My ’56 Up’

By Bruce, a supply teacher in Norwich

Editor’s Note. The blog title given to us by Bruce was My ’56’ Up but after reading his blog I feel it should probably be re-titled something like ‘Incredible Achievements By ‘Normal’ People’ or ‘Who Said Supply Teachers Are Not Special?’ This may seem slightly cryptic but it will all make sense.

This blog was originally published in 2012.


My ’56 Up’

Just recently, ITV has been showing ’56 Up’, the latest in a series of programmes that started nearly fifty years ago with ‘7 Up’ in which a group of seven year olds were asked of their dreams and aspirations. The subsequent programmes have followed them every seven years. As my wife and I are both the same age as the participants, I thought I would do my own, especially as at every time, I have been involved in education, either as pupil, student, parent, teacher or governor.

7 Up

The child smiles out from a black and white school photograph; blond hair cut in a fringe and severe short back and sides. Always in shorts, precocious at art and reading. Wants to be a farmer or forestry worker when he grows up like his uncles in Sussex. Home is a three-bedroom council semi on a post-war housing estate just out of Leicester. From his large primary school full of committed teachers, only four children will pass the eleven-plus exam. His favourite teacher is Miss Shaw who will end up teaching all five of his siblings.

14 Up

The photograph is in colour but it faded badly with the years. His precociousness has won him a place at a boys’ grammar school two bus journeys away in a different world of detached houses and received pronunciation. At home, they now consider him posh; at school he is occasionally happy with inspirational teachers. He doesn’t look at the camera; embarrassed by his recently acquired teenage spots; in fact, few pictures of him exist from this time.

21 Up

We are back to black and white in this photograph; he’s printed it himself. After a mixed bag of ‘A’ levels, he’s pursued his passion for art to a college in Kent. His natural facility for drawing holds little currency in this world of abstraction and conceptualism so he explores his world and environment through photography and writing. Tutors are mainly conspicuous by their absence. He has survived the culture shock of moving from an all boys’ school to the mixed, multi-cultural world of the art college and he finds it liberating, embracing feminism and the delights of the protest march.

28 Up

A colour photograph in a self-adhesive album with a padded shiny cover. It’s 1984 and it’s feeling pretty Orwellian too. Mrs Thatcher’s in power and she believes herself to be invincible. He’s in his third year of teaching at a school in Essex. He’s married with a three year-old daughter. He still feels the need to do his own work. Out of college, conceptualism seems meaningless. He’s gone back to painting and is preparing for a big exhibition in a converted church. The pressures of being a father, teacher and artist build up and something’s got to give.

35 Up

It’s a picture in a holiday album of the family in a Greek taverna. They moved to Norfolk in 1985 as his wife gained a job in an art college. He gave up his teaching job and for about a term managed to be a house-husband. The need for money pulled him into supply teaching and he is now a full-time teacher of art again. In 1989, they had a second child, a boy. He is a governor at his daughter’s primary school. Summer holidays are spent in France or Greece. School work is manageable but his own painting is now on the back burner.

42 Up

It’s one of many newspaper photographs. He’s in a suit standing next to a government minister on the steps of the Treasury. For a few weeks, he is famous. He entered a competition to design a new £2 coin and he won. The shock of his life, he dances around the house with his young son. He gets used to TV., radio and newspaper interviews. He buys a piano, goes back to school and it’s as if it never happened. It’s a surreal experience.

49 Up

It’s a photograph from The French Album, volume 1. He is cutting the grass whilst his wife is painting an ancient set of gates. They have a plan. Two years ago, they bought the shell of a house in France for not a lot of money. They will both take early retirement and when the house is habitable they will live the expat dream. Full-time teaching has pushed them both towards exhaustion. Perhaps it’s time to address the life/work balance, live healthily and take the hit on the bank balance.

56 Up

It’s a digital photograph on ‘Facebook’ of him holding a giant fifty pence piece. They took their teacher pensions a year ago. He continues to supply teach on a regular basis. The French plan is on hold until the children finish university. They are glad they took their pensions before the goal posts were moved. Happy too, because he has another coin in circulation, this time for the Summer Olympics in London. It’s good to feel you’re a (little) part of it all. He likes to think that he still has the enthusiasm of the seven year-old smiling out at the world, although on many mornings he sees his father’s face staring back at him from the bathroom mirror.


Editor’s Note Continued…

I carried out some research after reading Bruce’s StepBlog and found the following links:

I’m delighted that we have unearthed the hidden talents of one of our supply teachers through our StepBlog. Well done Bruce and thanks for sharing this.