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Hungerford Primary School bids veteran headteacher Brian Bench goodbye after 36 years

PUBLISHED: 17:10 04 December 2017 | UPDATED: 17:13 04 December 2017

Retiring headteacher Brian Bench with children at Hungerford Primary School. Picture: Polly Hancock

Retiring headteacher Brian Bench with children at Hungerford Primary School. Picture: Polly Hancock

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School’s out for Brian Bench – after 36 years.

Retiring headteacher Brian Bench with children at Hungerford Primary School. Picture: Polly Hancock Retiring headteacher Brian Bench with children at Hungerford Primary School. Picture: Polly Hancock

The veteran head of Hungerford Primary School in the Cally is stepping down, leaving behind a school he has served since starting as a supply teacher in September 1981.

His desire to go into teaching came from his own experiences in the classroom at Hackney Downs School as a child.

“I’d always been near the top of my year in primary school,” said Brian, 58, “so I thought I was quite clever, but when I went to secondary I realised I wasn’t.

“I’d enjoyed primary school but was also aware they hadn’t taught me how to spell.

Retiring headteacher Brian Bench with children at Hungerford Primary School. Picture: Polly Hancock Retiring headteacher Brian Bench with children at Hungerford Primary School. Picture: Polly Hancock

“It was then I realised we needed to change how primary education was, so you were better prepared for the things that came later.”

By January 1982, Brian was a permanent fixture at Hungerford in charge of “boy’s games” – which involved ferrying 40 children twice a week to the nearby astroturf pitches in the back of his Ford Escort.

After stints as head of science, acting deputy head, and then a class-based deputy, he became headteacher in 2007.

“When I first went into teaching there wasn’t as much steer as there is now,” he said.

"I’d enjoyed primary school but was also aware they hadn’t taught me how to spell."

Hungerford headteacher Brian Bench

“I believed firmly that you needed to have a measurable expectation, so I taught tables. I taught spelling lists. I thought it should be more rigorous.”

And although this teaching style has become the norm, Brian admits it may have gone too far, especially for disadvantaged children.

“We put too much pressure on children now,” he said.

“Children need to be able to play and socialise, as well as being able to read, write and add up.

“In London, we have all of these opportunities of things to see and do, yet a huge number of children don’t get to do that.

“There was once a Year 6 SATs paper that had a merry-go-round question, but over half of children didn’t know what one was. How do you write about something that’s completely foreign to you?”

Brian leaves Hungerford at the end of this term, but will continue his advisory role in the school’s community.

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