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Former Havering councillor pens memoir on early career as an east London teacher

PUBLISHED: 15:00 30 July 2018

Former teacher Rosina Purnell, 71, has written a memoir about her career in education. Picture: Ken Mears

Former teacher Rosina Purnell, 71, has written a memoir about her career in education. Picture: Ken Mears

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A retired teacher has written a memoir about her years schooling some of east London’s most deprived pupils.

Rosina Purnell. Picture: Ken MearsRosina Purnell. Picture: Ken Mears

Rosina Purnell, 71, who served on Havering Council for eight years, started her career in education soon after graduating college in Nottingham.

Raised in Manor Park, she wanted to escape the capital and challenge herself.

Her wish took her from a small mining town in Hoyland, South Yorkshire, to the now-demolished Faraday Secondary Modern School in Holborn Road, Plaistow.

Under stretched resources and strict rules, she hoped to inspire children to take up a love of literature.

Rosina Purnell. Picture: Ken MearsRosina Purnell. Picture: Ken Mears

“It was partly terrifying and partly inspiring,” she told the Recorder.

“There were huge discipline problems there.”

Pupils, she said, put on a tough exterior in her English classes. Like the children in South Yorkshire, who exaggerated their accents to bemuse and baffle the only two southern members of staff — the other being the deputy head — young east Londoners didn’t take kindly to unfamiliar faces.

“All the kids must have felt rejected,” said Rosina.

“In order to gain their trust you had to be interested in them as people.”

Slowly, after hours scrubbing up on their interests (which ranged from judo to rock music and, unsurprisingly, West Ham) she tried to reach out.

But, at a time of blackboards and corporal punishment, this wasn’t easy.

“The head teacher used to walk around with a cane outside the classrooms,” she said.

“Anyone sent outside would be caned.”

Comparing her time in Hoyland with east London, she added: “They were both very poor communities.

“They had poor housing and nothing much going for them, but at least the kids in Yorkshire had open spaces [...] There was not a blade of grass.”

Now retired, Rosina said she was most proud of transforming the school’s “non-existent” library into a safe haven for book lovers.

One of her pupils is reportedly now a school librarian in Barking and Dagenham.

“I feel very privileged to have taught them children that I did,” Rosina reflected. “I can still seem them now.”

Rosina’s autobiography, Learning the Ropes, is out now.

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