There's Nothing Like Education.
A new democracy ?
Another new era in the School's history began with a sponsored jog which raised £500 for a new BBC computer. And in September of that year the Family Centre finally opened, forty five families having been enrolled. There had been extensive alterations in the lower end of the school to provide accommodation suitable to its new use; a large playroom, a parents' room with its own kitchen, toilets, office, baby-changing facilities even a pram bay. Emma Hale would have gazed in disbelief.
The Family Centre is now firmly established and a much valued part of the school. There is a charge for its use but parents who cannot afford to pay give their time and help in other ways. The Centre has been particularly helpful to low-income families where private nursery care would be unaffordable. It is also a training ground providing work experience for students of Gloucester College of Further Education and the Royal Forest College who are being trained as Nursery Nurses and also students of the local senior schools. In eight years it had established itself so efficiently that it was the only Centre in Gloucestershire to be recommended in the National Good Nursery Guide.
It was the late 80's however, which first experienced the fundamental changes in the running of the nation's schools. We had long been used to the County Council's Education Committee influence which, although we may not always have agreed with its decisions had had a reasonably good relationship. Now the influence began to emanate from Central Government. It began with the School Managers who would no longer be appointed by our Local Authority - and thus Governing Bodies were born. The DOEE required full representation of parents, teachers (and even students in the Senior grades).
It would be known as L.M.S. - Local Management of Schools - and brought drastic changes in the work of School Governors. They would be responsible for the appointment of staff (and presumably, their dismissal when necessary). There were courses to attend and a plethora of paperwork which emanated from both Shire Hall and Whitehall. They had power to determine such things as the School Day and the policy on Sex Education. They were to be encouraged to make regular visits to the school and the classroom, to lend their own skills and to make the staff 'feel appreciated". With the schools now handling their own finances there would be budgets to approve, and decisions to be made on a hundred and one daily problems. It takes a dedicated Governor to fulfil such expectations - and their work is still voluntary.
The 1986 Act required that an Annual Parents' meeting should be convened. With the advent of the National Curriculum in September 1989 there were endless courses for Staff and Governors - and another Act (1988) detailing procedures for "complaints about the National Curriculum and related matters." Someone remarked at the time that "it would take a brave parent; to go down such a complicated road." Statutory requirements came thick and fast. Recording pupil achievement; providing a written report to parents; to grade for all attainment targets at the end of each key stage; and teaching staff appraisals - shades of the Victorian pupil teachers and their Object Lessons! And after OFGAS, OFWAT, OFTEL et al of course, there came OFSTED
Acronyms Rule O.K.?
A School Prospectus was to be circulated and there was yet another Course -"Promoting and Marketing Your School." Were our schools to be sold like a pound of onions I wondered?
The National Curriculum (which was compulsory) demanded the teaching of three Core Subjects - English, Mathematics and Science. To these were added Foundation Subjects viz. History, Geography, Technology, Music; Art and PE. together with the statutory Religious Education. Children would follow this course from the term following their fifth birthday, and they would be assessed at three levels of National Requirements.
Following on from the mandatory OFSTED inspections a League Table of Schools would be published in the local press, ostensibly so that parents might weigh the advantages of one local school against another - Parental Choice. But since schools' performances were to be judged against an absolute standard which paid little attention to any school's individual problems, League Tables seem to an outsider to be rather unforgiving. Failure to reach a given standard needs to be judged against how much the individual child may have achieved when compared to his or her own potential.
During this time of upheaval came another Government decision that would enable schools to - opt out of Local Government control and attain "Grant. Maintained Status" where funding would come direct from Central Government. In 1994 Bilson's Governing Body decided that "they did not wish to explore G.M.S at present."
The first OFSTED Inspection took place in April 1996, and, true to form, Bilson emerged with credit.. The Inspectors found that "Bilson Infants' School provides a sound education for its pupils and serves the community well", and that "the number of pupils achieving the standards expected of a typical seven year old is above the national average."
With 168 pupils in the main school and seven full-time and three part-time teachers, the average class size was 24. A sharp contrast indeed to Emma's numbers of 50 and 60! However, in other ways, it seems that the clock has been put back, for sadly, in these days of broken marriages and single parentage, the Inspectors also decreed that the "area the school serves is a social priority area." The town, once again, is feeling the effects of unemployment amongst its people, bringing echoes of the early days at. Bilson. And, ironically, it was the parsimonious history of those early days which was eventually to sound the death knell of our School.