Wakeley Road Primary School
Well-known TV and radio broadcaster Professor E N Andrade opened Wakeley Road Primary School on Tuesday May 11th 1954. The School also opened on the same day as Featherby Junior and Twydall and Featherby Infant’s Schools, all constructed about the same time as part of a plan in Gillingham to meet the growing demand for more schools in the area.
Wakeley Road Primary School became the first of the new schools to be opened in front of parents and a party of 140 people from the education sector. Rainham vicar Reverend F Jordan who also served as vice-chairman of Gillingham Education Committee conducted a dedication service. After this the audience watched a film made about Medway schools in which about 10,000 Medway schoolchildren participated. Richmond Road Secondary School teacher Mr P Northcott acted as cameraman for the film designed to show the ideas underlying the educational practices of schools in the area.
Terry Arnold attended the school during the late 1950s and early 1960s and remembers that there were about 240 pupils, eight classrooms, a hall, a canteen and a playing field. He also recalls his four teachers Mrs Gott, Mr Hopkins, Mr Martin and Mr Chudley, a New Zealander. Of these he says that the boys all liked Mrs Gott because she was very attractive and Mr Chudley became the first teacher who asked the pupils to call everyone by their first names.
Terry remembers Mr Martin starting a gardening class when pupils had to dig up part of the school field which he found gruelling work. He also remembers that when taking basket weaving classes with Mr Hopkins some boys enjoyed breaking bits of material off their baskets, soaking these in the sink then setting the ends alight and smoking them like cigarettes.
Terry recalls Sports Day that took place annually on the school playing field each summer and usually included a relay competition against pupils from St Margaret’s School in Station Road. He also remembers the annual school nativity play in which he once participated as ‘The Black King.’
Terry says that the boys liked football and played during the playtime breaks. They also played some matches against other schools. The school had a good reputation for PE and Terry recalls a film being made about the pupils performing exercise routines in the school hall.
Former pupil Lorna Cook who attended the school during the early 1960s experienced happy times there. She remembers that there were eight classes in years 1-4 with two classes for each age group and classrooms on two levels. She thinks that the headmaster’s name was Mr Dawes and there were about eight teachers including Mr Chudley who became her teacher. She remembers the hall that doubled as a gym with gymnastic equipment stored under the stage and that numerous good gymnasts were produced at the school.
Lorna recalls a playing field and a playground where football and rounders were played and a free standing wall that older pupils climbed in playtime periods. Meanwhile, younger pupils skipped with skipping ropes or juggled tennis balls. Lorna felt proud when she became old enough to climb the wall while younger pupils watched in awe.
Pupils did not wear school uniforms but black indoor plimsolls were compulsory to protect the flooring. Fourth year pupils who took turns as plimsoll monitors policed the area.
Lorna remembers a nurse periodically visiting the school to inspect children’s hair for nits. She also became a member of the Brownies who met there once a week and remembers walking a long way and almost getting locked in the pupil’s toilets not realizing that she had permission to use the teachers’ toilets situated close to the hall where the Brownies met. She recalls the Cycling Proficiency Test that was taken at the school on Saturdays and that before getting permission to ride a bike to school the certificate had to be produced.
Lorna feels that the pupils were generally well behaved and recalls that when in the classroom on a rainy day she and other pupils stopped the rain coming through the windows by lining up wooden rulers along the gaps.
Almost 60 years since it first opened Wakeley Road Primary School finally closed on August 31st 2003 when Mrs Daley served as headmistress. In the years leading up to this the school roll had fallen dramatically and 41% of places were unfilled. Numbers fell to 153 pupils compared to well over 200 in earlier decades. A fall in numbers also occurred at Meredale Infant’s School so the education authority decided to discuss the future of the two schools and put forward six options. The fourth option which entailed the closing down of both Wakeley Road Primary and Meredale Infant’s and combining the children from both schools on the Wakeley Road site with a different name was chosen. The Wakeley Road site was considered to have more flexibility, more space and safer for parents to drop off and collect their children in their cars than on the road outside Meredale which often got congested.
The closure of Wakeley Road Primary School led to opposition from school governors, staff and parents. At the time of closure the school’s results had improved according to the most recent Ofsted inspection. In the National Curriculum Tests pupils had achieved 62% in Maths and 64% in English at level 4 or above. At the same time Meredale Infant’s School had been designated highly successful and the closure shocked the school governors and the staff but at the end of the day economics turned out to be the overriding factor.
After the closure in 2003 Riverside Primary School opened on the same site as the former Wakeley Road Primary School. It has a present day roll of 153 pupils.