A Life in a Year – 1st December – School Speech Day and Prize Giving

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 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!

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, 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.

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.

For me the best bit of the story is left right to the end.  The headmaster, Hodgson, really disliked me and had predicted hopeless failure but on 1st December 1972 at the school Annual Speech Day and Prize Distribution he had to shake my hand and award me a school prize for having achieved the best result in the school that year in the ‘A’ level exam.  My prize – a book on great military battles, which seemed appropriate seeing that school had been one long battle!

I enjoyed that. Mum and dad burnt the clogs!

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