Stepping Back to Heath Mount School – Happy Memories
By Helen Alcock
I remember my first day when I started Heath Mount School as if it was only yesterday. It was in fact 45 years ago when I was just 5 years old. That was a very long time ago and I still have so many memories of all the good, and sometimes not so good, times at school. I have always dreamt of returning to Heath Mount to see if things have changed or remained the same. My lovely husband Phil arranged a visit for me few weeks before my 50th birthday as a secret surprise. I had such a wonderful morning and Mrs Fance has asked me to share this experience with you all, so here it is…
It was the morning of the 8th March 2019 when my husband drove up to the gates of Heath Mount Primary School and buzzed us in. He introduced himself and the gates opened up and we went in. We signed in and waited for Mr Ahmed to meet us in the reception area. This was very different to when I was in school - there were no closed gates, buzzers or reception area, so I knew this was a new part of the building. I think it’s a very good idea to have gates and buzzers - to keep you all safe in school and not to let strangers in.
After having an introductory chat with Mr Ahmed in Mrs Fance’s office, we started the tour of the school in the Lower Hall and kitchens. Now when I was a pupil I didn’t like school dinners but I did like some of the puddings. My Mum was a dinner lady and if I didn’t eat the school dinners, she used to bring in salad sandwiches and a piece of fruit for me to eat. I met your lovely head cook who explained how she makes your dinners. You are lucky to have choices from all over the world like pancakes, Chinese and Spanish food. I was pleased to hear that she still makes chocolate crunch which was my favourite pudding. If I had all those choices that you have, I would have eaten all my dinners. I would have also wanted to sit at the Golden Table everyday with the lovely golden goblets, three tier cake stand and tablecloths.
I noticed that the sports cupboard was still there and in the Top Hall some of the equipment was being used by the children. The piano was in the same place and I remembered singing songs at the beginning of each day during assembly. I learnt that you now have assembly once a week. I also remembered the school discos we had in the top hall and I noticed that you have some cool disco lights on the wall for all your parties. My Mum used to send me to school with curlers in my hair and after school she used to take them out and I would have nice curly hair for the school disco.
Mr Ahmed then showed us a part of the school that wasn’t there when I was a pupil. This was your amazing library, Mr Ahmed’s office and an art room. This area used to be a garden under a bridge with steps up to the top playground. I was amazed to see so many good books in your library and comfy cushions to sit on. I was also happy to see The Hungry Caterpillar which was one of my favourite books as a child. I never celebrated Book World Day at school, if we had I would have dressed up a caterpillar – or maybe a butterfly? We walked through the art room to the food technician room. It’s good that you are taught how to follow instructions and make healthy nutritious meals as I didn’t do any of this 45 years ago. We then visited the site manager in his office. Now I remember this as the Head Masters office. He was called Mr Matthews and used to whistle in the corridors. I remember having to see the Head Master, not because I was naughty but to show him a purple cat that I had made in needlework and crafts.
Next stop, the staff room which is still in the same place, as is the sick room – now called the First Aid Room – this looked a little different as there is now an entrance out to the playground that wasn’t there before. When I was feeling unwell, I had to stay in the sick room and I remember reading most of the Mr Men books in there. Now your playground is very different. I remember there being three playgrounds which is still there, however you have so much more to play with. The slopes have now gone and replaced with climbing frames, seating huts and games for you to play with. All that I had to play with were a couple of tree logs that lay on the floor that we used to climb on and the grassy banks that we would roll down. There used to be a slope in the top playground that has now been replaced with decking. We used to slide down this slope when the teachers weren’t looking as it was rather dangerous. Other games we used to play were Tig, Skipping and Hopscotch. During your playtime I noticed that the two boys were still playing football I remember being hit in the face with a football by accident as a child, so Mr Ahmed made sure that we went inside very quickly so it wouldn’t happen again.
We visited your computer room which my husband thought looked very cool which used to be a garden. I never had computers at Heath Mount. All we had was a television and books to learn from. We then went to visit my very first classroom where I started all those years ago. My teacher back then was called Mrs Freya. I met some of the year 1 children who asked me about my time at school; I told them about my job in the National Health Service. They promised my husband that they will eat well, have lots of fresh air and exercise as he didn’t want to see them in the Children’s Hospital where he works with sick children. They also sang Happy Birthday to me which warmed by heart and made me so happy. Thank you Year 1! There is now an extension with a lovely play area next to these classrooms which wasn’t there when I was a 5 year old. Upstairs we visited what I called the “secret room”. This is the room in between the 2 classrooms where sometimes I used to hide in with my friends during playtime when it was cold outside– I’m sure you don’t do that now.
Walking up to the top floors I could see that the stairs are still the same and the beautiful colourful artwork by the pupils are still displayed on the walls which my husband said he liked. I loved looking at all your neat handwriting displayed on the walls. I didn’t have neat writing as a child and spent long hours practising until it was neat. It’s important in this day and age with computers to still be able to write neatly, as at college and work you may have to write down notes. I visited another one of my classrooms which is very close to my heart. I was 9 years old and my teacher was called Mrs Cook who was my favourite teacher and was responsible for shaping of what I was to become. She made me fall in love with maths and taught me how to do sums like long division and long multiplication so it’s not surprising that I became an accountant. I could see from your wall displays that you are still taught maths the same way. I loved to read and luckily for me the school library was next door which a study room is now. All the classrooms on this floor and the next floor looked the same as I remember – you still have the original brown cupboards and sink at the back of the classrooms, where I used to wash up the paint trays. I noticed that there were no big wooden desks for the teachers to sit behind – you are lucky to have your teachers interact with you in your classrooms. You are also lucky to have a classroom assistant in each of your classes. There was only one classroom assistant for the whole school when I was there. She was a lovely lady called Mrs Amott and had a purple hair.
Blackboards and chalk have been replaced with whiteboards, digital screens and iPads, so it’s amazing to see how technology is used to help you learn. All your classrooms continue to have a book corner, however in my day it was a small bookshelf with books and not the elaborate decorations you now have. I didn’t do anything like metal work or learn to play lots of instruments. I used to have art classes but I was not very good at it. I was good at needlework and sewing. I also learnt to play the recorder at school and used to play in the school assembly with other children. We used to have an annual event called The Exhibition when I was at school. The Top Hall was transformed into a magical oasis where all the arts and crafts we made during the year and was displayed on all the sports apparatus. Parents were invited to see this beautiful display and I was always keen to show off the things I had made in needlework, particularly that purple cat I had sewn. I saw from your wall displays that you still have colourful school plays. I always enjoyed seeing these plays with the children and teachers. I only had one lead part as the Frog Queen and I had to learn quite a lot of lines for that and was dressed up in a bright green outfit.
Before the morning playtime, I used to have a small glass bottle of milk and a biscuit. I used to drink the milk and blow bubbles with my straw and then get told off by the teachers. I never ate the biscuits and hid them in my desk where they used to get mouldy – I got told off again as you can imagine. It was good to see that you still had milk and fruit now – I would have preferred to have fruit instead of biscuits. All throughout my time at Heath Mount School I didn’t have to wear a uniform – I use to wear my own clothes and I always wanted to wear my party dresses. My mum didn’t want me to wear these as they were my best clothes. It’s good that you have a nice school uniform so you don’t have to decide what to wear each morning and I must say that you all looked very smart.
My Mum worked at the school as a dinner lady and also as a cleaner, so after school I would stay back. Whilst Mum was keeping the school spick and span I would wonder around the quiet corridors of the school and gaze out of the windows. In the summer I could see the Birmingham University clock tower and the Clent hills in the distance. In the winter I could see the bright lights of the city centre and the post office tower. On my return visit, I looked out of the same windows and could still see the same things however there were few new additions such as the big lights in Edgbaston Cricket Ground and the new tall buildings in the city centre.
Mr Ahmed explained that you do a lot of your learning outdoors and showed me photos and displays of some pupils having lessons in a local forest; a pupil showed me his drawing of a pharaoh and told me about his visit to the Birmingham Museum; Mr Ahmed said that you had visits to the zoo and to a local swimming pool. You do so much more than I did when I was at school. The only places I used to go to was Cannon Hill Park to see the flowers and an annual trip to Drayton Manor Park. We went to Moseley swimming baths and the library that is next door to the swimming baths which I really enjoyed too. We used to have visitors to the school who taught us many things. I remember a police man coming in on his motor bike in the Top Hall and I had the chance to sit on this. He told us how to keep safe when outside and not to speak to strangers. We had the Green Cross Code Man who taught us how to cross the road safely, and the Animal Man who bought in lots of animals for us to meet. I used to be very scared of the snake and use to close my eyes – I still close my eyes when I see a snake.
Now I remember my first day at school and for some reason the Headmaster Mr Matthews had to take me home. When we got to my road, he got out of the car and knocked on a door which wasn’t my house. He then came back into the car and asked me the number of my house. I replied “number 67”. He then took me home where my Mum was waiting for me. I met Mrs Fance at the end of my visit and she showed me an extract of an old school register with my name and address in. I noticed that my address had the wrong house number – it said 47 not 67 – well that solved that mystery from all those years ago.
It was a real pleasure stepping back to Heath Mount and meeting some of the pupils and teachers. Although some of the building has changed, this is now better as you have more classrooms and more things to play and learn with. It was still great to see that the care and compassion of the teachers still exists. They will shape you to become whatever you want to be in the future when you grow up.
Thank you Phil for arranging this for me and thank you Mr Ahmed for taking time to show us around the school and listening to me telling you all my stories. Thank you Mrs Fance for meeting me and taking my photo with some of the pupils. Most of all thank you to all the pupils for making me feel welcome and sharing all your wonderful work with me. I hope you are creating your own memories at Heath Mount School so one day you will be able to step back and remember all your happy times.