The Maltonian Web

Maltonians' Memories

John P Dunstan

Some First Impressions of Malton School

I joined Malton School at its establishment in September 1971 although my first impressions date from the day I came for interview in mid-May of that year. It was a fine sunny day and the school and its setting looked at their best.  I was immediately struck by the wonderful display of blossom in the school grounds and gardens in Middlecave Road.  Both schools, they were still separate at that time, had striped green lawns and well stocked flowerbeds.  Coming from an inner city school, this was striking, but the real treat was the view as I entered the gate of the County Modern School.  No, not the school building nor the caretaker’s house, but the uninterrupted view across the Vale of Pickering and up onto the Moors.  It was a very clear day and the horizon was a crisp line. In fact it was a geographer’s delight.

I got the job.  I don’t recall much about the interview but there had been a mix up and the other two candidates had been called for interview on the following day so the panel could not say who would be offered the post.  However, I clearly remember speaking with the Reverend Walter Beswick in the car park afterwards and during our conversation him saying,” You’ll like it here.”  As a member of the interviewing panel he possibly should not have made such a comment but he was absolutely right; and I still do. 

When I came for interview, I noticed a wooden signboard in the corridor indicating that it was Day 6.  When I asked about this I was told that the school operated and the new school would operate a ten-day timetable.  I, being young and relatively inexperienced, asked in the interview if it caused any confusion.  I was told that it did not.  It did, though not nearly as much as I imagined.  Most of the people who were confused were those who did not listen and those who had trouble with the days of the week anyway.  The excuse that, “I have not got my homework because I (or sometimes, ‘my mum’) packed for the wrong week,” quickly wore thin and is still as flimsy after all these years.  After a while I began to appreciate the flexibility and opportunities that a ten-day timetable offered; like not having the same class last lesson every Friday.  No doubt they felt the same. 

It was all a bit strange and rather exciting on the first day of term, not just for me as one of, I think eleven, new teachers, but also the former teachers of the Grammar School and the County Modern School, none of whom had really intended to be teaching in a comprehensive school and, of course, the children.  One of the first tasks was for me to collect the dinner money.  This chore had been done by the office staff in my previous schools and so was a new experience for me but it was quickly accomplished and the cash counted and tallied with the register.  A self-appointed monitor took it all to the office, the whole process having taken less than five minutes.  Monday morning assemblies were abandoned after a couple of weeks because, rumour has it, a certain influential teacher had regular difficulty in balancing the dinner register.  Perhaps this is just another of those legends that springs up during the life of any school, but I believe it. 

As might be expected, there were a number of things that would take a while to get used to and problems to be solved.  By making the two schools one the North Riding County Council was able to achieve its policy on comprehensive education rather on the cheap.  We found we had two of some things and not enough of others.  There were now two gymnasia, one of which doubled as a hall. So, we had two halls, neither of which was large enough to accommodate the seven hundred or so children on the roll of the school.

We had two sets of kitchens and dining halls which seemed to operate independently of each other and provide their own varied menus.  The meals were good and often extremely good by any standard, let alone in a mass catering context.  I remember getting a distinctly funny look from the then chairman of governors, John Wainwright, when I suggested that the only thing missing was a table licence.  Even so, one Wing seemed to have a better reputation than the other for meals.  I’m not sure I dare say which in a publication like this.  Lunch duty was also something of a novelty for me.  Long queues of hungry and sometimes impatient children made the West Wing corridor dark and claustrophobic and there were squabbles when someone let a friend into the queue or stuck a leg out to trip a passer by.  By and large children are refreshingly truthful and such happenings were soon rectified.

The classrooms in the Grammar School were renumbered so that in the newly renamed East Wing we found rooms thirty something and forty something.  The children seemed to master this much more easily than the teachers.  Joining the two wings of the school was the path.  Except that for the first few weeks of term there wasn’t one.  We walked across the field carefully avoiding the corners of pitches at Mr. Thomas’s insistence, and bringing mud into school on our shoes.  Mr. Dowding was not at all happy about this and a paved path was laid around the edge of the field behind the houses to link the two wings.  Thirty years later in 2001, it was conceded that children will take the most direct route between two places and the path was re-laid in a straight line. 

I say “We walked across the field”  because the headmaster decided that to help integrate the staff and pupils of the new school, all staff should teach at least one lesson in each wing and all children should have some lessons in each wing, so far as was possible.  In the event, practicalities made this much more difficult than was envisaged and lessons were taught in subject areas after the first year.  One of the advantages of Malton School was that it was larger and so could have specialist rooms for most subjects and more specialist teachers, though it took some years for some of the rooms to take on fully the character of the subjects taught in them.

Integration was a real issue in the new school and as a newcomer, I was blissfully unaware of most of most of the undercurrents in the staff, though I began to learn quickly.  As I was perceived as neutral, various people took me to one side and filled me in on their view of the background.  Such a radical change to an organisation, which depends on the relationships between people in order to function, will always produce some difficulties.  For most of the children, my impression is that things went much more smoothly.  Even so, I was made very welcome by everyone.   Certainly the upper school geography classes seemed pleased to have a regular teacher again as Mr. Bratt had been off for some time due to illness and Miss Taylor had left for another job earlier in the previous year.

Harold Taylor was the assistant caretaker and he used to lurk by the store cupboard between rooms 5, where I taught, and 6.  During one of our daily chats I discovered that I had taught his nephew Bruce in the sixth form at my previous school in Hackney and had brought him to Whitby for a field course the previous spring.  It is a small world.

There were several staff children in the school.  In London it was not common for teachers to live in the catchment areas of the school they taught in.  Schools are much more numerous and closer together in cities and so this situation was rare.  I discovered that in Malton it was the norm and it spoke volumes about the quality and atmosphere of the school.  It still does.  Unsurprisingly there were some embarrassing moments for all parties concerned.  Sometimes telling off one’s children and their mates in school was followed after school, by a game at home in the garden and giving out drinks of orange squash

On the first Saturday after the start of term as my wife and I, together with our young son, were shopping in town I was acutely aware of some people looking at us.  I realised that the children who were doing the same sort of shopping with their families, were telling their parents, “That’s our new teacher.”  Suddenly everyone seemed to know who I was and I knew hardly anybody.  London is such an anonymous place that this experience was something of a surprise.  After living in Malton for thirty years this has changed.  People whom I do not recognise still speak to me.  Sometimes I do not remember them but mostly the reason is that they have changed in the intervening period of time.  Apart from being out of uniform, some are now bearded or bald and others, especially the ladies, have experienced a change in hair colour.

Philip Taylor was the new head of Malton School and I confess that I hardly knew him.  He arranged a party at his home for all the staff to get to know each other on the first weekend of the new term, which I thought was a very nice thing to do.  He was off sick within days and died just a few weeks later.  My impression was of a kind and gentle person who would do all he could to help.  His death was very sad and something of a shock to the school.  Day to day running, and soon the headship, fell onto the capable shoulders of John Gresswell, who had been appointed deputy head of the new school in the previous summer term.  It was he who had done much of the groundwork for the merger of the two schools and so in many ways Malton School was his school.  It had been an eventful few weeks.