Ex-Houghton Regis school head says in his book that career really was an education

Tony Elder with his book
Tony Elder with his book

A former Houghton Regis headteacher tells stories about his long, fascinating and often humorous career in education in a newly published book, writes Geoff Cox.

And in addition to writing about his family, Tony Elder has strong views about some of the schools he taught in and the teachers he worked with.

In his autobiography It’s Been An Education, Tony, who spent 12 years at Houghton Regis Upper School and was also a leading athletics coach, writes about his early life at boarding school during the war when his mother was driving ambulances in the Blitz, his schooldays in central London and his life at Oxford and learning to become a teacher.

He taught in two grammar schools before moving into comprehensive schools, spending 17 years as a head- teacher, first in Houghton Regis, then in Crawley, West Sussex.

He told the Gazette: “I was appointed deputy head of Houghton Regis Upper School when it opened in September 1973. The school served the new and growing population of folk who had come from London. Houghton Regis was a Greater London Council estate added on to the existing village.”

He was acting head for the year 1977-1978 and then served as head from 1978 until he left in 1985 to take up another appointment.

Tony added: “Beds County Council tried to close HRUS in 1983 while I was head. County needed to get rid of surplus places and the Conservatives managed to raise a majority at County Hall to keep the three existing schools in largely Tory Dunstable, while closing Houghton Regis’ one secondary school, which was serving a growing population in an area which returned Labour councillors.

“The school, parents, governors and community fought this decision – and won. Even the Conservative Education Minister rejected the arguments put forward by Beds CC. HRUS and Community College, as it was then called, lived on. I have a long chapter of the book devoted to HRUS. The pupils could be difficult as many Houghton Regis families had little or no experience of education, but the place settled down and some amazing things were done by staff and pupils.”

Tony remembers the “spectacular” plays and musicals that were put on, plus the Houghton Regis Big Band that played all over the county. The school received the School Curriculum Award, given to schools who interact with their local community, and was the only Bedfordshire school to receive this status.

Tony said: “Many sixth formers went off to university. I well remember the look of amazement on the face of the area education officer in Luton when I told him one of our lads had gained a place at Brasenose College Oxford! There was far more talent among the pupils than was often realised.

“It was a lively and happy place and I enjoyed my time there, especially after the Joint Use Sports Centre was added which was jointly managed. The PSFA was a great support, the governors ditto, and after I had long gone I was not surprised but really angry that the school was closed down in 1999 after it had changed its name to Kingsland School.”

Tony, who still has many friends in the Dunstable area, lived at various addresses during his time here –Elm Park Close, Houghton Regis, and then Ullswater Road, Chiltern Road and Englands Avenue, all in Dunstable.

“I write in my book that the time must come when the good folk of Houghton Regis will have their own secondary school again,” he said.

“Houghton Regis Academy is now taking secondary age pupils and I have been in touch with the principal to say how much I welcome this.”

Tony was one of the UK’s top coaches of middle-distance athletes, an entirely voluntary role alongside his teaching. The book lists the performances of the athletes he coached, from school and county to national and international level.

> It’s Been An Education by Tony Elder, published by Brown Dog, is available in paperback and Kindle editions.