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Pat Jenkins, 2010
South End Infant School 1971

When Pat Catlin, then Head Teacher at South End Infant School, offered me a job I was so thrilled I could have kissed her. It was 1971 and I had just finished my teacher training at Bedford College of Education. I had links with South End because that is where my sons began their education, and I had also completed a five weeks teaching practice there in the previous year. I had enjoyed this very much as the teachers were all so kind and helpful, and must have thought that I would fit in. Mrs Catlin was very keen on us “fitting in”. She liked her staff to be on good terms with each other, to co-operate, and to be happy. And so I was, for twenty three years. I did think of moving on sometimes, and on two occasions was offered other posts, but I always stayed.

My career began in the old school site on High Street South. I had a class of about forty seven-year-olds, and my classroom overlooked the street. Not that you could actually see the street unless you were ten feet tall. The Victorian builders didn’t want children looking out of windows. The room was the end one of three, separated by sliding partitions. The children sat in double desks with a space underneath for their boxes. These held their pencils, wax crayons, a book for sums, and one for writing, a spelling book, a reading book and usually a stack of rubbish which overflowed the wastepaper basket when we did our Friday tidy-up. I had a beautiful big heavy desk with cupboards and drawers, probably full of rubbish too. The door opened onto the cloakroom, a big room with lovely strong curved coat hooks, and a wire cage under each peg for shoes. How we missed these when we moved up to the new school in Wymington Road.

Pat Jenkins with her class in 1971
Pat Jenkins with her class in 1971

Children who misbehaved could be sent to see Mrs Catlin. Any little boy convicted of lifting a little girl’s skirt was given the spare knickers box to tidy, in public. Mrs Catlin reckoned that this would put him off the practice for life. She also rewarded good behaviour, first with sweets, but later with raisins. She also kept a large bottle of bright pink and highly perfumed magic (hand) cream. This cured minor bumps and bruises like magic.

When I joined the school we were just going over from “Kathy and Mark” to the Ladybird readers. Not a great improvement, but probably the best there was at that time. Hearing reading was an endless job fitted in whenever we could manage it. We aimed to hear each child read two or three times a week. Teaching reading was something we were doing all the time, of course. We had a small library corner with a folding book rack, which allowed the books, supposedly held in by wires, to tumble through onto the floor. We had Mollie Clarke workbooks, which the children loved, and boxes of sum cards for them to work through.

Mrs Catlin trusted her staff. The stock room was there for us to take anything we wanted at any time. This was unusual in those days. At one school I knew, the teachers had to send in a list of requirements every Friday. This defeated the purpose, of course, since the teachers all over-estimated the week’s needs in case they ran out of paper, books, pencils and art supplies.

The school was very crowded. Most classes had more than forty children, which was usual in those days. We had no ancillary help and there was no thought of asking the parents to come into school to read or play games with the children. We “doubled up” at the end of the afternoon for story time, which gave us all twenty minutes free time a week.

The children played in the playground in front of the school. The amount of lead from the passing traffic that went down their throats is frightening to contemplate. But we didn’t know the dangers then. There was an exciting moment when one little darling got his head stuck through the railings. The fire brigade soon freed him.

Two or three times a year Mrs Catlin would announce that as it was a nice day, we would all go to the park. To do that now, you would have to get written permission from every parent, provide a certain number of responsible adults all checked by the police, and to have carried out a risk assessment. We just went. What innocents we were! We scuffed through the leaves in Autumn, looked for signs of Spring and came back loaded with leaves, rocks and twigs for the nature table.

Friday afternoons were fun. The children were allowed to bring a toy and to move around the school. There would be a rush for the Reception room, where the best and biggest toys and all the dressing-up clothes were. So we three “Top Class” teachers had a useful hour to hear reading.

In those days a teacher was on probation in her first year and was assessed all though by the Head. Mrs Catlin always knew exactly what was going on in her school, but never stood at the back of the room and watched lessons, like some Heads. She was far more subtle. Anyway, I passed and settled down to an undistinguished but very happy career.

Two years later the old school closed and we moved to the new premises on Wymington Road.

Pat Jenkins

Teachers and Staff 1983
Teachers and Staff 1983
Back row: Ellen Godfrey, Barbara Bayes, Pam Cave, Gill Burridge (assistant)
Fronmt row: Pat Jenkins, Betty Gwynne, Peggy Bishop (Secretary), Janice Lee (Head), Rita Hall (Deputy Head)

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