littlemavis

Little_Mavis' rants and musings


Leave a comment

Grammar School

My next instalment of school life in olden days.

If you would like to see the earlier posts, they are Infants, Juniors and some background.


Before I start, I want to make it crystal clear that I do not support the reintroduction of grammar schools. This is simply a description of what it was like as a South Yorkshire working class girl attending such a school in the 1960s, It was a good experience. I probably didn’t take quite as much advantage of it as I should have. It may also give some insight as to why some people in power, who would have attended somewhere similar and who gained from it might be nostalgic about them and support them. I also suspect that the intake of this school was more working class than those in leafy suburbs. It was a mining area, solidly Labour then & pretty much so now, apart from UKIP inroads. “Posh” kids were the exception, not the rule so I don’t think I felt the alienation that some in similar positions felt. My brother went to the local secondary modern and did just fine. He got Grade 1 CSEs & a couple of O levels. He did practical subjects that the grammar didn’t offer and got an electrical apprenticeship straight from school.

I came out with 9 O levels and 5 A levels and was the first in my (extended) family to go to university. I can’t say I made the best of a good education, but many of my classmates did. For us, it was a success. I completely understand that it wasn’t the same for everyone, but you can’t ignore the fact that for people like me, it worked.

So. 1965. I passed my 11+, along with a good proportion of my classmates and was sent to the local grammar school. The school I went to was an old fashioned grammar school with a twist. I think I’m going to make this in two parts. First, describing the school itself and then my personal experience of it. I’m not sure how it compares to other schools today. I only attended the one and the school my children went to was a comprehensive that had been built in 1950s as a grammar school but was becoming rather dilapidated.

I haven’t worked in a High School except for short times on supply so have very little idea of what is standard, either for normal high schools or grammar schools.

Our very first visit was on the day we started after the summer holidays. No visits to get to know the place, just “Turn up at 8:30 on Monday”. We were all sent into the hall and were allocated into 6 classes, 30 per class. There were proper cloakrooms to hang your bags and leave your outdoor shoes and we had a classroom with proper desks with lift up lids that we kept our books in. The teachers came to us, except for things like science, art, domestic science & PE.

We did exams twice a year and our report books included our mark & our position in class for each subject.

The school building was very new. It had its first intake in 1964 when we were in year 6 so had, what was then considered to

mgs

Typical 60s built school. Since demolished and replaced.

be state-of-the-art facilities.

For PE we had a boys’ and a girls’ gym with a sports hall between, tennis/netball courts, huge playing fields with multiple pitches for hockey, rugby and football, a rounders pitch, a full size running track and long jump and high jump pits. We also had a swimming pool. Well, to be honest, it was more like an oversized water tank in a greenhouse.

We had dedicated labs for Physics, chemistry and biology, art rooms, domestic science, both cookery and sewing music and woodwork and metalwork rooms.

We also had a kind of tiny farm with rabbits and guinea pigs. I’m honestly not sure what that was for.

After the first year, we were streamed. The top third (no idea how this was done) were put into two classes which comprised the Latin stream and, were taught Latin alongside other subjects. I imagine we were considered those most likely to go to university. Within those two classes we were further set for science only. We did have to choose between (I think) art & domestic science for girls and art & woodwork for boys. There was no thought of girls doing woodwork or boys taking DS.

The teaching was pretty formal, they told us stuff, we wrote stuff down, we learned things and discipline was, well, not especially strict actually. Some teachers expected you to stand when they came into the room but not all. Some wore gowns, most didn’t. Boys were caned for some misdemeanours, girls weren’t.

Every year we had an “Arts Festival” which was an inter-house arts competition which included creating & performing a small play (multi-year) reciting poetry, playing instruments etc.

great hall

The College hall from a more recent photo found on FB

The school had an annual Gilbert & Sullivan production with both (sixth form) students and teachers performing roles and a school play, again sixth formers. The two I was involved in were The Beaux Stratagem and The Petrified Forest, so it covered a decent range.

Girls played hockey, rounders, netball, boys did rugby, football, cricket. Boys also did cross country. We girls lobbied to be allowed to also, but the head was against it, he didn’t want girls “running round the countryside with bare legs”. He was eventually persuaded that we could run a circuit of the school fields, which is what the junior (years 7 &*) boys did. We soon discovered it wasn’t all that much fun, especially in the mud. We had inter-house sports and played against other schools. Often first and second teams.

The head was rather eccentric. He built an aeroplane in the woodwork block as a school project – I believe it is still flying today and help “High table” on the stage in the college hall where about half a class would have lunch with him while we chatted politely. I remember him as always having food stains on his tie.

The sixth form was in a separate block, though it shared science labs and was not a standard school sixth form. It was, as far as I know, the first sixth form college.

I found this extract in a book which explains it quite well. There was no uniform in the sixth form and although we did not call teachers by their first name we did have a more informal relationship with them. We had a sixth form common room and free periods, at least, you did unless you had foolishly decided to take four full A levels.

mgs sixth form from Education 16-19 In Transition by Eric MacFarlane

From Education 16-19: In Transition Eric McFarlane

I’m sure there are things I have forgotten here but since I’m planning a further post on actual experience this is just meant to be a brief outline. I’m not sure it’s substantially different from many comprehensive schools today. I’ll write again about my personal experiences.

 

 


2 Comments

Girls’ Juniors

So. Junior school?

This is my post about infant school. And here, some background

Since my first school was infants only I moved at 7 to a school which had a mixed infants half and a Girls’ Junior half. (The boys went to a different school about half a mile away)

Garden-Street-School-Uploaded-by-Matthew-Spencer

 

This was uploaded to FB by Matthew Spencer

 

The building was much older, Old enough for my mum and aunt to have gone to the school as children and my aunt is now 89.

(I found this photo on FB) Stone built and the stones blackened by many, many years of

the residue of the coal fires used all over town. In fact, for many years I thought this was the natural colour of stone as it was so ubiquitous.

 

 

The playground was concrete or tarmac and we had no playing field or grass of any kind.

garden-street-playground

Uploaded to FB by Dean Cheetham

There was an outdoor toilet block to use at playtimes. I cannot remember if we had indoor toilets. The classrooms in the junior block were arranged around a large hall which could be divided into 2 or possibly 3 by folding partitions. There was one class per year. Also, no maypole!

I have a vague recollection that the classes were arranged in an odd way. We did a term in the first class then moved up at the same time every year, finally coming back to the teacher we started with.

Desks were arranged in rows and were wooden with lift up lids and inkwells. These were wooden holes in the desk into which small (ceramic?) inkpots made were inserted. I don’t remember when we started to use ink, but we had blue painted wooden pens which we dipped in the ink to write and we inevitably ended up with blue ink-stained fingers. We were taught italic rather than cursive which means I now have an odd style of writing that is neither one thing nor the other.

What did we learn? Well English and maths, obviously. Though Maths may well have been called Arithmetic. In Geography, I learned that tea came from India and Beef from Argentina. I may have learned other things but nothing else has stuck. I assume History, though I remember nothing at all of that. We did knitting. I started with a dishcloth in yr3/4, than a hot water bottle cover and finally a stripy cardigan. I was very slow and took so long over my hot water bottle cover that I was last to choose the wool for my cardigan so it was turquoise and orange stripes. We also did needlework, or basically, embroidery so I could/can do chain stitch, daisy stitch., blanket stitch, stem stitch. Odd that I remember that but not the history. I expect I did more embroidery at home.

We did Singing Together from the radio so I still am able to sing some very odd tunes such as “Twankydillo”  and I imagine we did PE, though I can only remember country dancing and learning to waltz.

The headmistress was Miss Varney who became ill and was replaced by Mrs Swift. I remember it was though vaguely odd that a headmistress could be married.

Mrs O’Donaghue (Yr 3) Was quiet & pleasant and had the joy of dealing with me being sick all over my desk. That’s all I can remember.

Miss Hayes (Yr 3/4) had permed blonde hair and those strange upswept glasses that were popular in the 60s. She seemed stern and got very cross with me once when she told us we would finish off our arithmetic before doing needlework and I pulled a face. She threatened me with extra maths instead of needlework which would have suited me just fine as it was actually the needlework I was pulling a face at. Never assume you know what is going through a child’s mind.

Mrs James (Yr 4/5) was a motherly figure, who read us Just So stories and Puck of Pook’s Hill and was disappointed in me for getting a couple of maths questions wrong.

The year 5/6 teacher was Miss Davidson. Tall, stout, stern and wonderful. She also taught music and I remember her being very, very insistent that we should be singing “O Lord” and not “Oh Lard” in hymns. To this day I cannot stand poor enunciation. Looking back, I can see that the school was her life. We were her last class as she retired the Christmas when we were due to move into the top class and into another school as our buildings were going to be demolished. She cried, we cried. We knew where she lived and carried on visiting for a few years to chat and drink orange squash. We used to do weekly tests in the class and sit according to our results, top at the back, bottom at the front. The very idea makes me shudder now.

At Christmas we used to learn the parts from the gospels used in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College and I can still recite them from memory. (Also poems).

We still had the 11 plus back then and did regular practices, though I can’t remember there being the type of pressure there is now with either the current 11+ or SATs. The school actually did very well.

The Christmas of year 6 the juniors moved to another school.

The town had a Grammar School and two secondary moderns. Comprehensive education was in its infancy and there was a comprehensive in the next town. The Grammar school was moving to a brand new building and as a knock on effect, the secondary moderns were amalgamated and moved into the grammar school buildings. One of them from an old stone building, which was also to be demolished, and the other from a newer building that we were moving into along with the local boys’ junior school. So, after three and a bit years in a girls only junior school at 10 and 11 were moved into a school with BOYS!!! It was all a bit of a shock to the system. We got over it quite quickly though and developed small, unrequited crushes then got on with our work.

adwick road school2The school was newer and different. Our class was housed in a separate classroom with its own cloakroom and toilets. We still had only a tarmac playground, though bigger and not on a slope and still no playing field. This was my first encounter with a stationery cupboard. A few of us were allowed the immense privilege of organising it, sorting all the books, paper, art supplies, pencils, pens, rubbers, rulers. It was bliss.

Our new teacher was Mrs Thompson who had lived in South Africa for a while.

Finally a couple of school reports to show how short they were back then. report-7report-8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were only there for two terms before we moved on to big school. I, most of my friends and a few of the boys passed the 11+ and went to the (new, shiny) Grammar School, some who did well, but not enough to pass went to the comprehensive and the remainder to the secondary modern, the old grammar school)  just around the corner. I have to say, I never gave the kids who failed another thought.

Please feel free to add any memories of your own in the comments.


Leave a comment

Who’s to Blame?

It’s quite interesting really. When I was at school, back in the dark ages, my performance at school was definitely considered to be entirely down to me. And I mean entirely. If i didn’t do as well as the teachers thought I should it was put down to my being lazy, or not listening, or being too chatty. Luckily I mostly did OK so I didn’t get a huge amount of grief until the sixth form. To be fair, at that point, I think they were mostly right. I assumed I’d be able to do A levels easily (as I had O levels) and found I couldn’t. Because we didn’t have fancy stuff like AS levels then I didn’t realise this until I did incredibly poorly in my mocks I’ll try to track down some of my reports and you can see the comments I got. There never seemed to be (to my knowledge) any hint that a teacher hadn’t delivered enough, or that I might be bored because the lessons were boring. They told us stuff, we wrote it down, we learned it, we did exams. No Internet, just notes, textbooks and past papers. My Physics teacher back then didn’t even chase us for homework. He told us, right at the beginning of the course. “I’ll set it, you do it, you hand it in, I mark it. If you don’t, you’re the ones who lose out, not me.” He did warn us, at regular intervals what would happen if we didn’t work “You’ll fail!” (Imagine that said in a Welsh valley’s accent & that’s what Mr Edwards sounded like – I was very fond of Mr Edwards)

Anyway, I went to uni, worked my way through a couple of careers (Information Scientist, Export Sales Admin, General Sales Admin, Programming, software support) and eventually fetched up in teaching, by which time the pendulum had swung and somehow I was responsible for my students’ results. I was a bit resentful of this. Surely the students bore *some* responsibility? Especially when I was teaching post-16. By then we had been mostly expected to just get on with it in preparation for university.

I left teaching a few years ago having most definitely been blamed for some students’ less than stellar results. That’s not a euphemism, they generally passed, the results just weren’t exceptional, just not as high as for some other staff (this was in teacher marked qualifications btw, not exams) but they were honest. I’d have been happy to let any examiner come & moderate the work.

Now, I don’t know when this change happened beyond it being somewhere between when I left school in the early 70s & started teaching in the late 90s but the pendulum does seem to be starting to swing back. The schools with an authoritarian no-excuses ethos, mostly academies? Are definitely trying to put the onus back on the children. They are ranking children again (and yes, I used to know my position in class after every exam or test & when I was in high school in every subject) and they are (from what I’ve read) shaming children for poor performance. Now this is never nice for the kids.If they struggle and are doing the best they can, no amount of shaming will help. Ever.If they are lazy because they don’t care it won’t make any difference and they may well make failure a badge of honour.If they are able, and conscientious or competitive, they may regard anything less than perfection as a failure. Sometimes this is fine. Sometimes it will drive them over the edge. (I’ve seen this happen with very able A level students)

It’s not just about developing resilience. A lot of this is down to your basic personality and some children who would otherwise be healthy, happy and successful will simply not thrive under this type of regime.

So. What’s it like now. I get the feeling that we are moving back towards blaming the kids and/or their parents. (Maybe the teachers who want this aren’t used to being blamed for the lack of success because they weren’t blamed when they were kids) But, I can’t say I’m happy about this. When I was young it was our responsibility but there wasn’t such emphasis then on academic success. It was considered perfectly reasonable to be “practical” or “good with your hands” rather than being academic. This is a big issue just now and one that I know both Sue Cowley and Disappointed Idealist here and here have blogged about.

Surely there is a happy medium somewhere in all this. Isn’t it time we accepted that education is a joint enterprise involving teachers, students, parents and the state. We all have a stake in it and we should all be doing our bit. We need to value all sorts of contributions and maybe trust each other a bit more.

To be honest. I’m not holding out much hope just now. The pendulum may continue on it’s swing. I just hope we don’t damage too many children in the process.


5 Comments

Tracking the teacher

This seems to have caused a bit of a stir on Twitter recently so here is my two penn’orth.

As usual, I see two sides (maybe).

First one of those anecdotes that are disliked as evidence but, I assume, are fine as an illustration.

When I was in the first form of secondary school (no such thing as year 8 back then), I was doing my usual type of doodling in an English lesson. Suddenly the teacher said, loudly “Mavis Wombat, what have I just said?” I was young, I was naive, I took this at face value and dutifully reported, word for word what she had just been saying. I’ve forgotten now, obviously. Anyway, it turns out this was the wrong thing to do, and definitely not what the teacher wanted. In hindsight, I realise what I should have done was look suitably contrite and apologised. For the next week or so I had to move my desk, actually move it, to the front of the classroom right in front of her, not fiddle, not write, not draw and look at her. I don’t think it helped me to concentrate. I did notice her hair, her make-up, her fingernails.

As a teacher, I began to see the other side of things. I was constantly checking to see if the students were paying attention, and their not typing (IT lessons so PCs always available), not fiddling with their phones, (not a temptation when I was at school) and generally looking in my direction. I did explain that the problem was that I needed to see them looking and listening and I needed not to be distracted by their fiddling. I persisted, they got the message. Now as a TA, I often remove pens, pencils, rubbers, rulers etc. from children while the teacher is talking. I’m not, honestly sure they aren’t listening when they’re doing that but I do know that it distracts the teacher and the other children. It’s interesting what you see sitting in a classroom with the children, (or if you do peer observations),

So in summary, my view, for what it’s worth. Insisting on tracking the teacher is overly controlling and will possibly hinder some children because they focus on that rather than absorbing what is being said. What I would, generally, ask is for is a lack of fiddling, especially those girls who play with the hair of the girl sitting in front of them (shudder). What I’ve been trying to decide while writing this is how I would handle those children like me, who doodle while they listen and honestly, I don’t know. Because of the subject I taught it was never an issue. Can you allow one child to do it and not others? Would permission to do that be abused? I’m honestly not sure. Maybe it could be sorted by agreeing class rules with the children? (Though I realise that many consider that to be a huge mistake).

What are your views?


Leave a comment

Empathy

I read this the other day “Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns
I can’t remember who drew my attention to it but I found it interesting. I have always been able to put myself in the position of students and able to imagine how I would have felt if treated in a particular way. In fact, in spite of my advanced age, I can still remember what it felt like to be a student.
I was at school in the 60s, so I experienced first hand some of the methods which are being advocated in the desire to return to the good old days of education. I actually came out of it relatively unscathed. I was not too overtly rebellious, slightly subversive maybe, and managed to “get away” with minor infringements by producing good work on time, which has what has always been something of a “get out of jail free” card for children.

But we had

  • desks in rows
  • class position as well as percentage marks in each subject
  • loads of teacher talk being hit with rulers, board rubbers
  • occasional ridicule
  • standing when (some) teachers came into the room

I know what all this felt like from personal experience.
As a teacher, I was led to believe that this level of empathy with my students was counter-productive and I attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to stifle it. I was, however able to indulge it somewhat as a sixth-form personal tutor when part of my brief was to go into bat for my tutees when they were being unfairly treated by subject tutors. And I still have this awkward tendency to see students/pupils, even the little ones, as actual people. Not creatures to be moulded into my particular ways of doing things, but actual people, with thoughts, ideas and preferences of their own. And I think they have the right to possess those thoughts ideas and preferences.
This doesn’t mean I think they should be able to run riot in the classroom, or not do work, or disrupt other students’ learning. I also believe the teacher (or other adult) is in charge and can expect instructions to be followed. What I expect from children though isn’t deference but the sort of courtesy I expect from any other human being.
But it does mean I think they should have the right not to fold their hands in a prescribed way if that isn’t comfortable for them. I think the reason I wasn’t happy with the techniques I saw in the Uncommon Schools videos linked to by @HeyMissSmith is that they seem to dehumanise children. As I said. I was, generally speaking, a well behaved child, but I suspect I would have rebelled against that level of control. As it was I was constantly told off for not sitting correctly as my legs were always too short to sit comfortably on normal chairs so I always tucked one leg up. I may well have been excluded from such a school, so, no matter how excellent the teaching may have been otherwise, I would not have benefited from it.
And is that level of conformity really what we want?