You are here: HomeLocal HistorySt. Kenelm’s C.E. Primary School, Centenary Celebrations 1915 - 2015Ruth Harper (Pre-School Nursery) 1985-2010

Ruth Harper (Pre-School Nursery) 1985-2010

St. Kenelm's C.E. Primary School, Romsley
Centenary Celebrations
1915 – 2015

Memories of Mrs Ruth Harper - Playgroup/Pre-School Nursery Teacher from 1985 - 2010


Around 1985, just after our son David left the playgroup to start in Reception, a vacancy arose for another member of staff to work alongside manager, Mrs Margaret Bayfield, in the playgroup. In those days this took place on three mornings per week in the downstairs' classroom next to the Reception class.

When Margaret originally started the village playgroup in 1969 together with other young mums, it was held in the Church Hall with the equipment needing to be stored at the end of each session and brought out again at the start of the next. Hardly an ideal situation – for the staff, at any rate! When reorganisation of the education system took place in the 1970s, St. Kenelm's became a First School thereby losing the top two year groups and gaining two spare classrooms in the main building. Mr Ruddick offered the downstairs' classroom to Mrs Bayfield as a permanent home and she jumped at the chance to move into the school.

So this was where I started work; although I would hardly call it work. It was sheer delight to spend the morning in such a relaxed and happy atmosphere with no pressure to hit targets or follow a set curriculum. We planned our topics carefully at the start of each term and even divided the equipment between us throughout the term so that nothing should be over-used or left at the back of the cupboard for too long. Each member of staff (and this fluctuated between three and four permanent staff with two on duty at any one time, with an extra person being brought in if numbers of children exceeded sixteen) took responsibility for a certain number of weeks' planning; this usually worked out at about four per term. We were responsible for everything that happened that week from the "Letter of the Week", through individual craft activities, PE, Music, table activities, sand/water play to the end of the morning storytime session.

Margaret encouraged staff to take full responsibility and soon spotted any who were reluctant or uncomfortable in the role. The main qualified staff remained reasonably stable throughout the years but the "helpers" (often parents) would change frequently as their children moved on. This was in those glorious years before the government discovered Nursery Education and decided to interfere by introducing an Early Years' curriculum, assessment and Ofsted inspections. We had always had an annual inspection from Social Services and so knew that we were expected to maintain a high standard of care and education but there had been no sense of pressure involved and we did our planning based on experience and knowledge of the children in our care. We taught literacy and numeracy but in a very low key and fun way using rhymes, games and craft activities linked to the Letter of the Week. History, Geography, Nature, Music, PE were all part of our curriculum but as a topic based approach. Gradually we embraced the introduction of computers and the need to look outside out own experience and talk about Chinese New Year or Diwali. The children loved trying fried rice, using chopsticks and hearing the Diwali stories.

The school was growing in the mid-1990s under the headship of Mrs Hazel Gommersall and it was decided that separate year group teaching should be the goal. This meant five separate year groups in five separate classrooms and so the playgroup were warned that the room that they had been using since the mid-1970s would soon no longer be available to them. Many negotiations took place but it was recognised by school staff and County officials as well as playgroup staff that having playgroup on the school grounds was of great benefit to all concerned, not least the children. They had wonderful start to their schooling as they soon became familiar with the school surroundings, both inside and out. We were able to use the school hall or the playground for PE activities or outdoor play (we had a shed full of bikes, scooters, etc.) and shared the use of toilets and cloakroom area with the Reception children.

During the term before the children were due to start "Big School" they were invited to spend several sessions in their new classroom getting to know their teacher, Miss Stanton (later Mrs Cameron) and gradually losing any fears which they may have had regarding the transition from playgroup to school. We hardly ever had a problem with a child, who had attended playgroup, moving into school.

So it was agreed by all parties concerned that it was vital the playgroup should remain on site. Between Margaret, school and the LA a mobile classroom was purchased and this arrived just before Christmas in 1998. A huge clear-out took place and many old friends (toys, books and games) had to be discarded due to reduced storage space. The move was eventually made and the "Pre-School Nursery" opened in January 1999 in the rear playground of the school. Over the following years a decking area was attached to the rear of the mobile and a tarmacked play area, which covered the old school pond, allowed the children to have free access to outside where they could continue to use the bikes, scooters, etc. That was the positive side.

Unfortunately at around the same time the government started introducing new initiatives which would last for all of two years before a new Education Minister would arrive with even more new ideas about how the "Foundation Stage" (Nursery/Reception) should be managed. A curriculum was introduced, standards of progress enforced and assessment booklets were required to be completed for each child. Almost overnight the relaxed child-friendly spontaneous education of former years disappeared under a weight of paperwork and staff visibly became more and more stressed, particularly those who had experienced the previous regime. Margaret started the slow process of handing over the reins to her daughter, Sarah Eccleston, and we both agreed that we would retire together when the time was right.

Sadly Margaret developed terminal cancer and died in 2009. I continued to work with Sarah and our colleague and Special Needs expert, Anita Baylis, for a couple of terms but I soon saw that the Pre-School Nursery was in very capable hands under the care of people who could better cope with all the changes and give the children the start in life that they so deserve. I finally retired from the nursery in the summer of 2010.

In 2014 The Pre-school Nursery, under the guidance of Sarah and Anita, was awarded Outstanding in their Ofsted inspection. Margaret would have been thrilled!

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