Primary Opportunity

by Elizabeth Jurd on 8 November 2017

Elizabeth Jurd
Matriculated 2000 
Master of Education 2002   

I was sitting outside my rowdy top-junior classroom feeling bored. I couldn’t venture in because that would affect the balance of authority in the class: I couldn’t leave because at any minute a child might shoot out of the class breathing ire and injustice. It would then be my task to listen to the complaints, calm the situation and persuade the child to return and apologise to the student, practising teaching in my class.

At this precise moment the Head Teacher appeared brandishing a single sheet of paper.   Was this the first time that Lucy Cavendish College had invited Primary Teachers in Essex to apply for the Simms School Teacher Fellowship? It sadly was the last.

I glanced at the details and was immediately intrigued.  I knew instantly that I wanted to research “Girls’ Attitude to Science in the Primary School”. I felt instinctively that girls are as motivated and confident as boys at Top Junior level.  I needed time to read around the subject, to talk to a wide range of children and do a simple survey of attitudes.

The rest of the Teaching Practice flew by while I sorted my ideas, wrote letters and filled out proposals.  Before long I found myself with an entire term of residence at Lucy ahead of me.  The change from daily round in a Primary School was mind shattering; one day it was the Joyce Grenville Stereotype of “don’t do that Johnny” - the next week I was wandering round Cambridge, losing myself totally in the Library, going to lunch time concerts and talking to interesting people. I also found time to research and write up my chosen topic. 

In fact, there were enormous hurdles to overcome before this miracle took place. Some were resolved with pure good fortune. My husband and Head Teacher were both incredibly supportive. Two of my three children were away at University (more incredulous than supportive). I had a (Pass) degree achieved miraculously many years before.

In 1964 when I was due to start Teacher Training College everything was in a state of flux. Colleges were now called Colleges of Education and courses had recently developed into three years of study. I am sorry to record, however, that content and standard was pretty minimal.  Lower, in fact, than the A levels which we had (mainly) just failed at school.

All was about to change. In our very first week we were informed that “some of you will get the chance to continue into a fourth year and gain a degree”. This was greeted with a total sense of disbelief by the entire student body. As it turned out this was with good reason and very few got the chance to even apply for this course. The reason for this was that the prime requisite of Birmingham University was that we were able to matriculate at the end of our first year putting us in the same position as other University students. This was clearly an impossibility for most of the student body. Those who had failed the 11+ all those years before had usually not had the chance to study a foreign language. So, if like one of my friends, your mother had died when you were ten, the week of the exam, you could not tackle a degree course however much you had achieved since.

It was only people, like me, who had struggled conscientiously through a Grammar School education without any great success who had the basic necessary qualifications (in the end five out of 100 students).  During the course the University realised it had insufficient funding to teach the full course and so suddenly announced that it would only award us Pass Degrees. To my amazement this was good enough for Lucy and so I had surmounted that hurdle.

 A more pressing and critical hurdle was the financial challenge. The Simms Fellowship depended on the value of investments and generously covered supervision, a few meals in college and subsidised room rent. At this point I had two children at university so we could not afford to sacrifice a term’s salary. Equally there was no way that my school could carry the additional salary of a supply teacher to cover my class. I approached any number of charities and trusts without any response.

At exactly this moment my Head attended a gathering where the Chief Education Officer expounded the primary values of life-long learning and equal opportunities. (Neither of which sadly seem such a priority these days.)  She went straight up to him after the lecture and explained that a member of her staff had the chance of studying in Cambridge for a term but that this opportunity depended on funding. His immediate response was “send me the papers” and within a very short time had agreed to contribute a term’s salary.

Before I knew what was happening I was arriving at Lucy in extreme trepidation. The first person I met, Lindsey Traub, the Vice-President, sent me straight round to register at the University Library and after that initial encouragement I never looked back. It seemed that for the first time in my life I had time to think, read and discuss. I had no worries, my school was coping without me and my, extremely supportive husband was improving communication with our teenage daughter at home.

Cambridge was a revelation to me. Time to think is not a luxury readily available in a primary school unfortunately.  Now I could explore, read, listen and discuss.  Mary James was my tutor and she inspired me in every way. I was also lucky enough to meet my benefactor, Mrs Simms. Politics was never ignored on my corridor and excellent debates developed, especially when my friend Katie was around.  Annabelle Dixon, a previous School Teacher Fellow, was still at Lucy and encouraged me immensely. Right up to her untimely death she was sending me papers to read, ideas to consider and recommendations of books to read.

With Mary James’ support I went straight on to study for a Masters in Education at the Institute of Education. Again, my luck continued. People were waiting for a new Part-time Research M.Ed. to commence.  I was ready with my theme: “Are the children in my class thinking while doing unsupervised practical activities?”  (Some were!)  I am still not sure how I managed to complete this while simultaneously working full time. However, I managed it and changed from being a Fellow at Lucy to being a post-graduate student the following year!

What I really value about the Lucy experience is meeting such inspiring people. If you sit next to someone at a meal you have no inkling initially about who they are. They can look ancient and be a first year undergraduate or they can look about 20 and be a visiting fellow. You just have to talk to them without preconceptions and share ideas.   And you do……