At my junior school in Upper Street, Islington, London as soon as the whistle was blown in the morning we all lined up in our classes and marched two by two into school from the playground. It was very regimented. The teacher on playground duty was very prepared to report any infringement – such as not marching in step or being slovenly. Up the stone stairs and into the ‘beast’ there was no talking on the stairs as we ascended. Into assembly in the hall on the second floor. Once there Mr Fitzpatrick would glower at each of us from the small stage.
Prayers were conducted by him with some gusto. Then we were each instructed to open our hymn books to his choice of morning worship. I did like some of those rousing tunes played by a teacher on the old piano at the back of the hall. Prayers over, we were dismissed to our classrooms, where the teacher would wait for us to take our desk places. Open the large register book, on her or his desk, and begin to read out each name in the class. All the names read out were just ‘Surnames’, now known as family names. They were all in alphabetical order, and called out in clipped military like tones.
Registration enhanced the divide between the might and importance of the teacher against the weakness of us mere children. It should be remembered that in those days the teacher had the right and authority to slap, slipper, or cane any child that they thought deserved such punishment. As soon as our name was called we each had to stand to attention and say ‘present’ (Miss or Sir) and a tick would be put in the register to prove our presence in class that morning. Woe betide any child coming into class late as a definite “L” would be marked next to their name. Two or more late “L marks in any week were serious infringements of the rules and children turning up late were told off in no uncertain terms in front of the whole class. There was no excuses accepted, that the teacher would listen to accept: unless your Mum or Dad had died that morning, or some similar traumatic reason.
In the lesson that followed which usually was spelling or the times tables (up to twelve) the teacher would simply point at a girl or boy and shout out, “YOU, what are seven eights”, or something like, “spell difficulty”. Of course, if you failed you knew you were in for trouble. I seem to remember being called “stupid boy” on many occasions, simply because I had a real difficulty in spelling. Often our class teacher took all lessons, and each lesson was based on conformity. After all, it was pointed out that is how The UNITED KINGDOM of these isles has conquered and controlled two thirds of planet Earth, under our great Queen Victoria, George V, George VI, and now Her Majesty – Queen Elizabeth II.
All school children were treated little better than junior soldiers and seldom did any teacher, show respect. They thought of us as ignorant, slum dwellers, with ignorant uncouth parents. If given an instruction (any instruction) that was barked out like a Sergeant Major, such instruction had to be carried out at the double without complaint or any disagreement.
The day eventually came when Mr Fitzpatrick, addressed parents and their children in the hall, his sermon, did not fill me with optimism, “you children leaving this school – remember, at the moment you are large fish in a little pool, next, you will be very little fish in a very large pool. Say your prayers each day and always obey your teachers”.