2024 Spring Term

The know zone

  • The leading characters
    Assistant Headteacher Rich Atterton shines a spotlight on ASCL's remarkable 150-year history and says the story of the association is really the story of you, its members. More
  • Preserve and protect
    William Richardson explains how lockdown created a golden opportunity to recover, catalogue and permanently preserve ASCL's 150-year history. More
  • A look back through time
    Primary education has a rich and vibrant history, evolving over centuries to become the system we know today. Tiffnie Harris unveils the fascinating tale of how education for the youngest minds has transformed from its humble beginnings. More
  • When can I leave school?
    Sixth form education is still a relatively new concept in the context of the last 150 years of education. Kevin Gilmartin looks back at how our present sixth form sector has evolved. More
  • The evolution of business leadership
    Emma Harrison takes readers on a 150-year journey of school business leadership. More
  • Thanks and best wishes...
    From individual support and advice from our hotline and officers to the advice and guidance provided throughout the pandemic and beyond, here ASCL members share their memories and interactions with us and send their best wishes to the association. More
  • Embracing change
    Headteacher Tanya Douglas says she's extremely proud to be one of the longest serving members on ASCL Council - the engine room of the association's policymaking. More
  • Past Tense?
    Carl Smith shares a headmaster's log from 150 years ago and it may or may not surprise you that many of the challenges of the past remain to this day. More
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Past Tense?

Carl Smith shares a headmaster’s log from 150 years ago and it may or may not surprise you that many of the challenges of the past remain to this day.

Gentlemen. The lavatories are a problem again. Some of the boys are smuggling in clay pipes and it’s upsetting the infants. It took us twice as long to say the Lord’s Prayer yesterday because of all the coughing. At least it’s better than when I started teaching. Then it was laudanum, morphinomania they called it. Nothing like a drop of Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup to perk you up in the morning. And that was just the staff. 

Talking of teachers, it would be helpful if we had more than three. Yesterday, our best teacher had consumption (anything to get Monday off), so the juniors were taught by Master Flashman, a pupil-teacher, or apprentice teacher as some might call it, who did his best, but he is only 13 for heaven’s sake. He struggles with his times tables and if our juniors do not pass their Standard IV certificate this year, there will be no grant and we cannot survive on the fees alone. All we need is a rogue inspector and we will end up being taken over by one of those new school boards they are setting up. 

Personally, I have never liked payment by results. Test, test, test, that is all we do nowadays. And what do we test? Facts, facts and more facts. One of our scholars can recite every word of Beowulf in the original Old English, but he can’t tie his own shoelaces. Now I like a knowledge-based curriculum as much as the next man, but I fear it is becoming something of an obsession for inspectors. 

The last inspector we had was not happy with our attendance. It is not as if attendance is compulsory, though I expect it will be soon. The problem is many parents do not want their child in school. As far as they are concerned the sooner their little sprog earns his keep the better. One minister suggested in The Times that headmasters should pick up their absent scholars from home, but unless he buys me one of those new bicycles everyone is talking about that is not going to happen. 

A wing and a prayer 

I suppose this all means that we will only be judged ’fair’ again by the inspectors. Some might say we are inadequate, but I do not think even the most cold-hearted inspector would go that far. Nevertheless, we really care for our children, even if we do have to beat them from time to time. Today, I had to give a stroke to three boys for singing the wrong words in assembly, bringing a whole new meaning to the hymn We Have an Anchor

We also had a particularly severe outbreak of nits. Miss Nutting applied her comb with the usual vigour and there was some wailing and gnashing of teeth, but she got the little mites out in the end. The boys call her ’Nitty Nutting’, but she had her revenge. Unfortunately, she overdid it with one boy, and now he has a bald patch. Cuts down on the nits though. 

Speaking of nits, some boys can be silly at times. They lack even the most basic general knowledge, though thanks to Mr Disreali, when they are older, they will be able to vote, so I think we will need to teach them a little more about the world. I am inclined to teach the boys history and perhaps a little geography and I might see if the girls’ school are going to do the same. I have told the other teachers, but old Mr Wedges was rather dismissive, muttering something about another initiative, but I just ignored him. 

I like to think that when our boys are old and grey, the world might be a better place than when Mr Wedges was a young man. At the very least they might suffer a little less hardship, cruelty and neglect. Education is a force for good in this world and we should have more of it. If I had my way, every child would have a good education, regardless of who their parents were or how much money they had. It might need some investment, but it would be in everyone’s interest. An ignorant world is not a good world. 

Now back to the real world, but you will forgive me for dreaming. It is my dream and who knows, in 150 years’ time it might be everyone else’s? 

Carl Smith is Principal at Casterton College Rutland (CCR) 

Want the last word?
Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you’d like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Permjit Mann at leader@ascl.org.uk ASCL offers a modest honorarium.