Whenever I hear the subject of grammar schools and selective education come up I pay attention and listen with more than a modicum of interest. When discussed by our esteemed establishment media it’s usually accompanied by all sorts of wild claims from left wing politicians and activists who seem to want to continue to impose the one size fits all education that has already proven to be a miserable failure, a system where mediocrity is about the best one can strive towards. Combined with the modern propensity towards political correctness and SJW activism it’s a lethal combination that will only churn out generations of young adults totally unfit for gainful employment.
I consider myself extremely fortunate – I attended a grammar school and having sat my GCSEs in 1997 meant I went through my state education before Tony Blair and New Labour got their claws into the system. I come from a working class background in central London. My parents met through work – both worked for William Hill bookmakers. As a child my father was the manager of the Fulham Broadway branch and my mother worked as a cashier in various branches in the area. When I was born in 1981 my parents were living in a council house but by the mid-80s they had moved on to the property ladder of Thatcher’s Britain. I went to a local Church of England primary school where I demonstrated well above average academic abilities (except when it came to maths… but more on that later). As a child I remember my mother used to earn some additional money by cleaning the same Fulham Broadway branch of William Hill. Aged eight or nine years old I remember spending evenings with both my mother and father in that branch helping sweep the floor or exploring behind the counter. I will never forget the smell of a betting shop – a curious mixture of stale cigarette smoke, sweat and newspapers.
In my final year of primary school my parents decided to leave London and move to north east Kent. My primary school teachers advised that I was of potential and would be suitable for selective education. My parents found a grammar school for me in the local area we were moving to and I began the admission process. My primary school head teacher provided a letter of recommendation, my school reports were forwarded and finally I had to sit the Kent Test, or Eleven Plus as it used to be known. There was a problem though. My maths was weak. Very weak. I had to work hard to prepare for the Kent Test but in the end it turned out good and I achieved the sufficient grades to be eligible for admission to the grammar school (one had to be in the top 20% of Kent Test scores for the year of admission) and was accepted to start what was about to become known as “Year 7” in September 1992.
The school was Simon Langton Boy’s School in Canterbury. A school founded in 1881 to educate the children of the lower-middle class, but with a history going back to the 13th Century.
Years 7 and 8 rolled by. I continued to be above average – at an above average school – in every subject…. Except music and maths. Music wasn’t a big deal, I had little interest in it and it wasn’t a core academic subject. Maths however, was a different story. For two years I remained quite doggedly at – or very near to – the bottom of the class.
I suppose I look back on these early years with a lot of nostalgia. There was my English teacher in Year 7, Mrs Walters, who had the remarkable ability to inspire sheer terror in eleven and twelve year old boys. The twenty-something year old French teacher Mlle Chenais who was as miserable as fuck and reeked of cigarettes. The maths teacher Mrs Cutting who seemed to have successfully exorcised herself of any hint of charisma or personality. The absolutely bonkers-mental English teacher Mr Fletcher who, legend had it once had a breakdown during a lesson and started climbing the bookshelves and throwing books at the pupils whom he later claimed were attacking him. Then there was the time he crashed the school minibus into some traffic lights and later claimed the traffic lights moved into his path.
The school itself was rather traditional in nature. Pupils were expected to either take up a sport or a musical instrument. Given my complete lack of interest and ability in music unsurprisingly I didn’t bother with that. I’ve never been especially enthusiastic or talented in any sport either, but given I was one of the bigger lads in my year I was press ganged into the rugby team. I was never particularly good at it but I had a laugh and there’s something to be said for character building playing rugby in the middle of the winter freezing your bollocks off whilst trying to kick one of the lads from St Anselm’s team in the head without the referee noticing.
Being a grammar school we were pushed hard academically. It was an unwritten rule at the school that the minimum expected grade for any assignment or test was 75%. Anything less than that was under performance and something to be ashamed of. The Headmaster was a man in his later years approaching retirement. Ex-RAF officer I seem to recall and used to walk around wearing a black cape accompanies by a mortar board on special occasions. Very posh and well mannered, my Mum thought he was a dreadful snob. During school assembly when we would be mumbling the hymn he would frequently stop proceedings before announcing “Gentlemen, you are supposed to be singing – so let me hear you!”. The exception to this was Jerusalem, which everyone would enthusiastically belt out whilst the Headmaster would sit in his big chair at the front looking very pleased. The Deputy Headmaster was a formidable man called Mr Wybar. We took much delight in pointing out he bore more than a passing resemblance to Mussolini and there was a rather good photo in one of our textbooks that was the spitting image of him. Mr Wybar would appear at Canterbury Bus Station at around 0815 each morning (local buses would drop the kids off at the bus station before they got on buses which would take them direct to their school) where he would make his presence felt. Any of his pupils not dressed properly (shirt not tucked in, tie not done up properly, missing blazer or wearing trainers instead of shoes) would incur his wrath. He had the uncanny ability of knowing the name of every single pupil and superhuman eyesight that could spot a shirt not tucked in from at least three miles away. A booming voice would thunder out of the sky identifying the transgressor by name and ordering them to put it right. When not teaching history or performing summary executions of errant pupils he would patrol the corridors of the school looking for his next victim. Once a suitable victim was identified he would regard them with a mixture of disdain and outrage before delivering a bollocking that would put most Army RSMs to shame. He also wasn’t beyond taking the piss as a form of bollocking to make you look very small in front of your peers.
In Year 9 something transformative happened for me. Year 9 was the first year that pupils were streamed based on their abilities – initially for French and maths. I was put into the bottom set for maths. The teacher was an utterly miserable looking Welshman called Mr Howell. On the first lesson he told us “You are all in this class because you are either stupid or idle. Given this is a grammar school none of you are stupid.” This man brooked no funny business at all. You went into his class and you worked. If he thought you weren’t working hard enough you’d be yanked outside and bawled at for twenty minutes about what a useless waste of space you were, how you were wasting both your time and his, how you’re a disgrace to the gene pool, etc. Those of us left inside the classroom listening to the poor sod getting ripped to pieces outside got the message. Mr Howell didn’t teach in the conventional manner. His lessons didn’t involve him standing in front of the class doing sums on the blackboard. He simply gave each of us a textbook in that first lesson and told us to start on page one and work our way through the book at our own pace. If we were stuck or struggling with something we were to approach him at his desk in front of the class. Unlike some other teachers he never insisted on silence in his class, quiet talking was permitted but nobody pushed their luck – such was the air of stern authority he emanated people just got on with their work and didn’t even attempt to doss around during double maths. He would occasionally walk around the class looking over shoulders, and if he thought someone wasn’t making enough progress then it was outside for another one of his legendary bollockings. If you did approach him with a problem you would get his undivided attention, he would explain things calmly and clearly and he wouldn’t let you go until he was satisfied you understood.
By the end of the year I had achieved top grades in my SATs – including maths and was told I along with a couple of other lads was being moved up to Set 2 for GCSE maths. This was incredibly important because Set 2 sat the further maths paper which allowed a grade A to be achieved.
To this day I wish I could get in touch with Mr Howell and thank him for what he did for me in Year 9. I owe an awful lot to that man.
Year 10 saw the commencement of GCSEs. My school required each pupil to study ten subjects – English Language, English Literature, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, French plus three options. The three additional subjects I chose were History, Geography and German. By this time I had some absolutely fantastic teachers. My Chemistry teacher Dr McKay possessed a fantastic mixture of authority, razor sharp wit and affability. The homework he set each week would be to write up the practical we had just done. He would return it the following lesson and if you had scored less than 8/10 he would tear the page out of your exercise book and throw it across the lab back at you shouting “Do it again!”. For History I had Mr Jopling, who was the spitting image of Colour Sergeant Bourne from Zulu (including impressive sideboards) – the man who first taught me fascism and communism are actually very close relatives and when studying Nazi Germany told us “Ernst Rohm was a rampant poof!” (imagine the REEEEE if a teacher were to say that in a GCSE history class today). For Physics I had Mr Forsyth who was a former MOD boffin (told us he’s worked on developing the Spearfish torpedo). Tall and lanky, unruly hair, glasses and a very nasal voice…. Yet a highly accomplished piss-taker and a man who eschewed the blackboard and textbooks in favour of excellent practicals that everyone enjoyed, so much so everyone looked forward to his classes.
At the end of it I came out with ten GCSEs. Two grade B and the rest were A. When I took my GCSEs 95% of pupils at the school achieved at least five grade A-C. Today 99% at the school do so.
So in conclusion my dear puffins, we need grammar schools because they push the brighter kids to go further and faster. The more academically talented pupils aren’t held back because of the wider spectrum of academic abilities in non-selective schools. Grammar schools also attract a much higher calibre of teaching staff – my own experience bears that out. If that upsets some parents jealous because their kid wasn’t bright enough to gain admission to the school and believe if their kid can’t get a grammar education then nobody else’s kid should either, or it upsets some left wing ideolog fuckwit too caught up in their race to the bottom…. Then that’s just too bad.
In the foyer the school’s honour boards list 140 odd years of achievement, hundreds of former pupils who have gone on to high office in business (Freddie Laker being one notable), science, medicine, the military, civil service, clergy etc. It becomes rapidly apparent that schools such as this are the foundation of our society (or at least our society before Blair). One particularly poignant set of boards are the ones that list “old boys” who died in the Boer War, Great War and Second World War. I believe every one of the school’s pupils at the time went on to serve in the Great War, with 10% of them dying and four Victoria Crosses being awarded.
Bottom line, we allow institutions such as these to be lost to the modern establishment at our peril.
Finally, for those of you who despair at the unmitigated shit show that is the modern education system in Britain, churning out hordes of mindless indoctrinated drones, consider the following…
I have recently learned that the school has a protected free speech forum where sixth-formers can discuss issues openly and express un-PC views without reproach. Effectively the opposite of the “safe space” that has popped up across universities. This came to the attention of the Guardian who wrote a hit piece on the ghastly grammar school encouraging far right views, replete with unsourced claims from female sixth formers (the school opened up the sixth form to girls in 1997 when I started my A-Levels) that the school was a hotbed of the patriarchy and full of awful boys who regard modern feminism as a joke. There was also some REEEEE from a few of the parents. The Headmaster stood his ground and maintained the importance of encouraging free speech and the civil exchange of views and opinion.
About a year ago I also learned that Milo Yiannopoulos was a pupil at the same school and being two years younger than me would have been there the same time I was. The school invited Milo to return and deliver a talk to the sixth form. The school was reported to the Government’s counter radicalisation unit and the event was cancelled amid fears for the safety of those attending. In fact it appears that the school’s current head of humanities quite heavily triggers lots of lefty journalists, so he must be a pretty decent bloke!
The school has no qualms about its academic excellence. Five or six years ago when my sister was selecting a school for her son to go to she was told in no uncertain terms by the Headmaster if your child needs additional coaching to pass the entrance exam your child is not a suitable candidate for this school and will struggle with the rigorous academic regime in place. There is most definitely not a medal for every pupil at this school – the real world still holds sway here.
© Æthelberht 2018