Teacher tried to protect children

For Sheila Saunders, working at the Old Rectory School marked the start of her teaching career - but her time there was brief. Then called Sheila Halls, she qualified as a teacher in Leeds in 1975 and began looking for her first job.

For Sheila Saunders, working at the Old Rectory School marked the start of her teaching career - but her time there was brief.

Then called Sheila Halls, she qualified as a teacher in Leeds in 1975 and began looking for her first job.

She applied for a teaching post at the Old Rectory after seeing an advert in the EDP and was interviewed by George Robson.

“I thought he seemed a very pleasant man, very laid back, quite trendy really. He had quite long hair,” she said.

“I thought it was a lovely place, a wonderful chance for the children who were going there.”

The 22-year-old was offered the job and started that September.

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She lived in Attleborough and would also work one evening a week and one day a weekend.

But just a month into her job, her impressions of Robson changed.

“I saw a different side to him, he seemed quite an aggressive man, quite bullying. Not the sort of person I felt should be with children like that. Some of the children were extremely difficult.

“I started seeing things that I knew couldn't be right, the way that he changed when visitors were there. He was quite different to how he was with the children. He could charm anybody.”

There were about 24 children at the school at the time and Mrs Saunders said fellow teachers and the deputy head also had concerns.

“It was just the whole feeling of intimidation. He would walk into a room and the children would change. He was just a really menacing man and I tried to keep the children away from him as much as I could.

“He was in it for the money. He always boasted about how much he was getting for the children sent there.”

Mrs Saunders said she saw Robson use corporal punishment, but the occasion she remembers most vividly followed a fun day out with pupils to a local farm, where they collected apples.

They got back to school at around 5pm and Mrs Saunders got the children ready for bed.

“All of a sudden Mr Robson appeared at the door in a rage. He told me to get the other children from other dorms. He then started ranting and raving and shouting at them, saying they had stolen apples from the farmer.

“The farmer had told them they could collect the windfall apples. I tried to explain to Mr Robson, but he told me to shut up.

“He got the children in line, the ones he thought had stolen the apples. He made them bend over and beat them with a plimsoll.

“It wasn't a question of how many times they were hit, it was the rage that he did it in,” said Mrs Saunders, who still teaches and lives in North Norfolk.

“They were all crying and the ones who were not being beaten were very distressed.”

At the time Mrs Saunders wrote about what happened in letters to her boyfriend Alfred, now her husband, and her family after seeing other incidents.

She also talked a vicar who went to the school but nothing changed.

On another occasion a boy, aged about six or seven, was forced by Robson to smash toys given to him as presents with a hammer in front of the other children, after being accused of damaging some furniture.

After this Mrs Saunders decided to she could no longer work at the school and left in December 1975, after just one term.

“I thought if nobody is going to believe me I've got to get out, I couldn't be sucked into the regime. He would surround himself with the sort of people who would go along with his way.

“To my regret I didn't tell a local authority. At the time…I really did not know who to go to. Things were so different in those days. I felt I was abandoning those children. I felt I had betrayed them in a way.

“I was there for such a short time but remember so much. I can still picture those children now.”

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