Remember the Days of the Old School Yard?

They say you should never go back. Well, I’m glad I just did. What a pleasure it was to attend the open day at Dale Community Primary School, Normanton, held as part of the celebrations to mark the school’s 100th birthday. I was at Dale between January 1974 and July 1980, and with many talented teachers who made lessons fun and inspiring, we looked forward to each new day. Without doubt, it was the happiest time of my childhood.
On this open day there were lots of reminiscences about our wonderful headmistress, Miss Clarke, and her colleagues. Of course, there was sadness as we remembered those who’ve passed away, but mostly there was joy at meeting familiar faces from the past, and making the acquaintance of former pupils from other eras.
Barbara Brocklehurst, now one of Dale’s teaching assistants, used to be a “mum at the school gate” when I was little and it was good to catch up with her. And I was so pleased to be reunited with Mrs Bowen, one of Miss Clarke’s deputies, without whom the annual summer fairs just wouldn’t have been the same.
It was also lovely to have a good long chat with Mrs Fox, who, together with Mrs Salmon, helped to run the school like clockwork. Together we looked at old photographs gathered by former staff and pupils, and by Living Derby. We shared memories of some of my favourite teachers like Mrs Smith, Miss Roberts, Mrs Wilson and Mr Odell.
Mrs Fox’s most important task, as far as the children were concerned, was taking care of our bumps and scrapes. She was always there with a comforting word and a kind smile and, of course, a dab of “magic” – tincture of iodine. It stung like crazy, but we all wore our yellow-stained skinned knees with pride. No school year would be complete without a few visits to Mrs Fox’s room.
Ian McMahon was there, as always. He joined Dale when I was in the third year of juniors, right at the beginning of his teaching career. The driving force behind much of the school’s sporting success, he also happens to be a darned good teacher and, during the day, was the butt of quite a few jokes; a sure sign of respect and affection. Present-day Dale pupils were fascinated with tales of his platform shoes. Well, sad to say, I am old enough to remember their debut at a school disco about 1979.
Accompanied by current headteacher Linda Sullivan, I took a tour of the school. Going back into those little classrooms, almost 28 years to the day since I last walked through the gates, was certainly an emotional experience; but it was also fascinating. There’s a new dining room and hall; an old hall divided into classrooms; blackboards replaced by interactive white boards; and even indoor plumbing.
But it was the similarities that struck me most. There’s no doubt that formal education is taken very seriously at Dale, but still evident among present-day staff and pupils is that sense of shaping a new generation of young people, socially as well as intellectually.
And that balancing act can be no mean feat. The school’s catchment area has never been one of Derby’s wealthiest, and many of its pupils come from homes where English is a second language. But Dale always provided its own very close community and continues to do so. It’s a happy school, and it was a delight to go back. I hope it won’t have been for the last time.
Living Derby is helping Dale compile a book to mark the centenary and encourage anyone with memories or photographs of their days there to get in touch. They can be contacted through the school, or by emailing