Written by Mr Mike Weston, school archivist and historical detective.
I think it will be fairly evident why I have chosen this particular moment in time to post the latest blog from the school archives; however that does not mean that the blog in any way reflects my views (personal or as a voice for the British School Netherlands) with regard to European unity or a desire to be no part of it. I have simply told the story as it was.
In the early 1950s, as the international community reached healthy numbers again after the war, the Hague authorities were very keen on the idea of a merger, a bringing together, a reconciliation between the various ‘foreign’ schools in the city i.e. the Americans, British, French and Germans. A Stichting Internationale School was established on 14 August 1953 and the Municipality of The Hague put at its disposal various empty buildings in the Scheveningen area.
What exactly took place over the following two years is rather complicated but basically in 1954 the American and English Schools and the Ecole Française merged in the old Tilanusschool buildings on the Doornstraat and the Germans (one wonders why, since it was all about reconciliation) were accommodated in premises on the van Beuningenstraat. From the start there were problems. Judging from one newspaper article it is quite clear that Nancy Macdona, Co-Principal of the English School, found the American children spoilt and lacking in discipline while the American parents found her far too strict. There is evidence as well that although Nancy and the Head of the Ecole Française, Mlle Parquet, had a good personal relationship, overall there was not exactly an entente cordiale in the building.
However, although there were misgivings among some members of staff there was also, at this point, still much idealism and optimism in other quarters, and so the grand scheme proceeded. It was hoped that ultimately a complete new school would be built, a ‘dream school’, and to that end the Municipality of The Hague had set aside a plot of land at Marlot. As we now know, nothing ever came of that. After a few months on Doornstraat the International School was moved, lock, stock and barrel, to another, more spacious building on the Parkweg. The Villa Carolina, no 19, was a lovely old building but it was not a purpose-built school. Here is what I wrote about the move in the 1985 school magazine article A History of the School
Parkweg: a good idea in theory
When the new school in Parkweg opened feelings were mixed. It was an idealistic undertaking but there were worrying practical considerations and these soon began to make an impression. First and foremost there was still a lack of space. Nearly 200 children between the ages of 5 and 15, as well as the teachers, had to fit into the buildings. (There was no staffroom. Teachers stayed with their forms all day and had lunch whenever they could.)
Secondly, there were three different educational systems involved, with all their idiosyncrasies. The holidays, for example were different. At Easter the Americans took off only a few days, the English three weeks. In the summer the Americans and French disappeared for nearly three months, the English for one and a half. Even on a day-to-day basis, timing was something of a farce. The French broke off for lunch at 12.00, the Americans at 12.30, the English at 12.45. Although the Principals of the various sections, Nancy and Mrs Donaldson, Mademoiselle Parquet and Mme Kloster, did their best, every day brought new problems. The English wanted separate playgrounds for Lower and Upper Schools. The Americans wanted the children to mix. Once a week the English children were meant to be taught by the French teachers and vice versa. But there were repeated clashes about philosophy and method. It was, to quote a teacher at the time, “a good idea in theory but hell in practice.”
Integration or separation
Presiding over the entire complex was a Dutch minister, Dr J. van der Valk, who spoke heavily accented English, French and German. The children couldn’t always understand him. Unfortunately he also had a very soft voice and on one occasion, typical rather than an exception, when the whole school was assembled after a fire practice, he tried to address the children but was virtually ignored. Everyone just carried on talking.
At the end of the first year, in spite of the fact that the experiment
was not working, or perhaps in an attempt to salvage the undertaking, the Dutch
authorities gave notice that as from the following September there would be
complete integration. There were to be no separate rules, curricula or Boards
of Governors. All pupils would learn Dutch. Everything, even down to exercise
books, would be standardized.
Whether or not this new move, given time, would have proved successful,
one can only guess. Nancy and Mrs D had no doubts about their own feelings.
They were adamant that their English
School should retain its
individuality and autonomy. There were, apparently, heated arguments. As the
authorities refused to change their policy, there was only one course left
open…The English School withdrew from the project.
This was a potentially catastrophic step since it meant that 96
children and their teachers were homeless, sadly lacking in books, equipment
and furniture, and with precious little money in the bank. The two Principals
had taken on a terrible responsibility.
A new start
So that was how things stood in the summer of 1956. In September a new school year would be starting and no plans had been made as to how this could be managed. But you will have to wait for the next blog to see what happened.
Mr Mike Weston
BSN school archivist, detective and storyteller
Mike came to the English School at The Hague (BSN) in 1972 as Head of German, intending to stay for two years. Mike has been at the BSN for nearly 50 years. Over the years, he has taught a range of subjects and has been involved in many school activities. Starting a school archive from scratch and tracing the school’s history is the activity that has given him the most pleasure. Once he reached retirement age, he asked if he could stay on as the school archivist in hopes to be of service for a while yet. In this capacity, he regularly dives into the archives and comes up with some great stories. His stories are all our stories; enjoy them.