Saturday, May 28, 2005

Once Upon A Time ...

Back in the 1960s, there was a State grammar school called Bromsgrove County High School. It took around one third of the children of the area.

It was run on traditional lines by E.J.S. "Ernie" Kyte, a tall, patrician disciplinarian (and ex-Bomber Command Squadron Leader - a fact of which we children were totally unaware) who wore a gown and mortarboard in Assembly. All the teachers wore academic gowns. So did the prefects. It was an offence for a boy to be seen in the street without his school cap on - until the dizzy heights of the Sixth, when a different tie, college-style scarf and lack of cap proclaimed maturity. Blazers, an overcoat (school mac) for winter. Straw boaters in summer for girls.

All this flummery was, as we all know, meaningless. Why should a uniform make the teaching any better ? Isn't it just a strange coincidence that you can pretty much exactly correlate a school's results inversely with the number of boys wearing their shirts outside their trousers ?

The education was good. After two years pupils were split into Science and Arts forms. Latin was taught to every pupil for the first two years. Latin and Greek were mainstream subjects for Arts students, the big three of Physics, Chemistry and Biology for Science. Most of the Sixth would head for University, some to teacher training, two or three to Oxbridge.

The school had a swimming pool and a huge acreage of playing field - ten or more pitches.

Discipline problems were rare - nearly always related to individual teachers. Even nice kids can sense weakness and children are merciless. (So are other teachers. I can still remember my maths master, the late lamented 'Phil' Davis, rolling his eyes as the hysterical shouting of another teacher at her class came through the wall. She retired soon after on health grounds.) The ultimate sanction of the cane still existed but was rarely applied. The thought of the letter home and the long, dreaded wait outside the Head's study were deterrent enough.

The school went comprehensive in 1970, while I was still there, but my cohort had come up under the old regime and weren't affected. It changed name to North Bromsgrove High School.

Even thirty-plus years back you'd get a few rebels - the kids whose shirts were deliberately not tucked in, tie cut off short or left off - kids who either made an effort to subvert the uniform or who just didn't give a flying one.

If you watch the kids coming out now, the percentage wearing the uniform correctly is about the same as the number of rebels thirty years ago - a few per cent.

More than half of the playing fields were sold off for executive-detached style homes as the native Brummies moved south. The swimming pool was derelict last time I looked.

The school was put into special measures as failing last year and the governors sacked. The headmaster, would you believe it, has been given a job at the local education authority - to share worst practice among other schools ?

By what I'm sure is another strange coincidence, the local public school now takes twice as many pupils as it did back then.

I write all this because my old school, like hundreds of others in special measures, didn't become the main headline on Radio Four news last night.

This school did. I wonder why ? At least, following my mail, they've removed most of the mails claiming incorrectly that Unity Academy is controlled by Peter Vardy.

Of course the reason the BBC, like the rest of the left, loves this story is that the Academies are outside the control of the education establishment. Can't have that, can we. Any number of LEA-controlled comprehensives can fail and the BBC/Guardian won't give a monkeys. But let's make this one headline news, shall we ?

I have little time for the public school educated Charles Clarke, who as Education Secretary worked hard to deny working-class kids the sort of education he got.

But anyone interested in the Academy debate should thank the anonymous adviser who wrote this for him.


Anonymous said...

well i remember your high school, don't think it took one third of bromsgroves children though. There was Catshill, Parkside, Wasely Hills and Watclose secondary modern, so I think one fifth is closer to the mark. I was sent to your high school in 1970 from catshill when it "went comprehensive" Glad you weren' effected. I gained tremendously as I had beeb expected to pass the 11 plus when I was at Meadows. Others were not so fortunate and Mr Kite was a miserable old geysr who NEVER smiled! Happy days though! Janet

Anonymous said...

I must have attended a different school from 1962-1969 to the one described. A 6th form tie? The pupils who played regularly in the sports teams were awarded the coveted 'sports tie', otherwise it was the same. There were less than 1000 pupils, so hardly 1/3 of the children in the area. Latin was taught in the first year to all pupils, not to all in the second year. Greek? I don't recall an opportunity to learn Greek 'mainstream'. As for a few % wearing correct uniform, prefects used to be along school drive making sure uniform was correctly worn - those who did not conform (just a few rebels) had to report to a senior master, or if it was a girl - to the dreaded Miss Baxter! A little more discipline nowadays is what could put alot of these rebelious children back on track.

christina mclellan said...

I transferred to the V1 Form at BHS from a girl's grammar school in the late 1960s. It was a lot more relaxed than the girls' school and I had a lot of fun.

Educationally it did me well - got me to Oxford to read Modern History and helped me towards a successful legal career.

I did a bit of teaching before I became a lawyer and I have to say that in my opinion the two glaringly obvious things that have gone wrong and are letting children down are a break-down in discipline and a headlong flight away from formal teaching methods.

Sadly I felt that I had to educate my children privately to de-risk their education - something my parents did not feel they had to do (and wouldn't have been able to afford to do)

Take the politics out of education and let's have some evidence- based policy for a change.

Unknown said...

I remember Phil Davis with great affection. Other teachers whom I found to be outstanding were David Craig, with whom I am still in contact; the late Russell David, who first suggested I should apply to Oxford; David Morris, who did so much to help me to get there; George Mills, the epitome of an officer and a gentleman; and James Malden, who taught me Latin and Greek.

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katie's closet said...


This is a message to Mark Wakelam specifically. You mentioned being in touch with David Craig. I wondered if you were still in contact? My father used to know him and I would like to get in touch because I'm getting married this year and would like to invite him and his wife.

I've tried all means. FB, Linkedin, the Bromsgrove Advertiser even but no one seems to have his contact number. If anyone does, please let me know!


Unknown said...

HI. Yes, I have David's number but as he has been ex-directory for more than 40 years, I am reluctant to release it without his consent. His address is 148, Stourbridge Road, Bromsgrove. I should be interested to know your father's name and to see whether I recall him from schooldays. Best wishes for your forthcoming marriage.

Unknown said...
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