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Varied Curriculum in a 1950s Inner London Primary School

(125 Posts)
ixion Thu 21-Jan-21 15:53:45

We just did so much, despite the presence of a strong competitive ethos. (Another story!)

Listening to the radio- science, geography and literature on schools broadcasts each week.

Friday afternoons sewing (not sure what the boys did!), whilst listening to music or having a story read by our wonderful teacher - Aesop's Fables was popular.

Country dancing - an alien concept in the East End.
Ditto Maypole dancing - removable pole in the hall.

Music - standing in a circle round the piano with tambourines and triangles (making sure you didn't get the tiny ones!

Music and Movement in vests and knickers.

Does anyone else have happy memories of a wide-ranging curriculum?

M0nica Thu 21-Jan-21 16:06:43

I went to too many schools to say what one did.

All I know is that when I hear people keep saying that children should be taught this that or the other, I continually find myself saying, well I was taught that. This is especially so in history we learnt about the slave trade - and how evil it was, social conditions in Britain through the ages, and the importance of Arab learning and knowledge in facilitating the Renaissance

GrannySomerset Thu 21-Jan-21 16:14:33

My West London primary (Jan 1947 - July 1953) gave us a similarly wide experience despite the shadow of the 11+. I have great memories of radio Adventures in Music, geography films and class singing. Friday afternoon treat was First Aid in English (good) and handwork (much less good but talking allowed). We had a very full curriculum and I loved school despite it being in no way child centred in the accepted sense. In fact thirty years later, when I was doing a BEd, I decided that a good broad curriculum, well delivered, was what mattered most.

Sarnia Thu 21-Jan-21 16:25:23

Maypole dancing brings back happy memories. Nature Study too was a favourite of mine too. Helping with home schooling at the moment has had me reflecting on how lessons were taught in the 50's. I am not the best at maths but a long way but at 73 next month I can leave my 4 youngest grandchildren standing where times tables are concerned. In the 50's we chanted tables every morning, parrot fashion and I have never forgotten them. Division, multiplication and subtraction seems a doddle compared to today's complicated bar method with having to draw umpteen boxes and filling them up with numbers and crosses???!!! Sometimes the old ways are the best.

ixion Thu 21-Jan-21 16:32:41

The only 'nature' we had was rose bay willow herb growing on the bomb sites!

Oh, and the 'Girls' entrance and 'Boys' entrance!🤷‍♀️

Greyduster Thu 21-Jan-21 16:50:50

Weekly maypole dancing used to fill me with fear and trepidation. I could almost always be relied upon to make a mistake or go the wrong way and end up getting into trouble! A couple of years ago, at an art and craft fair at the Botanical Gardens, they had a maypole dancing demonstration and people were being invited to take part. I told GS that we used to do that at school and he said go and have a go, so I said “only if you come with me”, so, at complete risk of making a fool of himself, he did, my lovely twelve year old! And we did make fools of ourselves, and afterwards he said “I’m glad I didn’t go to your school Nanny!”
I used to look forward to the film shows that were part of our geography lessons, where we learned where cocoa pods grew, and pineapples, where minerals were mined and where rubber trees grew. We used to have to bring in tins from home of things grown in different places around the world and then find the places on a map. Very simplistic compared with today’s curriculum.

growstuff Thu 21-Jan-21 17:05:50

I was at primary school from the late 50s to the mid 60s and I remember doing all those things ixion. We also learned about the slave trade, the feudal system, the Egyptians and the Romans in history and cocoa pods, pineapples, the effect of the Pennines on rainfall, the Mancheser Ship Canal and irrigation of the Nile delta in geography. We grew copper sulphate crystals and beans in science.

I went to a school which was considered progressive. We didn't do any chanting of times table, but we did do "Dienes" in maths. Anybody else remember that? We also sat on tables rather than in rows.

Ellianne Thu 21-Jan-21 17:12:50

Another London school kid here! What strikes me about the posts here so far is that everyone is saying how much they "learned" through exciting activities. Not from the book work that is too often stuffed down throats!
I loved the nature table, the dressing up box, the Wendy house (who was Wendy?), the massive climbing frame in the playground, the country dancing. The list goes on. Fond memories.

Callistemon Thu 21-Jan-21 17:14:02

Yes, very similar apart from the Maypole dancing!
I made myself a skirt, by hand, at school when I was about 9. Just gathered with an elastic waistband and 3 rows of ric-rac around the bottom. I wore it a lot.
We sang folk songs from all countries of the UK plus others from around the world.
Free violin lessons

We were taken to the nearby cinema to watch films such as Scott of the Antarctic etc

Yet they still managed to fit in all the basics such as History, Geography, Nature, Art, PE etc.
Maths and English seemed so much simpler and more logical than today's methods.

Callistemon Thu 21-Jan-21 17:16:41

We also sat on tables rather than in rows.

No, we were in rows for formal learning at least, not for sewing, art etc
You could be younger than some of us!

ixion Thu 21-Jan-21 17:30:31

We had pairs of tables (the sort with inkwells, lift up lids and integral benches) pushed together so we were facing the other two children.

Now, each Friday afternoon, the placings of the highest and lowest table groups were announced. The highest scoring 'team' were given a coloured pencil each and moved to the highest pair of tables. The lowest moved to the lowest table position🙀

Each child had their name on the wall with an engine and trucks outline. Every good deed, result, commendation etc earned a shiny gummed star, which was duly affixed to give the end-of-week scores and subsequent placement.


vintage1950 Thu 21-Jan-21 17:33:09

Like Greyduster, I was one of those who dreaded Country Dancing. Everybody else loved it. I was always caught in the mill race, or whatever it was. I also remember the BBC radio programmes for schools and we had a radio and a piano in every classroom. Music was singing, using the sol-fa method - I don't remember being taught to read music and certainly we didn't learn any instruments. Plenty of rote learning of tables. End-of-term examinations. And (whisper it!) strictly unofficial class coaching for the 11-plus. We had an excellent pass-rate....!

growstuff Thu 21-Jan-21 17:35:23


^We also sat on tables rather than in rows.^

No, we were in rows for formal learning at least, not for sewing, art etc
You could be younger than some of us!

No, I went to a school which was considered progressive at the time. It also had the best 11+ results in town by miles.

Callistemon Thu 21-Jan-21 17:37:01

I was at primary school from the late 50s to the mid 60s

Definitely younger than me

growstuff Thu 21-Jan-21 17:37:11

My class has its own Facebook group and we've shared loads of experiences and photos.

There's a photo of me in the local paper measuring the height of trees with a clinometer.

growstuff Thu 21-Jan-21 17:39:09


^I was at primary school from the late 50s to the mid 60s^

Definitely younger than me

I obviously am, but even then most of the of the other primary schools in town were more traditional. I didn't live in the catchment area, but my parents chose the school for me because it was more "modern".

Callistemon Thu 21-Jan-21 17:42:52

I don't think anywhere in my town was modern, growstuff! Although I remember infants' school being more relaxed than junior school.
Both had terrifying headmistresses.

Ellianne Thu 21-Jan-21 17:50:44

Desks with inkwells in rows for me late 60s.

Doing projects in scrap books, glueing in postcards. My mum was Deputy head at her school down the road so I got loads of stuff at home to rifle through too.

EllanVannin Thu 21-Jan-21 18:00:28

I remember the cane in the corner of the classroom. It was used as well, either across the hands or on the boys behinds ( when I used to laugh at the dust coming from their trousers )
Headmaster who was about 90 flying around the school like a bat in his motheaten cap and gown. This was the Primary school.

Despite those times, I learned a lot as lessons were very varied both in the classrooms and on the varied nature walks we went on learning all the trees and wild flowers. Then we were tested on which trees certain leaves were from etc.

None of my GGC seem to know Capitals of countries ?
Something we learned when first entering Senior school at 11.
Don't they teach Geography today ?

We had Music, PE, Drama, Art, Needlework, Cookery, Singing, Divinity, English, Maths, Geography, History and Science.

I have a lot to thank for my schooling in the late 40's and 50's which was superb compared to teaching in this century.

Redhead56 Thu 21-Jan-21 18:03:44

The first school I went to was in Everton Liverpool it was grim. The toilets where in a separate block I was scared to go in there. My most vivid memory is a boy standing in front of the chalk board. A cone had been made out of card with a big letter D on it placing it on the boys head the teacher said it was because he was a dunce. I didn’t understand what that meant but I knew it wasn’t nice.

Sunlover Thu 21-Jan-21 18:06:40

I loved sewing on a Friday listening to a story. We had desks with inkwells and everyone wanted to be the ink monitor. We had some pretty strict teachers. I remember being slapped across the knuckles with a ruler till I cried and then made to wear a notice round my neck saying ‘ cry baby’. So, some happy memories but also some not so happy.

Fennel Thu 21-Jan-21 18:16:46

I'm dragging out the memories - not as a pupil but a fledgling teacher.
I do remember the sewing - "threadle my needle Miss!"
Later moved up north and faced primary classes of 50 with many learning problems.

watermeadow Thu 21-Jan-21 18:32:52

I went to lots of schools and came to an English junior school when seven and a half, when I could barely read or write. I soon caught up and enjoyed sewing, country dancing, music, art and nature study.
We had no homework or exams and parents were not expected to teach at home. There was none of the stress and hot-housing children endure now and we learnt a lot of general knowledge which is absent now.
One day, with no preparation, the 11+ exam papers were given out. I passed and went to grammar school, which was not nearly as much fun as primary school had been.

SueDonim Thu 21-Jan-21 21:26:16

I started school in 1960. I can’t say I enjoyed school much, I was always so intimidated by everything and scared of some of the teachers and bullies.

I don’t recall having clearly defined subjects such as Geography or Divinity in primary school but we did cover the kind of things mentioned here.

The Music and Movement in vest and knickers! We had colourful little rush mats and beanbags for M&M and our teacher made us have a nap or at least a rest afterwards. Maybe she went outside for a fag or something! grin

Being Stationery Monitor was the best job of all. My friend and I ran a tight ship there, all supplies had to be accounted for.

We had a maypole in our playground and I loved the coloured ribbons that were attached to it in summer. I suppose the poor old jannie had to shin there to attach them!

We had a house system and house points were tallied up in a corner of the blackboard. It was always competive although I don’t think there was any reward for the house coming first, it was the kudos that counted.

School toilets. They were outside, freezing cold, full of spiders and the doors were minuscule so teachers could look over them. Horrible.

ixion Thu 21-Jan-21 21:28:37

Oh crumbs, yes, the little bean bags! I remember them now you mention it!