Teachers at Copthall County Grammar School 1950s
Over the years as my life has panned out, I have become increasingly grateful to the teachers at my grammar school in the 1950s. At the time, I suppose that my classmates and I just took them for granted, but they were - with only a very few exceptions - dedicated, knowledgeable and interesting professionals who treated us as adults who were also intelligent and committed.
The school was a single-sex girls school under the headship of Miss Heys-Jones, and all the teachers were women. Although I never questioned it at the time, all the full-time teachers were unmarried and the few married teachers were part-time. I wonder, now, why the single ones were unmarried. At that time, I never bothered to query teachers' ages, but I suppose that many of the single ones were between 35 and 60. So it may have been that some lost their men in one of the two world wars. Or it may have been that they grew up in the shadow of Edwardian England when it was expected that women teachers and nurses had to choose between marriage and a career. My mother reported that in her early 1900s school there were no married teachers.
The following thumbnail photos of the teachers who I remember come from school photographs. The originals are tiny and it is a credit to the quality of the mid 20th century cameras that they have enlarged this well.
Class teachers were known as form mistresses. They took the class register each morning and handled general class administration. Their class/form was known by the initial of their surname and the year of the pupils in the school, starting with 1 at the age of 11/12 up to 5 which was the year of Ordinary Levels, the precursors of GCSEs. (Many years away was the year descriptor being the number of years in education irrespective of changes of school.) After O-levels, as Ordinary Levels were called, some girls stayed on to the sixth form to study for their Advanced Levels, ie A-levels. Then the class numbering system changed to 6-1 and 6-2.
My class when I first started at Copthall was 1Q. Not that my form mistress's surname began with Q. She was Miss Crampton, but because there were other teachers with surnames beginning with C, she had opted for the descriptor Q. Her subject was games and physical education, but she never taught me. She was tall, graceful and elegant.
Miss Campbell was my second year form mistress - one of the ubiquitous surnames beginning with C. As she had opted for the K descriptor, the form was 2K. Her subject was French, but as she never taught me, I had very little to do with her.
In my third year, my form was 3T, and the form mistress was Miss Trew. She was a dainty lady who taught me art throughout my five years up to O-levels. I really appreciated the opportunities she provided to experiment with different types of paint and with calligraphy. In recent years, I have very much regretted that we did not study the history of art, but that was probably due to the O-level syllabus.
My fourth year class was 4U with form mistress Miss Unwin. She taught
Latin which was a subject I could never get on with. It was to her credit
that she never seemed to hold it against me.
My fifth year class was 5S, and the form mistress was Miss
Schlesinger. Her strong accent suggested that she was central European, and
at that time in the 1950s this and her constant facial expression probably
indicated that she had had painful experiences in the Second World War. She
taught physics in a dedicated physics lab, and was also one of my A-level
I don't remember the name of my form mistress in the first year sixth (6-1). The room was on its own in the central quadrangle.
In the second year sixth (6-2), the form mistress was Miss Schlesinger again, and the room was at the top of the tower.
Most of the full time teachers probably had responsibility for a class, but I knew the ones below because they taught me at some stage. In alphabetical order:
I am grateful to Christine Tolton (formerly Christine Culley for providing me with scans from the Copthall Year Book for 1957, the year I left. It lists all the teachers in post that year and all the school leavers with their next destinations. I am in the list of leavers as P. Clarke.
I never knew many of the teachers in the list, because they didn't teach me, but those who have been pointed out to me on a photo are:
- Miss Shervey who is to the right of Miss Heys-Jones in the 1955 school photograph.
- Miss Young is between Mrs Morris and Miss Huntley in the 1952 school photograph and in a similar position between Mrs Stannard and an unknown (by me) teacher next to Miss Coverdale in the 1955 school photograph. She was married but kept her unmarried name for teaching. According to Stella Solomons who had a message from her after leaving school, she was in fact a baroness.