If I had hoped that High School would be better, then those hopes were very quickly dashed. Yes, I could wear long trousers for the first time, but beyond that the next six years were a great disappointment.

The first obvious change was that this was a boys’ school—the girls’ school being next door, across the playing field. So, it was very different to the mixed primary school I had previously attended. Yes, we had a form teacher, as before. But instead of having that one teacher who taught us everything, we now had to travel, as a class, around the school, from lesson to lesson.

My first form teacher was a clergyman, and I found him a very strange person indeed. He had a fiery temper, and seemed to take delight in boasting of raping his wife. Now I’m sure that he really meant that—he was just trying to be one of the boys. But it didn’t put the Christian faith in a very good light at all.

Regarding the subjects … Well, there was the usual Maths, English, Geography, Physics, French, Art, Religious Education (two years) Music (two years), and Technical Drawing (three years). But almost a total absence of History. Indeed, in my first year the school got through three or four History teachers in the first two terms, after which teaching history was abandoned by the school.

My best subject was Maths, and I always came first in the class (and second in English). But for some perverse logic, I was never awarded the prize for coming first in Maths; I only ever got a prize for coming second in English. Much to my disappointment.

I loved Maths, or should I say I loved what I could see what Maths could do. But the teaching of Maths had much to be desired. For me what was taught was far too simple. Indeed, on the day that the Maths teacher drew a Venn diagram on the board, I was able to explain how it worked, even though I had never seen one before. Unfortunately, the Maths teacher was not happy that I could explain it. So, he over-reacted, got very angry and, despite my denials, concluded I had obviously been taught Venn diagrams before.

Now if the normal lessons didn’t inspire me, then P.E. (Physical Education) and Games left me for dead. I was not at all interested in climbing ropes, jumping over vaulting horses, doing forward rolls, or playing any kind of sport. And having a teacher who preferred to stay in his comfortable office, while he sent us out on a cross-country run, did not encourage me to change my mind. (But, it did invoke a mass protest one sport’s day, when a whole class manipulated the run so that they all finished together.)

Now if school terms were a disaster, then the summer holidays were very different. And they were different because we had a very enterprising Art teacher, who was keen to open the eyes of his students to other peoples, cultures and places. So, on three occasions, during the summer holidays, I spent ten days immersed in different cultures and very different scenery.

At the end of my fourth year, a big decision needed to be made. I had reached the minimum leaving age. So, should I leave school, or should I continue for another year or even two? Now school was still boring, it didn’t appeal to me at all, and it certainly didn’t stretch my imagination. Furthermore, I was very aware of the limited range of subjects that this particular Secondary School offered. Indeed, there would be no choice; I would have to do the set subjects. Yet, despite the inadequacies of the school, I realised that there was more at stake than just reacting to a poor education system. So, I continued for another two years.

I pursued some CSE’s (Certificate of Secondary Education) in my fifth year, and some GCE’s (General Certificate of Education) in my fifth and sixth years. However, my heart really wasn’t in it, and in the end my results reflected the school’s inability to engage me in any meaningful way. But with the end of High School looming, it was time to think more seriously of the future.

In the back of my mind, I had hoped to go on to a college. But I had no idea where I would go or what I wanted to do. I also considered that it wasn’t an option anyway. After all, my family were not flush with funds, and neither of my sisters had gone down that track. What-is-more, I felt my father would be totally unapproachable on the subject. So instead, I did what I thought was expected of me—I pursued work in the clerical field. I applied for jobs with banks, building societies and insurance companies. And in very little time I got a job with an insurance company—a job I got, not because they’d advertised any position, but simply because I had the cheek to ask.

To be continued …

Posted: 11th June 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis

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