THE GIRLS' DEPARTMENT 1922-1932
By GRACE FURBY
IN 1922, the East Ham Technical College - as it was then called was quite unlike the Grammar School for Boys, which has developed from it. It was a dual school, the Principal, Mr. W. Barker, being Head of the whole school, the second Mistress, Miss Cross, in charge of the girls, but with full responsibility.
To understand a school of those times one must realize that education was vastly different from that of the present day. Pupils entered the School at the age of twelve plus, studied for four years, took the Oxford General Certificate Examination, aiming at matriculation exemption and were, on the whole, intending teachers. Some were allowed a five-year course and a few others took a Civil Service examination. Most, therefore, left at about seventeen years of age, only a very small number remaining in the Sixth Form to take External Intermediate Arts or a higher Civil Service examination. There was, in consequence, a certain rigidity about the curriculum and general school life as compared to the elasticity of our present day organisation.
What was that rigid school life? Uninterrupted work from 9.30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with fifteen minutes' break in the morning for recreation and approximately one and a half hours for dinner. Apart from the fact that Miss Cross acted as intermediary for the Women Staff and girls, the organization and administration were in the capable hands of Mr. Barker.
Segregation of the Sexes
The girls occupied the rooms on the south side of the building and went to special rooms for Housecraft, Gymnastics, Art and Geography, while the Sixth Form was usually taught in the corridor. Both girls and boys walked in twos from basement to ground floor or from upstairs down and were hardly allowed to look at each other; in fact, it was with an air of boldness and abandon that we planned mixed parties for Christmas in the Town Hall.
Such rules as were made were strictly kept, but they were few and were, on the whole, connected with creating a suitable atmosphere for work. Each girl began the day with a definite number of good conduct marks which she strove to keep. Staff were united in seeing these rules were kept, all complaints going to the Form Mistress, who not only reprimanded, but encouraged and took a deep personal interest in her girls. It was she, also, who dealt with more serious faults of behaviour, which were never corrected by rule but by personal contact. This made for a very happy relationship between pupil and teacher and laid down a definite line of action for all. It seemed a perfect combination of authority and friendliness,
There were prizes, too, and cups for Houses and for sport. Each pupil kept a diary in which she had to make a note of all weekly marks, including conduct marks. These diaries were signed each week by parents and form mistresses and the marks counted towards end of term positions and finally prizes. Good work was praised and encouraged and although bad work was deplored, each girl knew that in her form mistress she had a person who knew her strength and weaknesses and whose sympathy she old always rely upon.
It might be appropriate here to mention a few other differences in school routine.
(1) First day of the school year. All school books were in the hall, office staff were in attendance and during the morning subject mistresses distributed text-books throughout the School. The afternoon was a holiday.
(2) Break during morning. All pupils were obliged to go out in the air, winter and summer, except on rainy days, while the School was thoroughly ventilated.
(3) End of day. The mistress in charge stood at the exit to see that coats were buttoned and hat and gloves were on, and to say good afternoon to each pupil. All were out of the School within fifteen minutes.
(4) Unusually wet weather. A torrential downpour and heavy rain were anything but depressing, especially over the week-end, for, on arrival on Monday morning, the basement was occasionally flooded. This meant drying out, and cleaning and a day's holiday for the School, welcomed by pupils and Staff alike, however addicted they were to uninterrupted work.
(5) Behaviour in the streets. To walk two abreast was the rule. If three girls wished to walk together, one most always be on the alert to drop behind, should anyone he coming in the opposite direction, a rule as unusual now perhaps as the enforced wearing of gloves.
For the rest of school life, in towns of the present day, it was largely negative. There were no interruptions of school work except for a play at Prize Giving. There were no clubs, no school dinners, no free milk, no parents' meetings, no medical service or dental treatment, as of the present day, and very few Staff meetings. In fact, the latter was an event, held only to discuss some special or unusual arrangements, the Staff sitting in a semi-circle in order of seniority, men on one side and women on the other.
What activities were there and how were health difficulties met? One hour a week was given up to sports, run on a House system, immediately after school, one day a week. There was tennis in the summer on the site of the Girls' Grammar School, hockey in the winter on the Barking Recreation Field, swimming in the baths, usually in the dinner-hour and athletics at the end of the year on the Hay's Wharf ground. All these events counted towards the winning of a House cup, to which was added literary efforts, general deportment and cleanliness.
Music was always a strong point. Mr. Day-Winter and his son did most unusual work, not only in training choirs which competed with great success at the Stratford Musical Festival, but in the ordinary class lessons, inspired as they were by their own enthusiasm and love for music.
With regard to the health of the pupil, this was largely the concern of Staff, who had to be alert to physical weaknesses, such as defective eyesight and hearing or bad posture, and principally of Miss Cross, who bore a great responsibility. The work that she did was far-reaching and embraced the physical, mental and spiritual welfare of all her pupils every year. Her home was always open to them. It was she who contacted parents, advised, helped and persuaded, saw that children went to the clinic and kept in touch with pupils who left. It was she who gave the tone and atmosphere to the School. In those days the child was more dependent on individuals, and the East Ham Technical College was fortunate in having Miss Cross as Second Mistress and a loyal and united Staff to work in unison with her
A School for Young ladies
"Autre temps, autre moers." If this seems to be a picture of a school rigidly controlled and somewhat narrow in outlook, it most be remembered that the East Ham Technical College was considered to be one of the best in its time. The last thirty years have sew many changes, the tempo of life has quickened, the wireless and the television have arrived, the war has had its effect on the nation's outlook, and health is now, the concern of the Welfare State. Yet, in 1922, a Principal with outstanding powers of organisation, the less extensive curriculum, work for purely academic ends, a Staff whose profession was a vocation, and a devoted and selfless Second Mistress combined to make of the East Ham Technical College a centre of education in the widest and most comprehensive sense.