Sandra Abbott, January 2019
Two shopping bags crammed to capacity with scrapbooks and photographs preceded Sandra Abbott’s entrance into the room. In her hands, she carried her own history and connections with St. Martin’s School, dating back the better part of a hundred years. The stove was burning brightly when she entered but by the time it came for her to leave, it was reduced to glowing embers. She filled the room with her memories and experiences of our local school as the evening slipped towards midnight. Our discussion took tangential turnings, as we made several mutual connections concerning the people with whom we had worked in our separate capacities. But gradually two images emerged; one of village education at the end of the Twentieth Century and the beginning of the Twenty First; the other concerned the personal education of one woman, Sandra Abbott.
You may be wondering how the connection with the school goes back a hundred years. Quite simply it is through Sandra’s marital connections. Her husband Clifford was the son of the late Walter and Doris Abbott. The same Walter Abbott made an appearance in ‘Newbourne in short trouser’, published by Leigh Belcham[i]. Doris was born in Falkenham in 1918, and attended St. Martin’s School until the age of 14 in 1932. A school photograph in Sandra’s possession shows the young Doris sitting in the front row on a chair. She shyly smiles out of the picture, and you may see her on the second chair from the right.
Trimley St. Martin School in 1930. Courtesy of Sandra Abbott
In common with many of her contemporaries, Doris didn’t attend Secondary School. It only became compulsory for children over the age of 14 to attend Secondary School in the wake of R.A. Butler’s 1944 Education Act[ii],
In this area the secondary schools were Felixstowe Grammar School and Felixstowe Secondary Modern. The curriculum itself was a matter for the school to decide, and the only compulsory element was the provision of religious education for all children. Sandra was to be a beneficiary of the Act but, like many children of her time, Doris had to leave school at 14.
The St. Martin’s School log book for the period 1915 to 1939 recorded the names of some of the children who achieved Scholarships. On July 21st 1926, when Doris was about six or seven years old, Fred Freeman received a Scholarship to the Ipswich school of Art, while Harold Stannard and Cyril Scot found scholarships at Felixstowe Secondary School. How many children sat the Scholarship Exams is a moot point, although the log books record for the 26th March 1928 states,
“… ten children attending Scholarship Exams at Felixstowe today…”.
Sandra’s childhood home town was Felixstowe and when she passed the Eleven Plus, her destination was the Grammar school. Sandra was educated under the strictures of the 1944 Education Act. Her year group were the last cohort to move up to the school before the system changed. The following year it became a High School and the Secondary Modern School became a Middle School. During this period, the school leaving age was 16, although the option was there to stay on until 18. For Sandra, the choice was to leave at 16, and commence her working life. Her first position was at the old County Hall in Ipswich, where she worked as a Junior Administrator, darting around the building ensuring people received documents, information and the other necessities of Local Government life. After marrying Clifford in 1974, she eventually made her home in Falkenham. Because the village was in the Trimley St. Martin catchment area, Sandra later found herself walking her two children, Kate and Tm, to St. Martin’s School when Kate started school there in 1984.
“I didn’t like to use the main roads because of the traffic, so I used to take them to school along the back lanes, passing Swiss farm, Ham’s Farm and then along the field footpaths. The footpath came out next to the cottages adjacent to the school. Later on, when the children were a little older, we used to cycle. I would sometimes wonder if I was walking the same paths Doris used, when she went from Falkenham to the school.”
Thus, Sandra’s own connection with the school began. From 1984 to the current day, she has worked with three Head Teachers, Graham Pearson, Peter Lamb and latterly, Mrs. Ross. Her first involvement came about because the school knew of her work as the Kirton Church organist. The school needed someone to play the piano and Sandra became that person.
“I suppose Mrs. Pardy, the Deputy Head liked what she saw and when a vacancy came up for a Dinner Lady, she helped me. I think this was about 1986. When we had wet lunchtimes, I used to read to the children, and I loved it.”
Her life began to become embedded in the school through her musical ability and Dinner Lady duties. As a helper at Trimley St. Martin’s she became involved with Group Work, which she enthuses about even now. By 1989 as well as making everyday contributions, Sandra had also become a Parent Governor, a position created as a result of Kenneth Baker’s Education (No.2) Act 1986[iii].
Foster’s Education Act of 1870 required non-church schools to create a Board of Managers, to whom power was delegated. Butler’s 1944 Act initiated Governors in Secondary Schools, and between then and 1986, many different Local Education Authorities saw governing bodies being introduced into schools. However, it was Baker’s 1986 Act which finally changed the nature and role of governing bodies, and created the statutory necessity for a cross-section of society to become involved. Sandra was one of the very first Parent Governors in the area. Education was changing and at this point, the National Curriculum was about to establish itself; introduced by Kenneth Baker in the 1988 Education Reform Act[iv]. Significantly, the National Curriculum was delivered within Key Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4. Subjects were either core; English, Mathematics and Science or Foundation; Art, History and Geography and others. This was introduced in all Primary Schools in 1989 and it impacted on what happened next to Sandra.
Following the death of her father in 1987 Sandra started to think about her long-term future. She thought about wanted she wanted do and how she wanted to do it. Her thoughts turned to the Open University and the opportunity to take up studying at a higher level. Her first long-term objective was to graduate and her second to become a teacher by the time she was forty. The Open university appealed to her and this was the route she decided to take. Initially thwarted because all the Foundation Courses were fully booked, her research moved her towards the Associate Courses and in October 1987 she opted for the ‘Education and Change’ course. With the support of Clifford and her family, Sandra was off; focused and determined. As year followed successive year her studying embraced a range of courses including: Arts Foundation, Maths Foundation, The History of Maths, and The Environment. In addition to these courses she took an additional three education courses. Credits followed credits whilst at the same time her working hours and days increased. The Open University approach suited Sandra because it was part course work; part examination, one harmoniously supplemented the other.
The difficulties of long-distance learning, compulsory Summer Schools, working as a Teaching Assistant in Bucklesham Primary school, acting as a Parent Governor and dealing with a serious family illness were overcome through determination and perseverance. The end result was Sandra completed her degree. She candidly admitted to me that studying also helped her with the grieving process for her father. All her hard work came to fruition when she eventually graduated at Christmas in 1993, when the whole family joined in the celebrations. The first part of her goal had been achieved; the next was to obtain her teaching qualification.
Studying for her Post Graduate Certificate of Education was also conducted through the Open University. Fortunately, her school placements were local and she was based in the two Trimley schools of St. Martins and St. Mary’s. It was in St. Martins she eventually became an Instructor with a class of her own, namely Year 1.
Sandra, an Instructor, with her first class at Trimley St. Martin, 1994-1995. Courtesy of Sandra Abbott
Anyone who has studied long distance will understand the time, dedication and organisation required to complete such a course of study. Furthermore, those who work whilst studying know the sacrifices required. Sometimes people wake up and start studying before the day starts whilst others begin when the rest of the house goes to bed. The Open University has never been an easy option and has always required self-funding, personal discipline and academic rigour. The foundation of the University was achieved in no small part by another determined woman the Labour politician Jenny Lee[v], a strong believer in open access to education, and Minister for the Arts in the Wilson government of 1964 to 1970. She said,
“Enrolment as a student of the University should be open to everyone … irrespective of educational qualifications, and no formal entrance requirement should be imposed.”
For Sandra and thousands of others it was to provide education and opportunities in a truly democratic manner. Certainly, in Sandra’s time in Education, teaching became an entirely graduate profession, and the O.U. helped many mature students, who might otherwise have been unable to attend Teacher Training College. With her P.G.C.E. completed, Sandra qualified as a teacher in the summer of 1995. Her first ‘proper’ teaching post was taken up at Langer School in October 1995 and she was to remain there until December 2002.
Her specialisms had emerged during the P.G.C.E. course. These being Maths, Special Needs and of course, Music. More opportunities arose to further her educational studies and David Leaney. the Head Teacher of Langer sent her on numerous courses. When Sandra realised these courses would contribute towards a Master’s Degree, her next goal was identified; she eventually graduated with a Master’s in 2004. By this time however, she had returned to Trimley St. Martin where she took up the post as the Year 3 teacher, and Maths and Special Needs Coordinator in 2003. The difference between the four schools Sandra worked in was quite profound. Sandra shared with me the aspects of teaching that she really enjoyed.
We talked about the teaching of reading in the different schools and found ourselves ranging over the many reading schemes which have dominated the lives of children over the last sixty years. For myself, the reading primer was ‘Janet and John’ whilst Sandra thinks she was raised on ‘Peter and Jane’. Her daughter Kate learnt to read using ‘Red Hats, Yellow Hats”, better known as “One, two, three and away” and then continued with the ‘Learning to read with real books’ scheme. ’Biff and Chip’ also made an appearance. Both Langer Primary and St Martins used the Oxford Reading Tree scheme and therefore by default this was the scheme she delivered when necessary. Not everyone remembers the reading schemes used to start them along the road to literacy. They are a means to an end. How Doris learnt to read is an interesting question and one I can’t immediately answer. I find myself wondering if she had access to any reading material other than primers. Looking at the Log Book between 1922 and 1932, I couldn’t find much mention of books with the exception of an entry on 20th November 1931 when the school,
“… received 60 books from Libraries, 17 non-fiction, 43 fiction.”
For some children these may have been the only non-educational books they saw during their time at school, particularly if they were not lucky enough to win Sunday School Prizes.
Sandra had relished helping with the Group Project work in the 1980s, but this was replaced by Topic Work when the National Curriculum came online. The class study and investigation were supported by the arrival of Topic Boxes from the Schools Library Service.
“It was always exciting when the Topic Boxes arrived. Depending on the term they might be Aztecs, Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Tudors or Rocks and Soils. My favourite was ‘Growth’. We would usually in the Summer term. We would grow vegetables and flowers. John Cole from Roselea would come and give talks to the children. It was lovely, and he was so good with the children.”
However, Schools aren’t all about the curriculum; they are also about the fun side of life to be found in sport, dancing and music. Since the early days of the School in the 1870s there is evidence of music being practiced and experienced as well as involvement in sporting events such as the Inter Sports Trophy. In Doris Brooke’s time at the school Empire Day was always celebrated on the 24th May. In 1923[vi] the timetable was suspended and,
“…Mr. Watkins brought a Gramophone and record of the King and Queen’s Speech to the children.”
Teaching the Tonic Soh-Fa in the early days may have been challenging but this had changed somewhat by the time Sandra brought her musical talents to play in the life of the School. Country Dancing, Carol Singing and everyday Assemblies benefited from her abilities.She showed me photographs and programmes where the children had taken their music out of the School, for example, to the ‘Lighting Up’ ceremony in Felixstowe in 2003 as well as many other musical achievements.
Lions Lighting up Ceremony Programme, 2003. Courtesy of Sandra Abbott.
School trips were and are part of the lighter side of school life; at least, lighter for the children. Sandra said,
“I always worried I wouldn’t return to school with the same number of children I’d had set off with. We always did, but it could be an anxious time.”
What is abundantly obvious from Sandra’s descriptions of her work as a teacher are the high levels of enthusiasm and commitment she brought to her various roles. I don’t think this attribute changed from the moment she entered St. Martin’s school as a parent helper to the moment she left as a highly qualified and experienced teacher in 2008. Furthermore, she has the distinction to have experienced many different aspects of education within St. Martin’s School. She has gained insight into the varying roles within the school as a Parent, Helper, Dinner Lady, Student Teacher, Instructor and qualified Teacher. It wasn’t lack of zest for education which led to her departure from the school but the arrival of the grandchildren in 2008. Sandra wanted to go Part-time but the opportunity didn’t exist. The workload had increased from the early 1990s and the long hours in and out of school made her life feel over-burdened. The preparation time involved, combined with administrative classroom work, can sap energy from the most dedicated of teachers and Sandra was always dedicated. The time had come to move on and she decided to retire to become actively involved with her grandchildren.
But old habits never really die and Sandra hasn’t quite given up her connections with school. Every Wednesday she continues to contribute to the School through her involvement with the ‘Open the Book’ scheme[vii]. This programme is delivered in Assembly, and revolves around telling Bible Stories in a vibrant and exciting manner aimed at captivating and engaging the young audience. Sandra’s own story of how she has come to be part of Trimley St. Martin’s School for 35 years was told with characteristic modesty as she said, in a slightly different context,
“We are so normal and so every day, we don’t think anything of what we do. As a country, we’re not very good at coming forward.”
For myself, I’m delighted Sandra did come forward and display her exuberant attitude to education. Trimley St. Martin has a 144 year history and Sandra, her children and thousands more have been part of the history. Her story is full of gusto and determination and somehow, I don’t think this will ever change. As she talked, her affection and pride in Trimley St. Martin School shone through; as it did in the Log Books of ninety odd years ago. Somethings never change, including the children. They continue to leave their mark as you may see from the Graffiti below. Sandra’s mark is less visible but it is profound.
Graffitti on the school wall at Trimley St. Martin. Undateable.
The leaving card made by the 2008 Year 3 Children. Courtesy of Sandra Abbott.
The unaltered Victorian frontage of Trimley St. Martin School, familiary to three generations of the Abbott family. July 2018.
If you have any comments or would like to be part of the Trimley St. Martin Recorder’s Project, please contact me at:
You may wish to read more about the history of Trimley St. Martin School. The booklet cited below, ‘Trimley St. Martin School 1875 – 1975’ may be viewed in the Ipswich Branch of Suffolk Record Office. There is one lending copy available in Suffolk Libraries’ County Reserve. Alternatively, you may have to scour eBay for a copy. They do appear for sale occasionally.
1) Trimley St. Martin School Log Book November 13th 1919 to December 31st 1939. (1939). [Log Book] Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich Branch, Ipswich, Suffolk.
2) Trimley St. Martin School 1875 – 1975. (1975). 1st ed. Trimley St. Martin County Primary School, p.28.
[i] Belcham, L. (2014). Newbourne in short trousers’. 1st ed. Felixstowe, Suffolk: Half-Pint Publishing.
[ii] Legislation.gov.uk. (2019). Education Act 1944 (repealed 1.11.1996). [online] Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo6/7-8/31/contents?view=plain [Accessed 17 Jan. 2019].
[v] The Scotsman. (2019). Jennie Lee: Founder of the Open University – The Scotsman. [online] Available at: https://www.scotsman.com/200voices/political-catalysts/jennie-lee-founder-open-university/ [Accessed 17 Jan. 2019].
[vi] [vi] Historic UK. (2019). Empire Day. [online] Available at: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Empire-Day/ [Accessed 17 Jan. 2019].
[vii] Biblesociety.org.uk. (2019). Open the Book. [online] Available at: https://www.biblesociety.org.uk/get-involved/open-the-book/ [Accessed 17 Jan. 2019].