Working Lives

From chalk to chip (1974-2010)

Location: Tharston

Nigel taught in primary schools in north Norfolk and then an interest in building computers and programming led to him working in the newly established Northern Area Resources Centre. He was at the forefront of introducing new technology to schools, and went from teaching children to teaching adults.

This interest in computing and programming led Nigel to work with the Special Educational Needs department.

When I first left school I went to Matlock College of Education, I had actually got plans to go to architectural college, I had places in Brighton and London, but unfortunately I did not quite manage to get the grades I wanted. So after staying on at school for an additional year, I redid my A ‘levels and went to teacher training college, which was my second choice of employment at that time.

I went to Matlock College in 1971 and was there for three years, I did not bother to take the Bachelor of Education course as it was a case of there were plenty of jobs around then, you really did not worry about whether you were employed at the end of it.

When I left in 1974 I went on to teach, I started applying for jobs before the course ended, and applied to Norfolk County, Suffolk County, Ipswich and Essex County.

I had no idea which school I was going to teach in, in those days it was generally accepted that you applied for the pool of teachers and then were assigned a school afterwards. I was allowed to say which schools I did not want to teach in.

In my interview I said that I did not want to teach in Fakenham or Wells, where I knew an awful lot of people, but there again, where did I end up? Fakenham.

Teaching, pre SATs, pre National Curriculum, pre computers

I started teaching before SATs and the National Curriculum were introduced but my wife taught in the same school as me and went on a little longer than me so I do know some of what went on. From my point of view the difference from what I can see is the freedom you had before they were introduced.

If somebody brought something in to the classroom and it was interesting you could spend a day on it, I am not saying other things like reading, writing and arithmetic were ignored but it did give you freedom and you could make use of the children’s enthusiasm, which must be a good thing surely.

We only ever had a class for a year and my first year group was year four, what was then second year juniors. It was quite a luxury as I only had twenty-two in the class, and they were academically very very good. One class I had was quite notable in as much as I had twenty-eight children and twenty-two were from broken homes, which was unheard of then, an incredible amount. They never ceased to amaze me, lovely children, very resilient, far more so than perhaps we gave them credit for sometimes.

Whilst I was there one of things which was quite prevalent in north Norfolk was ‘in service training courses’, we did one on audio visual and we could choose the topic.

I chose Selbrigg pond, near Holt, and we got some of the children involved. We took them pond dipping, counting plants and all the usual bits and pieces, and photographed them for the presentation. This was the time when you could photograph the children.

We found a dragonfly larva, quite large, well over two inches long and we brought it back, put it in water between two sheets of glass with a stick in it. Eventually one morning we came on and this insect had crawled up the stick and was about to split its skin and emerge in to a dragon fly. It was incredible and I bet they all remember that.

Introduction of computers, secondment, Northern Area Resource Centre

One of the things I always loved was anything made of wires and as a hobby outside of school I had started to build computers and I made my own first couple. I used books and I had a little bit of knowledge, but if you are interested you will always find out how to do stuff.

Whilst I was in school, obviously computers turned up and there was a government scheme to provide schools with computers and we managed to get a couple.

As a result of my interest in computers I applied for a secondment, and even though I did not have a course to go to I was granted a secondment for twelve months.

I found a course entitled ‘The Application of Computers to the education of Children aged 5-13’ and I went to Newman College, Birmingham, and I went there for twelve months and it was wonderful.

Everything I wanted to do from an interest point of view was there, including making control boxes for the computers. I spent most of my free time with the technicians, loved it.

I obviously had a job to come back to but at the time the assistant education officer for the northern area had always had this idea to set up a resource centre.

So myself and a head teacher at another school were set up in the Northern Area Resource Centre at Melton Constable. I spent a year spending half my time at Fakenham junior school and half at Melton Constable before leaving and working at the resource centre full time

Northern Area Resource Centre, and a reluctance to embrace new technology

Working here basically meant playing with computers, it was lovely. We used to hold courses for teachers, we wrote computer software.

I loved programming and we had quite a bank of computer programmes for schools to use, which we had written ourselves.

We used to get an idea, find a school, work through it together, they had a free copy of the software and then used to sell the other copies of it on to schools for next to nothing.

The response to technology in those days was very very mixed. There was considerable reluctance on the part of certain older members of staff towards anything new like this, it did not fit in.

When the new Amstrad word processor came out we ran a course for head teachers and school secretaries, to introduce them to it and show them what was possible. I remember one lady, she would not press the keyboard, she was scared stiff that something was going to blow up.

The one thing I did notice in schools was that word processing transformed a school office, not having to type out a whole letter again when there was something wrong with it was wonderful thing.

It took a long time for some people to accept that this was not evil, yet some other people just took to it straight away, strange isn’t it. When you look back the people you had least trouble with were the younger children, they took to it wonderfully well and had no fear whatsoever. They were interested in it, it was not using a pen and paper which for a lot of the children was quite an advantage, a stimulus.

We only had two computers in the school, which in a school of 550 pupils is not good, eventually it got better but it was not very good then.

Applying technology to Special Educational Needs (SEN) and going from teaching children to teaching adults

At specific times during a child’s primary school career the whole county was tested, on mathematics, English and verbal reasoning, through county screening tests. I think that it was used to monitor how Norfolk was doing and to drive how they resourced peripatetic support staff.

Whilst I was at the resource centre the county screening tests were just done, looked at and somebody would roughly work out what things were.

At that time I worked with the northern area senior psychologist and I wrote the computer programme to record all the results for the whole of Norfolk.

At that time there was talk of the demise of the resource centre and I was then approached by the senior education officer and asked if I could have look at how we could do all the recording for all the children with special educational needs.

It was similar to what we had done with the screening tests but it was a much bigger job and we spent some time looking for a database package which we could customise for use with special educational needs. We found a system called Omnis and I spent about twelve to eighteen months developing this in collaboration with the SEN department.

As it got nearer to completion and rolling out I went in and worked with the SEN team, so I moved from teaching children to teaching adults, which was quite a jump

I was one of the only people in the group who had really got any education knowledge, they were all from administrative backgrounds.

I did occasionally get into schools, if there was a problem. But also over time I ended up doing assessments with children for IT equipment, so I was responsible for the budget for that too which was handy. I went out to schools to help them get the children involved with technology, anyone from preschool all the way up to the age of sixteen, we did not tend to get involved with sixth forms.

There was quite a lot of resistance in quite a lot of places trying to get adults to use the technology. There was not enough equipment and it was difficult as some people had it, some did not, some shared, but we were supported and the team would try to find resources.

The big difference between working with children and adults is that adults were always reluctant to get in to anything new, they were happy in the safe atmosphere they knew.

Children were happy to embrace anything new, and I think that it also showed that you had an interest in them, they love attention.

I don’t think that children nowadays are given as much attention as they used to, there is so much that takes human attention away from them, television, computers, phones, and I do not think that that is a good thing.

I think that possibly they are too immersed in technology and they do not know how to play. I remember a particular time when I was at Fakenham, we had a group of about twenty children left behind when some children went on a school trip to Scarborough. I was left with them and managed to find a mini bus and we went off to Wells Pinewoods and we played all the old games, but it is strange even then we still had to teach them, to a certain extent, how to play.

I think that children are very insular nowadays compared with how they used to be. I was always out on my bike, digging a hole or fishing near Holkham Lake, there was always a bunch of us, I never spent any time at home.

Job expansion, reorganisations, changes and further responsibilities

Typical of all people who worked in County Hall at the time, you found that additional responsibilities were added to your role. We took on responsibility for finance. I took on provision of IT equipment for special needs children, helping departments within what was Pupil Access and Support Services, working with psychologists, support teachers, education welfare officers and various others, to help them with their record keeping, we had more success in some areas than others.

Reorganisations happen and the result of one was that the information side of things was split off and put in with the education department and I moved into that side of things, and we had pupil demographics foisted on us, but my actual job did not change that much.

It did take me away from the children to a certain amount as I did not have anything to do with children’s equipment or schools funding. Things like the Tribal system which records all the pupil data did come with us, as did the support side for early years.

After another reorganisation they did away with the data section within education and it all came under the chief executive’s department, so I moved again, and again my job did not really change, it just evolved, as little things were added.

We still had responsibility for the main Tribal database. On thing we did retain was the training of people using the system, my colleague and I spent most of our time doing the training.

We also took on the government education department returns, the pupil census and the bane of everyone’s life, the staffing census.

During this time Ofsted was in the background, and obviously when they were around the requirement for information took over everything. The one thing that did annoy me was that they would always ask for things which I had already sent to the government. And I did get very wrong with one or two of them because I said ‘no I’m not getting that for you, I’m not wasting my time, you’ve already got it’.

Ofsted from our point of view was looking at services direct to the paying public, which we weren’t really doing. We were fuelling the sort of connection between the local authority and Ofsted, with information.


I retired on October 17th 2010. Another reorganisation was under way and they were to lose four posts from where I was and I had to interview for my job, after about thirty-seven years. I think that I had got so far away from dealing with children, the bit where I had started that I was jaded more than anything else. So I took redundancy with early retirement, so I was very happy about that.

I had intended to take two months off and do very little but in the meantime the 2011 census was about to start and I applied for a job and  got it and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I had about thirty people working for me and over south Norfolk and north Suffolk, they were a wonderful bunch of people.

It is actually the responsibility of the household to return the form, and I would get sent a list, weekly, of the people who had not returned it and we would have to go round checking on the ones that had not been returned. We had a couple of cases where a dog was set on somebody but we did not have anybody refuse in the end, and our return rate was way above average, it was a thoroughly enjoyable time.

I have had a love of history since leaving school and I was one of the founder members of the Tharston history society, we started five years ago.

I have always had a love of family history and have done family trees for I do not know how many people. We are in the process of working on a family tree for the whole of our village, Tharston. We are looking mainly between 1800 and 1900 and many of the families are inter-related somewhere or other.

I still love my trout fishing and I have gone back to the Norfolk Flyfishers and fish with them at Holkham Lake at Swanton Morley. I was a member there when I was a probationary teacher, then had to stop, because of lack of time, but I have gone back and it is quite nice. There are still one or two of the old ones left!

I have been going up to Corby and fishing Eyebrook and the reservoirs of the Midlands, I have been staying in the same pub in for twenty odd years, and I know most of the locals and am very friendly with an awful lot of them, so yes I have gone back to my fishing.


Nigel Peacock talking to WISEArchive in Norwich on 20th February 2018.

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