From 1960 to 1965 I went to the Hillmorton County Junior and Infant School in the village where I lived and three times a year at the end of each term I had the traumatic experience of taking home to my parents a sealed brown envelope which contained the dreaded ‘school report’.
This was never a happy experience for me because generally speaking my academic progress from one term to the next could only be described as ponderous and disappointing as I plodded my way through junior school towards an inevitable failure in the eleven plus exam.
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 in the classroom 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 Victorianly 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.
The reports were handed out by the form teacher and there were strict instructions to take them home without opening them. I must admit that I was tempted now and again but never had the courage to tear open the envelope that was marked ‘private and confidential’. My friend David Newman used to open his and on one occasion it was so bad that he posted it down a drain at the side of the road. This wasn’t something he could hope to get away with of course because at the bottom of the report was a perforated line and a tear off slip that parents had to sign and had to be returned to school just so teachers knew that the report had been delivered as instructed.
I would dutifully take mine home and hand it over to mum who would put it somewhere safe ready for dad to open when he got home from work. There then followed a nervous hour or so waiting for him to come through the door, get changed, sit down and open the envelope.
I knew it was going to be bad, it always was, and a sort of tide of disappointment spread over his face like red wine spilled over a white tablecloth as he read down the single page of comments that confirmed that very little progress had been made again this term. He never lost his temper or got cross but when he had digested the full horror of this term’s sorry effort I’d be subjected to a lecture on how I needed to work harder (blah, blah, blah), how I had to make more effort (blah, blah, blah), how I needed to think about the eleven plus exam (blah, blah, blah) and how this all was if I didn’t want to work in a factory all my life (blah, blah, blah).
I have often thought that in the interests of fairness that parents should have to bring home a work report for the benefit of their children’s amusement – imagine Prime Minister David Cameron’s…
Arithmetic – Excellent, David’s expenses claims are brilliantly prepared
English – Good grasp of English but tends to be bombastic and rude
Economics – Very weak with little grasp of basic economic principles
Geography – Weak, doesn’t seem to understand the concept of Europe
History – Poor, needs to understand that Britain no longer has an Empire
Science – Obsessive interest in nuclear power
Religious Instruction – Needs to stop picking on religious minorities
Gym – Very poor, needs to get himself in shape
Summary – David needs to pay attention to what other people are saying and to take other people’s views into consideration. He has a tendency to be confrontational, argumentative and rude. He can be very stubborn and dismissive of other people. He needs to address these issues or he may not get re-elected in 2015.
On Friday 20th December 1963 I took home possibly my worst school report ever and I had sunk to my lowest possible pitiful academic level. In the overall assessment I scored a dismal 10 out of a possible 100 which put me firmly amongst the dunces. Dad wasn’t too pleased that day I can tell you as he read down a succession of comments that was nothing to be proud of:
English – ‘Andrew is not working hard enough – I expect a more serious effort in January’
Arithmetic – ‘Weak – Very disappointing’
Religious Instruction – ‘Not good enough’
Science – ‘Average’
Geography – ‘Not good enough’
Practical Work – ‘Quite good when he gets down to it’
Music – ‘Little interest shown’
The form teacher’s general report said – The above remarks tell their own story, Andrew has got to work harder’
Luckily I think he may have read my sister Lindsay’s report first which was always far worse than mine but nevertheless I had some explaining to do that night that’s for sure and I expect going out to play was out of the question that weekend but although it was an awful report there was surely some room for optimism that dad had either missed or overlooked:
Handwriting – ‘Excellent’, so, it wasn’t all bad because although I was a confirmed dunce in all subjects at least I could write quite nicely and this presumably helped the teachers understand just how hopeless I was! I probably wasn’t doing myself any favours there.