secondary schools of 2009 are almost shrouded. Alan Fenton, Metalwork and Engineering, introduced the boys to motor vehicle technology and maintenance. Alan left after the second year, and was succeeded by A. M. (“Dick”) Barton who also introduced creative metalwork and elementary sculpture forms .
Mrs. Kershaw succeeded Miss Brown; she enlarged the Cookery schemes into Domestic Science, and also created the way for courses to ‘O’ level. Winifred Innes, who had been a stage costumier, taught Needlework and applied those skills to the practical needs of school plays . Jim Harrett, (“Jim boy”) Science teacher was also an accomplished cricketer; he stimulated rural children with a love of Science and led the annual Staff v School cricket match. He was instrumental in securing periodic visits from Sussex cricketers to take occasional coaching sessions for boys interested in developing their skills. Ronald Welfare, was music teacher;. two concerts involving choirs from primary schools in the catchment area were organised under his direction. Ron was a Gilbert & Sullivan devotee; he saw the possibility of the children with drama experience in school plays, some of whom had good voices, participating in a comic opera. He discussed with his colleagues a scheme to stage “The Mikado”. Illness intervened to defer the project he had in mind. However, the idea appears to have remained in staff consciousness and taken up by a later generation. A tradition became established for annual productions, the last of which was “Patience” in 1972, well after my time at Uckfield.
Jack Gravestock and Barbara Taylor were physical education and games specialists; they brought a new world of physical activity that was both stimulating and occasionally daunting to children accustomed to the contraints of small village schools. The large playing field space enabled football, cricket, stoolball, a game popular with girls in East Sussex, and netball to be introduced. During the winter months the gym was actively used for basketball, netball and cricket coaching.
History was in Howard Gilbert’s (“Sullivan”) hands; it was taught with two other colleagues, following much the conventional mode from early days to the (then) present, with an emphasis upon social history. Because of the research he had been enabled to do (6), elements of local history were included in the Third Year Scheme. At that time (1952-60) little was known of the rich heritage that Uckfield possessed. The founding of UDPS, the research studies of Simon Wright of Temple Grove School in particular and Hindsight, were several years away. Howard entered further education, ultimately to head up an adult college in Greater London.
School journeys were well supported. Two parties went to the Festival of Britain South Bank Exhibition. Arranged by the School Travel Service, another went to Noordwyck in Holland with visits to The Hague and Amsterdam; a third group travelled to Paris. Arriving there during the week of a strike on the Metro they, nevertheless, went to the Louvre, ate sandwiches in the Tuillerie Gardens, a few ventured up the Eiffel Tower, and all went to Notre Dame and Les Invalides.
Involving the Community
The public library was part of the community concept. Located on the first floor, and equipped with the contemporary facilities needed, it opened during the afternoons, five days a week and some evenings. Part of the planner’s intention was also to enable older scholars to use the library resources during the later stages of their learning. Memory says that this was not achieved to any great extent, although junior membership was practical and possible for children, with their parent’s consent.
The Evening Institute flourished. Headed by John Gunn, the school’s Art Master, it offered a programme on three evenings from 7 to 9 pm. Painting, pottery, cane work were among the artistic subjects. Short courses were introduced in, English Language, Literature and French, in popular science, gardening and flower arrangement. For those anxious to improve in professional skills, shorthand and typewriting courses were provided; visiting lecturers included some from the Agricultural College at Plumpton. There were short courses for amateur actors, and some called “Singing for Pleasure”. For students who travelled into Uckfield from a distance, travel expenses were reimbursed at the end of each term. It was all part of the Education Authority’s policy to create an education centre for all the community, and one that had national approval.