Saturday, 31 March 2012

I also don't remember taking the 11+ although I may have done. My parents went through a period of legal seperation and so we moved between their home towns a number of times. One town had already gone over to being fully comprehensive and the other still had the secondary/grammar school divide.

I started my secondary school life in a secondary modern, moved to a comprehensive school for a couple of years and then completed my last year at the secondary school. I remember being excited about moving up from junior school to the big school. My friends and I were mostly concerned about showing off our gymnastic skills and wondering whether our new PE teachers would be impressed.

The school was within walking distance. I do remember a girl near to us going to grammar school and having a nice uniform.At the time I didn't question why she was going to the grammar and I was not.Also, there was the safety of going where all your friends were.I vaguely remember feeling that the grammar school was for better off people and anyway my parents wouldn't have been able to afford the uniform or bus fares.
However, I don't know why I remember feeling this as the secondary had a uniform too, of sorts.Grey skirt, blue jumper or cardigan but not a blazer.The secondary wasn't co-ed as there was a boys school close by.

I don't remember that I enjoyed my time there but I wasn't especially miserable either. I have very little recollection of lessons except reading Lorna Doone in English class and the domestic science department having a mocked up dining/living room where pupils learned to make and serve meals and be proper little domestic goddesses.  Getting the chance to do that was supposed to be a privilege. In my last year at school we had to choose whether we wanted to go in the class that lead us onto a nursing career or a class for those interested in office/secretarial work. The two other streams were for the least able pupils.I neither wanted to be a nurse (we had been shown around the local hospital to see tape worms in jars etc) or work in an office.I suppose I must have plumped for the office option as I remember sitting at a desk with a typewriter.

I left school in 1967 at the tender age of 15years and 3months without any qualifications and got a job as an office junior.  As a young mother in my early twenties I studied with the Open University. Thank God for Jenny Lee!

By Oddie Park on This blog on 27/03/12

Copyright of the Author.  Not to be used without permission


  1. Did I go to a secondary mod? I thought I joined a bran new “comprehensive” in 1965 but……

    In 1970, after, I thought successfully obtaining 5GCSE’s (well 3 and two CSE grade 1 “equivalents”) I opted for A level English. This was success beyond anything I knew. None of my family had examination success. My uncle had left the same school without even taking any exams at age 15.

    Almost immediately the school informed parents that there was no A level English course as only 4 pupils had opted for it. The 6th form in the first year of the comprehensive intact was very small.

    A campaign was mounted by parents, students and staff. Letters were exchanged. Meetings were held. Finally, we heard that special allowance was made and the course was started.

    We read around the subject for 6 months, half disbelieving the reason for this strategy which was being explained as “good for you” to get a wider perspective. It did not help that the school apparently had not been delivered of the set texts. In those days I did not know where a bookshop was. I remember searching for one only a few years earlier to buy a school prize for myself, and ending up buying a book from a gift shop. This story must be partly untrue because there was a radical left wing coffee shop called I think “Centreprise” in Dalston Lane, by this time. (I note that it seemed to have opened at exactly this time in 1970! See

    I can’t remember what we read.

    I do remember that a temporary teacher or supply teacher for first term explained that his literary interest was erotica… however we did not cover this and I think he left shortly after.

    Time passed, eventually the set texts arrived and we studied. Although I enjoyed the debates I struggled with the texts and writing essays. After two years I failed the exam. Then again I believed all four of us failed the exam.

    I write this, and what follows especially to those that believe that comprehensive education is only about passing exams

    The teachers worked hard. I recall that one drove us all the way to Wimbledon Theatre to see a performance. We spent hours going across London in his Ford Capri, stopping at his house for lunch. I do not recall which play, it may have been the Rivals but I believe it might have been another “reading around” experience.

    I cannot say they were experienced as they were not and clearly often only a chapter ahead of us. They had never taught a 6th form course, the school had never arranged 6th form exams. It was all new to them. We are talking about an era when working class children were only for the first time going to the 6th form in large numbers.

    The choice of “literature” was perhaps unsuited to East End 17 year olds. Villette and Bronte, I loathed. There I have said it yet again, as so often then, but 40 years later. Swift, especially the rudest bits I loved. Dryden was pretty good too if you understood the history (which we had not covered in history. Hamlet, after getting past the language was OK. I remember some Chaucer, and still mention “Piggye’s Bones in a jar by the door.” at every opportunity.

    As I was drafting some of this earlier a thought passed me- where was Villete. I am sure I kept the copy. In an instant there in the shelf I turned to Grapes of Wrath” unread, save for twice more since I placed that label marked “Inner London Education Authority” on the inside front cover. I loved Catcher in the Rye, that’s here too!

    Well maybe passing the exam, nice though it is, is not everything. I am left with a lot now looking back. They may not have been the slickest exam preparation and it is easy to be very critical. It may have not been successful in the examination but I took away something worthwhile .

    I can’t discard these books. Several I have returned to. I rubbed shoulders with some expert teachers and they showed me their enthusiasm. I still take the Observer on Sundays on their behest. I have some awareness of literature and I have gone on to read more widely and appreciatively.

  2. I was at a sec mod in the late 50s and 60s. Passing the 11 plus made no difference because it was the only school within reasonable travelling distance.
    The teachers didn't really teach, but just sat at the front expecting silence, which they generally got. Some kids played cards or a variety of paper and pencil games. Some of us read, either the books in the classroom or those we brought in with us.
    There were a few exceptions to the no teaching rule. The craft teachers - metalwork and woodwork - kept the boys busy and the girls learned needlework and cooking. Housecraft, I think it was called. The games teacher was an ex Welsh rugby cap, so was keen to promote talent.
    There was no pussyfooting when it came to what teachers thought of us. To some we were "the scum of the earth," to the more liberal we were destined to be, "hewers of wood and drawers of water."
    The discipline was fairly harsh with the cane being used for even minor infringements. I was caned maybe three times. The most memorable was for walking the wrong direction around the grounds, which was a serious offence. As well as the cane, my place in the school concert was removed. I went to the teacher responsible and pleaded to be allowed to perform my piece but was told, "who do you think would want to listen to someone like you." I have not played the piano since. I still feel guilty that my mum scraped together five shillings a week for lessons and paid for my up to grade eight and five certificates. Unfortunately, I simply accepted my place.
    The school made some minor provision for a few children who took 'O' levels. On the other side of the playing fields were mobiles attended by "the specials," children with pushy parents.
    Since I could read extremely well and had good enough maths from 'extra curricuar' activities, I was not bothered by schooling. It provided access to the library and a midday meal.
    Like most of my peers I left school at 14. We were needed in the factories and at the docks. That suited the teachers who could provide for 'the specials'. The only post 14s I recall was a lad with a speech defect, a pregnant girl and a few reprobates who were destined to find it hard to get a job.
    During my mid to late twenties I got the notion that education may not be as difficult as those in charge made out so got some 'O's and 'A's, the best degree in my year and have picked up other higher gongs and a PGCE along the way. My reading I owe to my grandmother. I don't feel I owe school anything. my higher maths skills I owe to Lancelot Hogben.
    I suppose our masters and betters have as much contempt for us lower orders as they always did and the downgrading of education and the demands for the return of Grammars reflects this.