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Forgive me if my attitude to grammar schools is a little more appreciative than is fashionable nowadays.  This is primarily because I am such a huge beneficiary of the system.

It strikes me that life is a selective process.  Hopefully, the best candidate gets the job; the best employees the promotions etc.  Competitive sport as youngsters prepares us for this. The best players make the team; the best teams win.

So selecting by ability (at 11 when I was a lad) becomes part of this.  It owed nothing to privilege and background – the daughter of a miner sat alongside the son of a doctor in the 11-plus exam room, doing, essentially, an  IQ test. I myself was the son of an electrician and a cleaner and without such a meritocratic selection I do not think that I would have gained anywhere near as “comprehensive” an education.

Competition continued at grammar school with streaming; the more able boys in the “A” stream, the less so in the “B” and “C” streams.  And by and large it worked.  Every year 20 or so boys went to university, myself included.  No big thing these days but a small achievement for a family of a mining background.

There were failures, of course.  Two of the brightest boys in my year dropped into the “C” stream, essentially because their attitude wasn’t right.  I don’t know what became of them but I would not be surprised if they had forged successful careers, though hopefully not in crime.

The school enjoyed a reputation as the 2nd best in the county after the High School which recruited through scholarships and fee-payers.  A few years after I left the school became a comprehensive, in time tumbling down the league tables until it ended up in “special measures”.  At one point it enjoyed the status as the worst school in the country.  In the end it was closed and its pupils transferred to a neighbouring school; “amalgamation” they called it.

It is a source of pride to me that I attended the worst school in the country.




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John Coopey

Mon 11th Mar 2019 16:14

Thanks, MC. “Them as lives longest learns most”, as they say.
And congratulations on being POTW. It’s an accolade I have never achieved, Nor am I likely to.

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M.C. Newberry

Mon 11th Mar 2019 15:49

Good for you, JC. You clearly define a term from my distant school memories - bright boy. Or was it clever dick? ?
I went through a variety of schools - from "boarding" where my mother was employed following the premature death of my father,
to a village school, a private "college" and finally a grammar school
(lower stream) where I spent most of the time asking questions that went unanswered, taking solace in the pleasure of its Wiltshire
small town surroundings and the pals I made there - prior to
leaving for work in London aged barely 16...never to look back except with a fondness for the time and place and the feeling that
the teachers in our grade saw us as not worth too much effort on
their part. But he who laughs last has a good pension, health and
a list of interests and achievements that keep a man happy in retirement. .I wonder how many of the rest from those late 1950s
days can say the same now?

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John Coopey

Mon 11th Mar 2019 15:28

Thanks again, Kate. Yes, I too was lucky enough to get a full grant to go to university, all the more philanthropic since I failed my first year and took 4 years to pass.
I certainly stood out, Cynthia. Put another way, they used to watch me like hawk.
I think you have the jump on me by a few years, Keith. I was at grammar school during the 60’s.
Many thanks, all, for your kind observations.

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keith jeffries

Mon 11th Mar 2019 11:52


An interesting and somewhat controversial piece of prose. I certainly go along with Kate´s last sentence about the forties and fifties of which I was a product.


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Cynthia Buell Thomas

Mon 11th Mar 2019 11:37

And I was a teacher in a large Middle School in an area often called 'inner city', with many connotations implied. Even in those long-ago days, in any given classroom, I was often working with four different languages and very diverse backgrounds . It was hugely exacting, but I loved it. My subjects were Music, History/Geography and Health. You can cover a wide arena of 'life skills' with those four, rich outlets. I still remember certain students with much delight.

As you probably stood out as an individual to your teachers, John. It happens.

<Deleted User> (19913)

Mon 11th Mar 2019 10:17

Of course you are remarkable! Funny too! I think a school does its job when a creative soul survives to emerge..... My school was rough as guts. Fist fights in the classrooms. I was the only girl in many of my classes (senior maths science). The first in my family to go to uni, on a scholarship too - they could not have afforded it ... My parents were not allowed to go to high school. I'd argue their grammar beats mine though.... and English is their second language. Speaks volumes. Some things were done better in the forties and fifties.

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John Coopey

Mon 11th Mar 2019 09:49

Thanks, Kate. It wasn't all down to them, though. I was a remarkable person to begin with!
The other important thing, I think, to remember about grammar schools is that they were "of their time"; product of the 1944 Education Act and its push to provide better education to the working class.

<Deleted User> (19913)

Mon 11th Mar 2019 09:26

Ah, but look what it produced, John. I really enjoyed this little window on your past.

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