When I was a boy I rather liked going to school even though for many years my academic achievements were quite poor.
At Hillmorton County Junior School the Headmaster was Mr (George Edward) Hicks who was a decent sort of chap but he never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism was acceptable I found him to be quite unsupportive and he wrote me off at an early stage as being a bit of a no-hoper and advised my parents to buy me a pair of clogs and prepare me for a long dull working life in a factory, as he was certain that I was destined to be one of life’s academic failures. For slow learners there was no such thing as special educational needs or additional support mechanisms and the class was set out in a strict hierarchy with the fast learning favourites at the front getting all of the attention and the dimwits at the back making table mats out of raffia. I suppose I would have found myself about two thirds back from the blackboard. I was a late developer!
I never made much impact at school and casually ambled through four years of education, three times a year at the end of each term taking home a disappointing school report and enduring a lecture from dad on how I had to work harder because one day I would be taking the eleven-plus exam.
The eleven-plus established a tripartite system of education, with an academic, a technical and a functional strand. Prevailing educational thought at the time was that testing was an effective way to discover to which strand a child was most suited. The results of the exam would be used to match a child’s secondary school to their abilities and future career needs but the exam became a fiercely competitive annual scramble with parents pushing hard for their children to pass the exam and join the elitist group going forward to the stuck-up grammar schools. Sure enough in 1965, as predicted I failed my eleven-plus in Spring and was sent to secondary school in September in the bottom grade at Dunsmore School for Boys (now Ashlawn School). For me, life at secondary school didn’t get off to a brilliant start and in my first year I was in form D. To put that into perspective that is form D out of A to D; A and B were grammar streams, C were the hopefuls or maybes and D were the hopeless and the write-offs. A and B studied Latin and Grammar and joined the chess club and D did metal work and wood work and smoked Players No. 6 behind the bike sheds.
Just as at junior school I was hopelessly misunderstood by the teachers so these were not happy days. I fell in with the back of the class trouble makers and consequently made zero progress in my first full year and was doing best in report book entries and detentions. I’m afraid I just didn’t find school very stimulating and I was about to set out on frittering away what might otherwise have been five productive years. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t enjoy school, just that I found it a bit of an inconvenience. Not as bad as my sister Lindsay however who when she was fourteen went down with the longest recorded case of tonsillitis in medical history and stayed off school for eighteen months until they told her not to bother going back.
I managed to make my way through nearly five years without making much improvement and then sometime in 1970 the penny dropped and I suddenly started to do a bit of work. In June I sat nine ‘o’ level exams and passed six (failing all of the science papers) which was a bit of a shock for just about everyone. Not particularly wanting to go to work at this stage and much to the irritation of the headmaster, Frank Hodgson, I exercised an option to stay at school and go into the sixth form to study ‘A’ Levels.
I was on a roll now and the Maths teacher, Mr Wilson, was even determined that I would pass my maths exams so I had another couple of attempts at ‘o’ level before he had to admit defeat and I took the alternative CSE exam which I passed at grade 1, an ‘o’ level equivalent.
It was a complete turnaround in approach to school and learning and soon I became determined to go to University which meant I had to pass all three ‘A’ levels with good results. I took the exams in June 1972 and on 15th August received the results, I had passed them all, B,C,C which meant that later that year I would be off to Cardiff University and work was postponed for another three years.
Mum and dad burnt the clogs!