Enid Lundberg was a teacher at Arkengarthdale School for 25 years. On a sunny but windy summer’s day we met in her garden looking onto Calva Hill. Enid has an energetic spirit, vivid memory and is refreshingly to-the-point, here’s a summary of what she told us:
In 1975 I was taking my own children to school when the part-time assistant didn't turn up one week. On the Monday the Headteacher asked me if I would help to amuse either Key Stage 1 or Key Stage 2 while she taught the others. I said, ‘Just let me go and take the dog out and I will come back’. I came back and I read stories and we played games and I did that for the rest of that week and I then stayed for 25 years. I started in 1975 and I retired in 2000.
Boys and the girls were treated exactly the same at school, there was no difference at all. In lots of places you wouldn't get an older boy helping a little girl. Well here it was just a BIG family. If I needed assistance, I would shout to someone as though you were at home. It was a wonderful, wonderful atmosphere. The parents were all caring. You helped one another. I often didn't have to ask.
It's quite an isolated spot. And I think people have just grown up together. People say everybody's nosy. Well, I don't think it's being nosy. It’s just checking, you know - do they need help? We were a big Arkengarthdale family. That's why I stayed for 25 years (laughs).
I was a farmer's daughter. I went to a village school in Blackhall. So I never really went to what you would call a town school ever. I've always had this intimate experience of everybody knowing everybody else.
Sometimes if a little one would say something, you know, a bit daft, one of the older ones would say, ‘No, it doesn't work like that’. I didn't interfere. It was far better that they told those children how they understood it. It’s how I felt teaching should have carried on. But it wasn't to be.
At Arkengarthdale there was a Headteacher and the part-time assistant, that's all there ever was. The Headteacher always took the infants, now called Year 1 and Year 2, and I had Years 3, 4, 5 and 6. I had a rolling four-year syllabus because we didn't want to repeat ourselves, and this timetable worked very well. Then the National Curriculum came along, and at nine o'clock on Monday morning on such and such a day you HAD to be doing a specific thing. Well, how could I be teaching different material to Years 3, 4, 5 and 6 at the same time? That did not work for my system!
An inspector came and I said ‘How can I spend an hour doing that with that with that group, and an hour doing something else with the next.... I'll have to go back to my old system’. And he never appeared again (laughs). No, the National Curriculum was impossible for me to carry out. Whatever I was doing in that hour I had to do with them all. We’d have a little chat in the first place and everybody would join in, and then we would all do our individual work and Year 6s would get far more difficult things to sort out than the little ones. It possibly wasn't on the National Curriculum for that particular morning. Well, tough. It worked absolutely fine. Over the four years, everything on that curriculum I covered, just not when they said so.
When I was at the school there were three big beech trees in the playground at the back where the field went up the hill. The children used to play around them, they used to hide behind the trees and they used to pretend that they could live in the trees. Now we never allowed them to climb up into the tree because we thought they might actually fall out. But they were friends with the trees, they thought they were lovely. One day a certain gentleman said he thought that one of the branches of one of the beech trees might fall into the playground and injure the children. We went outside and looked at this tree and it looked absolutely fine to me. But he said, ‘I would like it checked’. So lo and behold, we had to have it checked. The gentleman who then came said in all honesty he could not say that it would never ever fall into the yard. Then the insurance people said they all had to come down. Oh, it was awful. They were beautiful trees. The children wrote poems to them. Afterwards the playground felt so empty. I would say they were over 100 years old. The only good thing was in the autumn we didn't have all the leaves and beech nuts to sweep up (laughs).
Yes, the Roman-style toilet at Arkengarthdale was still there in my time. It was absolutely wonderful. The toilet block was built over a small, fast-flowing stream – an automatic flush permanently underneath, and ecological too! But then of course the powers that be came and said oh, we couldn't have this, the waste was going down into the river. So it had to be pulled down. But I mean it worked, it worked for years…
Arkengarthdale School rarely closed because of bad weather because I walked. I could walk from here. And then once the parents knew I was in school, they would bring the kids in the Land Rovers and in the tractors and what have you. I think that all together in the whole 25 years I was there, we only closed the school on two days.
My kids would mostly have been farming and gamekeepers’ children and they were all extremely independent. When they went on to secondary school at Richmond, there were many other children there, but it didn't matter what the problem was, they weren't intimidated because they had done their own thing. Definitely the children from the Dales were always more independent than children from big schools. Why? Possibly because they had more freedom. But also, they had to sort out their own problems. They wouldn't say, ‘I'll get A, B and C to come and help me’. They sorted it. They were just capable of sorting things out for themselves.
In my time, outside of school children roamed around and played freely. I think it's absolutely fantastic to go and poke about and see things by yourself. And they used to take sausages down into the woods and light a little fire. Now that was the only thing that I was always a bit afraid of. I used to say they had to be very careful where they lit their little fire. And what the sausages must’ve been like… but they did it. I don't know whether the parents would let them do that now. They certainly wouldn't let them light a fire. No, the freedom of roaming the spaces is not there now. It's gone.
Schools have always been important since they started because it improves one's lot. Not just academically, but socially too because of the mixing. So yes, I think it is important that we learn how schools functioned in the past. Presumably we’ve progressed somewhat, but have we? In this computer age, are we still interacting with people? A machine doesn't talk back to you. Does it stimulate you to think? So I think we should look very carefully at how education in the past improved our lot.
In my time the lowest number of pupils we ever had was eleven and then the highest was 24. Sometimes we had lots of boys and other times lots of girls. The boys tended to stay in the Dale and the girls tended to get married and move away. There's that pattern of boys staying and girls moving because the boys stayed on the farm or doing whatever the original family job was. The girls didn't, the girls tended to get married and go to wherever their husbands were working. That pattern never altered. It stayed the same until the school closed. My own two boys are both back in the Dale now and the girls have gone.
I have saved some newspaper cuttings of a demonstration against Arkengarthdale School closing in 1968 (pictured below). I couldn't go because I had a baby at the time. I think it was a financial proposition by the County, even though the numbers would have been reasonable back then – early twenties, something like that.
We felt that the school was a major part of life in the Dale because all our social activities took place in that building as well. Nobody could understand why anybody would want to take that away. How could we possibly survive without the school? We couldn’t believe that they even thought about closing it. That’s why everyone was so motivated to jump up and down and say - you can't do this. And I suppose they must have listened because the school then didn't close.
Five decades on, sadly Arkengarthdale School has closed. I think it was a feeling of inevitability, we had to accept it. It was ridiculous to think that five children could have a proper education up there. Academically they might survive, but socially certainly with only five children it just wasn't on. And economically it wasn't a viable proposition. So we had no choice. And they're hoping to develop it as affordable housing.
I don’t miss the children really because I still see them every day. The boys are still all here and I talk to them, and their children, they talk to me too. They say: ‘You taught my daddy’.
All these ‘children’ I meet, they’re now six feet tall, but in my eyes they’re still children of the Dale.