Claude Robinson’s clashes with the higher-ups in charge of the education system were numerous during his time at Jarrow School, and he proved to be a formidable enemy to those who were opposed to change. In 1934, he became headmaster of Jarrow School, something ‘the Anti-Labour elements bitterly resented’ (pg.5), due to his strong presence as a strike leader and the passionate speeches that came with his heated activism. An example of this activism is the General Strike of 1926 where he got into trouble with the authorities for his charged and morale-boosting speeches to the locked-out miners of South Staffordshire – later in his life he would tell The Chronicle that ‘the authorities wanted to gag me’ but in adherence to his working-class stance, he went on to recite speeches that were ‘far more extreme’ for the sake of the miners. Certainly, a young Claude Robinson was a force to be reckoned with. His fiery disposition and intolerance for class division came through in his work as a teacher as well, since he was at odds with his seniors consistently during his time as headmaster of Jarrow School. Robinson had the difficult task of looking after a school with wartime looming, resentment from an entire political party and with little help from a government who didn’t seem to care, as his school struggled against evacuation and evaluation. He could not afford to mellow out as his responsibilities grew with experience and expectations, and with the weight of the world on his shoulders, he fought in the hope that he could make a difference in the education system.
In a series of crises that arose during his time as headmaster, the first that Robinson encountered was in 1939, an evacuation where not so distant towns such as Hartlepool were being bombarded by German planes and Jarrow School was desperately looking for evacuation schemes for students and teachers alike. In retrospect, this account seems surreal because of how difficult it appeared for the school to find an evacuation plan from the bomb threat, as several offers were either retracted or just unfeasible (they were asked to evacuate to Chester Le Street, which was too close, and Robinson described that the plan was ‘to make the same bomb destroy us both’ (pg.6)) Salvation thankfully came in the form of the headmaster of Wolsingham Secondary School offering to share his school for the evacuation. Yet that was not the end of worry for Robinson and his staff, as the school workers had to ‘work themselves to death to find accommodation (for Jarrow’s students and staff) with little more than 48 hours to spare’. According to Robinson, ‘everyone expected air raids within the hours’ (pg.7), a revelation that Robinson, in his typically calm tone, plays down the magnitude, yet the danger that the students were in is hard to imagine. A mansion off the school grounds, called Harperley Hall, was secured for the girls and mistresses, and two church halls and houses were prepared for the boys. Robinson describes the conditions as ‘difficult and raw’ and yet, amazingly, poor conditions were the least of the problems for Robinson at the time. Just as the threat level of bombings were reduced to yellow, ‘discontent began to manifest itself’ and ‘the heat was off from the Germans and turned against Oates (headmaster of Wolsingham) and myself’ (pg.7). Again, Robinson and his colleagues were to take the punishment for incompetence that was not their own. As we read about this stressful time during his career in education, an identity begins to form in our minds about what kind of man Claude Robinson was, and the kind of life he led; narrowly escaping an air raid only to find himself under fire from the higher ups closer to home brings the term ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ to mind. The conditions that Jarrow School suffered through are truly shocking to learn about and paint a working-class image of oppression and resistance, with Robinson at the heart of this struggle for a better future for education, and against the negligence from his largely absent benefactors.
Robinson, C. (1982) These We Have Loved (New Horizon, Bognor Regis)
Marshall, R. (2008) Article for Chronicle Live: Teacher Who Marched Into Local Legend https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/teacher-who-marched-local-legend-1466989
Perry, P. (2017) Jarrow From Old Photographs, Amberley Publishing
Picture of the aftermath of an air raid on Tyneside in 1941 https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/history/hell-loose-during-devastating-bomb-11961066