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(23 May 2013)


Herries Preparatory School has been educating local children since 1947, and is an integral part of community life in Cookham.  Two old girls recently visited the school, and spoke in morning assembly. One of them was Tessa Webster who attended Herries from 1956-1963 with her brother, Stephen (1956 - 1960) and her sister, Jessica (1960 - 1967). We thought that it would be interesting see how school-life has changed over the last 50 years.  We interviewed Tessa about her memories of Herries and also spoke to a current Year 6 pupil, Kate, who is also head girl, about what the school is like today.


How would you describe your experience at Herries?

TESSA: I think back to Herries as being an extraordinary school. Mrs Armstrong, the headmistress, lived on site with her husband as did another teacher, Miss Schiff, which is perhaps why I always felt it was more like a home rather than school. Both these teachers have stayed with me all my life and were enormously influential. I carry Mrs Armstrong on one shoulder and Miss Schiff on the other wherever I go in life.


KATE: Herries is a lovely school and because it is small, it feels like a second home to me and all the staff and pupils are like my extended family. It is as if you are in a big house with lots of friends, and you’re never alone. It’s a very supportive environment – if an older pupil spots a younger pupil on their own, they look after them and ask them to join in. We don’t just play with children in our own year groups and really care for each other.


What were/are the teachers like?

TESSA: Our teachers were inspirational. Yes, there was quite a lot of rote learning such as times tables, but even chanting out 'one six is six' etc in unison (a bit like choral singing!) was quite fun. All our teachers fully involved us, posing questions, asking our opinions on things and they were always so enthusiastic about what they were doing. In the top form, we learnt how to debate and present arguments and counter arguments and we also had current affairs‘ discussions every week and were encouraged to read the newspapers and understand what was going on in the world.


KATE: Our teachers are all great – take, for example, our Maths teacher, Mrs Ballinger. She is so patient and will keep explaining something for 4 days if she needs to! Maths is my favourite subject, and that’s partly because her classes are such fun. Mrs Ballinger also teaches geography – this isn’t my strongest subject but I still enjoy the classes because they are so lively and interesting. Mrs Senior is also great – she was my first ever teacher here and I always feel as though I can speak to her if I ever have a problem.

 Our head teacher, Ms Green is also lots of fun, but she is strict when she needs to be and we have a lot of respect for her. She teaches Religious Studies classes. What I like about her the most is that she has such a great sense of humour!


What were/are the class sizes like? 

TESSA:  There were only five classes when I was at Herries covering the age range of 3-11 years old; so, not one class for each year.  You didn't automatically move up to the next class at the start of every academic year.  I seem to remember that it was rather more about when you were considered ready to move to the next form and this could be at any point of an academic year.  Therefore, form sizes could vary through the academic year. 


KATE: I really like the fact that we have small class sizes at Herries and everyone is treated as an individual. There are seven pupils in my class (5 boys and 2 girls). The boys are all like my big brothers and if I have a problem, they are always there to comfort me. 


What did/do you do at break-time?

TESSA: Break times were great fun, full of games like He and Cowboys and Indians and a lot of 'careering around' at top speed. Morning break kicked off with 'milk'. We all got one of the third of a pint bottles of milk that were delivered daily (cream on the top in the days before homogenisation!) There was the lawn to play on if it wasn't too wet, the swing where we had to learn to take turns, and an area of the garden where we could make 'camps', the tarmac area surrounding the garage block. The only time we didn't go outside during break was when it rained.


KATE: We play Cops and Robbers, It and 40/40 in our breaktime. Some of the little girls like playing horses and princesses. As I mentioned, we don’t always stick with our year-groups and all really look after each other. No one is ever left out. 


What were/are school lunches like?

TESSA: Lunches were cooked in the lovely, large kitchen and served in the green room for the younger children and in the yellow room for older pupils, where we sat at long trestle tables on benches, Mrs Armstrong was always at the head of one table and another teacher at the head of the other table. We always wanted to know in advance what was for lunch and Miss Schiff would always say, 'Wait and see. See and wait!'


KATE: Our school food is really nice and the meat comes from the local butchers. My favourite meal is sausages and mash and I like the roast dinners too. You always have three choices for lunch, and there’s always soup, a salad bar and jacket potatoes. There are two lunch sittings each day.


What was/is Sports Day like? 

TESSA: Sports Day in the summer term consisted of events such as bunny hop races, sack races, egg and spoon races and hopping races. We received little bits of red, blue or green ribbon attached with safety pins if we came first, second or third. Prizes, when given, were normally books which would be inscribed inside by Miss Schiff with the most beautiful calligraphy. 


KATE: Our Sports Day is held at Bisham each summer term and we compete in our houses which are all named after famous people – Brunel, Spencer, Redgrave and Grahame. We compete in our year groups and do competitions such as relay-races, obstacle courses and egg and spoon races. It’s always a really fun day for the whole school. 


Did/do you have any pets at the school?

TESSA: The school had a resident cat, called Hecky (Prince Hector of Troy to give him his full name!). He was a big, fluffy ginger and white cat who belonged to Mrs Armstrong and who would wander from class to class during the day, which we loved. He would just stroll into a classroom when he felt like it. Then, there was the hen, also fairly aged, but who got rather broody one summer and sat on some eggs (which of course never hatched!). She was called Hatty and occasionally managed to get free from her enclosure, which livened up break time and caused amusement as Miss Schiff would have to chase her.


KATE: Our headteacher, Sophie Green has a black labrador called Meg and she brings her to school each day. Meg  is so sweet and is adored by all the children. She loves being stroked. She sits in her basket in Ms Green’s office and then our school secretary, Ms Lenton or our caretaker take her for regular walks around the school. She’s a lucky dog because it’s such a beautiful setting here.


What special moments stand out?

TESSA:  Occasionally at lunch, Mrs Armstrong would announce to our enormous delight that, as the weather seemed good, classes would be scrapped for the afternoon and we would all go off on 'nature walks' through Quarry woods, across the fields, down through the Chalkpit, through Copas's farmyard and cherry and apple orchards or down across Cock Marsh towards the river with Miss Schiff, who was very knowledgeable about 'flowers and fauna'. These nature walks would take place throughout the year and Miss Schiff introduced us to the impact of the changing seasons on the countryside during these walks –wonderful!


KATE: The highlight of the school year for me is definitely the summer production. We performed Annie last year, and it was great. It’s always really nerve-wracking when Mrs Castell announces what the production is going to be. We’re about to find out what this year’s production is going to be and I can’t wait! Everyone in Key Stage 2 is involved. I absolutely love drama – the pupils in Year 6 get the bigger roles too which is even better.


What have you taken away from Herries? What will you take away from Herries?

TESSA:  I took a myriad of things away with me from my time at Herries – but to list a few: very importantly, truly wonderful memories and an appreciation of what fun the learning process should and could be and of the teachers who made it so, even when it was hard work; a ‘have a go attitude’ to things; the belief that whatever you undertake, even small, seemingly unimportant things, you should do to the very best of your ability; an enjoyment of other people’s successes and the importance of recognising other people’s efforts and contributions; the pleasure of doing things for other people’s benefit; a sense of fair play; the importance of kindness.I could go on and on!  Herries gave me a strong foundation in life.


 KATE: Being at Herries has taught me an awful lot and has given me a great start in life. It’s taught me that everyone has something that they are good at and needs their own moment to shine. It’s given me a lot more confidence in music, both in singing and playing the piano. Mrs Castell has inspired us all to reach for the stars – even though I wasn’t very good at singing at the beginning, she’s always encouraged me. I have also made so many good friends here.

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