Friday, 16 October 2009

Friday 16 October - The Eleven Plus

I was just reading Marlene's wonderful reminiscent entry and it sent me off on a memory trip myself.   I hope she won't mind me sharing her theme.

I was at grammar school (in England) 1962-1968.  To get there you had to pass your 11 plus exam at junior school.  They say  this was a terrible ordeal for an 11 year old but I don't remember it bothering me.  Come to that the 11 plus is one of the few 'events' in my life that I have no memory of at all.  What I do remember is the results arrivingin the post addressed to my parents.  I had got an 'interview'.  That meant you didn't get a good enough mark to pass straight through but you MIGHT be good enough if they saw you.  And so on the appointed day I turned up with lots of other kids to be interviewed at the grammar school we would go to if successful.  We had to sit at the desks in a classroom.  Old fashioned desks they were, single ones with a sloping lid and an inkwell at the top right hand corner next to a shallow channel where your pen would rest.

Ooh the smell of that classroom.  I can smell it now, a mix of blackboard chalk, old wood, dust and chewing gum.  I sneaked a look underthe lid of the desk, which was heavily pitted with carved-in names of the "Frid loves Mary" kind, not to mention some very artistic and colourful - and rude - ink blots.   Tacked underneath the lid was someone's timetable.  Biology, physics, chemistry - I can remember even now how I felt reading those words.  I'd heard of them but didn't know what they were.  Science I supposed as they were "ologies".  Gosh I was impressed.   English, French, Russian - Russian?  Would I have to learn that?  English literature.  I so wanted to go to that school.  It was probably a good thing they sat us in that room where us nosey 11-year-olds got a sniff of life in Big School because quite honestly I don't think many of us really knew quite why we were there.  We were told to go so we went!

I must have come over as an enthusiastic little soul because I got in and a few weeks later my parents got a big fat envelope in the post listing all the clothes and equipment I had to have before term started in September.  It was all very specific, even down to the shops (only two I think) who were official stockists.  Brown school knickers, divided skirts (for playing hockey in), school socks, regulation Gabardine coat with hood, brown leather shoes, Juliet cap.  The list went on for pages and pages.  When I think back it must have been scary for my parents because all those things must have cost a fortune and they never had any money.  A year later my brother went there too and my sister 2 years after that so it must have been a real struggle for them. 

And there was no compromise:  it was a brown pleated skirt or a gymslip (sorry America, I can't explain that one.  Suffice to say they were itchy, hot, ugly and you looked like a sack of potatoes wearing one!).  You couldn't wear a straight or A-line skirt.  There were  certainly no pants, not under any circumstances.  In the freezing cold of winter you had to wear your school coat, school skirt, school socks and shoes, school scarf and you would arrive at school with your poor legs all red and chapped.  And THEN if it wasn't actually raining or snowing, you had to wait outside until summoned in by the bell.  You couldn't even wear tights until the third year (you would then be 13 or 14) and then only thick woolen fawn ones.  The poor boys had to wear short grey trousers until the third year, when they were allowed long trousers so their legs got chapped even worse than ours.

After Easter (and not a minute before) you had to wear your summer uniform.  Instead of skirt, blouse and tie you wore a cotton dress with very narrow yellow and white stripes.  These were not available to buy in the shop, not even the authorised stockist.  You took a pattern home and your mum was expected to make it.  As luck would have it my mum was quite handy with the sewing machine but I can't think how the daughters of non-sewers got their frocks made.

To think, I wanted to go to that school.  The alternative was "Pram Pushers".  At our tender age we didn't quite know why they called it that but we were soon enlightened!  It was a Girls' secondary modern school and "you don't want to be mixing with their sort" - and that came from our teachers!!  I thank God I never became a snob.  Many did.

Having said all that, I was still sorry to see Grammar Schools go when they were done away with.  I may never have understood anything about physics or geometry but at least I knew what they were.  'General Science' is what  they have now and 'general knowledge' seems to have died out altogether.  Maths may have been like the dark side of the moon to me but  I can add and subtract without a calculator and I know my times tables.

I know The Lord's Prayer too.  They  don't even learn that any more.



Andy said...

That brings back memories! The 11 plus that is, never thought a gymslip would suit me! The desks I remember well some had ink wells in which actually contained ink, it was not ordinary ink though it was in powder form and had to be mixed with water.

Uniform was another issue, as you say very specific specifications were laid down. The one that anoyed us the most was wearing a school cap. If we were caught within a quarter of a mile of the school not wearing the cap it was an automatic detention. Needless to say we all knew exactly where the quarter mile point was and caps were swiftly removed. Strangely enough I have never worn a hat since.

By the way grammar schools still exist here in Kent.


I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

What a nice trip back to memory lane. So many things have changed now. You are younger than I as in 62 I graduated from our secondary schools and never went on to college. I was 18 then and the school I went to didn't require uniform dressing but we did wear skirts and dresses ALWAYS. No pants or jeans were ever allowed for us girls in school. That was the way it was when I started my first job too...Later on they did let us wear what they called Pant Suits which were quite dressy and we ALWAYS wore those spiky heals to work too. Now I cannot wear anything with a heal on it. Well now I've shared my memories too. Thank you for the memories today!

Joyce said...

Ah the dreaded gym uniform. Our school had gym every day come rain or shine. Our uniforms were White so naturally after playing ball outside we were all filthy. My poor Mom had to wash and dry that and iron it every night as we did not have money for an extra uniform. Some gym days it was still damp but atleast it was pressed. No electric dryers in those days. My Mom made me wear a pair of pants under the skirt in cold weather when walking to school.

daisymum7 said...

Thank you for the clever cake idea Angie I love it!!!!!!!! And it is one of the first baking chores for tomorrow morning. Thank you


Marie said...

Oh Angie, when I was a girl I would have loved to go to a Grammar School, just like the kids in those Enid Blyton novels. I devoured them. I suppose those were boarding schools, but nevermind, I just wanted to be able to wear a uniform. You have described it all so very well. What a vivid mind you have and so good of you to share it with us!!! Todd failed his 11 plus. Shame that coz it determined that he was not worth more than shop fodder and so he was for the rest of his working life. He is such an intelligent man and it is a shame that his destiny was determined by a set of exams set at the age of 11. I'm glad they've been done away with for the most part, but they still do have em down here in Kent. Oh, by the way a "Coffee" cake in North America is not a cake with coffee in it, it's a cake to be served "with" coffee!! Who'd a thunk it! I send love and hugs and am wondering how you are getting on with your new chair! Can we now call you Mario Andretti? XXOO

Anonymous said...

Hi a wonderful trip down "memory lane"...and having some British friends I had heard before of the different levels of school and boarding school..and boy...having to get all those items must have been quite a hard time for your parents...we never had to take any tests as such to go from one grade to the next...but there were tests of sorts to determine if you were "smart" enough to go onto the next grade or level...and if you didn't pass it was called be "held back" or "retained"...or "not passing"..and it came with alot of teasing from the other kids who did pass...real sad...I never "failed" as it was called...guess I was lucky sort!!! LOL...and we girls never wore pants in school either...but had those dreaded "gym outfits" piece short zipped up the front...some things are best forgotten LOLOL..have a blessed day...hugs...Ora in Kentucky

Patchwork Dragon said...

What memories Angie! Like Marie's Todd I failed my 11plus, but only by a whisker. They read out our names in class and whether we'd passed or not, and at the the teacher said "did anyone not hear their name?" Tentatively I put my hand up...looking round to see if anyone else did. Luckily there were a couple of us! Teacher went off to find out why we weren't on the list, and it turned out were "border line" and it hadn't been decided whether to pass us or not. They decided not to on the assumption that it was better for us to be good in a secondary school than to have to struggle in grammar school! I don't really know if that was a good decision or not, as I've often thought that I could have done a lot more with my life if I'd been pushed a bit more. Hope you don't mind if I hijack this for my own blog to elaborate on, so I don't bore you all on here.

Grammy Staffy said...

I found it very interesting reading about your school experience as a child. Like you, we could not wear pants to school no matter what the weather...but I never had a school uniform. I often wished that we did since I was poor and my mom could never afford the fancy main brand clothes that most of my well to do friends wore. I thought that it would be a lot less diversive if we had all had to wear the same thing. I continued to think that for the 22 years that I taught high school....but if we even mentioned requiring uniforms be worn we were scorned.

Thanks for the informative post. I hope that you are doing well. I send love and hugs. Lura

LISBETH said...

Oh Angie, 11 plus!! I remember taking mine! I wrote about St. Pauls Cathedral and Sir Christopher Wren!Halfway through we had a break and my Dad had given me 6d that day to get something, (it was usually 1d for school!)I bought a coffee crisp and say alone on the bench to eat it. The school was on holiday that day, just open for the exam. I got the resulta on a Saturday morning and asked my Mum and Dad if I was forced to go to the Grammar as I didn't want to be parted from m best friend, Christine Clode, who hadn't passed and had to go to the Comp.All my clothes were second hand except my knickers and socks!!I remember hiding behind the coats at playtime when it was freezing outside but Georgina Clayton, the prefect, always caught us, her parents had the shop that you had to go to to buy your material for summer dresses and your uniform.Loved the old school!

Teacher's Pet said...

Lots of memories for me here, too, Angie.
From the first grade through the
12th grade, we said "The Lord's Prayer" in school...(and I attended public schools...never private schools.) I remember the carvings on the wooden desks...gum stuck underneath...the smells of the classroom...and your post took me back...a wonderful trip back for me. Thank you for sharing.
I hope that you don't mind if I follow you.
Much love,

Sage said...

Hi Angie,
As you know I grew up and went to school in Canada and I'm older than you are, but the same memories,uniforms and all. Enjoyed reading you as always.
Thank you

Robynn's Ravings said...

Wow, Angie. That was a very interesting about things I've never thought of! Never even heard of gym-slips. And I'm sure I would have ended up at the pram pusher school!

We had gym suits that we had to embroider our last names on - in HUGE letters. Very ugly and unflattering but I STILL HAVE MINE! You make me realize I should do a post on it just for laughs!

Angie, thank you for your many kind words during the events of this last week. It meant a great deal.

Anonymous said...

ANGIE...WHERE ARE YOU???? I miss you and your blogging...hope all is ok your way...hugs from Ora in KY