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Names to live up to

magazine article | Published in TES Newspaper on 3 September, 1999 | By: Gerald Haigh

Schools often take their names from places or landmarks, but those dedicated to people can give pupils a sense of history and a role model to inspire them. Gerald Haigh reports

What's your theme for the first assembly of the year? For many headteachers it comes ready made. At Henry Bellairs CE Junior in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, headteacher Andrew Gilroy can inspire new pupils - and remind the older ones - about a fiery 19th- century reforming cleric. Prince William Upper school in Oundle, Peterborough, has a proud link with Prince William of Gloucester, who opened the school in 1972 shortly before being killed in a plane crash. (His mother, Princess Alice, has long taken an interest in the school.) While in Basingstoke, Hampshire, Harriet Costello secondary school has fond memories of a much-loved long-serving former head who died in the Fifties.

So it goes on. Across the country, many schools are named after inspirational people. Those who chose the names - councillors and governors often now forgotten - clearly did so in the hope that some of the qualities of the chosen person would live on in the school's ethos.

At Salt grammar school in Bradford, West Yorkshire, (a comprehensive, despite its name), headteacher Trina Hagerty begins each school year with an assembly about Sir Titus Salt, the philanthropic factory owner who founded the school in the 1860s. (It was originally in Saltaire, Salt's model village, but is now in nearby Shipley Glen.) "It's important to remind them that this is a special place," she says.

"I talk about the Christian beliefs which led Salt to think that people were about much more than work and toil. I tell them how he set up the mill.

"I give them examples of children who have done well from the past - some of the first women doctors came from here. The pupils know there's a history to live up to if they can."

A similar inspirational message is delivered by Sue Parrott, head of The Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls in Acton, west London, named after "Red Ellen", the teacher who became Clement Attlee's fiery education minister in his 1945 Labour government. (At least three schools are named after her, including the one in Ardwick, Manchester, which she attended.) "I say to the new girls, 'When she was your age she could never have dreamt just how successful she would become. I know that one of you standing before me now will achieve even more. You must dream impossible dreams and have high ambitions. Just as Ellen Wilkinson achieved them, so will you.' They love it!"

Ms Parrott invites former pupils to get in touch on each October 8, Wilkinson's birthday. "We have cards and faxes from all over the world."

The ideals of aviator Amy Johnson were rather different from those of Salt or Wilkinson, but such a popular heroine was an obvious choice for the name of what used to be a girls' school - it's now a mixed comprehensive - near her birthplace. Kevin Lister, senior teacher at Amy Johnson school in Kingston-upon-Hull, says: "We've got a mural showing her in flying gear in the foyer, painted by students from the local sixth form college. We keep her name alive through assemblies, and particularly in Year 9 when we're doing 20th-century history."

Captain Matthew Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel, shared some of Johnson's qualities. She learned to fly to escape from a desk job. Webb used his extraordinary swimming ability to escape from his life as a merchant seaman. The Captain Webb primary school is in the village of Dawley, Shropshire, where he was born.

Headteacher Bill Marston says: "There's a statue of him in Dawley and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum has remnants of his swimming costume. On the back of our piano is a picture of him by the children."

The school logo includes Webb swimming and the iron bridge, and the two school buildings are called "Dover" and "Calais".

Coventry-born Sir Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine, is another role model - the determined inventor pushing against old ways of thinking. Frank Whittle primary school, in Coventry, is named after him. It is a matter of regret for headteacher Paul Cheesman that Whittle never visited the school before he died in 1996. "He was due to come about five years ago, but he wasn't well enough to travel."

The school's association with him, though, is reinforced by the presence in the entrance hall of a Rolls-Royce jet engine. "We also have a memorabilia board," says Mr Cheesman, "The children are always interested in the fact that when he was slightly too small to be an RAF apprentice, he used a strict PE regime to make himself taller, and was eventually accepted."

After politicians, engineers and sporting heroes, it makes a change to find musicians commemorated. Thomas Tallis secondary in Greenwich, named after the father of English cathedral music, is one example. The Elgar High in Worcester is another and in Stamford, Lincolnshire, is a primary named after the charismatic conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent.

Headteacher John Oates says: "He went to the school at our original building. We have a portrait of him and things passed on to us by local people, including a plate that he signed."

The school's logo includes a carnation - Sargent was famous for always wearing one. "The children believe it to be a cauliflower. When I stick award badges on them, they say, 'On my cauliflower please, Sir!' " This, as much as anything, ensures that the head tells the real story in assembly at least once a year.

Incidentally, Mr Oates also, does an assembly about his distant cousin Lawrence Oates, who famously gave his life in vain on the ill-fated Scott polar expedition - someone after whom a school perhaps ought to be named. Is there one?

Moreover, what new names are being conjured up for the next century's schools? Is there a Blair high school or a Branson comprehensive waiting in the wings? Please let The TES know.

* Firsts of their kind

Titus Salt was born in 1803 in Morley, near Leeds, and by the 1840s owned wool mills in Bradford. Concerned about the squalid conditions in the town, he set about building a huge mill and worker's village on the River Aire which he called Saltaire. Opened in 1853, the mill had the latest technology and as the village developed it had good housing, a hospital, a church, public baths, a library and schools. He gave his employees fair wages and security, believing that contented employees were better workers. He was made a baronet in 1869 and died in 1876.

Saltaire is now a conservation area. The mill is saved for posterity and is home to a superb exhibition of paintings by David Hockney.

Ellen Wilkinson was born to a working class family in Ardwick, Manchester, in 1891. She went to Ardwick Technical High School, (now Ellen Wilkinson High School of Arts) took a history degree and became a teacher. Her strong socialist beliefs soon drove her into politics, however, and in 1924 she became the youngest ever woman member of parliament. As MP for Jarrow she campaigned against unemployment and was one of the leaders of the march on London by unemployed Jarrow shipyard workers.

In the post war Labour Government she was for a time a Minister of Education, driving through the raising of the school leaving age to 15 in the face of resource and staffing shortages left by the war.

Five feet tall, with red hair, she was outspoken and determined. Always an asthma sufferer, her health broke down, and she died in 1947, aged 53.

Amy Johnson learned to fly in 1928, when she was 25. She became determined to show that women could be as successful as men in aviation. For some years, as well as being a pilot, she was the only woman ground engineer in the world.

Early in 1930 she embarked on the series of exploits that made her famous. First she flew solo to Australia. Record breaking flights followed to Japan, Capetown, the USA and India. On some of these she was accompanied by Jim Mollison, who was her husband until their divorce in 1938.

During the War, Amy joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, delivering new planes to RAF stations. It was on one of these flights, on January 5, 1941 that her plane crashed into the Thames estuary and she was killed. The feelings she evoked during her life are well caught in the popular Thirties song, "Amy! Wonderful Amy!"

Captain Matthew Webb, one of 13 children, ran away to sea when he was 12. He loved swimming and in 1873 he was awarded a gold medal when he jumped from his ship to save a sailor who had fallen overboard.

On August 24, 1875 aged 27, he entered the water at Dover attempting to be the first person to swim the Channel - a feat believed up to then to be impossible. Twenty one and three quarter hours of breast-stroke later, he landed at Cap Gris Nez. He relieved the monotony, we are told, by singing, eating steaks and drinking coffee and beer. He became a national hero, and a swimming craze swept the country.

He continued his swimming exploits, making money where he could, until on July 24, 1883, trying for a $2,000 prize, he tried to swim the whirlpool and rapids below Niagara Falls. He disappeared and his body was recovered four days later downstream.

Sir rank Whittle was born in Coventry in 1907 and began his RAF career as an aircraft apprentice at Cranwell in 1923. In 1928, in a course paper, he outlined the germ of an idea for jet propulsion. During the Thirties he developed the idea and in 1936 set up Power Jets Ltd. His engine first flew in 1941.

Whittle's genius lies in his amazing far sightedness. He saw forward to a time when high speed, high altitude aircraft would need something completely new to drive them. Many senior officers and officials lacked his vision, and he became disillusioned, spending his later life in the USA.

Sir Malcolm Sargent was born in 1895. During and after his schooling in Stamford he trained as an organist, and later became a

conductor.

Throughout the Forties and Fifties he conducted major orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra. As their conductor he was in charge of the London Proms, a position which he carried out with huge panache and good humour, winning many fans in the early years of

television.

His big personality contributed to his special talent as a choral conductor and his recordings with the Huddersfield Choral Society and other big choirs are still popular. He died in 1967.


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