SAINT NICHOLAS GRAMMAR SCHOOL FOR BOYS

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ST.Nicholas Grammar School (SNGS) HISTORY - Geoff Lee's Recollections



1.         LEADING TO MY APPOINTMENT

1.1       My years before SNGS

1.2       My Interview

1.3       After My Appointment


2.         STAFF MATTERS

2.1      The Founder Members

2.2       A Special Bond

2.3       Staff Common Room Committee

2.4       Discipline

2.5       Dress for PE


3          FACILITIES & EQUIPMENT

3.1       The Gym

3.2       The Playing Field

3.3       The Playground

3.4       The Procurement Process

3.5       The London Education Authority (LEA) - Based in Uxbridge


4          GAMES ACTIVITIES

4.1       Timetable Requirements

4.2       The House System

4.3       The Syllabus

4.4       Competitions


5          OTHER ASPECTS

5.1       Parents Association

5.2       End-of-Term Concerts

5.3       End-of-Term Sing-Songs

5.4       The School Magazine

5.5       Outstanding Games Pupils








1.     LEADING TO MY APPOINTMENT

1.1      My years before SNGS

I had been educated at a very good Grammar School, Scarborough Boys High School, where the Staff, even during the war, were caring, hard-working and strong on academic standards and behaviour. I personally experienced more success in sport than in my studies but benefited from a wide ranging education; normal subjects, drama productions, music (particularly G&S), cultural visits (just after the war) and a real sense of pride in the school.

The above was followed by National Service (I was commissioned in the Army) and then three years at Loughborough, the premier PE institution in the Country, where Standards in sport were very high.  Consequently my background of enthusiastic participation in sport and other activities, together with the success achieved and my pride in the institutions I attended coloured my approach to teaching and I strove to achieve high standards for the good of the boys, high standards to create an excellent reputation for the School, and high standards for my own personal satisfaction. It is not for me to say whether or not I helped to achieve any of the above but I set out to achieve standards and tried very hard.

Whilst in my final year at Loughborough College I played rugby for Leicester Tigers - I actually played for them for two seasons. On one of my Teaching Practices at Loughborough Grammar School the Headmaster offered me the about-to-be- vacant Head of PE position - ideal because Barbara was living and teaching in Leicestershire and I could continue playing rugby for the Tigers. The PE man I was to replace had been promoted to the post of PE Adviser in Cardiff but the job was not vacant until January 1956. Since I was not prepared to be a "Supply Teacher" for a term I began to look elsewhere.

I had strong local connections in Leicestershire but no posts were imminent. Scarborough, my home town, where the Head of my old school wanted me to go, were not likely to have a vacancy as Head of PE for a year - the Head in fact tried for eight years to get me to return - the main reason was that Barbara and I were planning to marry in August 1955 and we "wanted to extend our horizons".

From January 1955 all final year students at Loughborough were consulting the TES (Times Educational Supplement) on a weekly basis and also looking at the list of vacancies that was published in College - a list prepared as a result of former students and satisfied (with the Loughborough product) Headmasters who informed the College of impending vacancies.

A vacancy at Watford Grammar School caught my eye and subsequently three of us from Loughborough attended for interview. Finally two of us (both of us eventually were awarded 1st Class Honours Diplomas and were placed jointly in the top eight students) were called back into the Headmasters study where the famous Harry Ree offered my friend the post because I had been Commissioned in the Army and he in the RAF.

The following week I headed south again for three interviews in three days - the interview at SNGS was the first and I withdrew from the others.  I saw the advert for the post at SNGS in the TES. I had no idea where the school was or what the area offered. However, the information sent out from the Education Offices in Uxbridge stressed the opportunities of working in a brand new school. This, together with the attraction of being near London and the offer of an introduction to the Wasps rugby club by an English internationaby player, seemed appealing.

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1.2       My Interview

Memory, or poor record keeping, prevents me from giving you a precise date. I believe my interview was a few weeks before Easter. The only guide I can give you is that PLP Clarke was interviewed on the same day for the Head of English post.

Initially we were to report to the school where the Head interviewed each candidate and, in my case, I was shown the PE facilities (ie. the gymnasium).  I cannot remember whether we just looked round or were conducted. In the afternoon the interviewing panel was composed of the Headmaster, Chief Education Officer (Uxbridge) and the PE Adviser for Middlesex.

I can only assume that all interviews followed the same pattern as mine:

  • Panel: Head, LEA Rep., and Subject Adviser.
  • Place: the School, and the Education Offices, Uxbridge.
  • Criteria: Staff had to be experienced, have a good track record, show evidence of being a good disciplinarian and/or come highly recommended.

Robert Francis Edward Watson (RFEW): In PE & Games he knew exactly what he wanted from his Head of PE, and he battled with the LEA Officers to get whom he wanted. I think it logical to assume that he did the same in all subjects.

There were three candidates for interview, two of us from Loughborough and one of the Middlesex County Advisers for PE, who was about to lose his job because the Authority was cutting back on advisory posts. This candidate (who subsequently became Headmaster of a Primary School on Pinner Hill) was clearly the favourite for the post and I think RFEW was in a minority of one! The other Loughborough candidate was better on paper than he was in the flesh and I did not feel intimidated by his presence.

At the end of the interviews the three candidates were kept waiting for what seemed an age. Eventually the LEA candidate was called back - end of story! NO. After a few minutes he came out and told us that he had turned down the post - simultaneously I was called back in - on passing him I asked what the problem was and he told me that there was nothing wrong with the job but he had turned it down for "philosophical reasons".

On entering the interview room again I was asked one question -"Will you be prepared to teach ONLY rugby as the major winter game?"  Clearly my answer was, "YES".

This point may seem obscure but RFEW felt strongly that rugby was the game for all really good Public and Grammar Schools to play. However the idealistic view held by many in PE at the time was that children should be introduced to a wide range of activities where width was better than depth.

Whilst I was at Loughborough the belief there was that you concentrate on one sport to achieve standards and then widen the scope. You may remember that by 1962 the 5th & 6th forms did have options they could follow, but this came after a thorough grounding in the schools chosen sports. When I moved North to Didsbury College of Education the "Options band-wagon" was rife in secondary schools and survived for some years unchallenged. Eventually most schools compromised somewhat but I believe the damage was done and PE & Games lost its unique ability to contribute to high standards of sports skills, general behaviour and respect for authority.

The PE Adviser lined up by the LEA to take the post, insisted that he would wish to follow a broader curriculum. I had a very strong background in rugby and was more than willing to accede to RFEW's insistence.

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1.3       After My Appointment

After my appointment the only contact I had with RFEW was when Barbara (then my fiancée) and I came to Northwood one weekend "flat hunting". We were invited to RFEW's home for tea and had a general discussion about the PE programme.  One major influence that I had to overcome was the fact that Mrs Watson was a qualified PE teacher who would have gladly issued me with orders. To her credit, at the end of the first year, (July 1956), after I had organised the first ever Sports Day at Potter Street, I was granted "unreserved approval". My guess is that other Members of Staff who lived nearer probably visited the Head/School well in advance of opening.

A day or two before the Bourne Cohort arrived (they started at least one day before the first years) all the Staff met in the Staffroom to be briefed. As I remember RFEW talked about standards of behaviour, dress and teamwork. I do not think that there was any serious discussion on any topics - I was the "New Boy" and tended to speak when spoken to, but I do believe that there was a unity of purpose throughout all the Staff in the early months. Perhaps I am naïve but I think RFEW had, through careful selection, gathered about him a team of staff who were committed to achieving the standards he had set and whose prior experiences assisted in this aim.  My opinion is still the same - I don't think there was a weak link in the Foundation Staff as a group appointed to achieve an objective.

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2.         STAFF MATTERS

2.1       The Founder Members

 KA James ( Ken - "Jumbo") - Deputy Head & Head of Maths (also i/c Music at which he was quite outstanding). He had worked with RFEW at St Clement Danes Grammar School. My guess is that Ken was the first to be appointed and had considerable influence in the drawing up of shortlists and preparation of the first timetable.

PLP Clarke ( Peter - (Basher") - Head of English. Interviewed on the same day as myself.  An experienced teacher from a Surrey school.

K Richardson (John) - Head of French. If I remember correctly he came from Bishopshalt GS in Uxbridge- where RFEW had also taught.

R Armstrong (Bob - "Chippy") - Head of Woodwork. No knowledge on my part of his previous experience, but I suspect he came with a strong recommendation re. discipline. I believe he came from West Wales.

TD Plenderleith (Donald, Ted - "Bomber") - Head of Art. I believe he came from Pinner GS. Obviously had very good artistic pedigree and was highly regarded in artistic circles. Could have received strong backing from the LEA Art Adviser.

G Easom (George) - Head of Science. Must have been highly recommended. 

PR Banton (Peter - "Burt") - Head of Geography. I think Peter came from a Hertfordshire school. He would have had a superb CV both from RAF experience and Cambridge (two "half blues").  Often proved "a thorn in RFEW's flesh", but an excellent teacher.

PHJH Gosden (Peter) - Head of History. Possessed an air of authority from day one, but I know nothing of his background.

JG Lee (Geoff) - Head of PE & Games.  The only member of Foundation Staff straight from College/University. I know that my recommendation from my own school, Loughborough and Referees was good. Plus I had been Commissioned in the Army and was also a County and "top" club rugby player.

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2.2       A Special Bond

The original staff members had a special bond because in addition to our subject roles, the collective role of establishing a new quality school was common to us all. Being a small Staff we had to use a "team" approach, not just in games, but also in Music (Choir), Drama (Scenery) and, I am pretty sure that we all taught one or two other subjects.  For example during my stay at the School I taught English Literature, Woodwork and Geography - the latter being my 2nd subject at Loughborough.

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2.3       Staff Common Room Committee.

I was the first Member of Staff to hold an "Office".  I was in charge of The Tea Swindle as from the very first Staff Meeting - the only qualification was being the youngest and greenest.

At a point in either the 1st or 2nd year a few rumbles occurred in the Common Room about a decision made by RFEW (so serious I haven't a clue what it was). Experienced colleagues suggested that a formal organisation might prevent such events and at least, would provide a line of communication to RFEW other than via Ken James who, by nature of his post as Deputy Head, had to keep confidences both ways.

Once the size of the Staff increased there was a greater need to have a SCR Committee and Chairman, and the Chairman did make representations to RFEW on behalf of the SCR on matters such as Staff Meetings, Parents' Evenings and Staff duties. My first recollection of the chain of office was that it was a joke - was it a chain from the toilet? The "bons mots" book was, I think, started by Clark or Banton.

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2.4       Discipline

RFEW insisted from day 1 that discipline would be strict and we were to set high standards. I think some rules were dictated to us.  During 1955- 1956 with only 180 (approx.) boys in the school RFEW and colleagues tackled the immediate issues first. These were:-

  • a) discipline in the broadest sense - school uniform, walking along corridors, standing when Staff came into a room
  • b) organisation of daily routine - Assembly (when, where, how, why), Lunch (table organisation, serving, Staff presence, manners), etc.
  • c) Arrival of books, equipment etc.
  • d) Transport arrangements for games lessons.

In other words, it entailed everything that happens in an established school automatically but had to be initiated in a new school.

RFEW told us he would be prepared to cane boys who committed serious offences - this did not happen very frequently. Other punishments were usually chosen by Staff.  For example Armstrong had boys back to clean up the workshop, Gosden & Clark (I think) gave lines, Banton used "hands on heads and keep still", but the universal one (mentioned elsewhere) was "Go and stand facing the wall boy"!

A number of boys were introduced to "Gym", their own plimsoll, for misdemeanours - only a gentle tap on the backside. During week 2 RFEW came to the changing rooms to see me and arrived at the precise moment when one boy was bent over.  My short career flashed before my eyes, but I was relieved to hear RFEW say "Well done Mr Lee. I'm pleased to see you starting the way you mean to go on".   My belief is that "Gym" was used sparingly in the first few weeks and rarely used after the first few weeks. Eventually the "threat" was the sole of an old plimsoll hanging in the window of my changing room. When I left to take up my post at Didsbury Training College this plimsoll followed me - the boys of 5D sent it to me in a parcel with very best wishes!

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2.5       Dress for PE.

Originally we opted for very basic clothing - white plimsolls, blue shorts and white singlet for indoors; rugby boots, blue (I think) socks, white shirts. Later, once the House system was in operation, each boy had a white shirt and one in the colour of his house (Abbots - red, Bec - gold, Kevere - green, Kings - blue). Once inter-school fixtures began we designed a school shirt. Originally most sports equipment and clothing came from a sports shop in Watford (Wrens), although we also used a Company owned by two of my fellow Wasps rugby players.

Eventually Peter Banton began to run a School Shop in the Geography store and this proved very effective. Setting high standards of dress is so important in establishing pride in the school. Boys had to be in school uniform on Saturdays for inter-school matches (this, for several years, included a cap) and anyone, including one of the best players, was sent home who did not comply.

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3          FACILITIES & EQUIPMENT

3.1       The Gym

At interview the only facility on view was the Gymnasium. A very traditional design but well equipped with wall bars, beams, window ladders and ropes. No smaller apparatus was supplied at this stage - this suited me because I was able to order that which I required.

Traditionally the LEA was responsible for the fabric of the gym. The school, from capitation, had to purchase bats, balls etc. This situation had always been a bone of contention between LEA's and the school. By September 1956 I had found a way of avoiding purchasing through the LEA "store" whilst still managing to get the LEA to provide more than our fair share of large equipment.

A boxing ring was supplied by the LEA and I arranged for it to be sent elsewhere as soon as I obtained a guarantee that we could spend the "full purchase value" of the ring on other more suitable equipment.

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3.2       The Playing Field

The playing field was rough pasture land. We did use a small section of the field during the first year but it was exceptionally uneven.  Again, the advantage of being on the spot and having a say in the layout of the field (e.g. jumping pits and cricket nets) meant that when the field was ready for use, despite the slope, we finished with a very useful teaching and playing area.

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3.3       The Playground

In order to make use of the Playground we managed to get lines painted on the surface in the form of an athletics track and, with the help of Robert Armstrong and some parents we dug out and laid a long jump pit and two cricket nets in a corner of the field. The first and second Annual School Athletics Sports were held at Potter Street School, Northwood Hills. During these competitions all Members of Staff participated as Recorders and Judges, a tradition which continued for many years.

Two tales:-

  • a. Robert Armstrong was helping to erect cricket nets on the playground and decided that metal pegs should be made to drive into concrete slabs that would hold the guy lines. He hadn't time to make them and instructed me how to operate the anvil and beat the pieces of metal into submission. He asked me, "What are you trying to do? Break bl##dy toffee!"

Having demonstrated the art he handed me the hammer again and I gave the peg a good hefty thump. Unfortunately I missed the white hot peg, hit the anvil and the hammer rebounded at an even faster rate and hit me in the teeth! All in the name of sport!

  • b. In December 1955, the first ever School Cross Country Championship took place from Northwood Rec. round Ruislip Woods. Every boy had to run except those medically excused or absent from School - I think this figure was fewer than ten. My aim was to be super efficient since it was the first big event I organised and all Members of Staff were helping as Judges or Marshalls.

As we checked the results we couldn't get the numbers to balance - we were one short! Off I went round the course to find the lost boy. No success. Conclusion - it must be a clerical error.

I cycled home and after tea Barbara helped me to go through the numbers again. Still one short.  As my career flashed before my eyes I cycled back to School in the dark, complete with torch and walked the course again. Still no luck. At least I didn't find a body.

I went into School very early the next day and spent some time with Mrs Cutler (the first Secretary). The numbers in one first year class did not balance. One name was on the register but not appear on my competitors list. It transpired that this pupil had never taken up his place at SNGS but had been marked as present by his Form Master and had paid his Dinner Money every week since September. The Form Master?  TDP.

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3.4       The Procurement Process

As far as possible the facilities provided as the School progressed were to the highest specification we could obtain.  For example -

  • a) The LEA Adviser would visit and I would ask him for additional hurdles (most Schools only had enough for one lane, and I wanted six lanes of our own so we didn't need to borrow from other Schools). The Adviser would write the request down on his cigarette packet, which he almost always threw in a bin before leaving. However on the next day he received a confirmation of the request by post - this tactic never failed us!
  • b) Eric Charlton (Metalwork) made some excellent purpose built racks in which to store discus, javelins, shots.
  • c) The Parents' Association provided some funding for small items not affordable from official sources. More later about their practical help.
  • d) The cricket nets and jumping pits were provided to a much higher specification than in most other LEA Schools.
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3.5       The LEA

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the high level of co-operation and support by the LEA and the PE Adviser (Mr Gray). Whilst the field was being prepared we were provided with coaches to take boys to Queensmead School, South Ruislip for rugby games afternoons, and in the summer we used Northwood Recreation Ground for cricket and athletics.

The opening of "Joel Street School" was long awaited by the LEA, particularly the locally elected Councillors. This could have led to interference by Officers and Councillors but I think RFEW handled it very well. For example -

  • a) The building was supplied by the LEA (Architects, Planners etc.) and the LEA Subject Advisers ordered the basic equipment. In PE, these were the large items in the gym - wall bars, climbing frames, boxes, bucks and Boxing Ring! I assume that in other subjects - Science, Woodwork, Art, etc - the equivalent large, commonly used apparatus was also pre-ordered.
  • b) The field existed as farmland and was virtually unusable prior to levelling etc. and after levelling banned from use until officially handed over. The advantage in this was that I got the opportunity to requisition the facilities we required on the field - long jump pit, cricket nets - and had a say in the specification and positioning. The ultimate quality was better than at any State School in Middlesex.
  • c) The LEA was used to appointing Staff to Secondary Schools from their "Pool" and RFEW had to establish his right to appoint his own Staff. This pressure typically occurred with later appointments but I can only think of one example when someone came from the "Pool" - When D J Holness left PE to become Head of PE at Rye GS there was not time to advertise via Loughborough to get a replacement, and rather than use Staff from other subjects to help out (we had done this in year two with Bill Thomas), we had a look at the "Pool" candidate Peter Cahill! What an inspired (lucky) appointment.
  • d) As you may know LEAs employed Subject Advisers to oversee work in Schools. Their role was to support, advise and examine. I cannot generalise, but in PE the following situation existed: - I was straight from College and in my "Probationary Year" therefore the PE Adviser had to visit me about three times before he could finally "approve" me. This had the advantage that I got to know the Adviser well, convinced him that we were progressive and a "quality" School, and subsequently obtained extra equipment from LEA funds and we were permitted to purchase bats, balls, athletics equipment etc. direct from our own chosen suppliers. His gain was a Boxing Ring - which he gave to another School. I cannot say whether or not similar situations occurred in Art, Woodwork, Science or Library.

My impression of the Uxbridge Office was that, like most L.E.A.s, they wanted to exercise as much control over their schools as possible, particularly where finance was involved. I cannot remember it being discussed but I think Grammar Schools generally were given greater freedom to run their own affairs than Secondary Modern Schools. This was certainly the case with long established Grammar Schools but SNGS was new and I think RFEW had to be very firm with "the Office" to gain his freedom.

On the whole I think that the L.E.A. dealt reasonably well with the provision for PE and, once the Advisers had been won over, we were allowed to accumulate facilities and equipment that were better than most other Grammar Schools. Public Schools had far better playing fields but that was to be expected. Our own field was, sadly, limited by the slope and the clay sub-soil but it was certainly adequate for teaching purposes if limited for competition.

Northwood Recreation Ground was also used in winter for rugby lessons (single periods). This same area became the starting point and finish for our cross country course which meandered through Ruislip Woods.

In the first two years more cross country was undertaken than would normally have been the case because of the playing field situation. I can assure you from personal experience that the boys were not "sent on a run" but were accompanied by a member of staff (ME!) - some feat because on some days I would run the course three times!

In later years when cross country became a team activity in the school programme, obviously the competitors did run on their own. In the 1959-1962 period we even hosted the Middlesex Grammar Schools Championship several times with Messrs Cahill, Ridge and Jefford excelling in their organisation.

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4          GAMES ACTIVITIES

4.1       Timetable Requirements

I assume that each Head of Department was expected to inform RFEW of how many periods per week he required for the teaching of his subject and also the broad outline of the proposed curriculum. This would entail "set books", laboratory equipment, etc.

As mentioned earlier, all my colleagues were experienced teachers and, presumably, readily available to pass their requirements on to RFEW. Quite clearly they would have strong views on the best textbooks etc.

If memory serves me correctly I asked RFEW for -

  • a) Two periods each week for indoor activities e.g. gymnastics, fitness training, basketball and indoor athletics.
  • b) A double period each week for each year group for games. Preferably a full afternoon. (Hence the 5 period morning and 2 period afternoon).

c)  An additional period in the summer term for swimming (this was provided by the LEA). Needless to say, since this involved travelling to Uxbridge outdoor pool, it took much longer than 1 period and was not all that successful. We dropped it in later years.

Having, at interview, established that rugby would be the major winter game, the consequence was the Games Afternoon, facilities and staff to assist me.

I sent some documentation to RFEW, whilst I was still at Loughborough, on timetable requirements and also met at his home on one occasion. A couple of days before the pupils arrived, RFEW asked me to his room to discuss my brief.

THIS, I BELIEVE, SHOWED PRECISELY WHAT RFEW WANTED TO ACHIEVE.

I paraphrase -

"Mr Lee, I expect you to play a vital role in the development of the school by setting high standards of achievement in sport, high standards of behaviour, pride in the School, high standards of dress and the ‘correct' spirit in playing games.

We must realise that it will be at least 3 years (probably 4 or 5 years) before we have any examination results that residents of NW Middlesex will hear of and will be encouraged to send their sons to S NGS.  Mr Lee you can put this school ‘on the map' in a couple of years by setting these high standards AND I will give you all the assistance I can."

What an opportunity for a newly qualified PE teacher! What a challenge!

It was with this background that I planned the internal structure for PE - set standards, organised internal competitions (initially inter-form) and began to hold discussions on a possible House System. I also began to negotiate with other schools regarding inter school fixtures in January 1956.  My major criteria (possibly my only one) was that we would only play against "good schools", in particular those who could/would ultimately play us at 1st XV and 1st XI levels. (NB fixtures against local Secondary Modern Schools were rare and only accepted on the basis of "a one off event").

I believe this approach proved to be the correct one as later events confirmed.

1955-56

During the first year of the school being open we followed a timetable that RFEW had planned earlier, presumably after discussions with Staff.  In PE I had asked for two single periods per week with each class and one double period with each class. This was complicated slightly because of swimming being offered in the Summer Term.   Because of staffing it was necessary for me to teach all the PE & Games in this first year i.e. single and double periods.

My timetable was:-

12 Single PE periods   +   12 Double Games   +   2 Geography   + 2 English Literature

A total  of 28 out of a possible 35!

I believe I was given two more "free periods" than other Members of Staff because it was my Probationary Year and I was also using up a lot of my time travelling to games lessons as well as after school practices.

1956-57

We were not satisfied with the quality of PE candidates based on the applications received and RFEW and I decided to use Bill Thomas (he had expressed a willingness at interview to assist with games) to take a few single periods of indoor games as well as a "Games Afternoon".

It was decided to organise the timetable as a 5 period morning and a 2 period afternoon to assist in travelling to South Ruislip for double games lessons (we travelled back to school in "overtime"). The four 1st year classes, the four 2nd year classes and the two 3rd year classes each had a games afternoon i.e. three afternoons. This required additional staff, and RFEW left no stone unturned to make appropriate colleagues available. I took one class for Woodwork so that Armstrong could take one class for Technical Drawing, freeing Plenderleith to help with games - this was typical of the effort that RFEW made to further games teaching, and typical of the co-operation of colleagues.

During this period PLP Clarke, PR Banton, TD Plenderleith and WJ Thomas were timetabled to teach games.

From 1956 onwards RFEW planned the Timetable in conjunction with Ken James (who gradually took on the responsibility of putting the details on the Timetable, such as room allocations, staff cover for absences, etc) after RFEW had blocked in the basic allocation of time.

I am not sure that other Staff know the following two points but I record them as a further illustration of RFEW's determination to establish a "flagship" school.

a) In June 1956 RFEW asked me to go to his study one free period to discuss next year's timetable. Imagine my surprise when we stood over a completely blank sheet and RFEW declared that the first thing he wished to do was to put the double afternoon games lessons on the timetable together with the names of the Staff I required with each age-group. Further he ensured that no form had PE on the morning of their double games day. I was called in again if any juggling of Staff was needed.

I feel sure that RFEW must have consulted all Heads of Department about the number of lessons required and the preferred teacher for each class but it was significant that he started with PE.

b) When new posts were identified, applications invited and interviews arranged, I feel sure RFEW would have discussed every detail with the appropriate Head of Department and the Deputy Head. Much to my surprise, once a "long short-list" was drawn up, RFEW would give me the papers and ask me to examine them and tell him which candidates would be able to make a positive contribution to the teaching of games and what that contribution could be.

That RFEW asked the least experienced Member of Staff for his opinions and placed PE & Games so highly on his "early days" agenda is very significant.

1957 onwards

The PE programme proceeded i.e. as outlined in the printed Syllabus with 1st to 5th years having two single periods and one double games; the 6th form had one single period and one double games (with the 5th years).

I was timetabled for every games afternoon as were D J Holness (1957-1959) and P J Cahill (1959- onwards). We were assisted by P L P Clarke, P R Banton, T D Plenderleith, W J Thomas, L W Baker, C M Johns, P Newton, D C Owen, A J Tisdale, K B Walker, J F G Williams, B J Clarke, D J Proudman, ?? Astbury, M B Chettleborough.

I AM SURE I HAVE MISSED SOMEONE OUT!

Many of the staff not only had games on their weekly timetable but also took responsibility for coaching one of the year group teams, which involved a session after school and regular refereeing/umpiring on Saturdays. It is a testament to the enthusiasm and commitment of SNGS Staff that in some years two Members of Staff jointly ran one of the teams.  Additionally several of the above Staff took on the responsibility to run an after-school club as did several other colleagues.

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4.2       The House System

Because of the staffing and the size of the school, the basic organisation of "the form" was quite adequate for most purposes.  In games I taught one form at a time and organised small competitions between forms as appropriate.

If my memory serves me right, it was some point in the first term that we began to have discussions about setting up Houses. From my point of view a lively House System was virtually essential for the development of an internal competitive structure, although I got a strong feeling from some of my colleagues that they had experienced enough of them in previous schools and would happily go along without one.  RFEW was, I believe, strongly in favour of the House system and therefore discussions continued.

My suggestions were invited and obviously I put forward ideas based on my subject and my own experience.  As a schoolboy at Scarborough Boys High School was of a House system that embraced academic work as well as sport, drama & music. Every two weeks pupils were graded in terms of effort and attainment in all subjects with a "1" gaining a point for the House, a "2" being neutral and a "3" losing a point. This system may have been popular with all Staff but as a tool of motivation it was excellent and woe betide any boy who was given a string of "3"s.

The suggestion that academic work should be built into the system received a resounding "no" from colleagues and, if I remember correctly, I was then given a clear run to organise a sports orientated House system.

"Joel Street School" was not a name to survive. I think PHJH Gosden (with/without RFEW) contacted Kings Cambridge (had they owned the land on which the school was built?) and the name St Nicholas was adopted. It followed that Houses could be named from the same background, hence - Abbots, Bec, Kevere, and Kings.

The House competitions then reflected the PE programme that the boys were following, and as the school grew in size extra activities were added.

Peter Cahill tells me that he took over the administration of the House competitions when he succeeded me as Head of PE and additional non-sporting activities were added.

A list of activities and the results of the House competitions were recorded in the School Magazine from its inception.

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4.3       The Syllabus

4.3.1    General.

Over the last one hundred years PE in schools has rightly changed to meet perceived needs of children and has been influenced from two ends of the spectrum; the Public Schools and the Elementary Schools. The main trends have been, Drill, Drill plus some basic games, a programme chosen by the School (e.g. Grammar Schools tended to ape Public Schools, Elementary to follow a limited range of activities), the introduction of  "Educational Gymnastics" (an attempt to encourage discovery  and expression in children) a period when a broad range of activities was followed to a lower level and leading to Options, a period of less and less PE (Staffing, pressure of other subjects, Health & Safety issues), and finally a resurgence under the fitness and health banner.

In my view S NGS was clearly at the Public School end of the continuum, avoiding "Educational Gymnastics", and slowly built on firm foundations to encourage pupil choice.

4.3.2    Policy.

Each school year group followed a selected group of activities where every effort was made to set high standards. Rugby and Cricket were the major games and Athletics was covered in the main in the single periods with the number of events taught increasing yearly. Also in the single periods Basketball was introduced. (Not to mention CRAB FOOTBALL - very popular with the boys (and Staff).

The programme was broadened in the 5th & 6th forms with the choice of Rugby, Cricket, Cross Country, Athletics, Tennis, Badminton, Basketball and Swimming offered where Staff and facilities were available.

4.3.3    After-School Clubs

Initially all after-school clubs had to be taken by myself but gradually, as additional Members of Staff were appointed, numerous colleagues offered to help, which permitted a much wider range of activities to be offered together with some specialised coaching. I was always most appreciative of the help given by colleagues.

4.3.4    House Matches.

The activities appearing in the House Competition were directly related to the PE Syllabus and matches were played in the school day (with some juggling of lessons), although gradually more and more of the House Matches took place after lessons.

Initially an effort was made to involve as many boys as possible in the competitions.  For example, in Athletics a "Standards Competition" was held, where each boy attempted to achieve as high a standard of performance in the events offered in his year. Usually three levels were set and boys got more points the higher the level reached. This contrasts with "Sports Day", where the best in each group compete. Another example of mass participation was Cross Country - although this was a necessity in the early years because of the lack of facilities.

4.3.5    Inter-School Matches.

This was the window through which the quality of the School could be shown to the prospective parents of future pupils. However, apart from all aspects of "reputation", it is logical that if you learn to play rugby you should be able to test yourself against others of a similar age. My brief was to obtain the best fixture list I could get, but whilst doing it I had to make sure that the schools we played against were quality schools who could offer us fixtures through to 6th form level.

To achieve a wide ranging inter-school programme Staff are needed.  From year one RFEW insisted that ALL Members of Staff should give up at least one Saturday a term to supervise teams.  This did not mean refereeing, although umpiring cricket was undertaken.  Fortunately so many Members of Staff became involved in coaching teams on a regular basis, taking sessions after school as well as refereeing on Saturdays, that some other Members of Staff were excused from their duty. The level of commitment shown by colleagues was extremely high and I believe a great camaraderie developed between us. I have always believed that where" Classroom Teachers" participate in school sport, and are seen by boys to enjoy it, their relationships with pupils is dramatically enhanced.

Again I shall be forever grateful of the help willingly given by colleagues.  Several Staff attended Rugby Refereeing sessions held in the evenings by an International Referee, and one Member of Staff attended courses on judging Field Events in Athletics.

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4.4       Competitions

4.4.1    General

By their very nature Games, Athletics, Cross Country, Gymnastics etc are competitive.  The Programme at SNGS was designed to enable the boys to develop through the various stages of competition in the activities they had been learning. Consequently, the opportunity for as many boys as possible to compete was offered via -

            Inter-Form Competitions (particularly in 1955-56)

            House Competitions

            Inter-School Competitions

            County Events/Trials

             England!!


During the first term of 1955, as the boys began to learn how to play rugby, albeit a simplified version, I grouped them in forms on occasions to introduce a little motivation into the competitions.  At a later stage I remember organising Inter-Form matches on Saturday mornings (sometimes refereed by other Members of Staff) which enabled those boys who were not selected to play in the School Team for that year, to experience playing in a competitive situation where they were "representing" a wider group.

4.4.2    House Competitions

Gradually, as the School grew in size and the curriculum developed, competitions between the Houses became an important part of school life. All competitions were organised in age-groups i.e. Junior (1st & 2nd Years), Middle (3rd & 4th Years) and Senior (5th & 6th Years). Gradually Trophies were purchased or donated to be played for and, after Presentation, displayed in the Hall.

Rugby and Cricket were played on a "league" basis where each House played the other three. Athletics had two parts - Sports Day and Standards Competitions.  Although I cannot remember exactly when the first House Matches took place, I have a vague idea that it may have been September 1956, and yet, I have several photographs of the first Sports Day held at Potter Street which show Barry Maddams (Abbots House first ever Captain) being presented with a trophy.

Gymnastics also appeared on the Inter-House list of competitions, probably from 1957.

4.4.3    Inter-School Fixtures (Rugby)

The dilemma facing a new Grammar School was that all the local Secondary Modern Schools wanted to play against us and, in the main, they were "soccer schools" who did not play a very good standard of rugby. A few fixtures were played against Secondary Modern Schools for specific reasons:-

  • Potter Street (Northwood Hills) because we occasionally used their playing field.
  • Queensmead School (South Ruislip) because we used their playing field daily. (Barbara taught at this School)
  • Copeland School (Wembley) because they had a good standard of rugby, taught by an acquaintance of mine who also played for Wasps.

By playing just a few fixtures against these Secondary Modern Schools we were able to show that we were not snobbish, could easily say to other schools that we had no dates available, whilst showing appreciation to three schools that helped us in the early years.

By far the most important factor in deciding against whom to play was the fact that we needed fixtures against schools with large 6th forms thus enabling us to play right through the school.

An additional personal issue that put me under pressure was that virtually every PE specialist teaching in North West Middlesex had applied for the post I now held and wanted to prove that they should have got the job- not one of them was short- listed.  A twist was that the teacher at Queensmead had applied and then Barbara went there to teach with him!

Pinner Grammar School

This was our nearest rival/opponent. Being a mixed school reduced the number of boys available for their teams but they were worthy opponents.

Rickmansworth Grammar School

Another mixed school, but, as a relatively new school, was keen to set standards. We played our first inter-school match against them at Old Merchant Taylors' ground. From the kick-off Jim Lockyer (Lockyear?), a big lad who came to us with a reputation as a very good soccer player, and who did not want to play rugby, caught the ball and ran through to score a try - the first ever try scored for SNGS.  Unfortunately Rickmansworth, who had played for one more year than SNGS, scored three or four tries and we lost something like 27 - 3.

Watford Grammar School

An ideal choice, since it was an all boys school with an excellent reputation, who were willing to play on "games afternoons" and turning out 4 teams per year (60 boys from each school representing their schools - FANTASTIC).

Having been interviewed for a post at Watford I had a contact with them, although my Loughborough colleague was not in charge of games, he oiled the wheels and we established an excellent relationship.

The above are just three examples of how the fixture list began to build up. Watford "put in a good word for us" with a few schools and I used my Wasps connections to gain introductions to other schools. Another useful source of contacts was made by my attending Middlesex Schools Rugby Committee meetings, eventually becoming a Selector for the County Schools XV.

By 1962 the list of Schools played was: - Old Boys, Rickmansworth GS, Hampton GS, Chiswick GS, Hayes GS, Bishopshalt GS, R G S Guilford, Orange Hill GS, Harrow County GS, William Ellis School, St Albans GS, St Marylebone GS, Sutton GS, Maidenhead GS, Vyner's GS, Isleworth GS, Borehamwood GS, Pinner GS, Windsor GS, Thames Valley GS, High Wycombe GS, Alleyne's GS, Merchant Taylors School, and Gunnersbury GS. (Probably not an exhaustive list but taken from a copy of the School Calendar).

4.4.4    Inter School Fixtures (Cricket).

Although we attempted in the early years to set up "nets" in the playground and then constructed two concrete wickets, financed by the Parents' Association, our practice facilities were poor until the school field was professionally developed.  I believe the four hard surface nets with metal framework were as good as an LEA school could hope for. We were provided with one grass cricket square by the LEA, and the Parents Association provided funds for a second, which was laid down by our own Groundsman, Mr Cecil Curd (A neighbour of mine). Incidentally, most secondary schools in Middlesex had to use the LEA's touring playing field team for maintenance, which we found rather unreliable, but we managed to gain approval to appoint our own Groundsman.

The quality of our two wickets was always going to be suspect because of the clay sub-soil and a poor-ish quality of grass in the outfield.  For a number of years we were granted permission to use the cricket pitches at Northwood Recreation Ground mid-week.

Cricket is a team game BUT made up of some very individual skills that are slow to develop and where "one to one" coaching is required as boys strive to reach a good competitive level.  At SNGS we began to make progress when Keith Walker, himself a good Club Cricketer, took on much of the coaching of the 1st XI. The groundwork still has to be done as early as possible and several Staff coached age-group teams to good effect.

So in the early years it was easier for the above reasons to reach a higher standard in Rugby than in Cricket although there was no lack of effort or commitment in trying to progress. Remember, also, that Cricket is a Summer Term game, a term that has a holiday in the middle of it, not to mention Athletics and School Examinations.

The Cricket Fixture list by 1961 included the following schools:- Christ's College Finchley, Kingsbury County GS, Bishopshalt GS, St Marylebone GS, Rickmansworth GS, Watford GS, Hayes GS, The Staff, St Clement Danes, Ealing GS,  Lower School of John Lyon, Royal Commercial Travellers' School, Elliotts Green GS, Vyners GS and  Northwood Secondary School.

Generally the results throughout the age ranges were 50-50.  In 1961 the number of wins, draws and losses were almost equal.

4.4.5    Other Sports

With the appointment of Peter Cahill to the PE Department rapid progress was made by adding Cross Country and Athletics to the activities undertaken at Inter-School level. Cross Country teams began to feature regularly in matches against other schools, and organised school events in athletics raised the profile of SNGS.

Earlier reference has been made to holding Middlesex Grammar Schools Cross Country

Championships at SNGS, and because of the excellent organisation of these events, the reputation of SNGS was further enhanced.

From 1959 (?) we began to hold regular Friday evening Athletics matches during the Summer Term across the age-group range. These proved to be an excellent addition to our programme of competitive sport and  led to the start of The St Nicholas Trophy, an Athletics Competition between six schools held once a year.

From about 1960, with the help of various Members of Staff, Badminton and Basketball began to feature as part of the Inter- Schools programme.

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5          OTHER ASPECTS

5.1       Parents Association

The name "Parents' Association" tells us something significant about RFEW.  He had either been strongly advised to avoid giving official approval of the Association by being involved personally (or indeed any Teacher) in their "political" deliberations or he had learnt from previous experience that Parents and Teachers should be kept separate to avoid conflicts about pupils and "School" matters.

That the Parents' Association and RFEW and the School got on so well and the relationship was so productive (certainly in the first 8 years) is, I believe, another triumph for RFEW.  I realise he was the President but this was purely a sign of two way respect.

I referred earlier to the Parents' Association providing funds very early on for small projects.  For example before the Summer Term (1956) Robert Armstrong and I arranged to lay two concrete wickets, not far from the Caretaker's house, which the PA funded and provided some practical help. These cricket nets proved useful until our proper facilities were provided.

Our first "Home" rugby fixture took place in Hillingdon on a pitch just behind RFEW's home. Believing that the Home side should provide refreshments after the game I purchased orange juice and Barbara did some baking for me (teamwork!) and came along to help serve. As far as I remember the home baking went down very well, although Mrs Watson advised Barbara to "put less jam in the tarts next time".  Not very diplomatic.

Fortunately the PA agreed to take on the responsibility for providing after match teas very early in our development. Mrs Henderson was the initiator and co-ordinator, and what a fantastic job she did! We started with one or two teams (for rugby this amounted to approx. 70 people to serve), and this developed into the PA providing refreshments for major events we hosted, such as the Middlesex Grammar Schools Cross Country Championship.  This system was still operating in April 1962 when I left.

The PA eventually raised most of their funds "for the good of the School", via the School Fair.  Bryan Tilbrook was the driving force and a fantastic entrepreneur.  My recollection is of vibrant events and exceptionally high income.

My major contribution on the day of the Fair was to play the tuba in the Brass Group. Ken James tried to get me to learn the trumpet but my lips didn't react correctly.  Then, because no boy was able to tackle the tuba, I was enlisted to play the larger instrument. Bill Thomas played the trombone.

The relationship we had in those early years with the PA was first class. Everyone wanted to set high standards and cooperate fully to enhance the development of our pupils. Much to my surprise when I was leaving, the Ladies of the PA presented Barbara and me with a silver teapot!! I still have it.

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5.2       End-of-Term Concerts

The boys performed various sketches, with suitable "digs" at the Staff, and we had a gentle dig at the boys. If I remember correctly some music was included, usually rather different from that played in Assembly - a guitar group springs to mind and a trumpet solo.

On one occasion Ken James entered the Hall with the tuba held on his shoulder and eating an apple (he could still reach the valves).  To this was joined a long length of hose-pipe, supported by three other Members of Staff, on the end of which was the mouthpiece and J G Lee blowing into it. We played "Daisy, Daisy ...etc."  Only a little rehearsal produced an adequate, recognisable sound.  It should be added that Ken James was an extremely competent trombone player whose party piece was "The Flight of the Bumble Bee". He frequently played at these concerts by popular demand.

The spirit that was evident at these functions spoke volumes for the relationships that existed between the vast majority of pupils and staff.

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5.3       End-of-Term Sing-Songs

In December 1955 RFEW wanted to offer sherry to Members of Staff between morning break and lunch. He obviously discussed this with Ken James who offered to take the whole school into the Hall where he would play the piano for a sing-song, with one proviso - I was to help him. On this first occasion we had only 180 boys and I am sure we never envisaged doing it with 600 + boys which is what eventually happened.

This event certainly took place every Christmas but, somehow, I think it became a termly event by popular demand.  Ken James was an ideal pianist for this sort of event, as he could play pretty well anything "by ear" and juggle keys around suitably. The two of us developed a repertoire of traditional "sing along" songs - "Ten Green Bottles", "On Ilkley Moor Bar T'at", "Daisy, Daisy", to name just a few,  but we went on for about one hour.       

I do remember discussions about who should be excluded as the school topped 600, but the 6th form in the main still wanted to attend. My last session was March/April 1962 on the day I left - I well remember the Hall being packed - what a send-off!

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5.4       The School magazine

I think PLPC was instrumental in starting off this valuable production, and Bryan Tilbrook was involved in the advertising.

From the point of view of PE this document was invaluable in recording the events of the programme, the results etc.

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5.5       Outstanding Games Pupils

I have so many happy memories of my 7 years at SNGS it seems rather invidious to mention any individuals  because I can connect with some of them because of one event and others because of their total involvement in sport. However I will mention a few that come to mind - whether or not my comments will be of any value remains to be seen... I am reminded of a comment made to me by the wife of my Headmaster at Scarborough Boys High School - Barbara and I were talking to them in the late 1960's and HM was telling us of the successes of former pupils, when his wife said, "the trouble with him is that all his geese are swans". I feel just like that!

2. Barry Maddams.  The first Captain of the senior rugby team and the first ever School Captain. Not an outstanding rugby player but a good leader and excellent Ambassador when meeting other schools.

3. Chris Sanderson.  An outstanding fly-half, did well in County trials. I had great hopes for him in 1st class rugby. I think he played for his University and SNGS Old Boys.

4. Alfie Harris (dec'd).  An excellent rugby forward, a good cricketer, for his size an outstanding athlete and a useful basketball player. Alfie was a larger than life character who contributed much.

5. Conrad Snook.  A good rugby player and cricketer. Always reliable and responsible. He also did well in cross country and athletics. His brother, Harold, was also talented but something of a handful. Con always looked after him.

6. Rodney Burnham (dec'd). Could be non-conformist and I had a few spats with him but he was a very talented sprinter and good wing three quarter. He left school after the 5th year and I was thrilled when he started to play for Wasps (2nd XV) - sadly he was killed in a motorcycle accident.

7. Peter Lawson.  A very competent line-out forward and excellent bowler at cricket.  He also played basketball. He was the ideal team member, reliable and always gave of his best.

8. Mick Baker.  Another very competent line-out forward.

9. Dave Backshall. Much bigger than most of his age-group and was moved up a year for Competitions.  A very strong three quarter and sprinter.

10. Dave Morgan.  A very lively scrum half, sound in defence and quick off the mark in attack.

11. Jeff Bulgin.  Developed into a very good centre three quarter. He was a very "silky" hurdler, winning the NW Middlesex Grammar Schools 110 yds hurdles and gaining 4th place in the MGS Finals.

12. John Weaver.  A sound hooker and lively forward. (Remembered for his assistance in decorating my house before moving!).

13. Vic Kerton.  A very reliable member of the cross country team and excellent middle distance runner - came 2nd in the MGS Championships.

14. Ian Dothie.  An outstanding middle distance and cross country runner. He won the MGS Final of the 880 yds.

15. Ken Gathergood.  An excellent all- round games player. One of the best team Captains in the school.

16. Bob Butterfield. A sound rugby player who developed into a useful long jump and triple jump performer.

17. Roger Wormald.  A good scrum half and useful cricketer.

18. Chris Payne. A good all round sportsman representing the school at rugby, captaining a cricket team and badminton.

19. Others who come to mind are John Samways, Chris Worley, Clive Saunders, R Stokes, C D Edwards, Snowden, M Nowland, T Burrells, L Spragg.

AS YOU CAN SEE IT IS DIFFICULT TO PICK OUT ONE OR TWO OUTSTANDING PERFORMERS. ON REFLECTION IT SURPRISES ME THAT SO MANY COMPETENT PERFORMERS ARE SO EASILY REMEMBERED 47 YEARS ON!!!

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A view of the School as it was in 1955