Monthly Archives: July 2015

Jah’s school celebrates 100 years. The importance of drama and the Arts in education.

 One of the biggest excitements I can recall about Jah’s Primary school days was the celebration of 100 years of the school. There were many Centenary events.

The children were very well prepared. They were introduced to elderly past-pupils and enjoyed asking them questions. Sometimes Jah came home open-eyed, with tales of how strict things were in long-ago days. He was shocked to hear about use of the cane especially.

In the attached picture, we can see how drama was used to great effect. The children were all dressed up as they would have been 100 years ago. This dressing up certainly dramatised the whole event. When we look at the photo, however we cannot sense how worried the children were, in case their teacher actually tried to use the cane.

100 year old school(Jah is the child wearing spectacles.)

The fact that this re-enactment stays so vividly in my mind, reminds me all over again of the importance of Arts in educating children. When the children were dressed up in their clothes of yesteryear, that impressed them, but to see their own class teacher transformed into a strict looking teacher of long ago, impressed them even more. (She had not told them that she would also be dressing up!)

To continue thinking about the benefit of the Arts, some well-arranged school trips introduce children to experiences that they might never otherwise have experienced. I know that some children today are incredibly privileged, but many are not. School days and shared experiences are so important for all children.

Other Arts-related things that I remember that enriched our children’s school days are:

  • Drama groups visiting the school.
  • Learning from watching a film company make a film of Anna’s choir and school orchestra (even though she was brimming over with indignation that they mostly filmed one boy to the exclusion of the rest of the class). . .
  • An uproariously exciting visit by a Caribbean poet – I think it was John Agard. I do know that the children walked back to the school in a high state of delight and high spirits!

John Agard's poems




  • An outing to a children’s theatre production
  • An outing to the National Gallery
  • A visit by the poet Benjamin Zephaniah to Sam’s Secondary school.

Wicked World

When Anna grew up and became a Primary school teacher, she took the children from her Tower Hamlets school into a local churchyard. Many of the children had never really looked at wild flowers before and they really enjoyed learning the names and looking at the shapes of all the different flowers. It was a learning experience for them to discover beauty all around them.

In her role as a dance educator, Lucy did a dance project in Southampton and was surprised to learn that some of the children had not even seen the sea, so she organised a trip to the sea before proceeding with the project.

Sam has grown up to be a social worker and he told me how effective a drama workshop had been for him on a training day. The actor who was acting as a client, shot up from the hospital bed and challenged something Sam said. Sam found that dramatic intervention extremely helpful.  It was something he would always remember.

Long live drama and  the Arts!

Jah and Sam. Some of their memories of childhood – artefacts (1) + Importance of a world view.

One day I asked our four “children” whether there were any interesting objects that reminded them of growing up in our family home. I didn’t want a whole list – just a few quick responses.

Jah was the first to reply. He mentioned my old sewing machine (nowadays used more as an ornament!)

Sewing machine

Also my collection of bells (still looked at and played with now and again by the grandchildren)


SAM’s Memories.

Sam said that he remembered events and experiences, not necessarily artefacts.   However, then he remembered break dancing and he thought of the piece of lino that he and Jah used to put on the pavement in front of our house, in order to do their “wicked moves”.  (Unfortunately this beloved piece of lino does not appear in the photo below.)

Jah and friends

Hip Hop boy small copy

(Courtesy freedigitalphotos)

I thought that Sam would mention his Action Man toys, but he did not. However, when he thought further, he realised how much his racer bike had meant to him, so that is definitely one artefact that he remembers with joy. (The picture shows him discovering it one Christmas morning.)bike


I was surprised and quite pleased that Jah also mentioned the large world map that we had.

world map


(This illustration is not of our actual map. The original had been drawn with illustrations to interest children and we had it for many years.)


We took it out to Malaysia and had it laminated and put into a light frame. It reminded us of “back home” in England.  Then, when we were back in Britain, it reminded us of countries where friends and loved ones live. It was also useful for general knowledge. Unfortunately I do not have a photo of the actual map today.

We regarded it as our duty to have a world view and to rejoice in diversity as we brought up our multiracial family. This was not just for the sake of the boys, but for all our sakes.

An international outlook was one that I had been encouraged to have from childhood and I believe that in today’s world we all need to see beyond our own small boundaries.

In another  post I’ll share Lucy and Anna’s childhood memories. and possibly some of my own.

The Traveller children come to Jah’s school c. 1984

 Shortly after the beginning of the Spring term, a very important announcement was made at Jah’s school. He was impressed by what the class had been told and as he told us all the news, his eyes were open wide, befitting the great Importance, as he saw it. A group of Travellers were going to attend the school. Two were going to be in his class. Jah and his friends took very seriously the fact that they were not to use the term “Gypsies”. We parents were instructed on the correct terminology. They told us that the children should always be described as Travellers.

In retrospect, I do not know whether the children were told that the visitors came from a long-standing tradition. I do not know whether they were told that these particular Travellers came from Ireland, but I think they were told not to comment rudely on their clothes. They were certainly informed in a respectful manner and all the children were well briefed to treat the newcomers well.

There was quite a build-up to the arrival of the Traveller children and Jah set off full of enthusiasm and curiosity on their scheduled first morning. Unfortunately, however their first day was postponed. Apparently two teenage girls from the community had gone missing and the police were involved in trying to find them. This added to the strangeness of the situation and the waiting school population decided that this dramatic turn of events added enormously to the whole scenario.

Eventually the Traveller children did start coming to school. They particularly liked painting sessions, but the teachers had to remove their big pieces of paper quickly; otherwise the children simply re-started by painting another picture on top of the original.

child paiinting

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

We parents did not hear anything officially from the school about how the Travellers’ children settled. It was Jah and his friends who told us about the painting class scenario. School may have seemed a strange place to the newcomers. In the end, they did not stay many weeks, before moving on.

As a family, we were able to watch the Travellers. They lived near our house on a piece of land above a railway tunnel entrance. They broke down a wall to access the space. I do not know whether the top of the tunnel was fenced off. It looked quite a dangerous place, but the children must have been warned of the danger and there were no dreadful accidents.

Many years later, in the late 1990s, we met some other Irish Traveller children in a small park in Camden town. They were very loving and interesting children. They had extremely broad Irish accents. We used to go with our baby granddaughter into a small park and the Travellers lived next to the park. The big girls were very kind to the baby. They were very keen to talk to us and I enjoyed hearing them talk about their travels and catching glimpses of their life.

Katharine Quarmby, a ‘writing’ friend of mine has written a book about her experience of Travellers. She has made many friends in that community. I can thoroughly recommend her book. It was published in 2013.

No Place to call Home

No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers

1 Aug 2013

by Katharine Quarmby

Kindle Edition        £8.54

There is another thing that I can remember vividly about Jah’s first year at the London school . . . see next post.