Interview with: Irene Slack and Eleanor Jones, Liverpool Hope University

Happy Days

As Liverpool Hope University celebrates 175 years since the establishment of its founding colleges, Educate sat down with two of its graduates to reflect on their teacher training experiences more than half a century apart.

By Lawrence Saunders

“Nowadays people find it hard to believe what life was like in training colleges 50 years ago,” says Irene Slack, who began her teacher training at Our Lady’s College on Mount Pleasant in 1961.

Ran by the Notre Dame order, Our Lady’s was amongst the first places to provide opportunities for women to undertake higher education and teacher training.

In 1980, the college relocated to Childwall – amalgamating with St Katherine’s College and Christ College to form an ecumenical federation.

“I was (at Our Lady’s) for three happy years, in the days before students were given the opportunity to study for a Bachelor of Education degree – it was just a teaching certificate,” explains Irene.

On a sunny day this July, Irene was presented with an honorary degree by Liverpool Hope University during a special ceremony where newly qualified teacher, and Hope student, Eleanor Jones also accepted a certificate on behalf of all recent graduates.

The two women reflected on their contrasting experiences as trainee teachers, with Irene regaling the some 600 alumni in attendance of her time at Our Lady’s.

So what was teacher training like back in the early 1960s? “It was very intensive,” says Irene.

A glance at her first year timetable from Our Lady’s reveals as much, with a packed schedule featuring a number of subjects which today’s students might find rather curious.

An hour of divinity on a Monday morning; speech training at 4.30pm, and a weekly talk with the college principal.

In her address at Hope, Irene recalled her biggest shock during those first months at Our Lady’s were the twice-weekly practical PE lectures, where students pretended to be school pupils learning the rudiments of ‘Keep Fit’ whilst wearing shorts which had to be a strict one inch from the ground.

“We started at nine o’clock. You worked through the day with constant lectures – it was very much ‘chalk and talk’,” remembers Irene.

“On some days, tea was at four o’clock, and then we’d have to stay on for more lectures.

“It was like school and probably more intensive than being in sixth form because you did get study periods – but not a lot!

“The ideas that Sister Edwina introduced me to [at Our Lady’s] were something quite new to me but now when I go into Hope and I see the art exhibitions, I look at them and think ‘that’s just what we were doing!’”

After leaving Our Lady’s, Irene went on to teach at various secondary schools before she was appointed headteacher at Walton CE Junior School, where she would remain for the remainder of her career. Following her retirement in 2005, Irene began voluntary work in Liverpool Hope University’s alumni office – a role she still relishes.

“(Keeping in touch with your university) is something that when you’re a young graduate, is not number one on your list,” she says.

“But we’re trying to come up with ideas to bring those young graduates back in to meet the people they trained with because the university has played such a big part in their lives.”

Eleanor, who listened intently to Irene’s speech back in July, and spoke herself, may have had a slightly different teaching training experience at Hope, but she plans to have as every bit a long and rewarding career in education.

“I was inspired to teach by a mixture of my primary and secondary teachers who were amazing and showed me how rewarding it can be to help others,” says Eleanor.

“I also had lots of experience of working with children through volunteering opportunities prior to studying at university, so knew it was the career path I wanted to go down.”

Eleanor, who hails from Ellesmere Port, decided Hope was the right place for her after attending an open day, and subsequently enrolled on a four-year Primary Education with Qualified Teaching Status (QTS) course.

“I loved my time at Hope – I wouldn’t have changed anything about it,” she says. “The support I had from my tutors was incredible.”

For each of her four years at Hope, Eleanor undertook placements at a variety of Liverpool City Region schools – some in more privileged areas than others – offering her a rich experience.

One of Eleanor’s most cherished memories was a two-week international deployment to Norway which she embarked upon in her third year.

Visiting a mixture of nurseries and primary schools, Eleanor and her fellow students observed classes and worked with children between the ages of seven and 13.

“(It was) definitely different to Irene’s experience!,” she says. “It was interesting to see differences (to the UK) in terms of technology – which was used considerably more in Norway.

“The Norwegian government pays for every child to have an iPad so a lot of their work is created on the devices and shared with the teacher electronically.

“In addition, the emphasis and importance placed on outdoor education was amazing to see, and the youngest children were incredibly independent and confident.”

Fresh from graduating, Eleanor has secured a Year One teaching position and says she is “made up” with the school she’ll be at this September.

She hopes to keep in touch with Hope and has already agreed to support an upcoming open day which aims to give applicants an insight into what her course is like.

Looking into the future, Eleanor isn’t concerned with what age group she teaches, but rather is simply delighted to be working with children.

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