Monday, 10 March 2008

London schools

Today I went for a walk around part of Southwark -- SE17, a familiar haunt where I had my first teaching job. By the time I reached the school, Walworth, the light was poor and I was getting wet. Nevertheless...

That's the back as I approached from Dawes Street. Advancing a bit further...

This view didn't use to be possible -- a few streets have since been removed.

The school was built not by Southwark, not by the LCC who ran education in London from 1903 but by the School Board for London, a directly elected body resulting from the Forster Education Act of 1870. In no time at all (well, thirty years) they built what must be hundreds of schools like this in dense areas of London for a population most of which had never been to school before. The SBL was an impressive outfit.

These were elementary schools, for children from 5-12, though many left before 12.

That's the original name. Later (1945, I imagine) it became the Nelson Secondary Modern School, then the lower school of Walworth Secondary School (comprehensive) and now it's the lower school of the new Walworth Academy.

It's the best school building I ever worked in. Well-built, spacious, high ceilings, high windows, adaptable for different teaching methods, fine brick architecture based on 17th and 18th English styles. And the staffroom had a fireplace, with a fire lit every morning at 8 by Mrs Arnold, the schoolkeeper's wife, who also put the kettle on. The classrooms had had fireplaces too, but these had been boarded up.

What it didn't have was a playing field -- only grammar schools (often called secondary schools) had them, and a different architecture -- more Gothic or more classical -- to make clear that they were for fee-paying middle class children, and those select working-class children who got scholarships out of the elementary schools and whose parents were prepared to keep them on to 15.

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