I am the product of a two tier system. While the gifted and able strutted their stuff quoting Shakespeare, conjugating verbs and solving quadratic equations, the less gifted and unable were given a less challenging syllabus.
I was ungifted and unable – apparently. Not a label I would attach to myself, it was given to me on my arrival at secondary school (High School).
In Primary School (Elementary) I hadn’t really had the chance to shine. The headmaster, Mr Cobbly, operated a system whereby he identified the high fliers and pulled them up a year to his class. That required some of the low fliers to surrender their tables and take a seat next door. It was like being demoted.
It was something you actually volunteered to do. You were not told to move class but the request was issued. I didn’t want to go, but my friend at the time was a very giving and generous kind of child and I found it hard to make friends in those days so when she stuck up her hand I followed. Imagine asking a ten year old to make decisions like that about their education.
So, I never made it to Mr Cobbly’s class. When the time came to allocate pupils to streamed classes in secondary school, I was placed in the middle stream. Mr Cobbly’s class mostly made it into the top stream. I was not in his class so I didn’t make it. Yes, it rankles.
Being in the middle stream we were denied access to “O” levels. We took CSEs which were designed for the less able. An “A” in a CSE was the equivalent to an “O” level pass. The only “O” level I sat and passed was Religious Studies. The RE teacher refused to play by the rules. He took us on to do “A” level over the next couple of years.
I really don’t know if I was working at the right level. I know that I hated the label.
At the start of fourth year we were reorganised into two streams rather than three, and I worked my socks off to make sure I was not in the bottom stream. Getting into the top stream really meant the bottom of the top – not just the top. I was still barred from “O” levels. Being at the bottom of the top the CSE path was my only route to qualifications.
I suppose that I didn’t really help my cause. I wasn’t the best student for the most part. My biology jotter was filled with stories I wrote instead of the required notes on the life of plants or diagrams of the innards of frogs. Homework was just something I rarely did.
Sometimes when we look back at things we have a tendency to say that it didn’t really do any harm. There are some things that may not have any harm – but neither did they do any good.
I came through the system relatively unscathed. My CSEs and my one “O” level and one “A” level were made to work for me in getting into teacher training college. I wore blinkers when it came to what I wanted to be when I grew up. A part of me wanted to prove that I was both gifted and able. After over thirty years of teaching I seriously doubt at times that I am either gifted or able! (Hail the wisdom that comes with age.)
It must have been about half way through my teacher training course I discovered the sheer delight of learning. Something cerebral took place – neurons fired possibly for the first time. Old habits of memorising things gave way to pulling information apart to find its heart and build it back up in a way that I could relate to it, make sense of and pass it on to others.
I would like to think that the middle stream made it. I’d like to think that we surmounted the hurdles and exceeded expectations. I’d like to think that the labels came off in the washing machine of life.
From the other side of the desk I think that going back to those days really isn’t a good idea.