"Common sense is not so common".
Voltaire (1694-1778); French writer
Abbeydale Grange - The Whole Story
When I started the site one of the principles I adopted was that wherever possible, the content of the site would be original. In September 1999 The Guardian newspaper published a major three part enquiry into the state education in the UK. In the first two articles, Abbeydale Grammar School and its successor Abbeydale Grange School figured prominently. The third article can be safely ignored as it centered around the ramblings and musings of the former Secretary of State for Education, Mr. Kenneth Baker whose sole claim to fame was to give teachers a further five days holi.... sorry training.
I have posted the first two articles to the site in .pdf format
Part 1 - Revealed the fatal flaws at the heart of our Education system.pdf - This article was published in The Guardian on Tuesday 14th September 1999
Part 2 - Bias that killed the dream of equality.pdf - This article was published the following day on Wednesday 15th September 1999
To view the files you will need to download the Acrobat Reader which can be downloaded free of charge
I have also posted an article that appeared in the last edition of the Abbeydale Boys Grammar' Schools magazine "Torch" which appeared in 1969 just before the Grammar School was replaced by Abbeydale Grange and turned into a Comprehensive school . Written by the Headmaster W.J.G. "Bill" Massey the article was called an
Introduction to Torch - the magazine for Abbeydale Boys' Grammar School 1969.pdf
For many years I have wondered why I found secondary school a thoroughly dispiriting experience. Primary School was more or less bearable but it did nothing to prepare me for attending what was then a prestigious Grammar School in the leafy suburbs of Sheffield. The reader will have to realize that attaining a place at a Grammar School was and still is perceived as being essential for future "success" in life It is only with the value of hindsight and a far more rounded education than that what was offered by the State that you come to realize that Abbeydale Boys' Grammar was an anachronism that belonged to the past. In its values, beliefs and attitudes, the School and its predecessor were never properly integrated into the State sector. In reality the School imitated the style and traditions of the minor public schools with house masters, house teams, head boys, prefects, uniforms, cap and gowns etc. Reading page 3 of School Notes in "Torch" you are told that Mr. O Robertshaw after forty years service to the state sector was "the staff expert on detention" and that Mr. L.P.Cook supervised the long bike rides into Derbyshire as well as the Chess Club. If you want confirmation of this backward narrow minded view of life look no further than the link to ABGS's predecessor Nether Edge Grammar School and the photograph taken in 1958 of the school's teachers (the lady in the centre is the school secretary). Nearly fifteen years after the 1944 Education Act there were schools in the state sector that were still aping the mores and prejudices of private schools - even ten years after this photo was taken I can still remember teachers at ABGS walking around in their traditional black gowns.
Even the parents had grim reservations about the school. Arthur Bedford in writing his life story noted that on his relocation transfer to Sheffield in 1946
two elder sons had to leave their two nice scholarship schools of
Ilford County High and Buckhurst Hill Grammar, for the
pinched and creepy crawley crabbly old Nether Edge Grammer (sic) School...,"
However the key phrase in the whole "Torch* article is on the opening page
"When the day comes to look back over our formative years we hope to be able to see that with your help we have built a sound future on the sure foundation of the past"
The problem was that the past was not a sure foundation, it was based on principles that had more in common with an elitist public school rather than a school in the state sector. The school was built on class-ridden socially exclusive society that was not prepared to tolerate an influx of children from socially deprived areas. The whole ethos of the school was based on what are now called traditional middle class values. Boys who passed the eleven plus and who came from non middle class backgrounds i.e. from the less privileged areas of Sheffield found that they had to acquire a whole new set of beliefs and values. It was imperative that the pupils and the staff of the school shared these values hence the repeated emphasis on the traditional role of the school. Pupils who came from what was perceived as the less attractive parts of Sheffield had to conform to this system of beliefs and practices and so the staff ensured that they received a far harder time than those pupils that lived in the wealthier suburbs. This of course was re-enforced by the fact that very few if any teachers lived in the less attractive areas of Sheffield. Teachers at that time were seen as one of the professions and lived in the areas favoured by the professional classes. They mixed socially with the parents and relatives of the boys from middle class parents and so gave far greater encouragement and assistance to those boys than to those from working class backgrounds.
The pupils may have been equal in academic ability when they started the school but they certainly weren't when they left. The school was constantly streaming pupils and I always had this impression that the streaming had less to do with skills and ability and more to do with social and class prejudice.
Of course this viewpoint could be disproved and dismissed quite easily by a detailed statistical analysis of the pupils social background and their attainments whilst at the School. As far as I'm aware no such analysis ever took place and it is easy to see why. The School and the Education Authorities had all this information available to them but I strongly believe that any investigation would reveal that pupils from the less privileged areas left school earlier and achieved less academically than those from the more affluent suburbs. By the time the pupils had reached the sixth form the School and its environs had became a perfect enclave for the middle classes.
It is only with hindsight that you can marvel at the absurdity of it all
The teachers were with a couple of exceptions white Anglo Saxon protestant males (WASP's). There were no female teachers and certainly none from any ethnic minority. Nearly all the teachers had undergone some form of military service either in the Second World War or through National Service. The attributes that the military instilled in them were deemed to be useful in preparing boys for the Britain of the 1970's. Personally at the time I could not understand the need for all the "standing to attention", the formal addressing of teachers, the strict adherence to uniform and badge and the other paraphernalia (school assemblies were more akin to parade ground manoeuvres rather than a meeting of the school). However now it is apparent that this had nothing at all to do with education but all to do with instilling the pupils with traditional values and beliefs that were never to be questioned.
The above photograph was taken in May 1964 - the two ladies in the photograph were the school secretaries! The teachers seem to have something in common
The separation of boys from girls. Borrowing another military analogy Abbeydale Girls Grammar and Grange Grammar were "off limits" and so I can only assume that the School did not want us to fraternize with girls. Quite what the reasoning behind this banning order was I have never yet been able to understand. Of course nowadays such rules would have more sinister connotations but then I am sure that no harm was actually meant. It was just another idiotic rule that was there to be enforced
They were also a myriad of other rules, conventions and standards that pupils were expected to adhere to - the non wearing of the school cap in a public place was one that seemed rather strange. Of course a lot of them were just a means of control and subjugation to ensure that the "traditional values" were upheld. Those who disagreed with these rules were subjected to a range of sanctions that ranged from ridicule and sarcasm to a full physical beating. Of course corporal punishment has been illegal in state schools now for many years but you have to ask the question of why were fully grown professional men thrashing and assaulting young boys with a variety of implements in the 1960's. And what's more worrying is why some of them seemed to enjoy it!!
My favourite absurdity was the sight of Mr. Howe a Physics teacher scaling the Gym roof clutching a notebook in order that he could apprehend smokers at "smokers corner". Of course "Chinny's" activities did not extend to the Staff Room or Bill Massey's office both of which were perpetually wreathed in thick fogs of smoke. But smoking was just one of many hypocrisies that flourished in such a climate "Do as I say and not as I Do" would seem to be an apt school motto. (As far as I can ascertain it did not have one)
Bullying naturally took place. It was inevitable in a School of six hundred of adolescent schoolboys. A few of the teachers were also bullies who regularly singled out particular boys and ensured that they would be ridiculed and demeaned at every opportunity. I can even now remember a couple of examples of such behaviour. Of course provided that none of the injuries resulted in hospital treatment the bullying went unchecked by the school and the education authorities. There was a particular teacher who used to lift a boy out of his seat by his ear and then push him out of the class. In any other context it would be an unlawful assault but because this was a school you were expected to put up with the violence and threats as though they were a normal state of affairs. The law of the land did not apply at ABGS
The list could be extended still further but I think most people will now have got the idea that the place had become totally outdated and that the archaic practices that were indulged in by The School were becoming unsustainable in the Britain of the 1970's.
For the next installment please click here
Thanks to Dave Corbett for permission to use the photograph
"Education would be much more effective if its purpose was to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they do not know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it". ~William Haley
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This page was last updated on 04/04/14 16:14