Not of course that this over surprised me. My mother had been told by my year 6 teacher back in the January of 1961 “that I was not academic material.” A sentence that burned deeply into my mother and condemned my father and me to endless evenings of 11 plus tests by the kitchen stove.
All to no avail. I failed. But not before I along with all the other also runs had to endure the class interviews where the hopefuls destined for a bright grammar school future would give a presentation to the rest of us, which were really rehearsals for the real thing in front of the head teachers of the local grammar schools.
To this day I remember my first introduction to Vasco da Gamma that Portuguese sailor who boldly went where no European had sailed before. Even then I wondered why the cabin boy and cook as well as the man steering the ship never got a look in through the entire talk.
Years later teaching year 8s the European voyages of discovery, plunder and much else I was always pulled up by the mention of the said captain and taken back the twelve years to the upstairs classroom of Edmund Waller Junior School and the talk given by Barry Whatshisname.
Added to that our schools were not as well funded and led to one glorious episode where just before my O level history exam in 1966 we were given a world historical atlas published in 1938 which finished with the wonderfully optimistic comment that “it is hoped the leaders of Germany and Italy will see sense and rejoin the League of Nations in a profound desire to solve issues by peaceful means.” Now today I can see the dark humour in that, but at the time I pondered how we had to use a thirty year old text book which added to everything else got the next ten years of European history so wrong.
But my secondary modern school and many others across the country strived not to give us a second class education. They were fully aware that a rigid test at 11 did not mean that those who failed to pass were failures. And so many of us were entered for 0 level exams that badge of so called academic excellence while class mates were given the practical skills which enabled them to become tradesmen in a whole range of occupations.
And these places attracted the talented and committed teachers. I can remember many who I would have been happy to work beside when I started teaching in 1973. Indeed in the years after I started I benefited from the advice, good humour and wisdom of those who had been at Oldwood Secondary School here in Manchester before it was merged with the local grammar school to form Poundswick High School.
Today as then selection at 11 has its supporters who in their advocacy of grammar schools focus on the poor records of some comprehensive schools and on a golden age of grammar school education in the late 1940s and 50s.
Now I can be both objective and generous in my recognition of the opportunities grammar schools gave to children of all classes particularly ones who like me came from a working class background.
But I was under no illusion at the time and since that what we who failed that 11 plus were offered was less than best. Not for us that heady excitement of preparing for a new educational world with like minded bright young things. In the September of 1961 I assembled with the majority of my male ex classmates from junior school in the playground of Samuel Pepys, and apart from the uniform and an absence of girls there was little to mark this off as any different from what I had already experienced.
It would be five years before I had my opportunity to enter a school of all the talents where money and resources were on offer to all of us. This was Crown Woods School in Eltham, one of three big shiny and exciting comprehensive schools and the place where I really began to feel valued and above all come to love learning.
Tomorrow, part 3 at the centre of something pretty good, ..........Crown Woods School
Pictures; Andrew Simpson aged 16, 1966, and the badge of Samuel Pepys School from the collection of Andrew Simpson, and Oldwood Secondary Modern School, 1956, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council m66278