The Prescotian Webzine

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"Alice thought she had never seen such a croquet ground in all her life. It was all ridges and furrows, the balls were live hedgehogs, the mallets live flamingoes and the soldiers had to double themselves up and stand on their hands and feet to make the arches. The chief difficulty Alice found at first was managing her flamingo. She succeeded in getting its body tucked away safely enough under her arm with its legs hanging down but, generally, just as she had got its neck nicely straightened out and was going to give the hedgehog a blow with its head, it would twist itself round and look up in her face with such a puzzled expression she could not help bursting out laughing, and when she had got its head down again and was going to begin again it was extremely provoking to find that the hedgehog had unrolled itself and was in the act of crawling away. Besides all this, there was a ridge or furrow in the way wherever she wanted to send the hedgehog, and as the doubled up soldiers were always getting up and walking to other parts of the ground, Alice soon came to the conclusion that it was a very difficult game indeed. The players all played at once without waiting for turns, quarrelling the while and fighting for the hedgehogs, and in a very short time the Queen was in a furious passion and went stamping about and shouting "Off with her head" about once a minute. Alice began to feel very uneasy."

Do you know a better metaphor of what the world of change can be than that passage from Alice in Wonderland? The world in which most young people of today will be living until well into the second half of the twenty-first century? A world which will not stand still; in which that which seems certain turns out to be something different; a world in which relationships between people are unexpected, in which everything is changing. This is the world of constant change where somehow, like Alice, you and I - and more significantly the children in our schools - must find a safe route.

How will Darren cope who, when asked by his teacher, 'What comes at the end of a sentence? He replies, -An Appeal,". . and what about Haley when asked in the geography lesson, "In Huyton, does the sun rise in the east or the west? said, "Yer wot! I ain't lived there long enough "

When you look back upon your schooldays, did PGS, PGGS or Prescot School provide you with the wherewithal, the skills, the confidence to ensure your safe passage through a world which was Changing then and wil change much more quickly in the future?

C.W.H. Richardson, when leaving PGS in 1937 referred to 'many changes in any school" and mentioned a few "which I am proud to have had a share in bringing about............................

  • the new school building
  • the new Coat of Arms
  • the Prize Fund
  • the sport
  • the school magazine
  • school societies

I find myself warming to Mr Richardson

It's not been all change. All these achievements continue today - although the magazine is irregular. You, my friends, must judge the state of the Old Boys' Association - or its successor. You must not be disheartened for I read in July 1934,

'Since about eight hundred boys have passed through the School during the past quarter of a century, would it be asking too much that a few more should join the Old Boys' Association, the membership of which is small but its loyalty is greet?"

School societies come and go but I believe they flourish as well today as ever they did. And what of Spencer Briggs? What had he to say when he left in 1963?

He is struck by the changes . . . the present school is, in size (600) and character more like our rival schools and we are proud because we can match those rivals in class and on the field. He also speaks of "managing skilfully to avoid the worst effects of inadequate accommodation."

Would Mr Briggs have been surprised that the School would remain in "inadequate accommocdation" for another thirty-four years until 1997 when the last of our temporary buildings disappeared? To many of you here, those inadequate buildings meant so much and I try to understand why the disastrous fires of 1978 rather than the reorganisation of education in 1975 are viewed as the end of PGS as many knew it. Is it that the intangible memories of friendship, characters loved, lessons loathed, school rules and school societies became embodied within ths wooden walls, the roof and corridors of the building: to lose those was to lose part of oneself? Do the former pupils of PGGS have the same affection for the Knowsley Park Lane building ? So, no more crawiing under the floors of classrooms - although the gaps under the 'mobiles' at the Park Wing of Prescot School did at times prove very attractive. Incidentally, when the last of the St Helens Road building was demolished, a worrying amount of asbestos was discovered under the floor!

Today, we come to the end of a building programme financed largely by the 2.6m raised by the sale of what came to be known as the Lathum Wing and now we have some of the finest facilities in the North-west. Our new teaching block is called The Gilbert Lathum Wing.

The School has made great efforts to retain from P.G.G.S and PGS those aspects of education which will equip our children for the twenty-first century.

1544 Church Street
1759 High Street
1924 St Helens Road
1994 Knowsley Park Lane

As far as the toss of the Lathum Wing in St Helens Road is concerned, should not we agree with John Buchan ? "We can pay our debt to the past by putting the future in debt to ourselves." I have enjoyed looking back through the archives and noting the ever-present challenges.

What a surprise it was to find that in October, 1926 there were equal numbers of staff and governors and even more significantly that the all important Pupil / Teacher Ratio (PTR) of about 17:1 was very similar to that in the school today. What struggles there were during World War 2 to maintain staffing and the curriculum, but the 1970s were, in their own way, very difficult. Although a future with a constant threat of insufficient teachers of quality looks frightening, I can say with sincerity that the appointment of very able teachers to Prescot School for September 1997 was one of the most encouraging and pleasing aspects of my last year at the School I mentioned governors. How would they cope today if they still had to rely on the four old pence for a house rent and the shilling (5p) for the hire of a cow ? I am sure that the annual salary of 7 for the School Master (Headteacher) would be envied. That was in 1544 and it remained unchanged for at least forty-three years. The School Master was then paid 42 in lieu of salary unpaid for six years There is an echo today. In the 1990s, with Local Management of Schools and the governors in charge of their own budget, finances were so inadequate that the complement of three Deputy Headteachers was reduced to one. The PTR rose to a point well above the national average and five committed members of the non-teaching staff volunteered to take unpaid leave in order to help the budget.

Collecting for charities and good causes remains a feature of the School but tell me, how did they raise

  • 3022 in National Savings for War Weapons Week (1941)?
  • 3008 for Warship Week (1942)?
  • 4008 for Wings For victory (1943)?

I should have liked to have met Jack Smith, a master who returned to PGS in 1946 after six years of war service. He returned to a school in which the roll had increased by one third to four hundred and fifty-four. He wrote, "No Manual Instruction, no baked jam roll, the same old text-books. The boys are still the same - as jolly as can be but. . . . ." and here I stress a trend which has continued, "much more knowing and less knowledgeable (intelligent)more sophisticated and sceptical . . . and less enthusiastic."

In 1937 only forty school dinners at 9d (4.5p) were served each day to those who could not go home and back in the lunch break. In 1959, three hundred meals were prepared - the cook being a llowed 10p (2 shillings) per meal. This is a neat indicator of how the School had changed from a 'Prescot' school to one with a much wider catchment area. Today, a free meal ticket is valued at 95p - no baked jam roll. If we had not fought to retain our wider appeal, there would no longer be a secondary school in Prescot. As few as thirty per cent of our pupils now come from Prescot primary schools. Today we admit some two hundred new pupils annually - a century ago this figure was between ten and twenty. We always try to provide visiting primary school children with an attractive cafeteria meal; big sausages, chips and gravy - a powerful means of recruitment!

And what of the girls ? I do not intend to refer to the Annual Prefects' Dance described in one Prescotian magazine as 'A useful way by which the masters could get to know the boys better. " For years I have emphasised how important it is to the Prescot School Foundation that it includes both girls and boys and yet, in this talk, I have hardly acknowledged the existence of PGGS. Let me now make amends and say that I was appointed in 1977 to do many things, none of which was more important than to strive to provide education in which both boys and girls could flourish.

Most of the early hiccups were caused either by my male colleagues or by the boys themselves. The girls coped marvellously although one of them bit a boy's bottom and had to be discouraged from repeating such an effective means of getting her own way In March 1926, the Headmaster, C.W. H.Richardson, emphasised the growing need for a secondary school for girls in Prescot and then, in 1953, R Spencer Briggs was not quite right when he referred to 'An event which does not directly concern the School but which is nevertheless of historic importance, was the cutting of the first sod of the Girls' Grammar School
in Prescot. '

Tell me, was the advertisement which appeared in The Prescotian from 1926-1933 looking forward to a co-educational school ? "Buy your boys suits from W.T.Tyrer and Sons. Everything a boy requires for hard wear including "strong tweed knickers" !!

I must move to a conclusion. Were I speaking at the Literary and Debating Society (one of the School societies which has gone out of fashion) I could present a case that Prescot School since 1975 is more like the PGS which existed from 1544 to the 1930s than the PGS which most here present remember

  • its wide ability range
  • lower leaving age (but many still progress to universities)
  • a school largely in charge of its own finances
  • a strong and effective governing body
  • a school in the marketplace for pupils.

Even the turmoil of the sixteenth century is compatible to that of the last twenty years when the future of a secondary school in Prescot was at risk. The problem in the distant past was religious - more recently it has been political. I am saddened that Geoffrey Dixon cannot be present this evening - a man whose influence for thp good is incalculable. Geoffrey has written to me at critical times during the last twenty years. How appropriate it was that it was he who presented the Duke of Edinburgh with a copy of the revised history of the School when he visited us for the 450th Anniversary celebrations. I will cherish Geoffrey's words in his letter wishing me well in retirement. He referred to "....those of us who like to think of the present School as a continuation of the dream of the founding fathers."

We must all cherish our memories but. . .was there ever a Golden Age ? Robert Davies. the novelist, wrote, "The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to the idealised past."

Frankly, this might offer comfort but it is really not an option available to us. I believe that you have a school in Prescot which has come through very difficult times which have not been of its own making. For too long the School had to compete with others which were more favourably endowed. Nevertheless, the School possessed one great strength - it had a staff, both teaching and non-teaching, who could lead it through these difficulties and were not discouraged when the demands of innovation became a watchword. Standards are rising and there is every likelihood of the School becoming a magnet school.

It is about to be connected to the Internet and will then have immediate access to the world's production of books and much else. I am sure that Prescot School will not forget Alice in Wonderland.

Finally, I thank you for the support you have given me over the years and particularly during the 450th Anniversary celebrations: I hope that I have pleased more people than I have upset.

The Governors have appointed an energetic, thoughtful and compassionate Headteacher in Lynne Heath. I have been encouraged greatly by the discussions we have had during the hand-over, I hope that you will give her the continuing support which you have given to me.

Change may be all around us but ... the Future looks good. "


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