10 “unbelievable” things that used to be common in schools

March 24, 2018


I asked this question on Twitter:

I have collated the most common responses. They were not necessarily the most unbelievable, to see those you should click on the above tweet and read the responses and follow this link for the “quote-tweeting” replies. (Seriously, I recommend doing this, and find out what a swimming horn was and the horrors of tracing paper loo roll).

I will count down from the 10th to the 1st most popular responses. (For what it’s worth the 11th most popular response was sherry, which was apparently drunk at interviews, when the headteacher offered it, or on Friday lunchtimes.) Numbers are very, very approximate as it’s kind of hard to find all the old tweets.

10) Rolling chalkboards (Suggested 6 times). A chalkboard that could do scrolling. A marvellous thing. Mind you I’ve never written on one, and I seem to recall they often looked a bit flimsy.

9) Written memos (Suggested 7 times). In the days before email, messages were handritten and stuffed in pigeonholes. People also mentiong “round robins” which were messages, usually about a student, that everyone had to write on.

8) Written reports (Suggested 11  times). Suddenly I remember that workload wasn’t actually so great in the old days. We used to hand write reports on every student, sometimes on duplicate paper. One mistake and you had to start again. I remember one school where the student also had to write a comment on the report, and a friend of mine had his entire set of reports destroyed by a challenging year 10 class during this process.

7) Registers in a book/on paper (Suggested 11 times). Before we were all online, there were a variety of ways to take registers. A number of people mentioned books, but also pre-printed sheets. I haven’t included Bromcoms in this category, but a few people mentioned them.

6) Televisions on wheels/department televisions. (Suggested 12 times). In the days before youtube and projectors, you booked a TV and wheeled it in on a trolley.

5) Chalk/Blackboards (Suggested 13 times). Possibly not really that hard to believe. But clearly well-remembered.

4) Pub lunch on a Friday (Suggested 13 times). Apparently this was a thing. Amazing. Must have been before my time. (Or maybe nobody ever invited the maths department).

3) Smoking room/smoking in the staffroom (Suggested 14 times). I am just old enough to remember when people could only smoke in their offices, and certain managers’ would have a stream of smokers coming to visit. One tweeter described a smoking room in the staffroom separated by a glass partition.

2) Over Head Projectors (Suggested 26 times). I remember these. The visualisers of their day. You could write on the acetates. There was even an OHP calculator you could use.

1) Banda machines or other types of spirit duplicators (Suggested 31 times). Before my time, although I do have a set of Banda printed algebra worksheets given to me by a retiring teacher. As I understand it this was a copier machine that was messy and physically demanding and printed everything in purple.


If you can find public domain pictures of any of these, I will add them. Thanks.



  1. I started in 1986 and remember all these. Fancy bandas could be done in three colours. You wrote/drew your worksheet using each colour as a carbon individually the passed the carbons through the machine. Took ages, but the satisfaction you got was worth the effort!

    Pub Friday. I remember a ‘colleague’ getting a telling off from a DHT because he’d gone slightly over the “unwritten limit” of 2 pints. Union rep found out about the telling off and told DHT to mind his own business.

    My dad taught in a catholic sixth form college in the 1960s where there was a bar in the basement staffed by students.

    Then there was invigilator pac man. One of a collection of fun games to play with friends during 3 hour exams in the hall

    I also remember music in school, conducting Mozart symphonies with a 50 piece orchestra in a city comp.

  2. I did my final teaching practice in a Liverpool school where they had separate-gender staff rooms…

  3. My first year in teaching the PE department still were hand writing the registers. I managed to convince them to get iPads and showed them registers could still be taken on the field

  4. Reblogged this on DT & Engineering Teaching Resources and commented:
    10 “unbelievable” things that used to be common in schools

  5. I still keep a paper register. It *then* gets transferred to the computer.

    It is quicker, more visual, less liable to not be working and allows me to note other things (who has forgotten their calculator *again*, who I had to take a phone from, etc). I can instantly see that I have missed a lesson or a person.

    I keep test marks on the next page. It’s much easier to highlight the concerns, i.e. with a highlighter, and note any direction of change. I only add to the computer once the whole class has finished.

    My system is in a ringbinder with my own pre-printed sheets, so I can add pages as I need them, but I know people who still keep book ones.

    And I am very much in the top end of computer users, writing my own code even. Just not for this.

  6. This is hilarious – I still have to put up with chalkboards and paper registers today, teaching in a state school in Italy! Hopefully by the time you’ve all moved onto 3D laser holographic boards or whatever, we’ll finally have got some whiteboards here …

  7. I remember pub lunches on Fridays, roller blackboards, OHPs and, wait for it! – the epidiascope – which allowed a newspaper cutting or picture to be projected onto a wall etc.This was the early 70s. I also remember teachers not needing a degree and remember some of the best teachers I have ever come across were in this category. Also, that anyone with a degree before and including 1972 is de facto qualified to teach (though most took a PGCE). I also remember smoking in staffrooms (and then a ‘designated’ lavatory of all things!). Unfortunately I also have memories of open plan classrooms where you could not teach for the noise and maths teachers who got cross when they actually had to teach rather than just put the students onto the new booklet.

  8. Forgot! Not only banda machines (you could get quite high on the banda fluid as you churned out a class worth of sheets) but stencils – oh they were a pain!

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