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As we promised, we will be conducting interviews with former staff members and first up is Miss Charlton 1979 - 1986


Name: Liz Charlton /Luke - Science and learning support.

Mainly taught in the S block Science lab. Like most staff though I taught many subjects including French for a year – and I don’t speak French!


1 When did you start at Ryhope and for how long?


Well Ryhope was my first school! I started there in Feb 1979. After qualifying I worked at the NCB for a while and I was then offered the post at Ryhope. I was 21! I was appointed to do Special Needs

 (working with Mr Batty in the Bat Cave) and some Science. The Science eventually took up most of my time. I was also involved in the Integrated Studies course – some of you may remember having one teacher for English, Humanities and Science. I believe Cliffe Sunderland, Teresa Hudson (Miss Muldowney as was ) and Anne Mair also developed and taught the course to the first year. I left in July 1986 when my husband was promoted to a post in Lancashire – I cried for most of July because I didn’t want to leave.


2 What made you choose to undertake a position at Ryhope?


I didn’t ! Ryhope chose me. I was registered with Newcastle , Gateshead and Sunderland local authorities. I was contacted by Sunderland and asked to attend an interview. I went along, had the interview and was asked to go and meet Dick Copland. I went that afternoon. He asked me a few questions and offered me the post. The rest, as they say, is history.


3 Had to you heard of Ryhope Comprehensive before arriving? Was there any sort of reputation or stigma that Ryhope held in the ‘outside’ world so to speak?


I know absolutely nothing about Ryhope. In fact I didn’t even know where it was. As everything happened so quickly I didn’t have time to find out anything about it. I was appointed and in post very quickly. When I mentioned it to others there were a few raised eyebrows and several mentioned something like, ‘that’s Dick Copland’s school’ but that’s all I heard at the time.


4 What were your first impressions of Dick Copland?


I thought he was a lovely man. It was very clear that his heart and soul was in the school and he was determined to follow his principles. It was quite evident early on that there was a division in the staff between those who supported him and those who didn’t. He was, after all, employed to take a former Grammar School and develop into a modern comprehensive school. There were some very established teachers there who had been used to and believed very firmly in the traditional values and teaching of such a school. The changes he made must have been very different Dick Copland believed that all children should have an equal education. He was quite innovative – to be honest I am doing things now that are ‘new’ that I was actually doing at Ryhope all those years ago. He employed lots of young teachers and just before I started the school he’d suggested that many of them should join STOPP – Society of Teachers Opposed to Physical Punishment, some of the older staff still had canes in their classrooms although I don’t think they’d been used for a very long time. I believe he suggested that the pupils should call the teachers by their first names. This wasn’t the case when I started but I can see how this would have challenged the more traditional teachers. I understand that the honours boards were removed and competitive sports days and mixed ability teaching was established. There was an ethos of all pupils being able to achieve. I was a new and inexperienced teacher so I just slotted in to what was happening in the school at the time. I think his approach has influenced how I teach even now.


5 Were you at all apprehensive to teach Ryhope pupils? What was the standard of behaviour from your own personal experiences?


Only apprehensive because it was my first job. I always say to people that the Ryhope kids ‘tested’ you . If you survived this for the year and they thought you were ok you had an easier time of it. If you didn’t and they didn’t get on with you then it would always be a challenge.


6 What were your thoughts on the subjects taught, the syllabises? Did you agree/disagree to any teaching methods?


I think the teaching methods and the school curriculum were quite innovative. We looked at independent learning – something that we’re currently looking at in my school now as ‘learning menus. Some of you may remember working through a contract in Science where you worked through the areas of a unit, collected the equipment for your experiments and worked through the test. Not everyone followed the same route. As a teacher you needed to have eyes in the back of your head but it was an interesting way of teaching a mixed ability group.


7 Did you think the lack of discipline throughout the school had adverse effects? Was there any mutual respect between Teachers and pupils?


I think the discipline was possibly the thing that most teachers struggled with. The sanctions weren’t always that clear and some teachers didn’t feel that the senior managers supported them. Some parents would come into school and tell you to give their kids ‘a good clip’ if they stepped out of line. Others like the fact that their children had more ‘freedom.’ I remember an incident when I took a trip of year 11 (5th year) lads to the Dene for a Science lesson during my first few months there. Some of them ran off and started singing obscene songs about me and a colleague. I marched back to school and went straight to Mr Copland’s office to complain. He told me he would discipline them. I went back to the lab where the lads were sitting looking very angelic and told them they were in deep trouble. Mr Copland came into the room and said. ‘Miss Charlton took you to the Dene today to make your lesson more interesting. If you behave like this she won’t take you out again.’ It took some time for their laughter to subside.

I think you had to find your own behavioural management strategies. Being a young teacher certainly helped! We once had an inspection and I was worried because the class being inspected could be really badly behaved at times. The inspector came in and made straight for ‘the worst’ in the group. He spent ages with him and then he moved onto another group. The inspector was in all lesson and although the class was very quiet for once, I was in a panic. When he left he gave me a thumbs up and said ‘well done miss.’ As soon as he was out of the door the class asked ‘were we ok miss?’ Some of them told me he’d asked them questions – what they didn’t know they made up because they didn’t want to let me down – now that’s typical Ryhope kids, when the chips are down they look after their own.


8 Happiest/fondest memories of your time at Ryhope?


Meeting some great kids and learning my craft from them. Meeting some great teachers who had the most incredible sense of humour – John Fenn, Bob Greig etc. Working with others and feeling part of something special. School trips. The staff. My dog Heidi coming into school with me when she was a puppy. Euromime and parties. Collecting money for the fountain in the south block quad. My class had been doing a nativity play in the hall and we all went outside to the quad to watch the official switch on. It was nothing more than a trickle and Joseph turned to Mary and told her he thought  it was ‘crap ‘ although I don’t think that was the word he actually used!


9 Least favourite time or memories at Ryhope?


One boy in particular whose name I won’t mention!

The unsettled times and the occasional frictions in the staffroom.

Times when we knew Dick Copland was under threat and there was the possibility of closing the school.



10 Memorable pupils’ /acquaintances or colleagues?


Loads of memorable pupils – some of whom I still have contact with.

Teachers  -   Bob Hughes

                     Teresa Hudson

                     Cliffe Sunderland

                     Bob Pendlington

                     Ralph Stather

                     Carol Morgan

                     John Fenn

                     Bob Greig

                     Alison Foots

                     Mike the Lab Technician

                     Noreen McGregor and John Franklin to name but a few.

All the teachers there are memorable for so many reasons. I’ve named but a few but I remember them all.              


11 Was there any scandals involving colleagues during your time at Ryhope? (I know you need to be careful on this)


Just me and Mr Hughes


12 Was Ryhope ever under immense pressure from outside authorities to perform well? (we all know the school got bad press from local newspapers, radio and TV at the time). Did Dick shield his staff well from the outside pressures?


Yes it was. I think this affected a lot of staff and it didn’t make it easy at times. I think there was a lot of pressure on us and I think this contributed to the divisions in the staffroom.


13 Were the staff all in unity with the school policies and practices? Were there any tensions? Did you have inspections by the LEA regularly?


Not all staff. We had a lot of inspections so the pressure was quite intense at times. For the majority of the time I think the staff tried to support each other but sadly it was too much for some staff.


14 Did you ever partake in any of out of school activities or trips away?


Oh yes!  Too many to mention but-

Spain with Mike Porteous and Brenda Holland – where some of the kids had suspected salmonella or similar. One girl had to be taken off the plane and was sent to hospital in Luton. Mr Porteous stayed with her and Miss Holland and I had a long coach trip back to Ryhope with some very poorly children.

France with John Fenn – it was meant to be a football trip but none of the teams would play us! I think it was when the British teams had been banned from playing in Europe! That was an eventful trip, particularly the channel crossing on the way out…if you were there you’ll remember all the reasons why!

Middleton camp – several times with Noreen McGregor and others. Dick Copland always paid a visit when we were there. Being chased by a goat( I think) and overtaking the kids who were also running away!

Isle of Wight trip- Chris Young still hasn’t recovered from the experience!  In my defence the clothes and jewellery belonged to the girls!


Swimming with my tutor group at Crowtree Leisure Centre and being chatted up by one of the Sunderland players ………I could have been a WAG if it hadn’t been for that form!



Fascinating to hear from a Teacher’s perspective and a big thank you to Liz for her cooperation.

Peter Fannen

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