Thursday, 23 February 2012

Circumstances conspire against a good education

Volume 1 – chapter 12  – Part 1

I don’t know the exact date that my father received his commission, but one effect of his promotion involved me. When he moved up in rank, our position in society changed, though it was not immediately apparent to us at the time. It appears that society does little to help the lower classes but higher up the social scale help is provided. How this mechanism worked I did not know, but one effect was the provision of places at public schools for the children of officers. Now that I was approaching the age when children moved up to a senior school, I was informed that I was to sit an examination in preparation for entry to the prestigious ‘Newcastle High School.'- This was the nearest public school to my place of residence, and was situated in a pleasant middle class suburb of Newcastle Under Lyme, which lay close alongside the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

To the best of my recollection it was 1942 when I was suddenly taken, without any warning or preparation, and delivered across the city to this eminent place of learning. With a number of other nervous and bewildered young boys I now faced a day of tests and examinations, for which I was totally unprepared. What was almost as bad for all of us was the experience with which we were confronted. We were pitched headlong into a totally alien environment, a large and intimidating school, full of larger older boys. This establishment was imposing, like nothing I had ever seen before, and the boys of the school were like beings from another planet. They displayed that confidence and arrogance that is so often the hallmark of their class. During breaks between tests, and during the lunchtime interval, our small group was turned loose to fend for itself. What a delectable target we must have been, and maybe there was something of a tradition regarding new entrants? Whatever the reasons, it was made quite clear to us that we the lowest of the low and not particularly welcome. Even with the most tender care and encouragement, I doubt that I could have been persuaded to accept this alien place. A prison sentence in the company of hardened criminals would have had the same attractions. It took very little bullying to harden the feeling I had, turning it into an absolute conviction; before that day was over I had become determined never to set foot in this place ever again.

There was probably one moment that influenced my state of mind more than any other. It occurred in the grounds of the school, where we were supposed to be enjoying a brief period of freedom. A group of students were in their sports strip on their way to play rugby, and coming across me and another unfortunate they decided it would be fun to make us welcome in their own unique style. Surrounding us in a circle they proceeded to use us for target practice, kicking their ball at us as hard as they could. At the same time they informed us in no uncertain terms that should we be fortunate or unfortunate enough to return, (whichever way you might see it,) we could be sure that we would receive plenty more of the same treatment. It is hardly surprising that I departed from this august place of learning determined never to return. When I was home again I made my feelings abundantly clear to my mother and with her usual approach to such things, she soothed my distress with the usual assurances and promises that I would never be made to do anything I did not want to do. A long time afterwards I discovered that the school had written to my mother, and after advising her that I had failed the entry tests, they went on to say that in spite of my failure, a place would be made available for me. Apparently it was school policy to accept applicants whose fathers were commissioned officers in His Majesties Forces. Needless to say, the offer was never accepted and a golden opportunity was lost. My explanation may not be the entire reason for what was obviously a wrong decision, but I shall never know. I would imagine for example that there would have been some expense involved in sending me to a better school. Fees maybe, and certainly uniforms, books, travel expenses, in fact quite a sum of money would have been required. This would have made life difficult for my mother, and she was not one to do things the hard way.

Eventually I would become aware that an education was essential to my future, but that awareness was not sudden, it was a gradual process. This change began to manifest itself about a year after I commenced my attendance at the Council Senior School for Boys located in Queen Street which was off the main road to Longton, about a mile from my home. It would have been around the time of my tenth birthday that I first attended this new school, and immediately I began to feel at home there. To begin with there was something of a military atmosphere about the place, and the improved discipline and control suited me far better than the disorganized conditions that I had experienced at the other schools I had attended.

Queen Street School did have one thing in common with my earlier schools; it was a grimy old building built in the late Victorian style. It had a large main hall with maybe nine or ten classrooms surrounding it. The floors were made of hard oak parquet blocks, and at one end of the hall was a stage on which stood the headmasters desk and a row of chairs in which the teachers sat during assembly. Behind the stage was a wall that had attached to it on the right hand side of the hall a row of four large banners. The first one on the inside was red and was emblazoned with the name ‘Wedgwood House’. Next came a blue one which had ‘Shakespeare House’, which was followed by a yellow one representing ‘Nelson House’ and finally on the outside was a green banner for ‘Haig House’. Three of the banners were mounted about two thirds of the way up above floor level, but the fourth was higher being almost to the ceiling. Accompanying the banners on the left side of the hall was a large wooden board of varnished oak which was maybe eight or nine feet wide running the full height of the wall from floor to ceiling. On this board were four shields representing the four houses, and they were positioned within a movable slot which had numbers and markings along side. These indicators showed the current score or number of points held by that particular house at that moment in time. At the end of the year the winners were announced and the appropriate banner was then raised above the others as a proud reminder throughout the following year who the champions were.

I explain this system because the running of the whole school was based on it. Everyone in the school of about 400 boys belonged to one house or another, each class had four teams, and each team had a leader. Over all there were four boys selected to be house captains, and these four individuals were the most powerful in the school. They had special privileges and total control over the boys in their house. With this power came the responsibility of being held accountable for performance, and at times the duties this entailed made the roll far from an easy one.

In my first year I had little to do with the competitive spirit that was the main driving force at Queen Street, and I have to say that I had no aspirations in that direction. So it came as a complete surprise near the end of the year when I was informed that I was to be made vice captain of ‘Wedgwood House’ and that when the captain left early in the New Year I would take his place, providing I had lived up to expectations. I took to the responsibility like a duck to water, and around my eleventh birthday became the captain of my house. At the time it never occurred to me to try to find out how or why I had been chosen, but long afterwards I did wonder about it. Maybe it had something to do with my army background, and the fact that my father was an officer? Maybe the fact that the headmaster Lieutenant Colonel Garton was a retired army man had something to do with my selection? They never tell children what is happening to them or why, and from my perspective that was a mistake.

But getting back to my early recollections of my new school, I was most impressed on my first day, when our activities in the schoolyard ceased with the blast of a whistle, at which time everyone froze and became silent. The teacher on duty as yardmaster then shouted the order “Fall In”, and instantly all the boys began to run for their designated positions. On the other side of the school yard away from the main building was a more modern building of red brick, this has been added to provide facilities for two carpentry class rooms on the ground floor, and on a second floor, a room for science and one designed for art. The Science Block, as it was usually called, was a rectangular shape and on its wall facing the yard the numbers and designation of the classes were painted at intervals and it was against these markers that each class formed up in two ranks. The first one was J1, and I quickly realised as a new comer this was where I should parade. - I later found that the ‘J’ stood for junior, because those consigned to it were not yet ready or qualified to join one of the regular classes which were numbered 1B2, where the youngest and most backward of the new boys were placed, followed by 1B1, then 1A, the brightest of those in their first year. Next came 2B2, 2B1, and 2A, the second year boys, and of course we then had 3B2, 3B1, and 3A, followed finally by the senior classes, 4B2, 4B1, an 4A. - How important these class numbers were to become in my life, but for now they meant little.

While the boys were forming up the teaching staff were coming out into the yard, and taking charge of their classes. They proceeded to order their pupils to dress their ranks, and then turn to the left and march into the school as an orderly body; all that is except the senior grade who were allowed to walk instead of marching. On a Monday morning we all marched to the hall for assembly, and it was at this time that the headmaster would address us and let us know what had been happening during the previous week. We were also told what we could expect in the week to come. The latest house points were recorded, and the shield markers moved to their designated places. And finally the music teacher played the piano and led the school in singing ‘Jerusalem’. To me this was a very acceptable way of going about things, and I approved of the military style methods.

What did not impress me so much was the appearance of the staff, which had no active looking men, but consisted of a number of ancient looking individuals, one mature lady who I discovered was addressed as Madam Goodyear and a slim young woman in her late teens. The reason for this state of affairs was the effects of the war, which had taken all the men of recruit-able age. The education authorities finding themselves obliged to take on anyone who could take the place of the lost staff, must have had a difficult time recruiting new staff. During my time at this school the old men, mostly retired teachers, remained in place. Until the end of the war they went through the motions, - They were retired teachers who had been recalled, and having no desire to be there they made little effort to teach, their performance being less than satisfactory. - The young lady was a teaching student, and soon got into difficulties controlling the boys who took advantage of her youth and inexperience. She did not last long and after a few short weeks she was replaced. Madam Goodyear was made of tougher stuff, teaching a class for about a year, but she also moved on. - After the war ended I was to meet this lady again, and to my amazement discovered that she was a relation, a cousin I believe of my Uncle Bill. - The bottom of the barrel had been well and truly scraped, so replacement teachers were mostly of little value, and if anything did their pupils more harm than good. About the time of my 13th birthday, with the war over, some of the original teachers began to return. The standard of teaching improved a little, but it was too late to help most of us, especially me. With my lack of basic learning I would have always needed special tuition, but that was never going to happen.

One or two of the replacement, and often temporary, teachers arrived in our midst with the evacuees from the bombing; a large portion of them being from the slum districts of the East End of London. The local kids were tough enough, but compared to many of these refugees the local’s were amateurs in the school of hard knocks. Naturally these teachers were as hard as the children they arrived with. At times their behaviour verged on the vicious and cruel, their methods being way beyond anything that would have been tolerated in good quality schools. I well remember in particular one of these Londoners who spent maybe the best part of a year at our school. He not only had the qualities I have already described, but was in addition an extremely unbalanced personality. It is hard to credit that this man assumed the post of music teacher, though the boys had very little thought for music when handed over to him for a lesson. His classes were a nightmare because one never knew what he was going to do. The slightest thing would send him into a rage, and he would dash out into our midst lashing out right and left with his cane. For me there were two incidents that will remain forever in my memory concerning this demented individual. On one occasion he played a passage on the piano and then asked someone in the class to finish it. I was the only one who could, standing and nervously la la-ing a further sequence of notes that completed a short melody. He was delighted, and enthused to some length on what was a very minor achievement. On the other hand when we had a test which had to be marked, he instructed everyone to exchange papers with another member of the class. Presumably he had not realised that there was an odd number of pupils in the class, and so I found that there was no one to exchange my paper with. It was bound to happen, I had been sitting at the back of the room on my own, and by the time I made my way down to the others they had made the exchange. When our mad music master turned to the class and found I had not completed his instructions, he flew into a rage and tore up my paper announcing that I would get no marks at all.

Having set the scene so to speak, I can now proceed on my journey of discovery during this period of learning. Yes I did finally begin to learn, though in the early stages it was a slow painful process. In the first few weeks the school system set into motion their usual series of tests to establish where a new pupil should be placed. The method worked reasonably well on most occasions, with tests on the basic subjects such as arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling, and a few others. The results generally revealed a level of competence that matched the results of an intelligence test not involving school subjects that they carried out early in the first year at senior school. In my case however, they had something of a mystery on their hands, results showed that in school work I was well below average. To my teachers this indicated a low level of intelligence? But to their surprise the tests for IQ showed a different result, and if we had had a well designed system of teaching, a remedial course of action could have been taken to restore my position to some sort of realistic level. Why do the authorities have these intelligence tests if nothing is done to follow up the findings? The system was designed to help those that showed ability, children who were slow or retarded were ignored. Even if it could be seen that the slowness of the child was not due to a lack of intelligence, no remedial action was ever taken. It is easy to criticize, but recognizing the problems the authorities had at the time, did not help or excuse their failure. Today it is hoped that such a failure would not happen, but at the time existing methods destroyed any possibility of an education for me and many others. We who fell through the cracks in our country’s educational system, we were not the only losers, the country lost as well.

As far as Queen Street School was concerned, they were the recipients of yet another thick headed boy that was never going to learn, and for whom the benefits of an education were entirely pointless. But like it or not, they had me and all they could do was place me at the bottom of their lowest class of backward boys. Examinations early in my first year recorded me as bottom of the class in the lowly and much despised class 1B2, but finally I was aware that we were at least getting some tuition. Not high quality due to a number of factors, but something was better than nothing.

There was never an over abundance of resources in the school system, so it had always been designed to apply what was available to where it would do the most good. The ‘A’ class students were given better quality teaching, and any additional aid that could be found; after all it was from these brighter children that successful candidates would be found to move on to the schools of higher learning. - Apparently the number of successful students that passed the entrance examination to the high schools and grammar schools was the measure by which the ordinary schools were judged. The effectiveness and performance of teaching staff depended much on this judgment, so naturally they and the whole system concentrated their efforts on the few best prospects. - I suppose one way of looking at this question is the view that if the methods used caused a high number of casualties, what did it matter as long as promising students reflected well on the school.

I try now in retrospect to explain what must have been happening to me and my chances at school, but at the time I had little awareness of any of it. Life at my new school was more tolerable, but it was still not easy. Lessons were still beyond my comprehension, which made me feel like the proverbial fish out of water. I was again a new boy, and like all small fry, at the bottom of the food chain, however, my situation was not as bad it had been, I was growing fast and learning fast. In class I slowly discovered that though subjects that required some understanding of mechanisms, such as those used in Mathematics and English, were impossible for me to understand. Other subjects such as history and geography, and subjects where no such mechanisms were required, were well within my grasp; I was capable of learning, and learning more rapidly than others in my class. I still could not read, though by now I had become very clever at hiding this fact from the teachers.

On the subject of reading, now might be a good time to describe what to me has always been some sort of a minor miracle. Towards the end of my first year at Queen Street there came a moment when I looked at the pages of a book and discovered that I could read the words. I cannot say exactly when this happened, but I can say that it happened quite suddenly. It may be hard to believe but I discovered the written word overnight so to speak. What was even more extraordinary was the fact that my level of reading ability was instantaneously extensive, I knew what the words meant, and had no trouble reading any book with confidence and certainty. Within a year I became the favourite pupil of the teacher who taught English Language and from this time onwards he often used me to demonstrate good reading. This teacher, Mr. Betley by name, was a kind man, and the only one I can recall who made an effort to help and encourage me. Most of the teachers were kind, but this did not make them dedicated to their profession. I now believe that the majority of the teachers at the time saw little point in trying to educate children at the bottom of the system. Council schools were created to meet the legal requirements of government law, but this did not mean they really had to educate the masses.

Becoming a fluent reader was an enormous leap forward for me, and at the same time my understanding of words allowed me to begin to write. I began to discover a talent for expressing myself on paper, so much so that about a year later an essay of mine was judged the best of the year. Much to my embarrassment it was read out by the headmaster at the Monday assembly, and much praised. This work had been a test paper for the annual exams, and Mr. Garton informed the school that my work had been given a mark of 90%. A perfect score not being possible because my writing was not very good; a further deduction had been necessary for bad spelling. And to this day the situation has changed little, my writing is far from good, and I still cannot spell very well. The one subject that I found impossible to make headway with was the most important one of all, mathematics. The fact was that I needed someone to start at the beginning and bring me up to the level of my class mates, but of course no one did. By the time I left school I had managed to teach myself simple arithmetic, but apart from system of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, all other mathematical formulas and processes remained a mystery; this was to have serious consequences for me in my last year.

Outside the classroom my other difficulties also continued, it was still necessary to establish my position in this world of boys, most of whom had more than their share of ego, and male aggression. Fortunately most of the older and bigger boys did not see the new comers as a threat, so my problems were mostly with the younger ones of my own age group. I have mentioned how my problems had begun to change before I arrived at the Queen Street School, and now my improved condition got even better quite rapidly. I was growing physically, and at the same time my confidence increased at the same pace. My aggression and willingness to fight added to my reputation, and I began to find that often opponents were no longer willing to take me on. I was discovering that little secret of life that others fear and respect a reputation, and this sometimes made domination possible without the need for direct action. By the time I left school I had earned the reputation of being one of the top boys, most had learned that it did not pay to oppose me. There were a few who had not bent the knee, but even they went well out of their way to avoid a difference of opinion with me. Had I become a bully? No, I believe not. I never hurt anyone smaller or weaker than myself, and with an image of myself as some sort of knight in shining armour, I often saw it as my duty to defend the underdog. The physical domination that I achieved proved of great value in my role as a House Captain, and combined with a strong desire to achieve, and a talent for organizing, I can say with some confidence that I was well suited to this position of authority.

With a war in progress there were many distractions at school both for the teachers and the pupils. There were always activities taking place that had no relationship with academic improvement. The progress of the war and its military operations were followed discussed and analyzed during lessons. This meant that tuition and education in general were abandoned or reduced in length and effectiveness. There were saving drives for essential materials that took us away from our lessons. We had collection points where the results of our scavenging were stored, and it seemed to me that good results in this area of activity earned far more approval than any similar effort in our curriculum. Considering the amount of time we were allowed for sports and outdoor activities, and the fact that the concept of homework was not even dreamt of, it is amazing that we learned anything at all.

More of our precious time was taken up with subjects that made little impression on us, and left little of value in our minds. We had a drama class, and a poetry class, woodworking, and art, though I have to admit that they did allow an hour each day for English and Arithmetic. When I review what we did in our first year at Queen Street, I have to say that we made very little progress in anything that might have been useful to us.

The drama teacher was Mrs. Goodyear, and I am sure that her main aim, like all the other teachers, was to have as easy a time as she could. An example of her teaching was to get someone out in front of the class and tell them to demonstrate an emotion. So the boy would stand their pulling faces and generally trying to convince us that he was feeling something, though often what it was he was feeling was anyone body’s guess. This exercise did sometimes have its entertaining side; for example the day I was called out to demonstrate happiness. I was not sure what was expected of me, so I just smiled, and very soon all the class was smiling back. After a moment or two the smile became a grin, and the grin a chuckle, and before you knew it the whole class was roaring with uncontrollable laughter. Once started there seemed to be no stopping it, and I’m sure those outside the classroom who could hear us must have wondered what on earth was going on. How this improved our education I shall never know, but it was good fun at the time.

The history teacher was a Mr. Andrews who was a small thin man completely lacking in energy and enthusiasm. His lessons were so dull that at the end of the year when we were examined our papers were just about totally blank. On one occasion he conducted an end of term examination, and when he saw how badly we had done, he decided to let us do it again. This time he began by asking us the questions first to see how many of us could give an answer. Our response was no better, and he changed the questions making them easier and easier, until in desperation he was asking us things like: ‘Who is the dictator of Italy?’ and ‘Who is the dictator of Germany?’ And still there were few indicating that they could write down an informed opinion. This might seem hard to believe, but it must be remembered that I was in 1B2 the most backward boys in the school.

Is it any wonder that the teaching staff saw us as a total waste of time; they must have felt very little desire to make a real effort for us. We had a poetry lesson which was called ‘English Anthology’, it was held by a Mr. Shingler who was the most un-poetic man you have ever met. He was one of the brigade of old-fossils who had come out of retirement to fill the gaps in the teaching ranks, and like most of them he had little interest in us, or trying to teach us. His style hardly engendered an interest in the gentle art of poetic verse; I can see him now, a squat ill-humoured old man with a bald head and a gap in his front teeth. Peering over his lectern with his cane ever ready in his hand, he would recite a verse in the most threatening manner, at the same time surveying us closely for the slightest restlessness or inattention.

How receptive we must have been in these circumstances to the words of poems such as:

THE CATERPILLAR - by Christina Rossetti

Browns and furry, caterpillar in a hurry,

Take your walk to the shady leaf or stalk,

Or what not, which may be the chosen spot.

No toad spy you, hovering bird of prey pass by you,

To live and die, and live again a butterfly

But then maybe his methods were effective, and his approach appropriate to the time and place, after all I still have this verse firmly embedded in my memory.

From our total time of learning must also be deducted the morning and afternoon playtimes which lasted about 15 minutes. Described as a break between lessons, they were in fact time out for the teachers who retired to their common room for tea and biscuits. They relaxed, talked, read books and magazines, and afterwards showed every sign of reluctance when the bell warned them that it was time to return to their charges. I can describe this scene because I was usually present, being the only boy allowed into their private domain. This privilege is easily explained, when I mention that about the end of my first year, I had been selected to be the head masters general factotum. My main duty was to go to the staff room when the bell rang for tea, and preparing refreshments in strict accordance with the instructions I had been given. Being the headmaster’s tea boy was quite a privilege, or so it appeared to me at the time. I would convey Mr. Garton’s cup and saucer to his study with due ceremony, taking advantage of another unique privilege. I had the right to enter his study without his bidding, no matter how busy he might have been. Not much of a privilege you might think, but when I explain that on the door of his office was an electric sign which when lit advised anyone outside that the headmaster was ‘Engaged’. When this advice was displayed one either waited or departed, but one never knocked on the door.

To assist the limited diet of many children during the war, a free milk scheme was introduced, which provided every pupil with a free bottle of milk. It was a third of a pint, and had to be consumed at morning break, like it or not. Every morning the milk monitors would receive the dozen or so crates of milk at the main door of the school, and would proceed to deliver an appropriate number of bottles to each class. In the winter, very often, the milk would be frozen, and the cardboard caps would be standing an inch or so above the bottles on a column of ice. The procedure then was to line the bottles up along the top of the heating pipes that ran around the classrooms to the radiators, and all morning long we would sit and watch the caps slowly sink back to the top of the bottles. How fortunate we were to be so well looked after, and how satisfying it must have been for the city fathers to know that they were providing for their future rate payers with such devotion. Do you suspect that my comments are made with tongue in cheek? Of course you do, and quite rightly; this small service was nothing compared with the lack of funds allocated to our school and our education. And before I left ‘Do the Boy’s Hall’ I was instrumental in raising a scandal over our milk supply which apparently ended in a court case.

It was in my last year at Queen Street school that I questioned the quality of the milk. For quite some time there had been complaints about the milk, the main objection being that it tasted thin and watery. Nothing had been done about it because I suppose there were always more important matters claiming the attention of those in authority. Now however it was 1947 and the war had been over for two years; teachers had returned from military service, and changes were in the air. So on this particular day I decided to raise the question of the milk supply with Mr. Forrester our science master. Behind his back we had nicknamed him ’The Rat’, not for any of the more distasteful reasons one might have for applying such a title, but as the result of an episode that took place a year or two before.

It all began on a cold winter’s day at which time our wizard of the test tube had a chest cold, and taking a bottle of medicine from his desk, he put it to his mouth and taking a hearty swig, remarked for the benefit of the class that it tasted like poison. In our class was a boy who I must confess was below even our sorry standards, his name was Billy Wood. He was always in a constant state of rebellion, probably due to the fact that he was always being subject to a regular application of punishment; it was a vicious circle so to speak. Hearing the teachers remark Billy could not resist blurting out “Only rats take poison”, where upon Mr. Forrester set upon him with the ever present cane, and gave him a vigorous beating. For Billy this was one punishment too many, and the next day he arrived at school with a very large and very belligerent father. What happened after that I never discovered, but the whole school was abuzz with excitement at the rumours that Mr. Forrester would be taking a few days sick leave, and Mr. Wood was destined for a similar period of time in the clink? From that time on the unfortunate science teacher was known to the boys as ‘The Rat.’

Compared with the other teachers Mr. Forrester, who was also the assistant headmaster, was not a bad sort of chap, and when I raised the question of the school milk, he actually showed some interest. Maybe it was my query on how science might be used to find an answer that attracted him, but the end result was that he agreed to test some samples. I was invited to take part in his experiment and when we found that the samples had much higher water content than they should have, he encouraged me to take our findings to the headmaster. The further details resulting from this matter were never reported back to me, but it did become generally known that the dairy company that supplied the milk were taken to court and fined. It was also rumoured that they had tried to claim the dilution of the milk supplied to the schools had been an accident. It was claimed that the bottle washing machines had left a quantity of water in the bottles before they were filled, but I never heard why it was that only the school milk had suffered in this way, and not other supplies destined for the public. It was also rumoured afterwards that there had been questions raised regarding the way in which this particular company had acquired the contract to supply the schools, though I never discovered whether any heads rolled over that.

Other than school milk there was no other nourishment provided when I was at school. Dinners were not introduced until long after I had left, and though many came armed with a packed lunch, there were probably just as many who had nothing to eat for their midday meal. Some lived near enough to be able to get home during the hour long lunch break, and I was one of those. I lived about a mile from the school, but putting my best foot forward, I usually managed to run home in under ten minutes, and allowing the same time to return, I had a good 40 minutes to relax and eat whatever my mother could provide. Looking back now I realise that running four miles a day - I always ran to and from school in the morning and afternoon as well, - must have been a good way to keep fit. Maybe this is one reason I always did so well at sports.

Early in my time at senior school came that fateful moment when I sat the eleven plus examination.

Every child sat it in the year that they turned eleven years old, but few realised how important it was to their future. Needless to say, in the abysmal state of my learning, I failed to pass this vital test, but didn’t care, I liked the school I attended and had no desire to change. I liked the military way it was run, and the lack of pressure to learn; no homework and a general lack of interest in academic subjects. I was not the only uneducated boy at this school, and this made me feel adequate, in fact I appeared to be making progress. I had moved from the class for backward pupils to 1b2 in my first year, and in the second year was promoted to 2b1. I knew I was smarter than the other boys, and I had begun to realise that I could prove it given time. What I didn’t know was how long it would take without expert assistance; I didn’t expect any help, and expected to do what I had always had to do, and that was find a way of achieving my goals alone.


A school photograph taken about the time of the 11 plus or a short time afterwards.

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