the foundation meeting of this Association was held in November 1960: by September of this year its local membership was over 150, and it had interested an additional 45 subscribers from other parts of the country. The climate of opinion here in Cambridge had much to do with the Association’s formation (addressing the County Council last February, the Chairman of the Education Committee spoke of the number of parents she had met recently who were anxious to see expansion in education), but the situation which finally precipitated it arose at a primary school where parental dissatisfaction had first been voiced four years earlier.
In the spring of that year, a petition, sponsored by a dynamic American parent pressed the authority for better lavatory accommodation at the school. As there was at that time no P.T.A., this petition—eventually signed by nearly everyone approached—provided the first occasion from which parents in the school established their common interest. During the following summer holidays, workmen made the necessary alterations —apparently visible evidence of the efficacy of parental pressure. Although concern about lavatories is a social matter and doesn’t necessarily imply a strong concern for education, this group of parents had declared their concern about the physical conditions at their children’s school; what now seems surprising is that the other more critical shortcomings of this building did not immediately concern them.
This school has to provide for the usual seven “primary” age groups, but the building contains only four classrooms. To supplement this there is a temporary hut on the premises and a parish room about 400 yd. away; this leaves the school still short of one room, so that the top three age groups have to be taught in only two classrooms, under only two teachers. As there is no school hall, small groups (e.g. the violin class) have to be taught in the passage or cloakroom. It was not, however, until four years later that any action about this situation was contemplated. Many factors contributed to this delay. The reputation of the school was, and still is, high, and the headmistress (who with her staff did much to transcend the school’s material shortcomings) was admired and respected in the neighbourhood. As there was no P.T.A., any complaints had to go first to the headmistress, and parents were reluctant to make any criticisms to her. Finally, most of the middle-class parents remove their children at the age of seven or eight, so that in many cases the more vocal parents have no experience of the situation in the top three forms. It later became apparent that quite a lot of individual complaining had been going on.
Ultimately it was the use of the parish room which again focussed attention on the school buildings. This room, though large, is badly lit and gloomy; and inevitably, conditions governing its use, laid down by the Parish Council, restricts the scope of the teacher. Once a week, when it is used for its original purpose, the children are moved into an even more gloomy building known as “the old church”. Lavatories are again antiquated and inadequate. The undesirability of this whole arrangement was underlined in 1959 when a young teacher found herself in charge of a large and rather unruly class. As soon as parents recognised that her difficulties were aggravated by her isolation from senior colleagues in the main building, they began to ask why this room should be used as a classroom at all. It was then that an informal meeting of parents was held to discuss the situation. Nine were present, but it was established that the support of far more could be counted on: these parents wanted their children to receive a better education than was possible under such conditions and were ready to take action to improve them. The recently appointed headmaster was known to regard three new classrooms and a school hall as essential for the school, and it was decided, as a first step, that two parents should ask for an appointment with the City Officer for Education to see if these improvements could be speeded up.
Most of the parents had not at this time realised how much the spending power of the Local Authority is restricted by the Ministry, and did not appreciate until much later that since a large proportion of the Building Programme is rejected
They decided to proceed with a petition pressing for an earlier date for the projected improvements, both in order to stimulate local concern in the whole problem, and in the hope that such an expression of public opinion might have some effect on the policy of the Ministry. It was also agreed to try to establish contact with parents from other schools in Cambridge. Neither of these plans came to anything: information (later proved to be incorrect) that the improvements were to be split into three phases and included in the Minor Buildings Programme meant that a petition was no longer appropriate, and only one positive reply was received to letters addressed to P.T.A.’s of other schools in Cambridge. In the meantime, however, contact had been established with a County Councillor on the Education Committee who, earlier in the year, had expressed indignation in the local press about a cut in the rate and the consequent reduction in expenditure on education. She offered to come to talk to a group of interested parents, however small, about the whole problem of delay in school building. At this meeting, at which about 20 people were present, it was agreed to start some sort of organisation.
Two weeks later a second meeting was held to discuss its scope. By this time the original parents had been joined by another group who had already protested about overcrowding in their local school, as well as by individuals, parents or teachers (some of them both), from other parts of the City and County. This meeting decided to form itself into a discussion group, whose first aims should be to discover more about the administration of education and to stimulate public interest in its expansion. Efforts should be made to establish and maintain good relations with the local authority, and that, in order to be an effective vehicle of public opinion, the group should try to resist political bias. For the time being it was agreed to have no formal constitution, and that the organisation should be left in the hands of a large committee of about 15, preferably representing different parts of the City and County—(in practice the committee finally established consisted of volunteers and was. not geographically representative). Members of this committee were to attend meetings of the County and City Councils—(Education Committees too if this were possible)—and to explore other sources of information about local or national education policy. (This information, with other material about recent building programmes, current expenditure on education, teachers and class size, etc. is now circulated to members about every two months in a bulletin which also contains current news about the activities of the Association.)