The History of Stapleford School in the Twentieth Century
Keith Dixon
from all over the world visiting Cambridgeshire were directed to Stapleford to see a successful
school at work. LEA inspectors recommended teachers from other schools in the county to visit
the infant department to see how reading and maths. were taught. Groups of students from teacher
training colleges from as far away as Leeds also paid visits.
In July 1971 Harold and the vicar decided to do their bit to bring about better understanding
between the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland a year or so after ‘The
Troubles’ began. They organised a very successful camp for ten Protestant, ten Catholic and ten
Stapleford children assisted by many village people to ‘ help a festering problem’.
Although most classes still had well over thirty pupils Maureen Finlayson was appointed to
specialise in teaching music. This led to the next big PTA project- building music practice rooms.
Work started on 19th May 1973 and the rooms were opened on 4th  March the following year.
New Grammar Schools
It wasn’t only Stapleford that was growing but the whole of the Cambridge area. To cope with the
large numbers of children passing the eleven plus examination two more schools were
reconstituted as single sex grammar schools in 1957. These became the Grammar School for Boys
which is now Netherhall School and the Grammar School for Girls which is now Parkside
Community College. Later, as the numbers continued to grow two grammar streams were added to
Impington Village College and another to the Manor school. To get to them Stapleford children
had to set off early in the morning and catch two buses.
The Introduction of Comprehensive schools
During the nineteen fifties a number of parents and teachers became concerned about the tripartite
system of schools. In spite of everyone’s best efforts to run an effective selection system, some
children were considered to be misplaced and the examination was a crude method of predicting
future intellectual development. Some people also considered it to be a socially divisive system,
separating friends and families. Those arguments still continue. The Labour controlled LEA’s of
London and Hull started to build a new type of school that catered for children of all abilities and
called them comprehensive schools. Until then most schools were small with just 3 forms of entry
(90 pupils). These new schools were far bigger with 8 or 9 classes in each year and twelve
hundred or more pupils. Unfortunately, the educational arguments soon became obscured by
political rhetoric as the Labour Party considered grammar schools elitist and supported
comprehensive schools as more befitting their ideal of an egalitarian society. The Conservative
Party supported grammar schools because they offered a high standard of education with excellent
examination results and it believed that their loss would lead to lower standards rather than higher
ones. Slowly, the Labour controlled LEAs started to bring in comprehensive schools by either
building new ones or, more commonly, combining grammar and secondary modern schools. Then,
in 1965, the Labour government issued its famous ‘circular 10/65’ requesting all local authorities
to submit plans for comprehensive reorganisation. When the Conservative Party returned to power
they issued circular 10/70 revoking circular 10/65 but by then many LEAs were at an advanced
stage of planning and parental pressure forced them to continue. Cambridgeshire took its time and
planned thoroughly for changing the village colleges into 11-16 comprehensive schools with
pupils then transferring to two Sixth Form Colleges or to the two 11-18 schools (Impington VC
and Netherhall) to study for ‘A’ levels or to the College of |Further Education. So in September
1974 comprehensive education was introduced and all the children at Stapleford school went to
Sawston Village College.
More Classrooms and a Larger Playing Field
During the nineteen seventies the school grew still further. The separate block of classrooms was
built and in 1976 the school field was extended. The Umbrella Club also raised the money to
extend the hall by moving the west window out thirteen feet to provide room for a permanent
stage. The highest ever number of pupils on roll was reached in September 1977 with 332
children, although some 27 of these were infants who attended part time until they reached their
fifth birthday. The same number was again recorded in 1979 but thereafter the numbers started to
fall as the birth rate had declined and during the nineteen eighties the number of children in the
school stabilised at between 270 and 280.
Harold Holt retired in July 1980 after 20 very eventful years although his wife continued to teach
for another year before she too retired.
Simon Hoad
Simon Hoad ,who was head of Barrington Church of England Primary School, was appointed as
the new headteacher and took up his appointment on September 1 1980. The subsequent years
following Simon Hoad’s appointment as headteacher is a period in time which is too close to be
objective and there is also a 25 year restriction on public access to documents such as logbooks
and minutes of governors meetings which are deposited in the county record office. Therefore, the
following information has been taken from Acts of Parliament, information from the Department
for Education and Employment and discussion with those currently in education as well as Simon
himself.
Numbers on Roll
The number of pupils on roll which had begun to fall during Harold’s last years continued into the
eighties and early nineties to a low of 230 children who were divided into seven classes (two
fewer than in the seventies). However, numbers increased again and have stabilised at 260-270. It
is interesting to note that there was an increase after a glowing Ofsted report in 1995 which shows
that some parents are willing to move their children from one school to another in search of good
education. Today there are 60 pupils i.e. the equivalent of two classes of children spread
throughout all the classes who live outside Stapleford. So the school has maintained its reputation
for providing high quality education.
The Great Education Debate
In 1976 Jim Callaghan, the Prime Minister, started a debate on education in England and Wales in
an attempt to articulate public concern over the education service. Although there were genuine
concerns about the slow rate of improvement, the real driving force was the enormous socio-
economic turmoil of the seventies which continued into the next decade. Industry was undergoing
a revolution. The heavy industries of coal mining, iron and steel and ship building which
employed large numbers of unskilled and semi-skilled men were in decline. Service industries and
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those, which were computer/electronic based, were expanding. They needed more school leavers
with high literacy and numeracy skills.
Slowly the changes began. In 1980 there were just two policy circulars from the Ministry of
Education and Science. In the five years beginning January 1988 there were 78 and in the next five
years ending in 1998 there were 82. Not all of these policies were relevant to primary schools but
many of them were and the flood of legislation continued. Hardly a week passed without the
arrival of a new policy, the revision of an old one or some other reform.
The Education Reform Act 1988
Many of the policies affecting schools stem directly from the Education Reform Act of 1988
which has brought about the greatest changes since the 1944 Education Act. There were so many
reforms that they had to be implemented gradually and then some were revised when they did not
produce the intended improvements. The main changes affecting Stapleford school were the
introduction of a national curriculum, the delegation of financial management from LEAs to
schools and the opportunity to opt out of LEA control and become grant maintained. The money to
run the school would then come directly from the Ministry of Education and Science, or the
Department of Education and Employment which succeeded it.
The National Curriculum
The Reform Act established a curriculum, which was to be broad and balanced and would develop
the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical welfare of all pupils. This was to be achieved
through eleven separate subjects. First there was a core of three subjects consisting of English,
mathematics and science. Then there were the seven foundation subjects: history, geography,
technology, music, art, information technology and physical education. These were to be taught to
all children and none could be dropped in order to concentrate on other subjects. Finally, there was
religious education which had to be mainly Christian with a daily act of worship.
A curriculum group was set up for each subject and they laid down programmes of study which
described what had to be taught from the ages of five to sixteen and these were to be tested
through attainment targets at the ages of seven, eleven, fourteen and sixteen. These periods of
time became known as Key Stages. So Key Stage one covered the age group which used to be
called infants and Key Stage four ended with GCSE examinations. To avoid any mistakes classes
were numbered from one (five years old) to thirteen (upper sixth). The curriculum groups were not
all set up at the same time but over a period of two or three years. Draft programmes of study were
sent to all schools and then revised after comments by anyone who had time to read them. Each
subject group worked independently. The core subjects were the first to be absorbed into the
school curriculum and were gradually followed by the different foundation subjects. When the
whole curriculum was complete it soon became clear that teachers were expected to cram a quart
into a pint pot. The enthusiasm of the subject specialists had not been curtailed by anyone with an
authoritative overview and it was simply impossible to teach all the programmes of study for all
the subjects in the time available. Teachers did their best for a couple of years but sense finally
prevailed and since 1992 the subjects have been under constant revision and slimming down.
Devolution of School Budgets
During the nineteen eighties Cambridgeshire pioneered the Local Financial Management of
Schools. Essentially this meant giving schools money based on their number of pupils and
allowing them to decide how it should be spent. In practice, by the time that salaries and the
utilities – electricity, gas, water and oil – had been paid, there was very little money left for schools
to spend. However, the government decided that giving money to schools would cut local
authority bureaucracy and reduce the power of local education authorities so the Cambridgeshire
system was adopted nationally. The change from a Conservative to a Labour government has not
brought any change in this policy and managing the school budget has had a huge effect on
headteachers and their workload. Enormous amounts of time are now spent on looking after the
school site, organising repairs and redecoration and trying to save money in one area in order to
spend a few pounds more in another. Inevitably, this means that headteachers have little time for
teaching on a regular basis. It is worth noting that in the years 1998-99 and 99-2000
Cambridgeshire primary schools were amongst the worst funded in the whole country.
Opting Out
Every state school was given the opportunity to receive its funding directly from Whitehall and the
governors were compelled to discuss and make a decision about opting out of local authority
control. The main advantage was that the school would receive the money which the LEA had
held back for central administration – in Cambridgeshire at that time, this was about 25% – plus
an extra grant. If the governors voted in favour of opting out a meeting was held to explain the
reasons to parents and a referendum was then held.
School Policies
The government now requires all schools to have 30 essential policies covering the teaching of the
NC subjects and other matters such as sex education, special needs, child protection and staff
development. They are also recommended to have another 14 policies covering such things as
attendance, governors’ visits and a dress code. The LEA assists by producing some guideline
policies which schools may use or adapt to suit their own circumstances. These cover discipline
and behaviour, lettings, home school agreements, pupil records etc. which are all in the DFEE list
but also some extra ones such as school trips and journeys and staff discipline. Finally, the school
may decide that it needs other policies such as ones for school and visitor security. Naturally, these
policies cannot just be written by the head but have to be discussed with staff, parents and
governors and revised regularly. It is the governors who are ultimately responsible for these
policies.
School Inspections
To ensure that all schools are teaching all the subjects of the national curriculum and have all the
necessary policies in place a new system of inspections was required. The independent Her
Majesty’s Inspectors carried out valuable surveys, subject inspections and occasionally general
inspections but were far too few inspectors to inspect every school in the country within three
years, so a new body called the Office for Standards in Education was created. Ofsted as it is
commonly known rapidly trained hundreds of new inspectors and set out to inspect every school.
It is ironical that the ranks of the inspectors were swollen with headteachers who took early
retirement because their own schools were judged to be performing badly!
Ofsted Inspection October 1995
Stapleford was one of the first schools to be inspected and received a glowing report in Oct. ’95.
This was not, like former reports, written on a single sheet of paper after a half-day visit but a
detailed report 31 pages long written after several inspectors had spent a week in the school.
“The school has a clear set of aims and values which have a positive influence on many aspects of
its work. The school provides a warm, caring ethos which fosters good behaviour and positive
attitudes to learning among the pupils.—The school benefits from the strong management and
leadership of the headteacher and governors. The pupils enter the school with higher than usual
levels of knowledge, skills and understanding.”
The only criticisms were the need to improve teaching in some of the Key Stage 1 classes and to
implement “a consistent and accurate system of reporting and recording pupils’ work.” On the
other hand, “In English, mathematics, science and technology standards are higher than national
expectations.”
Ofsted Inspection November 1998
The style of inspections changed a little and the second one began with a meeting at which parents
were invited to make comments about the school – a daunting experience for all who work there.
This report is 51 pages long and begins with a number of statistics with the following summary.
What the school does well
.
Pupils attainment is above average in English, mathematics and science.
Most pupils make good progress in most subjects.
The school has successfully introduced the National Literacy Scheme and pupils writing has
improved significantly in K.S.1
* 89% of teaching is satisfactory or better.
* The attitudes, behaviour and personal development of pupils are good.
* The school makes good use of its accommodation and resources.
The school has successfully developed a very positive community ethos.
Where the school has weaknesses
.
*There is no formal appraisal of teachers and insufficient monitoring of the quality of education.
*The school’s procedures to ensure day to day assessment of pupils are not consistently used.
“This is a good school. Following a report in 1995 the school has continued to improve. As a
result there are few weaknesses and many strengths. The weaknesses are far outweighed by what
the school does well.”
How the school has improved since the last inspection
.
The school has improved and overcome most of the weaknesses pointed out in the last inspection.
Standards have been raised in English, mathematics and information technology. They have
improved in geography and PE. In other subjects standards have been maintained. —The school
has effectively achieved a balance of time and emphasis for each subject and has implemented an
assessment, recording and reporting policy.”
The Labour party won the 1997 election campaign with the slogan, ‘Education, education,
education’, so the stream of policies and directives has continued. The minister for education and
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employment has aimed for a huge improvement in basic literacy and numeracy with 80% of all 11
year old children achieving level 4 or better by the year 2002. To achieve this, a literacy hour was
introduced in Sept. 1998 with very specific details of what children should know and be able to do
in grammar, spelling, writing, etc. at each age. A numeracy hour with equally detailed programmes
of study was introduced the following year and both appear to be achieving the improved results
aimed for but not without some misgivings on the part of experienced teachers. The striving for
ever better results and the publication of league tables so that a school’s test results can be
compared locally and nationally, has put enormous pressure on teachers and children with an
emphasis on academic success leaving less time for social development. Schools faced with
performance management and target setting are now using the language of commerce and business
with children being the products.
With little scope to choose what to teach, schools are now becoming mirror images of one another
so that it is difficult to maintain any individual identity. However, Stapleford School prides itself
on being a little different. First, there is open access to the school with parents usually able to see
the head or class teacher to discuss problems the day they occur. Second, the teaching is built on
sympathy and tolerance for all children. Third, children with special needs get extra support under
the guidance of a coordinator. Fourth the school is fortunate to have so much space, not only on
the playing field but also within the buildings where there are 12 classrooms and a community
room used by just nine classes. Finally, the school has been able to retain some educational visits
with every class having at least one day trip and the Year 6 children having a week’s residential
course.
Governors
During the last twenty years considerable changes have been made to the composition and role of
school governors. In the attempt to make the schools more answerable to their communities, the
number of governors appointed by the LEA has decreased while parents, teachers and non-
teaching staff now elect their own representatives. Along with these changes in composition have
come ever increasing responsibilities and workload. It is now the governing body and not the LEA
which appoints the head and teachers (although the LEA gives advice). Every year the governors
must hold a meeting to report to parents and listen to what parents have to say. Ultimately, it is the
governors who are responsible for the budget, staffing structure, the curriculum, the buildings and
everything which happens in the school. Just to emphasis the point, the DFEE has issued
governors with a large poster which lists 81 tasks and decisions which they have to make.
Finally
In 1900 about 70 children aged from 5 to 11 attended the village school and received a minimal
education which officially ended on their twelfth birthday but for many it was much earlier. Any
further learning was the preserve of the wealthy. We know that the vicar had a degree and Lord
Godolphin who lived in Magog House had also probably been to university but it is most unlikely
that any other inhabitant had any kind of further education. Today, the people of Stapleford are
among the most highly educated in the country. Children have a minimum of eleven years
education. Most continue on to one of the sixth form colleges to take ‘A’levels or advanced
National Vocational Qualifications and progress on to university. The 1991 census shows that
38.6% of the population had higher education qualifications and the next one will probably show
that this has increased to nearly 50%.
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