Reaching for the stars . . .

I’m not a fan of talent shows like Britain’s Got Talent (BGT, or its US equivalent) or The X Factor, and never tune in to watch. But a few clips have caught my attention on YouTube (and once you’ve clicked on one such video, YouTube offers up others incessantly), and I will admit that some quite exceptional talents have been discovered in this way. Whether the really young ones go on to fulfilling careers in entertainment is another thing.

And, of course, many apply to appear on the show(s) just for the fun of it.

One particular BGT clip caught my attention the other day because, from the brief description, it appeared to be a 2019 audition by primary school children who got the Golden Buzzer. I was intrigued so decided to watch.

The children were from Flakefleet Primary School in Fleetwood, Lancashire, accompanied by their headmaster, Mr Dave McPartlin (no relation to one of the show’s hosts, Ant McPartlin).

Mr McPartlin told the judges that several of his pupils had an ambition to appear on the show. The children just liked to sing, and their abilities ranged from ‘good’ to the ‘enthusiastic’. Before long it seemed as though the whole school was on stage, and the headmaster was just as much part of the performance as his pupils.

It’s clear that his pupils adore Mr McPartlin, and he comes across as just the sort of head teacher any parent would wish for their children and any child to relate to. But enough from me, for now. Just take a few minutes to watch Flakefleet Primary’s performance, and listen carefully to how the headmaster encourages the children. Impressive.

They actually moved into the 2019 final, but didn’t win. Never mind, they’d already achieved more than they ever expected when they auditioned. After all, the school’s motto is Dare To Dream. What’s also impressive is the effort it must have taken from everyone: teachers, parents, children to prepare for each show. The rehearsals, the costumes, the encouragement for the shy ones.

The school was recently rated Good with some Outstanding features in its Ofsted report. And as the school highlighted on its homepage, ‘We are particularly thrilled that they recognized the outstanding job that we do at looking after, caring for and supporting our lovely children‘.

And this is what we can hope for – and indeed expect – from all schools and teachers. Sadly it’s not always the case. Some school fail. Whether this is lack of leadership, poor teacher recruitment, lack of local and government investment (especially in socially deprived areas, inner city areas), or lack of communication between schools and families I’m not expert to comment on.


When we moved to Bromsgrove in north Worcestershire in July 1981 after a period abroad, we were fortunate to find a house within the catchment areas of two excellent schools. Worcestershire has a three level First, Middle  and High School system.

Back in the day, Finstall First School (FFS) was less than a mile from home. It’s since moved to a new site just around the corner from our former home. Both our daughters Hannah and Philippa attended FFS whose head teacher was Mr Tecwyn Richards.

Mr Richards was a charismatic individual. He seemed to know the names of each and every child. Amazing. He came across as a gentle man, setting excellent standards among his staff and the pupils in his care.

Aston Fields Middle School (AFMS) was even closer to home, and Hannah moved there when she was nine. The headmaster was Mr Barrie Dinsdale who, like his colleague at FFS, interacted so well with all the children.

We count ourselves very fortunate that Hannah and Philippa were able to experience their first years in education under such rewarding circumstances. I should add that Hannah moved on to Bromsgrove South High School in the autumn of 1991, and Philippa on to AFMS at the same time. But they remained there for just one term until Christmas when they left the UK and joined me in the Philippines, continuing their education at the International School Manila. A totally different set-up and more of a grades factory!


I think I started school in September 1953. I don’t think it would have been earlier, since I turned five in November that year.

What do I remember of my schooling and particularly the headteachers? For the most part they didn’t even aspire to Mr McPartlin’s standards.

Although we lived in Congleton in Cheshire, I attended a small Church of England village school at Mossley, a mile or so southeast of the town.

The headmaster was Mr Morris, seen here with some of his staff.

Two of my teachers, Mrs Bickerton and Mrs Johnson are seated on the extreme right and left of Mr Morris. I don’t know who the other three ladies were.

I have happy memories of my time at Mossley. I didn’t complete my primary schooling there since my family moved to Leek in Staffordshire in April 1956. And from then until I completed high school in June 1967, my education was ‘ruled’ by the Catholic Church.

In Leek, my elder brother Edgar and I were enrolled at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School (now St Mary’s Catholic Academy), on the corner of the A53 and Cruso Street, a short walk from our home on St Edward Street. It was run by nuns of the Sisters of Loreto.

For my first term, the headmistress was Mother Michael, and her deputy was Mother Elizabeth (who became head when Mother Michael left later that year). As a small boy of seven, I found it quite frightening at first being faced with these ladies in long black robes and head veils (penguins almost).

My lasting impression was a strict regime, and the occasional rap over the knuckles with the edge of a steel ruler. Very painful! There was only one male teacher, Mr Smith. There’s still only one male teacher today.

I think my experience at St Mary’s was the start of my conversion to atheism, which I’ve written about earlier.

In September 1960, having passed my 11+ exam and won a scholarship to grammar school (that’s selective education for you), I attended St Joseph’s College, a Catholic grammar school for boys, in Trent Vale, Stoke on Trent, a 14 mile journey each way, every day. Motto: Fideliter et Fortiter (Faithful and Strong)!

The school was founded in 1932 and run by the Christian Brothers. Take ‘Christian’ with a pinch of salt. However there were more lay teachers than Brothers.

My first headmaster, for one year only was Brother Henry Wilkinson, who insisted on using the tannoy system that was installed in each classroom. Radio Wilko! You never knew just when a lesson might be interrupted by one of his messages.

He was followed by Brother JB O’Keefe (what a smoker!) who remained at the helm during the rest of my time at St Joseph’s. We didn’t see much of him on a daily basis, but at least he removed the tannoy. He seemed a kindly sort of man, but he oversaw a harsh regime. One that used frequently administered corporal punishment, as I have also described in that earlier post.

On reflection, not a happy education. Not one that I would write home about.

So when I see the joy of those children from Flakefleet Primary, I wonder what I missed out on. We have come a long way over the past 50-60 years, although some schools have a ways to travel yet. I’m sure that St Mary’s and St Joseph’s are not the same schools that I left half a century or more ago. For one thing, the two religious orders are no longer involved in the management of both.

School and religion should be separated, just like government and religion.


 

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