I remember clearly that two girls went on to the grammar school and one girl to the technical school; just three from a class of probably 25-30 pupils. The rest of us went to the local secondary modern school. Those three girls and I had headed up four reading groups in the class (I only remembered this when I started writing this piece). I enjoyed leading this group but recollect now that I was very reluctant in later school years to take on any 'leadership' roles.
I was an only child and my mother was a refugee from Germany in the 1930s who was never able to fulfil any of her ambitions. I know my 'failure' was a big disappointment to her. When the younger children of near neighbours (& friends of mine) went on to the grammar school a couple of years after my move to secondary school, she told me they 'wouldn't speak to me again'. They didn't. My father was more philosophical about the whole business but I don't remember much discussion about any of it.
I remember the first day at my 'modern'. Everything was huge and overwhelming. We lined up in a netball court in six new tutor groups. Later we were individually 'setted' for each academic subject. There were five sets and also a special needs department (called ‘remedial’) for those who had specific learning issues. We girls spent large amounts of time (two whole mornings a week, I think) in needlework and domestic science classes, whilst the boys did woodwork, metalwork and technical drawing. There were long art and pottery classes too.
At 13 the French teacher told my parents I should try for the 13 + and transfer to the grammar school. I have a strong memory of not wanting to try for this. By this time, part of me had become somewhat disinterested in academic work. Another part, I think, felt that if I had failed once I wasn't going to chance it again. I was fed up with the whole system. Also, I was particularly enjoying piano lessons (& liked the teacher) and a move would have interfered with that happy stability. I had become used to the school and had some friends. I also remember, particularly, and fondly, the wonderful needlework teacher - a lovely and inspiring woman - and several English teachers. I didn't want to lose that known environment.
This secondary modern did offer O and A level classes beyond the obligatory CSE exams (which we all took). Many pupils left at 15 so the class sizes reduced considerably. I ended up with a reasonable sprinkling of O levels and completed the first year of two A level courses. I then left school to start a nursing course, changed my mind & direction again over that summer, and went on to a technical college. Here they offered A level courses over two years but also very intense one year A level courses. I took this option and got my two A levels and offers to study Librarianship and Information Science at degree level.
My depleted confidence after 11+ failure caused me to transfer from a degree to a diploma course early on at university. I hadn't been prepared, I think for that intensity of work. Student life was a success and the diploma gave me a reasonable career over a number
Until now I have rarely spoken about my 11+ failure. My life has taken me into contact with many people who went to public or grammar school; I often feel I am 'looking in' at their very different school lives when childhood experiences are aired. My husband has encouraged me to move on from this and I am trying to do this, but I believe passionately that selection at 11 is a harmful and damaging process.
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