Abbeydale Grange - The Whole Story
Of course the introduction of the Comprehensive system of education in the U.K. meant that the game was up. It must be remembered that a section of the middle classes were in favor of the move. One of the less appealing elements of the 11+ was the pressure it put on the less academically inclined children of the middle classes. Unless your parents had the funds for a private education failing the 11+ meant that you automatically sent to the local secondary modern school. For the upwardly mobile middle class parents this was nothing short of a social disaster. However by relocating and moving house they could ensure that their children went to the best secondary modern in Sheffield hence the summer migration to the Bents Green area and Silverdale School.
Of course the same thing occurs nowadays - The Guardian refers to the term "white flight" but I think that a more suitable term would be "class flight". The middle classes in the U.K. have always been extremely tolerant of those persons who have wealth, power and influence. Different races and religions are always catered for but the proviso is that they must have the wealth and the "older" the wealth the better it is.
As Comprehensives were introduced Abbeydale had an influx of pupils for a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures. Yes there were still pupils from middle class backgrounds but they were gradually being outnumbered by pupils from poorer and more socially deprived areas. This "dumming down" as I've heard it called had a number of interesting results.
The first of which was self evident from the article in Torch. Many of the older teachers at the School retired faster than you could say "equal opportunity." In fact it demonstrates what I said at the beginning of the article namely that a good proportion of the teachers had no positive commitment to the concept of state education. Once the old practices and traditions (of a minor public school) had disappeared and with it the vestiges of their "authority", they did not feel that they could no longer "teach" and so turned their back on the new intake of non-selected pupils, pupils who were in many cases from less advantaged backgrounds..
Those that stayed were really in a quandary. Many of the sanctions that they had imposed previously without hesitation were no longer acceptable. Can you imagine the furor if some white middle aged professional teacher had started physically beating some poor coloured child of limited educational attainment - no this was the U.K. in 1969 not some eighteenth century Caribbean sugar plantation. Other sanctions such as writing pages of the dictionary (an old and particularly wasteful practice) were also out given that some of the new intake had significant difficulties in reading and writing. The result was that the exodus of the teaching staff continued at an increasing rate as the School became even more closely integrated with the state sector during the 1970,s
Similarly the whole "system" of teaching had to be overhauled. Teachers who for years had churned out the same old rubbish to a generation of pupils had to actually think about what they were teaching. Teachers like Pomfret whose dog eared history notes and "teaching" had bored pupils since time immemorial, realised that he would be unable to adapt to proper teaching and bailed out.
As for the pupils of the school the transition was massive. Under the old selective Grammar School system the pupils views and opinions were completely ignored. Talking shops like the Schools Council were meaningless and had no influence whatsoever. They were just there so that the chosen few had some impressive sounding waffle on their C.V. 's. With the advent of Comprehensives, the School was dragged into the Britain of the 1970's. The following statement from Bill Massey is an admission of just how far the School had got out of touch with what was happening elsewhere in education.
" (The School have) submitted plans for the re-furnishing of the Sixth Form Centre so that students there will have the benefit of more adult surroundings. We hope to develop a common room and coffee bar and less formal teaching situations. If those students were in the Further Education sector they would enjoy such facilities as by right and we see no reason why we should be denied the same facilities..."
The School were blatantly unprepared for the changes that occurred. The reason why the School did not have these facilities was that they never wanted them and so never requested them. They preferred to "uphold the traditions of the School" (an euphemism for doing nothing) rather than ensure that the pupils had basic facilities that were widely available in the 1960's. A school that was seeking in 1970 to develop less formal teaching situations for 18 year old adults was clearly in trouble! Just to show how bad it was there is a letter that my mother kept from the school dated January 1970
Of course reading the article again thirty years on you can see the lack of enthusiasm and commitment for Comprehensive education. Bill Massey in the last page comes up with the phrase "as selective pupils decrease in number and the comprehensive element grows". The bias and distaste is transparent. Those that passed the 11+ are "pupils", those that didn't are "elements". But Bill did not resign or leave in protest about these changes. He still retained the Headship even though it is apparent that he was fundamentally opposed to the Comprehensive system.
This is basically where the story ends as far as I'm concerned. I left in 1972 fully disillusioned with a bunch of fairly worthless qualifications that were not worth the paper they were written on. (Ordinary Level Religious Education was not a highly sought after qualification by employers in the summer of 1972). By the standard that the School set, they were failed dismally
To quote Bill Massey again
"If we do not provide an environment in which each pupil can have the best opportunity to develop then we have failed"
Well Bill as far as I'm concerned you and the School were massive failures. No doubt some pupils from a socially deprived background did benefit from the education they received at Abbeydale Boys but many others didn't. The statistics were available but it is self evident that they were suppressed for they would show the existence in the Grammar School system, of a marked bias against those pupils from a less advantaged and more socially deprived backgrounds.
Ultimately Grammar Schools were just bastions of white middle class prejudice and values that were, and still are, the root of decline and stagnation. The whole education sector is and always has been bedeviled by class prejudice.
Abbeydale Boys Grammar School - Lower Sixth May 1968
In January 2017 a former pupil of the school kindly supplied me with this photograph dated May 1968. It was Class 1C, but the sender thought they all wore shorts in first year!.
Back row: ? Kevin Guest, Mark? Shorrock, Robin Hughes?, Richard Stead, Michael Burrows, ?, Martin Cowley, Keith Laycock, (Dad was decorator), Swallow?
Middle row: ?, ? Stacey, Andrew Vickers, ?, ?, ?, David Bridges, ?, ?, ? Ramsbotham
Front row: Edward Gilday, Alan Clatworthy, ? Rothenberg, ?, ?, Mr Pasley, ? Jones, ? Osbourne, Martin Binney, ? Weichman?, Pete Keen
Please click here for the next section
Return to the beginning of the article
Return to Main HomePage
This page was last updated on 07/01/17 15:11