Art teacher leaves the classroom for the Dales

Classroom teaching's loss in Sowerby Bridge looks to be the Walden Valley's gain in the coming months as another committed schoolteacher leaves behind the rush for government-set student targets at the expense of understanding and nurturing children's lives and aspirations.

Katherine Ralph with her four Border Collies at Walden. Picture: Gary Longbottom

That’s how Katherine Ralph sees the current state of education from her new home and venture with husband Ian at Uncle’s Farmhouse in a remote dale in Wensleydale.

She’s extremely positive about their move while also sad that she has left what has always proved her calling.

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“It was a heartbreaking decision to leave Ryburn Valley High School where I have taught art for the past 16 years. It wasn’t at all stressful in the classroom, in fact it was absolutely amazing as the children were just fantastic and so talented. It was the increasingly absurd government-infused politics that took its toll on me.

“Children, the next generation, are under such pressure to achieve targets that I feel are not in the best interests of meeting their own needs of becoming rounded individuals. If you don’t have scruples then you’re okay but if you do and your heart is in teaching you can’t simply go into a classroom fixated on A grades. Children’s lives have many more issues that need to be taken into consideration.”

Katherine works for one of the examination boards, AQA, which involves going into schools across the north of England to check on standards in art, a role she is continuing.

And while she has not ruled out some supply work back in the classroom, she is now pursuing her own specific strands of art.

“I don’t want to leave the classroom environment. I love working with schoolchildren but I’d got to the point where I still had the passion for art and education and yet wanted to explore new avenues.

“Coming here is a different challenge. I now want to get involved with people of all ages who are interested in learning more about the printing skills that are my own specialism such as screen printing, lino cuts and batik, which is about working with wax and dye to produce decorated cloth.

“I studied at Leeds College of Art and my degree is in Surface Patterns working with textiles and printing on fabrics. These are fabulous art and craft works that are not as well known.”

Moving away from their home in Guiseley to what has been at various times a farmhouse, cowshed and garage has opened up a whole new world for the couple and thanks to Ian’s skills in the building trade they now have a home and Katherine’s workshop.

“Ian and I were sold on it on our first visit. We’d been looking for somewhere up here and had spotted a property in Coverdale. When we saw it we weren’t taken with it at all and then halfway home Ian remembered seeing this on the internet.

“When we arrived the lady owner came out, noticed we had our Border Collies with us, as we breed them, asked if we were from Yorkshire and when we replied positively she said ‘you’ll do for me, do you want to come in and have a look around?’ ”

The couple made an offer that same afternoon and moved in late last year.

“Katherine stepped in and said ‘this is it, we’re home,” says Ian who became a Yorkshireman having moved north from Brighton when he was just six-years-old.

“My father had been stationed in Keighley and when he came out of the forces he found work back in the town as a painter and decorator.

“My remaining link back to Brighton these days is the name of our Border Collie breeding business Racehill, which is named after the road leading to Brighton Racecourse.”

Katherine took to life in the Dales immediately while Ian took slightly longer but both would never go back.

“We were a little concerned about moving to a close knit community, but it’s brilliant and we got involved straight away,” says Katherine.

“I was face painting at the May Fair, which was one of the most stressful things I think I’ve ever done as you don’t want to get things wrong and I am an art teacher after all.

“It’s a really vibrant, friendly community.”

ART ON HER OWN TERMS

Katherine isn’t looking for her Uncle’s Creative Workshop to be stacked out with business. She would be happy to see one or two groups booked each week from Easter to October and is more than willing to travel in the Dales.

“The workshop is as much for me to pursue my own art as it is to help and teach others about wonderful aspects that may be new to them.

“When I first started out what I wanted to be was an artist but then all the careers advice pointed me towards teaching. I’ve loved and will continue to love bringing art to others.”

Uncle’s Creative Workshop is now open.