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Interview with Sheila Kotak, 6 August 2010

By Sheila Kotak and Jenny Keating


Sheila Kotak was born in 1929 and went to an elementary school in Bristol. She remembers being taught quite a lot of history there – particularly pre-history, although for a period during the war they only went to school part-time. At 11 she failed the 11+ and went to an all-age church school for a year which was chaotic and crowded and she received no history teaching at all. But then she went to a junior commercial school where not only did they do commercial subjects, such as shorthand typing, commerce and bookkeeping but also all the normal school subjects like English, arithmetic, history, geography and art: it was very hard work and very intense. The history taught had a social and economic slant so they learnt about the structure of society in Elizabethan times and the rise of industrialisation and unionism in the late 18th and 19th centuries. They also did the development of Europe – Italian and German unification – and learned a bit about the main philosophers of the 19th century. Teaching was mainly by talking – sometimes the dictation of notes. Sheila did a Commercial School certificate which included history. She became a shorthand typist when she left school at 15 but later did A levels, including history, and after she retired she did an Open University degree and chose to do a number of history-related modules. Interviewed by Jenny Keating

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