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The old school

I saw my old school on Derelict in the UK! But the photos didn’t show the thing I really loved about that school, so I went and took some of my own…

Let’s get one thing straight from the start: me and school – we really didn’t get along. I am not nostalgic, I do not dream of the ol’ school days. But I am aware that my secondary school was a far, far pleasanter experience – and in many ways, a better learning environment than that many teenagers have to put up with nowadays.

I went to secondary school in 1972. I was in a bit of a pickle because the changeover from eleven-plus and selective education had happened during the latter half of my junior years and my family managed to compound the confusion by moving house midway through the assessment period from an eleven-plus town to a select-by-school record town (that was a sort of halfway stage before ending selection).

So – Hastings High School (latterly known as Helenswood), and us pretty much the last of the ‘selected by ability’ intake. I got a default place because my Hastings primary school hadn’t had me long enough to do a performance-based assessment, and because my mum made a fuss. I’m not sure which bit did it, but it got done.

So I was at a school with very good facilities, a wide range of subjects to choose from and – this is the thing – superb grounds. The single greatest compensation for all the things I didn’t like about school was the opportunity to just disappear into playgrounds, loll about on lawns or stroll in woods.

I’m writing this now because there was a time when many schools, not just the posh ones, had great outdoor space for break and lunchtime wanderings and sport for those that liked it (I didn’t!). I’m convinced it vastly reduced the stress of bad times at school and I’m furious that so many schools have lost those spaces.

I’m particularly furious about Helenswood, and I want the people who went there in my time and later on to be furious. I have no idea if the building is rescue-able – it was built in the era of flat roofs, which was never a good idea, and buckets-in-corridors was the norm in winter in all the schools I went to – but it’s the grounds I’m furious about, and here’s why.

Like most of the state schools in this country, Helenswood was handed over to an academy trust some years back. In this case, an outfit called ARK so it became ARKHelenswood. They put ARK before the names of all the schools they take over (any conversation about education in Hastings sounds as though it’s being constantly interrupted by chickens).

A second building was constructed a mile or so up the road, and the school run across two sites. My daughter and her friends told me they didn’t like the new building – it was cramped by comparison with the old one, and seemed to be a very efficient stress-building sound-box. It wasn’t sited so well either, fronting right onto a main road intersection opposite the new hospital –

But that academy trust had more problems than bad school design. People started sending their kids out of town to avoid the trust and that, coupled with a projected reduction in population, apparently led the trust to decide they didn’t need the Helenswood building after all.

I am highly suspicious. They didn’t own it for that long, and the population projection didn’t come out of nowhere – why did they take on that school, with its extensive and highly desirable grounds, and set about building another one when a reduction in uptake was on the cards?

I suspect the Helenswood grounds have been stolen from our town, stolen from the next generation of kids, and I think we should start making a lot more fuss about the loss of school grounds. Please tell me what you think. Links to campaign groups and info about the value of school grounds especially appreciated.