My senior years of 1967 to 1972 were by far NOT the best years of my life, despite what anyone says about school days. I loved Junior School though. There was no social stigma that I can remember, no class politics, and we could just be, well, kids. My favourite subjects were Reading and Writing, Maths, Music and PE. We had painting and embroidery (basket weaving if you were a boy) too but it wasn’t until I went to Grammar School that I was introduced to languages, a variety of sciences, craft, cookery, art and needlework, plus the loss of all my confidence.
I have a copy of my school report from when I was 8. I wasn’t a straight ‘A’ student, but give or take a few minus signs, there weren’t many other letters of the alphabet on it. I sang solo in the choir, represented my ‘House’ on school Sports Days, played a piano accordian duet with my friend on Open Day, acted in the school play, and was top of the class in mental arithmetic. I also loved to write essays and borrowed a variety of books from the mobile library every fortnight.
At Grammar School though, I wasn’t very good at anything if my reports were to be believed.
Over the years, I came to understand that my background wasn’t of the favoured hundreds, so I spent a lot of my free time in the school library, not that I was a swot by any means I hasten to add!
I had few friends having been split from those from my school who had passed the 11+ too and the only time any of my classmates were ever really interested in me was if I could help them with their homework or had sweets to share. Anyway, I ticked over OK, getting pass marks in most subjects but not excelling in anything in particular. I got used to being pounced on by teachers asking questions they didn’t think I’d know the answer to, and got sent out of a biology lesson once for picking a slow worm up off the floor before someone kicked it rather than ‘paying attention’. I got as far as pinning the pattern onto the material in needlework, made a witch’s head with paper mache as it was too grotesque to be anything else, and my craft work may have looked the same as everyone else, but I had one of the poorest marks, probably because of my colour choice (a bit bright!).
I still loved to sing, but wasn’t good enough for any of the choirs, and in PE being a bit on the tall and heavy side, was made to run or play hockey rather than netball, tennis or swim, which I was more comfortable with and better at.
When it came to what subjects to take at O level, apart from the basics, the school wanted me to take needlework or cookery whereas I wanted to take Music. I had to have an interview with the Year Mistress to explain my choice, and it developed into quite a debate. They obviously had little confidence in me and felt a domestic option would suit me better.
I stood my ground and said I didn’t want to do needlework or cookery as the teacher thought I was hopeless at both (same teacher by the way, see my post “But Teacher Said……..” ) whereas I stood a fighting chance of getting my Music ‘O’ level.
‘It’s not as if you can play an instrument!’ she scoffed, to which I quietly replied
‘Actually, I do.’
There was a frantic shuffle of paper (no computers in those days) and a quick scan of my report book under Music, where nothing was to be found regarding the fact that I could play anything.
‘Well, what do you play then? There’s nothing here to say you’re having lessons.’
I explained I played the piano, and I was having private lessons at the weekend.
For some reason, she was not pleased. I asked if it was compulsory then to have lessons through the school in order to take the exam. She said No, then went on to say that the O level was divided into 3 parts (Oral, Theory and Set Works) but having attained a certain grade in lessons at school would automatically receive a pass in a choice of one of the first 2 categories. Outside lessons didn’t count so I would have to take all three parts, which, quite honestly, she didn’t feel I was up to.
I was determined to take it though, so decided to have word with one of the school music teachers. She also didn’t have a clue I could play anything, but suggested if I was serious, I could do a couple of old theory papers and she would mark them for me. This was not homework by the way as Music was one of the few subjects that didn’t have any. I don’t know who was more surprised, me at getting the 85% or the teacher for marking it. I did another 5 papers, and my average worked out at 83%. One lunchtime, she asked me to come to one of the music rooms and listen to an old oral exam. I scored over 90% on that and 89% on a second.
Thanks to her support, even though she never heard or asked me to play, it was finally agreed that I could take my Music O level instead of the domestic sciences. I had a lecture though that I should have said something at the beginning, though personally I don’t think it would have made one iota of difference as to how they saw me.
‘O’ and yes, I’m glad to say I passed too!