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.




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Those Hazy Days of Summer.

rockley sands

Rockley park as it is now. Our caravan would have been where the car park is.

This blog isn’t about anything important. I wrote it after reminiscing about childhood holidays in the 50s and 60s when life for children seemed to be much more fun (honestly). This was touched on in a tweet by @JeniHooper referring to this.
When I was small we went on summer holidays to the seaside. My dad worked for British Railways (as it then was), he would have been a fireman then. We definitely still called them firemen way after being an actual fireman was what they did, but that’s beside the point. As an employee he got seven free tickets for his family each year. He was also restricted as to when he could take his annual leave so we tended to go on 2 single week holidays, usually to stay in a caravan, or occasionally a chalet, at a holiday camp. Having the transport paid for was, of course, a huge advantage. It made the holiday much cheaper and we could go as far as we wanted. This meant we often went to the south coast rather than just Bridlington or Cleethorpes like most of the families from our bit of South Yorkshire. One year we stayed at Rockley Sands in Poole. Our caravan was close to an inlet and right by the train line. For the first night, we all sat up in bed every time a train went past, by the second day, we barely noticed them. I’ve actually found where it is on Google Earth, though that part of the camp now seems to be a boat house.


We also went to Penarth (Lavernock Point), Sandown, Brixham, Rhyl as well as northern resorts like Bridlington and Mablethorpe. I have hazy memories of various caravans, caravan camps and chalets.
Once we were there, we mostly went for walks or played on the beach. I honestly can’t remember bad weather but I do remember the cosy feeling of being in a caravan and hearing the sound of rain beating down on the roof so my memory must have edited out the boring days. If there was a swimming pool, I swan, or attempted to while my brother played in the arcades. He discovered that the pennies often got stuck at the top of the chute when they were paying out so he would go round rattling the bottoms to dislodge any of the stuck coins.



A luxury caravan!

Of course, this was all before the days of plumbing, or even electricity in caravans. Showers were taken in a shower block, water was fetched from a tap nearby in a large container and lighting and cooking were by (calor) gas. We still had a cooked breakfast on holiday though and I still associate smoked bacon with summer caravan holidays. There was normally only one bedroom and the table generally converted into a bed. If you rented a chalet though you had a few more amenities.

What else can I remember?

  • Oh yes! Half an hour (okay, it may have been slightly less but ages anyway) of watching through the caravan window as someone tried, and failed, to put up a deck chair. It was like watching a comedy sketch.
  • Missing seeing the Queen Elizabeth from Sandown when my brother cut his head open while we were racing around a bench on the sea front.
  • Playing with two great danes belonging to the camp manager in Wales.
  • Other than that it was sea, sand and donkey ride

When I was about 15/16 my parents bought a caravan at Primrose Valley in Filey so the family went there and soon after I went to university. That’s a whole other story.


Just look at the awful swimming costume I had to wear


Sandcastles and a big hole


This was on the Isle of Wight I think (Blackgang Chine maybe?)

Mary selection027

Cleethorpes on a very hot day. I’d guess about 1967


This looks like Yorkshire and for some reason wearing my school blazer.








I  just hope my children’s’ memories of holidays are as happy as mine are. And that yours are.


Are We Uniform?

I was prompted to think about this after reading the story from Ryde Academy. That has all fizzled out now, so I assume the parents buckled and forked out for new uniform items just before the Summer holidays in the sad knowledge that their kids will probably have grown out of them again by Christmas. I know most of the concerns of parents there was to do with the way sanctions were imposed but I generally find the fetish we have for school uniforms rather bizarre. I was surprised, in this case, and others I heard about after asking around, that “knee-length” means “to the bottom of the knee”. (I’d always assumed it meant to the top, though this may be to do with the fact that I was at high school in the late sixties when mini-skirts made their first and most persistent appearance.

This is my (5th) form photo from 1970 mexborough-grammer-class-5alpha-1969 I went to a Grammar School.

We had no uniform in the sixth form and had a successful campaign for girls to be allowed to wear trousers there, though not in the school and never jeans. We were not compelled to wear our blazers at all times and we were not expected to ask permission to remove e them. We had caps for boys and berets for girls. We rarely wore them. There were various rules about shoes, socks and tights. They didn’t seem especially unreasonable or onerous.

Many current uniform requirements seem to be heading towards unnecessary extremes and I have a suspicion the rules are more to do with ensuring the children conform than any seriously practical consideration.

I accept the arguments for uniforms, I don’t entirely agree with them, but I accept them. I also think that when you have rules they should be adhered to, uniformly, across the school. I think this is made much simpler, for teachers, children and parents, if the rules are simple, clear, fair, and seen to be fair.

To this end, my idea of a school uniform is:-

  1. The uniform should comprise items that can be bought at reasonable cost from ordinary high street shops. You should not have to buy through the school, online or through specific, named (and usually expensive) suppliers.
  2. It should be washable. School clothes need to be washed often and need to dry quickly to be reused and avoid having more items than necessary.
  3. It should be comfortable. Personally I’m not keen on ties at all and I’m not convinced making girls, especially, wear ties with shirt top buttons uncomfortably fastened in hot summer weather is really preparing them for the world of work. Are there really that many workplaces with such rigid rules? And I think primary children don’t really need ties at all.
  4. It should not make children objects of derision from other children.
  5. Children should be able to take off jackets when they feel the need, not have to await the whim of a teacher.
  6. Light coloured outer clothing should be allowed. We can’t seriously run campaigns encouraging people to make sure they can be seen in the dark and not allow children to do exactly that. I used to worry about my children missing the bus and having to walk home in winter on a poorly lit road with no pavement.
  7. Girls should be allowed to wear trousers. (I’m Okay with “not too tight” but specifying, say, wool, is impractical)
  8. Skirts. Oooh. How short is too short? Well. Look at the photo. I think most of the ones you can see are too short. I’m not on the front row. My skirt wasn’t that short. I’d also not allow tight skirts. But fussing over a centimetre above the bottom of the knee seems excessive. Especially since children will insist on growing.
  9. Hair. Length for boys shouldn’t be an issue as long as they follow any rules that girls do about tying it back.
  10. Rules on jewellery should be applied impartially. No exemptions on religious grounds.
  11. Allowances for extremes of weather. Wooly tights in winter, dresses or short sleeved shirts in summer.


I think that’s it. Simple rules. Comfortable uniform. Less scope for argument.

I’ve probably forgotten something or missed some nuance. I’m sure you’ll let me know.