Monday, 30 May 2016

I said I wanted to be a 'lady detective'

I passed my 11+ (1947) but failed the oral examination because I said I wanted to be a 'lady detective', so instead of going to Hastings High School I went to Hastings Secondary Modern School for Girls. 

There, I was with a few others allowed to study for 0-levels, but mysteriously this 'privilege' was withdrawn from us and we left at 17.  I can find no archival records for this school, nor Ministry of Education papers of explanation.

Later, while employed, I took A-level papers and passed - I had to prove my capability, if only to myself. Despite the education authority and a careers adviser who tried to curb my ambition, I became a reporter on a local paper, then a journalist/editor in London, and finally a sub-editor on Woman. After marriage, children and living abroad, I joined the civil service (as a writer/editor) and later a press officer up to retirement. 

 My husband assures me that my career has been better than many graduates, but I still resent what I perceive as injustice. 

Evelyn Smith 

Copyright of the Author.  Not to be reproduced without permission 


  1. It was very much a 'second best' ...or thats how it was perceived! As girls we were all expected to be secretaries, work in shops, be hairdressers, with the ultimate being we would get married. We were streamed and the A stream could take some O levels at the local grammar. Many of us went on to do things that weren't even considered then with the advent of technology and easier travel. I took a degree in my 30's when my family were young and went into teaching...often wish I could show some of the teachers who were dismissive of my plans at the time to go to Art college...

  2. I share your pain, I too passed my 11+ but my parents could not afford to send me to the nearest Grammar School which was about 10 miles from home, so went to the local Sec Mod instead and I too was part of that privileged group 'The Grammar Stream' able to take our GCEs. I wanted to be a telephone engineer but was laughed out of Careers Night: Nurse, teacher, secretary or Civil Service were my only options. I did manage to take my A levels though - all science based - although the geology teacher did try his hardest to get me and my friend off the course, he failed, but we did become good friends and stayed in touch long after we had left education. I never got to be a telephone engineer but by the good fortune of marrying an electrical engineer, we started our own business him doing the big stuff with me doing the fiddly electronics (small hands, patience and a keen eye) I did sort of achieve my goal.

  3. Me too - passed 11+ but 'passed' cohort sent to a local secondary modern (along with all the 'failures) about to become comprehensive - I'm rising 62 and my parents are still in shock that 'Secondary Modern' was highly visible on the 'school sign' until a year or so later...titter - turned out well for me though - we were the 'first' A level students and after passing both (yes 2...unheard of at that time for our school) I went to a renowned Teacher Training college but not until the careers 'lady' told me my ambitions were 'silly' and unrealistic. Taught for 7 years in an inner city secondary school and loved it. Worked with my husband in business for the next 30 years and loved it - now returned to full-time primary year 5/6 teaching and although challenging and tiring, absolutely love it - shame about the government meddling...don't want to lose our unique primary identity and become an academy but willing to 'go with it' if |I can keep and develop my 'job'. However, have never rid myself of the 'second-best' label my parents (and their 'friends') bestowed upon me - I became accustomed to 'being second-best'. After all, their children went to private or Grammar schools...LOVE my job, just want to keep it...still lack confidence's part of my DNA...

  4. My "School Daze"

    Yes it certainly was a "daze" to me, I can hardly remember my "school day's, so what follows is somewhat "sketchy" I went to many schools (5) due to circumstances (my parents) who insisted on moving as often as they could, it was 13 at the last count). So after attending 2 Infants, 1 Junior and 3 Sec Modern schools (ok I know its's six, but I also went to another school temporarily as my first Sec, was being modernised, so there (I did learn to count u know) now where was I, oh yeh:
    I now found myself in the last one before leaving (in a coastal resort 5 miles from the main city).Being a "newbie" I was immediately picked on, by the bullies.
    Basic teaching in the 1960s consisted of the following:
    Maths, English, Science / Biology (I had never heard of "Physics", then, it was Chemistry, History, Geography, PE/ Games, Woodwork / Metalwork (whatever happened to that poker I made) R.I. (Christian Faith), Art/ Pottery
    For the girls it was:Needlework / HouseCraft / Hygiene
    My teachers were: Mr Draper: Music (no support)Mr Jeffcott :Geography (learnt about the Steppes, Pampas, nothing in the UK) Mr Bevan : P.E. (hard taskmaster)Mr Dibble: History (never learnt anything of use)
    Woodwork teacher (can't remember) Metalwork teacher (can't remember)
    Can't remember the Headmaster or his name, very rarely saw him.
    No such thing as "Headteachers", then I sat at a desk with an inkwell, why u might say, because you needed the ink for the pen with the nib, no such thing as biros in my day. Blackboards were used with white chalks, no such thing as computers and we didnt know what a calculator was,we had to use our brains to calculate.
    Clearly emphasis fell on the three "R"s, supported by peripheral subjects. I was expected to learn Welsh, instead all I did was to write down pages of the stuff from the blackboard . It never meant anything to me and still doesn't. In my previous English school I was taught French, which was interesting and would have been useful later on when we joined the E.C.Discipline while not harsh, was frequently undeserved. Most teachers would administer a good whack across the back side for minor disruptions, not particularly painful, but worked effectively! More serious matters were dealt with by the headmaster who used a cane (I can't remember ever going to see him). Detention was another form of discipline, and it was not uncommon to receive 1 hour detention after school for late submission of homework. My P.E. teacher used what he called "the hot dap", a slap from Mr Bevan's dap hurt! (I have never liked the name "Bevan" since (I can't think why) It never occured to any of us if we had a choice whether to be hit with a dap ("a white gymshoe") we just accepted it blindly. Despite that I apparently showed promise as a gymnast and became good enough to be excused from some lessons so I could have spend more time training on my gymnastics, however when I left school, all that finished, as there was no follow up. I was shown little or no respect, frequently abused, psychologically, mentally, made fun of, called names, ridiculed and that was just by the teachers!! I remember once in an Art class, a student teacher was so impressed with a rabbit I'd drawn, she asked if she could take it back with her to her college, never saw it again, wonder what happened to it, ah well.

  5. School Daze cont:
    Whenever we played rugby(as it was Welsh school) I was always at the opposite end of where the ball was! I couldn't see without my glasses, oh yeh, I forgot to mention I wore glasses (and "four eyes") and other expressions were the order of the day. In the showers I was usually made fun of as I had not developed (puberty) as far as the other boys were concerned. As I was teased unmercifully by the boys, I tended to hang around with girls who had pet names for me, one of them was "Pussyfoot" didn't find out what it meant until many years later. I thought it was a friendly name at the time, "boy was I nieve"! With the girls I learnt "jacks"( a game played by throwing a small rubber ball into the air and attempting to pick up many 6 pronged silver metal jacks before the ball came down) which I became good at, frequently winning more than the girls. Dating wasn't a problem for me, as I never dated, though I once turned up dressed in a jacket and jeans (which people didn't wear in the 60s) at a girls house to ask her out, she was shocked, told me no, the next day she told the whole class about it (thanks Sheila), saw her years later, boy did she look sad, never mind Sheila.

  6. School Daze cont;
    I had some interest in drums and I went to the local school drummer and asked him for some advice "come back when you get a kit" was all he told me, thanks a lot! That didn't stop me and years later I became a proficient drummer, playing in other countries, touring with bands, residencies and studio work.I am now an accomplished praise and worship drummer/ vocalist with a local church.
    Careers advice consisted of a few visits to some factories, one of them was a milk bottling plant, in the local town, some ambition to look forward to then huh, clink, clink! In 1966, the time came to finally leave school, I had been there for 4 yrs and I can honestly say I didn't enjoy the experience! School dinners are not worth mentioning, never liked em. I had to walk to school and stay all day, no "bussing" in my area in the 60s.Some people liked to go off the school grounds to the local tuck shop. I managed to pass two exams, Art & Craft and Technical Drawing and that was it.Since then, I gained lots of qualifications (so I learnt more after I left school. I had to leave school a few days earlier than the others as my parents were leaving the area to move about 30 miles away, however instead of my leaving with them, I was sent to my grandmothers for a few weeks while the family (- me) settled into their new home, before my father also died) (as my mother had long since died) couldn't remember Y, he almost denied it ever happened. It did!
    On the day I left, all the girls in my class lined up to kiss me, I don't know why to this day. So ended my school "daze", the question I have to ask was "what was it all about, was that supposed to prepare me for an working adult life". Needless to say it didn't, as it took many years for to come to terms with what I went through and why. The implications were still with me before I retired at 60, I am 65 now!
    I thought I would never have a career, or accomplish a good working record, I just seemed to go from one "dead end job" to another over the yrs, with many periods of unemployment.Is it any wonder!
    But eventually I trained as an Administrator (in my 40s) which I was very good at, now where's my "ole school", I'll show em!!

  7. I went to a Catholic secondary modern school, but am unusual in that through my school career I attended Sec Mods, comprehensive and eventually a grammar school. After I failed the 11 plus I spent the next 4 years coming top or second in every subject but it never occurred to anybody to question whether I was in the right school. The level of education was poor. Ir wasn't possible to take "O" levels, only CSE's which were more or less useless even then (1960's). The only science lessons on offer were general science - for many years after I didn't know the difference between physics and chemistry. It wasn't possible to take any languages. I was destined to leave school at 15. I wanted to be a teacher but was told in no uncertain terms that as I hadn't passed the 11 plus this would not be possible. The aspirations for pupils were very low - it was made clear to us that if we became an admin worker or a nurse that this would be considered a great success. I got the feeling that we were being groomed to work in a factory or a shop. Further education was never mentioned at all. I escaped the secondary modern system when I was 15, when my family moved home and the system changed to comprehensive. I was put in the bottom stream because of where I came from, and I had just 5 months to get myself into the "O" level stream. Luckily I just managed to do it, getting a mixture of 5 "O" levels and 3 "CSE"'s. My family moved home again and we moved into an area where there was a grammar school. Because of my "O" levels they let me in and I went on to obtain 3 "A" levels. I was astounded when I went to grammar school to discover that the expectation was that people would go on to university. I wasn't at the school long enough for this to rub off on me, so I applied to teaching training college in defiance of people who said I would never be a teacher. After 1 year I realised teaching wasn't for me - I was more interested in what prevented children from achieving than actually teaching them. So I applied to university and did a Sociology degree at Bristol, and then went on to be a social worker. That was 40 years ago. I'm retired now, but ended up as a programme manager for projects in Birmingham and Coventry, working with disadvantaged young people. Just before retirement I was awarded an MBE. However there are huge gaps in my education. I am now learning Spanish - the first time I have had an opportunity to learn a language. I am wracked with under-confidence and imposter syndrome - that I will be caught out and people will realise I'm useless. This is what a two tier system does to people - consign a large number of promising young people to the dustbin for no other reason than elitism. I occasionally think about my school mates I left behind in the Sec Mod - did they manage to escape the early labelling and be successful? I think people who ended up on the wrong side of the selection fence and despite all are successful have had to work doubly hard to be successful. I belong to the Labour Party and would fight tooth and nail to oppose the reintroduction of selection.

  8. My husband says he deliberately failed the 11+ as he did not want to go to the 'snobby' school like his elder brother (who became a Methodist minister). Not till he was 13 did he realise his error. His school, a good one, took the boys around factories etc showing them possible jobs. My husband, horrified, said he wished to be a teacher but was told that was impossible without GCEs. Opportunely his parents moved house to the catchment area of a secondary modern that did GCEs and he was allowed to try the exam form. He managed to be 44th of 47 in the class and kept his place. Btw exams were taken every term and boys moved forms according to their results - so much for over examination these days! In short my husband took O levels and then A levels (the first in his school) and went to Oxford to train to teach. And found it did not suit him, so he transferred to Manchester Poly to become a Youth Worker, at which he succeeded. He was the first youth worker to hand out free condoms! After a career in Birmingham, Islington, Walsall, Blackburn and Leicester he escaped to the Shetlands and raised sheep. An accident with a cow ended that career and he returned to the mainland and now writes novels and plays.
    He says he enjoyed his school career at secondary level, but hated his primary education, the more so since no-one realised he was partially deaf till he was half way through, and the help he then received was to sit at the front of the class.
    Whether he really failed the 11+ on purpose I do not know. My husband considers that the problem is often poverty of desire. A belief that professions are 'not for the likes of us' - and the 11+ emphasised this and left many with no escape once they realised they did want more.