In Part I Sally Stone recalled her childhood at West Burton School. Here is Part II, where she reflects on returning to the school to be a teacher and headteacher. The picture shows Sally with her four grandchildren:
Careers Guidance at Yorebridge Grammar School was rather sparse, mine lasted for around ten minutes. We were summoned individually to the Headteacher’s office. I wasn’t aware that he even knew my name - I think it was the first time I had spoken to him. I was asked if I intended to go to university, I said ‘no’, so he suggested teacher training college. Maths was my favourite subject, so I made a list of six colleges and after interview I was accepted at my first choice - Sheffield City College of Education - to train to be a secondary maths teacher.
What a shock it was to go to Sheffield from a rural Dales village, especially having been brought up on a small farm where holidays were rare as Dad always had to get back to milk.
Communication with home wasn’t easy. First you had to queue for the phone in the hall of residence, there were only two for around 200 students, and then go through to the operator. I was often told that ‘Aysgarth 438’ didn’t exist.
Looking back it was the best thing I could have done. Multi-cultural Sheffield with its high-rise flats and industry was an extreme contrast to West Burton, but teaching practices at schools alongside the M1, on the edge of Rotherham and near the Tinsley Viaduct gave me the experience needed to get a job at a large school in Harrogate. By this time I was doing a primary course and I remember organising a topic on farming where I brought in lots of artefacts from home such as a fleece of wool, and explored cheese-making, which went down well.
I returned to the Dales to be a teacher at West Burton School from 1983, and I was later headteacher from 2011 to 2014. As a head I can remember working out what was termed as ‘mobility’, and actually West Burton had quite high mobility which means the number of children moving in and out during their school year. People have always come and gone which you wouldn’t think would be likely in a small village school. I guess people came in and perhaps ran a hotel, a pub, something like that, and then would move out again. And that happened quite a lot.
I think it sometimes depended on who was the headteacher and the reputation of the school. Reputation’s very important to a school, and getting articles in the D&S regularly so people know what’s going on. One particularly dynamic headteacher we had was Mr Matt Blyton from 2000 to 2004, who was actually Enid Blyton’s great nephew, and he was a perfectionist, he worked so hard to do everything to the nth degree. You knew you weren’t just this tiny rural primary school hidden away, that whatever we were doing was as good as anybody else was doing and we got some really good reports from Ofsted at that time. At one point we got a mention in the Ofsted report to parliament as a particularly effective school, so that gave you a great sense of pride.
A lot of people really like the idea of a small school, but I don’t think they quite realise the social aspects of it can be lacking - not the education but just due to lack of numbers - so at West Burton we were very much into getting out into the wider world and bringing the wider world to West Burton.
In 2005 I got involved in a British Council-funded project that focused on the professional development of teachers. Every half term for three years we visited other schools, most of them international, which was absolutely brilliant. We visited schools in Dusseldorf, Haugersund in Norway, Tábor in the Czech Republic and Košice in Slovakia. Also we went to Pudsey in West Yorkshire and I still meet those teachers from the Pudsey school to this day. It certainly widened our horizons.
The following year we joined with Askrigg and Bainbridge schools for a three-way project with schools in Zambia and Zimbabwe. The first visit was the African teachers coming to West Burton, Bainbridge and Askrigg. The teachers were hosting, so if we had spare beds we would put them up, and the difficult thing was it was the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas, it was cold and foggy, so all my spare fleeces, anoraks and so on were distributed among my visitors to keep them warm. It was only when the following summer, a colleague and I went out to Zambia, that we realised what a culture shock it was for those teachers, coming to this cold place.
I’d just like to tell you about how the BAWB collaboration started (Bainbridge, Askrigg and West Burton School Federation). Back in around 2003 I had a very small class of eleven children and my friend and colleague at Bainbridge had nine children, so we decided to get together once a half term so we could work together. We had drama days, we had sports days, but the emphasis was on personal and social interaction - for children to learn how to talk to one another and so on.
A year or two later, I got together with the heads of Bainbridge and Askrigg, and we decided to give year groups from all three schools the opportunity to mix. For example West Burton might have year 1 and year 5. The teachers would stay put, but the teaching assistants would travel so all children had a familiar face. Again it was personal and social education that was the real focus of the day. Some children found this really difficult, but it was for those children that it was really important. And that’s where the concept of getting together begun. Later on it was those three schools that were part of the project that took us out to Zambia and Zimbabwe and where the links began and where I coined the acronym BAWB.
Without doubt, small schools working together was a great advantage for the children. Sometimes I had only one or two children in a year group. Well, if all the year groups were put together from three schools it meant they had more children of the same age, and so when they went to different things or even when they moved to secondary school they would have some familiar faces. I think the key thing is it depends on the staff. If the teachers are behind it, it will work. Having grown up in the Dales and taught in the Dales for many years, I was really behind this project.
I think RE is one of the most important subjects on the curriculum, but people seem to think you are being, I don’t know, brain-washed into belief when actually you are learning about other faiths and how other people think. West Burton was always deemed to be a ‘good’ Church of England school but I was very proud of the fact that when I was a head we were moved up to ‘outstanding’. I think this was largely because of the Reverend Sue Whitehouse who was the vicar at St. Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth. The children loved her coming to assemblies - she told stories, she brought things to dress up in. They really were motivated, but I think the thing was it was intrinsic, it wasn’t an added on. We were very much part of the church, we’d walk over for the Harvest Festival, we’d have days where we learned about the different physical elements of the building and so on. And I always felt that anybody felt comfortable in our assemblies - whatever their faith may be, or if they had none at all.
We also developed a great relationship with Wigton Moor School in Leeds. They came to us one day a year and we took them out walking in the Dales, and would do the geography bits and the history bits and look at the landscape. When we went to Leeds, our perhaps thirty-some children just disappeared into their classes into the different year groups, and learned and made new friends. I think they said that twenty-five languages were spoken by families in their school. I remember sometime later some of the Leeds children had got their parents to go up to the Dales and have a walk out, and they saw us at playtime so they came and spoke to us, and I always feel that if children have told their parents about something, then it’s really hit home, they’ve taken it in.
A comment often made by visitors passing by when I was supervising children on the Green at break times or when they practiced Maypole dancing for the May fair was: ‘what an idyllic village school’. I would smile sweetly and say ‘not always’ - sometimes leaving them with their illusions, or sometimes expanding a bit further.
Inside I would be thinking this was not a word I would use in winter when clearing footpaths of snow and putting down salt before school, or writing endless Risk Assessments on everything from the use of pencils to keeping hens, or attending endless training courses as new initiatives came in, from ‘Purposeful Play in the Early Years’ to SATs delivery in Year 6 as well as the fascinating ones on asbestos and legionella disease.
I know later on that there was some concern about a lack of ambition in the Dales because so many pupils simply wanted to stay in the Dales and they were happy to do just whatever job was available. As teachers, we became very equality-conscious. I taught four to eight year olds most of the time, but whatever the boys did the girls did, it was very equal in that sense. But I know when talking to parents, I’d say ‘make sure they get out in the wider world, even if they decide to come back and be farmers, encourage them perhaps to go to college, or if they’re going to work on the farm, do day release and get them out in the world so they’re making an actual choice - with background knowledge - and not just saying “I want to stay on the farm because it’s the easy option”’.
But not everybody wanted that, I know I have taught children who are now GPs, who are teachers, one pupil became Chief Executive Officer of a mining company and worked in Africa in the gold fields, so West Burton children have spread their wings and done all kinds of things. I know in the last couple of years I added up five children who had got first-class degrees and you feel well, I taught them to read, I’ve helped them along the way, hopefully.