FOR those who attended Ballykeel Primary School during the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, the name of David Allen, who passed away last week, will be a familiar one.
During that time he combined the roles of senior P7 teacher and Deputy Headmaster.
It would be true to say that ‘Duck’ Allen, as he was nicknamed by pupils, was ‘old school’ in his methods. Originally from the Toome Road area of the town, he was not a man to be crossed and he had a formidable reputation, which was magnified to almost mythical proportions as pupils passed through the school.
But this gruff reputation could not mask a man who was a teacher par-excellence, achieving astounding results with his classes in the dreaded 11 plus exam. As each new generation crossed the threshold of his classroom, Duck Allen made it clear that they faced a year of nose to the grindstone effort. It can be said of many teachers that their pupils will look back on them with rose-tinted spectacles but in Dave Allen’s case his achievements speak volumes.
He tackled preparations for the 11 plus tests like a military campaign, beginning with basic training in the mysteries of ‘verbal reasoning’. In the course of that school year he would, of course, polish the academic gems amongst his charges but he took even more care to build up the confidence and ability of those who may have been considered borderline. As a result his percentage pass rate was incredibly high.
In one class in the early 70s, this was in the region of 95% of pupils undertaking the examination.
He seemed to be driven by a deep seated commitment to bringing out the very best in his pupils which went well beyond personal image building. He obviously relished the challenge of giving generations of working class children from the Ballykeel area a chance to progress in life which would have been denied to their parents.
Dave Allen physically was terrier like, full of energy and adrenaline. He was no puritan and many will remember being sent for a ‘wee message’ to the shops when he ran out of cigarettes. Remember these were the days before tobacco purchase age limits were introduced!
Perhaps the longest-lasting memory which former pupils, certainly as far as those who passed the 11 plus are concerned, will have of Dave Allen will be his arrival on their doorstep on the Saturday morning when the test results were announced.
“Well done,” he would say. “But make sure you keep it up.”
With that job done, he would already be gearing up for his next assault on the examination fortress.
As Northern Ireland entered the darkest hours of the troubles, Dave Allen adopted a strong pro-union stance in his politics and was a local driving force behind the Vanguard Movement which adhered to the hardline views of the late Bill Craig who felt that the ruling Ulster Unionist Party of the time were ‘soft’ in their dealings with the British Government. He campaigned for and was elected to Ballymena Borough Council in 1973 and latterly served on the Stormont Convention where he worked in tandem with former Ballymena councillor, Mr. William Wright.
In the aftermath of Vanguard’s demise in the late 1970s Dave Allen entered the world of trade unionism, latterly becoming General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers’ Union where he was a tireless campaigner on education issues for which he was awarded with an MBE. He retired from that post in 1997 but maintained a close interest in union affairs.
David was a former pupil at Ballymena Academy before attending Queen’s University Belfast. In 1957 he went to Stranmillis College to train as a teacher.
There he was President of the Student’s Representative Council, and in the wider student union movement spoke at conferences of both the National Union of Students and the Union of Students in Ireland.
Mr. David Allen MBE is survived by his wife Arlene and daughter Lynsay. His funeral service was conducted at Bannside Presbyterian Church, Banbridge on Friday.