I used to love to read the ‘Jennings’ series of novels of life set in the fictional Linbury Prep School written by Anthony Buckeridge.
Jennings and friend Darbishire got into all sorts of scrapes in a school which seemed a place of endless sport, midnight feasts in the dorm and crazy teachers like ‘Old Wilkie’.
Only later, having read George Orwell’s essay ‘Such, such were the joys’ did I ponder what was it that attracted me so to the Jennings stories? Orwell was clear. It was a matter of class.
When I was growing up my uncle was the deputy head of a well-known grammar school just over the county border in East Devon. My cousins went to a local prep school before attending the grammar themselves. I went to our local county primary in South Wales and failed the 11+.
My secondary modern school was small. Each year, one pupil who had failed the 11+ might transfer to the local grammar, having gone back a year, if they were top in the school tests. That year I came fourth and so was destined to stay in a school which basically prepared boys for work in the local pits.
I was a bookish boy in a school in which many struggled to read. I took an interest in the pop charts solely to have something to say. I never let on I read The Observer on a Sunday, it was bad enough being mocked by my ‘News of the World’ reading father.
The news of the expansion of selective education this week stirred-up very mixed emotions for me. I cannot say that my secondary school years where much of a joy, which is why Orwell was so spot on in his essay about working class children imaging a happier childhood.
The hit I took on my self-esteem at 11 was only in part put right when I gained a distinction at Master’s degree level with the OU. I was 55. Grammar schools aid social mobility? Don’t fall for the old lie.