“Ah! School…the best days of my Life!” I’ve never understood people who say that.
Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate school, but I couldn’t wait to leave and be free of all the nonsense that goes with it.
That Friday, when I opened my first pay packet, I couldn’t wait to get down to the Tavern in the Town cellar bar ‘wiv me mates’ and buy a round of drinks. None of this ‘proof-of-age’ nonsense that we have now.
I was a poor student, but I think King John school could have done more to help and encourage me.
At least I was able to give up History when I was 12 and ditch Geography soon after. As an adult, I love History but, even at the age of 12, I’d worked out that I’d never make a living out of it. And it didn’t help that all our teacher seemed to want us to do was memorise the Kings and Queens of England, and the dates when they reigned. I probably wanted to know about dinosaurs and Stonehenge at that age. And even now, I’m more interested in how ordinary people (like me) lived their lives, not royalty. Basically, I’ve learnt about History in my own time.
So I wanted to concentrate my school time on science and maths, subjects I thought might be relevant to a future career in chemistry or electronics.
I was very bad at English (still am …thank you Tim Berners-Lee for the Internet, allowing me to check my spelling). The school’s response was to give me ‘extra-English’ lessons, where we dim-wits were given a book to read, while some disinterested teacher sat at her desk checking out the runners and riders for the 3pm at Lingfield. I resented these lessons because I thought my time would have been better spent doing extra maths (or even extra metalwork).
One thing I’m now quite proud of is failing my English mock C.S.E. About 15 years later I found myself living in a house with a bunch of teachers. Some evenings the English teacher used to give me a stack of student homework so I could help with her marking. She couldn’t understand how anyone could fail an English CSE/GCSE as she said “these days you just have to write your name at the top of the paper to get some kind of pass mark”.
I was no artist, but CSE Art was all about producing reasonable coursework (mostly paintings, pottery and the odd…very odd, collage) during the last 2 years (4th & 5th years). I should have got a grade 1 or 2, but my entire 4th year coursework was ‘lost’ so I ended up with a grade 4. If this happened to some kid these days, the parents would go mental, and maybe the local MP would get involved. But not back then…thanks KJS.
But the most disappointing incident came right at the end. In the summer of 1968 I had 3 job interviews with offers from the G.P.O. (now BT), Ekco and Marconi (getting a job in the 1960s was really easy). I was most impressed with Marconi who said they would take me on as an apprentice, either on a City & Guilds Telecoms course or doing HNC. But there was a catch…
I went back to King John and spoke to a teacher;
Me: “I’ve been offered a City & Guilds or an HNC apprenticeship, but if I sign up for HNC and then fail to get 3 CSE at grade 1 level, I’ll be rejected and won’t be able to switch over to City & Guilds. What do you think I should do?
Teacher: “Don’t be silly son. Take the City & Guilds. You won’t get 3 CSEs.
So I took his advice. A few weeks after signing up for the City & Guilds apprenticeship I got my CSE results: Maths grade 1, Physics with Chemistry grade 1, Technical Drawing grade 1….once again, thanks KJS.
Another thing I remember concerned a guy that was keen on cookery, and I think he wanted to become a professional chef. But he was also good at some sport or other (maybe football). He tried to explain to the PE teacher (‘peg-leg’ Evans) that he couldn’t make a particular game because of a cookery lesson. Peg-leg flew into a rage and I’m not sure who got their way in the end, the PE or the Cookery teacher. Peg-leg implied (but maybe stopped short of saying) the boy was a ‘nancy’. I thought most of the PE teachers were Neanderthals, except Alan Cross and Tom Hughes.
There was one thing about school that I missed almost as soon as I started work at Marconi. I asked an old fella why there were few, if any, young ladies. “If you were expecting crumpet sonny, you should have got a job up the road, at Yardley’s”. …well…this was the 1960s.
Looking back, I think some of the teachers saw us ‘comprehensives’ as failures, just cannon-fodder that would be expected to lay down their lives in the WW3 which, 20 years after WW2, was due any day now! I also think that some of the older teachers considered themselves failures. They had made their last move before retirement, and had failed to secure a job in a Grammar School.
So, definitely not the best years of my life…I’ve had so much more fun since!