When I went to junior school – Talbot Road C.P – sometime around 1948/9 I was a strong reader and knew my times tables, learned by rote, as I said earlier, up to the 12 times. My spelling and comprehension was well up no doubt because I was an avid reader of books at the age of 9 or 10, the earliest being Enid Blyton’s Famous Five followed by W.E. John’s Biggles, Richmal Crompton’s Just William and J. Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons which I loved.
I remember being in Miss Day’s office – the headmistress – with my mother and being told that I should be a farmer. The details are sketchy but I think she meant farmer’s labourer and was suggesting I was thick. It must have been early in the year probably 1951 and I was not due to take my 11 plus exam until the following year – over a years time from then.
The purpose of the meeting was to inform my mother something or other that I could never get answers for. The truth of the matter was that the school had fucked up because I was born in late July my age was wrong for the school year I was in and they were going to move me up a year to the 11 plus class just a month or so before they took the exam. I would now be the youngest in the class with some boys (I don’t remember any girls) a year older than me.
It seems the headmistress was paving the way with my mother by telling her that I was not going to sit my 11 plus but was going straight to the secondary modern – secondary it was, modern it was not. The real reason was that they had probably fucked up my life and moving me up a year meant that I missed learning in the year prior to the all important life changing exam.
That was the important year when I missed out on learning long division and multiplication, and crucial English grammar – even now my knowledge of verbs, nouns, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns is somewhat lacking. I also missed out on tutoring especially tailored for the exam.
I have always done quite a lot of writing, starting with an essay – at that school – about a holiday in North Wales when I was 10 years old that was lauded and read out to the class. That from someone who was thick and should take a career as a farmers labourer.
Any writing I have done, and still do is by the “seat of my pants” no doubt helped because I had read hundreds of books by the time I was 13, adult fiction and non-fiction – mainly the many books written at that time about the second world war. I was a dedicated “bookie” and not at all interested in sports but then that’s not surprising and all down to the abysmal shithole for rejects known as Harehills Secondary Modern.
I said rejects and that’s what we were. The feeling at the time was exactly that. Second class failures and that’s why 65 years later I still carry a chip on my shoulder and am against the 2016 Conservative government of Theresa May bringing back grammar schools.
Anyway my best friend Tony Broadbent, went to Roundhay High School, the local grammar school just a quarter mile from home – whilst I was robbed of the chance – an almost criminal matter. I have no idea why my parents meekly accepted the situation and as they later came to know they were blamed by me for not kicking up a fuss and doing something about it. In more enlightened times the education authority could be faced by parents taking legal action for substantial damages.
My belief is that both my mother and father were naïve and stupid to allow the school to get off scot free. When it came to my brothers education they were aware of what they had done to me and took a very different line. They paid to send him to Staines Grammar School, not that it was a grammar school – just an advantageous name that some parents took advantage of in order to give their thick kids a better start – but it would look good on a curriculum vitae for anyone that didn’t know the truth.