Not 'Old' or 'Golden' enough?

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After 32 years as a teacher at RMGS, coupled with 7 years here as a student Mr Lydon knows perhaps better than anyone else how this school has evolved over the years. As he and Mrs Lydon retired this year they were disgruntled at not having been contacted by Inside Mark for an interview. However Mr Lydon felt he could come to us to be guaranteed an accurate representation of his opinion. He writes...
To Overmark wherever and whoever you may be...

I have really enjoyed your internet newspaper, so much more interesting than the usual platitudes and complacent, non challenging fayre that our school members have become used to. I recognise you in a sense of frustration and a desire to show what our school could begin to achieve if it utilised the talent and creative energy of those of us who really care.

I am also concerned that the 'Golden Oldies' articles that appear in the 'Official' school newspaper are liable to be heavily edited, and as I haven't been approached anyway, I offer this missive to the 'free' press...

So, at the end of this Summer term I shall become a retired person. I have a long association with our school, being an old boy myself of Gillingham Technical High School. When I attended the school in the 1960's we were situated in Gardiner Street, Gillingham; a three form entry boys' school. My true loves were sport and art, and probably in that order. I really can't recall too much homework, but I do remember the great amount of respect and affection I felt toward some most excellent teachers who really seemed to care for us boys and their subjects.

The Langton Playing Fields at the top of Woodlands Road were where we had "Games Afternoon", and we cycled there from Gillingham High Street at the end of lunch time before an hour and a half of football or cricket. (I am amazed and disappointed when I now see letters from parents complaining that little Jonny or Sarah couldn't possibly walk home to Parkwood as late as 4:30pm and therefore cannot be expected to attend after school detention.)

Let me in my ramblings return to sport; it is interesting to see in today's newspaper that millions of pounds are to be invested into re-introducing cricket into schools. When I was a first year at "The Tech" I remember playing cricket regularly on a Saturday morning. Once, at age 12, I helped to carry the cricket bag to Sheppey Technical High School for a twenty over game. During my time as a pupil at our school, including my Sixth Form, we had a full fixture list of cricket and football matches on Saturday mornings. Later, when I started to teach at Pump Lane the school fields were always full of teams playing sport. Our school had a proud sporting heritage which suffered in the 1970s when Margaret Thatcher (the Conservative Prime Minister) introduced a fixed number of hours that teachers were expected to work per year, unfortunately taking sports teams on Saturday did not count - and the decline of school sport began.

Thinking back to the damage that Thatcher caused schools, it was also the case that when I was at school a decent lunch was served, that Jamie Oliver would have been proud of, and most pupils took it. The privatisation of school catering has caused the mess we have got ourselves in nationally. I can't speak as an expert on the state of catering in our school, but I am disturbed when I see what some of you are eating and drinking during the day. Haven't any of you seen the documentary "Supersize Me" where the film maker eats nothing but McDonalds for 30 days and seriously damages his health?!?

I am absolutely clear in my own mind that the food you eat is also contributing to some bizarre pupil behaviour, especially obvious in afternoon lessons! During my time as a teacher I have regularly - with many colleagues - opposed the introduction of vending machines and the "Coca-Cola-risation" of our school. Often in the past we have lost the battle because the financial gain the school received outgunned the health and educational arguments. Jamie Oliver's campaign encourages me that we may yet win the war. (*)

While my thoughts are in the main hall area can I make absolutely clear that the appalling graffiti 'MegaBytes' had absolutely nothing to do with the Art Department. I have seen some exciting examples of that particular art style and don't disagree with the concept in principle, but as is often the case RMGS didn't involve anybody who might actually have knowledge and care that such an eyesore is on such public display. It could be so much better done couldn't it?

Let me continue with some more memories before I depart. I have been involved with some superb sports teams and spent a lot of time working with some great students over my 32 years as a teacher at our school. I am very proud of the basketball team that I taught and coached to become Kent champions; it is a real pleasure that I am now able to meet those young men for a social drink and a game of golf - these students have now become my friends.

During my time at our school I have taken three football teams from year 7 to Sixth Form, two of those teams reached Kent Cup finals and one outstanding team who boasted eight members of the Medway District Team (which I ran with my old friend and colleague Adrian Sambrook) and three county players. We won the Kent Cup three times and the Divisional South East England Trophy was picked up by my District Team. Those were great times and those pupils can look back with pride of achievement. We worked really hard over many years and were well organised and committed to excellence. None of that could have been achieved without the support and care of the boys' parents, and in my view that is how it should be.

The same can be said for some of the excellent plays that Mrs Lydon has produced and I have been involved in the set design and backstage for over the years. The teamwork and the fun in pursuing excellence is what you will remember in twenty years time (although at RMGS it is hard to find evidence that Art, PE and Drama are seriously valued by some in authority who seem to have mistaken exam results for education!)

Take is from me there are some excellent teachers at our school, but in recent years we have lost some of the high calibre that I regret are not still with us. Mr Munroe, Mr Horstrup, Mr Coe and now Mr Rayner (**) are the people that you will look back on and know that you were privileged to work with. For whatever reasons they left we should have tried harder to keep them.

So, here's a few tips for improving you school to try and keep such teachers here...

If you experience is regularly one of conflict and low-level disruption by a handful of your classmates, explain to your parents and Mrs Bourne or Mrs Cooper that you really can't put up with them ruining your opportunity to a decent education. Insist that your parents should expect something to be done, perhaps you could write in to Overmark and publicise the problem without targeting the teachers, they are not your enemy! Your enemy are those self-centred, short-sighted, rude, often-spoilt individuals who are strutting around the place with a chip on their shoulders.

Try to be polite, stand back for others at doorways, don't drop litter (its your environment that is being ruined). If you get it wrong try saying "Sorry", that can be the start of getting it right. Try smiling and sating "Good morning" or "Thank you" to your teachers - or the caretaker, or a cleaner, or the lady who helps you across the road at the top of Pump Lane (She has been doing that job faithfully for longer than you or I have been at the school).

Be outgoing, play sport if you enjoy it - you never know what you might achieve! Join a musical group or a choir, great for teamwork and a sense of achievement. Go to a gallery or a theatre just for fun. Look after you bodies, eat fruit and vegetables, wean yourselves off coke, quit or don't even start smoking, don't experiment with drugs and don't binge drink.

Oh well that's the last time I am going to offer advice when it hasn't been asked for - but what do you expect, I'm a teacher!

One last thought on uniform. The uniform that you wear today is exactly the same as when I came to the school in 1959. The only difference is that I had to wear a school cap and full uniform through to the end of Sixth Form. So I am not sympathetic to those of you who let the school down by wearing the uniform in such a sloppy way. Whatever our uniform is - wear it with some pride! However, Overmark is correct in asserting that shorts were part of our school uniform some years ago, and it does not seem clear thinking to allow Sixth Form girls to walk around as if they are on holiday in San Tropez and at the same time refuse to allow boys to wear shorts.

I would also suggest that you try to persuade the powers that be to review the uniform, is the school parliament having any success in this area? Years ago when a previous headmaster refused to allow girls to wear trousers some direct action was taken. It really peed everybody off but things did change. Mr Limm's uniform review was cancelled by Mr Decker when he arrived, about the same time he insisted that ties be worn throughout the year, moving from a thirty year practice of no ties in summer term. Ho hum, not my problem any more...

Good luck to you all, if you are reading these pages then you are already beginning to think for yourselves, you'll be fine...

Mr Lydon, previously Head of Art.



(*): Overmark is required to point out that 'MegaBytes' does not serve Coke from its vending machines any more and has introduced a more healthy eating menu.
(**): And - Overmark would like to add - Mr and Mrs Lydon.
Followup - 2006-01-08 at 12:20
In the interests of fairness we gave a copy of this article to the school to give them the chance to respond to any of the issues raised by this letter. Mr Moore commented that nothing in the letter surprised him, and that he felt the school did not need to make a formal response. --Overmark