Little_Mavis' rants and musings

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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


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 prefectin 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.





Are “Learning Styles” redundant?

I know learning styles as such have been discredited, even though they are still peddled in places and insisted upon in some schools, but different people do absorb information  in different ways.

One of the things is disliked about my PGCE was when the Psychology lecturer put the information on the board in the form of a mind-map. I disliked them; I also disliked presentations where we were given the handouts after the presentation so that we would concentrate at the time rather than reading the handout.

I like my information in lists. This seems to be a long standing preference as I discovered when I was clearing out the cupboard under the stairs recently. I found some O Level English Lit work. Apparently, back then, I lost marks for giving my answers in the form of “notes” (numbered lists) instead of in continuous prose.

I also like using presentation handouts to make additional notes on during the presentation. Writing down the extra information that I find interesting or useful helps me to remember more.

When I taught IT Key Skills, I was teaching the same skills and basic knowledge to a wide audience ranging from A level students to Musical Theatre students by way of Art and Sports Studies. This meant I needed a range of content and approaches to deal with the different interests and requirements of each group. (and for my own sanity). I had fought off concerted efforts from various members of the management team to deliver a standard course and assignment as this seemed to run counter to the purpose of Key Skills. Also it would be terminally boring.

To help students keep track of what they needed to put in their portfolio I checklistproduced a checklist. It went in the front of their file.

The external verifier objected to these. She said students should be using the official log books. We did, but we actually filled these in at the very end under strict supervision using exact guidance as they were generally incomprehensible to the students. So, we continued to use my checklist but removed them before the verifier’s visit.

Some students (noticeably Art, Media and Performing Arts students) preferred a more visual, holistic way of doing this so I produced an alternative.

diagramI also removed these before verifier visits as I assumed the same would apply. One sheet was left in accidentally and, amazingly, (to me) she loved them. Said we should give them to everybody. So we did. Some students used them, some preferred the check lists, though we still removed these. You could make a good guess as to which they would prefer. Diagram with arty types (as above), checklist with A level students, especially the scientists. There was, of course overlap. I supplied the students with what they wanted.

I still prefer lists, but at least I can see that the two are the same information presented in different ways but tailored to the needs of the student.

In constructing different ways of presenting the information, I learned to organise my thoughts in ways other than the list based format.

What does this tell us?

  • Different students do absorb information in different ways. Presenting information to them in only one way may disadvantage some, especially if the teacher uses only the method they prefer.
  • Not everyone recognises that the information you are giving out in different forms is the same so presenting it like this is non-obvious way of reinforcing
  • You always to what the external verifier wants.