Echo, 22nd May 1973, Jo Weedon.
Rebel headmistress, Georgina MaGee, is a determined woman. Normally, she’s kindly, tolerant and motherly. But, today she’s spoiling for a fight. For Mrs MaGee, head of Canvey Infants School and teacher for 30 years, says she’s reached the end of her tether over crowded classrooms. And she’s prepared to sacrifice her job for the sake of her pupils. But Mrs MaGee’s revolt against education chiefs-first revealed in the Echo last week-could spark off battles at other Essex schools where teachers say the “crowded classroom” war has reached breaking point. Mrs MaGee’s present class numbers total 37-and soon the education authorities will ask her to increase the number to 39. But, Mrs MaGee is refusing to take any more pupils although she faces the threat of suspension. any day now a parent is likely to bring a child along to join the school. And then the battle will begin. “I am really dreading that day” said Mrs MaGee in her tiny office where six bright children work because there is no where else for them to study and no spare teacher to keep an eye on them. “I’ve lost sleep over my decision to turn children away, but I’ve got to do it in the interests of the children2 she said. “But if we win-and I feel sure we can with my loyal staff-I think we we will have achieved a major victory, not for ourselves but for the children.” Her eleven staff have pledged to their support for Mrs MaGee. And if she’s suspended they will give the education authorities a week to reinstate her. If they refuse the staff have threatened to walk out. Mrs MaGee said: ” I’ve also had phone calls from teachers at many local schools who have said they would support me.”
A major reason for the Essex classroom crisis is that the county is developing fast. There are 7,000 extra children coming into Essex schools every year, which means a primary school taking in 700 children should be built every five weeks to cope with the need. In March Essex County Council gave the go-ahead for hundreds of new places. Plans include work on a 280 place extension at Canvey’s Northwick Park School; a new 280 pupil primary school in Corringham; an 80 place extension at Wickford’s Beauchamps School and more room at Benfleet’s Sixth Form College. The preliminary school building programme for 1973/74 includes 280 place primary school at Canvey costing £95,000 and a 240 place infants school at Rayleigh costing £85,000. Basildon projects include a 320 place junior school at Vange costing £107,000 and a 320 place junior school for Pitsea costing £107,000. A spokesman at county hall’s education department said Essex planned to take on a further 1,000 teachers this year, which should help cut down class sizes. “We do sympathise with the teachers, but we are trying to improve the problem all the time.”
Mr John Prince, headmaster at South Benfleet Junior School and secretary of the South-East Essex branch of the National Union of Teachers said:” Teachers have been very sympathetic to the problem but they are reaching the end of their tolerance. There are signs that their frustration is coming to boiling point. It has reached a higher pitch than I have ever known.” Mrs MaGee has 369 children aged between five and seven in her school. A third of pupils in the top year she says, are “problem” children, who unless they are given extra attention will lag behind. A cloakroom has already been converted to a classroom. “Many of the children here have domestic problems so my staff and I have to give a lot of the children love as well as an education. It’s taken me all this time to realise if I don’t stand up for what I believe in then I might as well give up.” Mrs MaGee will meet the school managers and education officials on Thursday.