For keen parents in the 1960s there was one thing in primary schooling that they desired and that was for their children to pass the Eleven Plus. Now for those who don’t know, the Eleven Plus was a selection examination which was introduced after the war in 1944. Prior to this, there were direct-grant grammar schools that were largely independent, offering some scholarship places. Maintained grammar schools that were fully part of the state system came with the introduction of the Eleven Plus, and state education provided three alternatives: there were grammar schools, secondary modern schools and technical schools.
In order for me to explain the change I must take you back to my mother and her sister. As mentioned in another blog, they were born in the British Men’s Institute, a snooker and whist club in Chapel Allerton. My mum’s older sister, Joan, was a very capable student and was offered a full scholarship to attend a direct-grant grammar school, which she did. My mother in her turn, another capable student, also did well, but was only offered a partial scholarship to the grammar school. The result was that my mother never went, as my grandparents could not afford even half the fees. My mother ended up leaving school at 13 years old and went to work in the offices at the Railways in Leeds. Thirteen was the usual age to leave schooling for the majority of children and only those most capable went further. She met my father, an engineer at Catton’s Foundry on Black Bull Street and they married. Immediately they married she lost her job at the Railways. The reason for this was they expected that once you were married you would start having children. In these times there was no maternity benefit and very few workers’ rights. There certainly was no sense of female equality, at least not in the working classes. Women were expected to have children and that was considered their role in life. In reality my mother worked most of her life, as well as raising three boys. My parents were living, after they got married, in a flat at the back of the shops at Oakwood, next to Gipton Wood, and the moment she became pregnant with my older brother, they had to leave the flat. Again, there was no system to protect tenants and it was just the way it was. Luckily for my parents, my dad’s job was a good one and they bought their first house, 36 Lawrence Avenue. (Yes I said 26 in a previous blog. I was sure I was right, but my older brother told me I was wrong. Eventually I checked my birth certificate, my wife’s suggestion, and he was right and I was wrong.) My mother valued education. She saw it as a way to escape poverty and she and my father had high aspirations. It was because of this that they scraped together the money to send, first my older brother and later me, to private preparatory school. She wanted to give us the best opportunities and she saw that as part of the way to do it. My older brother went to a little school near the Methodist Church near Ladywood at Oakwood on the recommendation of a friend at the church, but the school closed and my brother and I attended Stainbeck Preparatory School until that too closed, due to the death of the headmistress, Mrs Genge. My older brother left earlier than I did as he reached secondary age, and he attended Harehills Secondary Modern School. My mother was worried for his future, but she needn’t have been, as he left Harehills after O’Levels and went to Allerton Grange and then to university and spent his working life teaching.
I started at Harehills County Primary at the age of seven and spent my Eleven Plus years with Mr. Kelly (1965 and 1966). Harehills was streamed at this time and Mr Kelly took the top class. Our parents had to buy three books of test papers in Arithmetic, English and General Problem Solving (an intelligence test) and we would practise these each week under test conditions. It is due to these tests that we learned numerous collective nouns and other information that is handy for crosswords, but not a great deal else. I don’t remember being stressed by these and I rather enjoyed doing them. I can only think that Mr. Kelly must have loved the silence whilst we all did the tests and I don’t think he marked them. I believe that we must have marked our own or each other’s maybe. We spent weeks doing these and there was a build up to the test date and I know my mother was becoming stressed, but I don’t remember us kids worrying. For the tests themselves I believe all the classes came together into the hall. We sat in rows and alphabetically. I think it was all done on one day, but I could be wrong there. This was quite a big day in the school and all the classes that surrounded the hall had to be very quiet, on pain of death from their teachers. There were test booklets and we were instructed how to fill in the covers and then sit until we were given the command to start.
When the word was given, we set about it. We had been told many times that if you had spare time, to go back through the test to see if you had missed anything out. It didn’t matter when you finished, you had to remain where you were in silence until the end of the time. At the end of the test we went out for playtime and there was a lot of chatting, nervousness and comparing of answers. In a short time we were back and ready to start the second paper. By the time we had finished them all we were quite tired. Writing for so long was hard on your hands and wrists, but I can’t remember any other stress. Afterwards we had to face the cross-examination by our parents, where the usual answer of ‘It was ok!’ didn’t seem to satisfy my mum. The next day we had forgotten all about it and school returned to normal, but without the regular practice tests. Somehow my mother knew the day the results were to come out and she told me to come straight home. Mr. Kelly appeared towards the end of the day with a pile of envelopes. I seem to remember we had forty-one in the class and the envelopes were addressed to our parents , but we were allowed to look at them. There was no question of pass or fail on the letter, but it said,
‘I am writing to inform you that the examination held recently indicates that and grammar or technical course is appropriate for your son. This type of education is provided at Roundhay School where there is a place available for him.’
Now I seem to recall that all but four children received the same letter. Mr. Kelly took the other four to talk to them and I suppose he was being kind. The rest of us chatted and were quite excited. Some of my friends were also going to Roundhay School, or to the girls’ school next door. I am trying to remember and I know John Sugden, Richard Banks and Dick Rodley went with me to Roundhay. I am sorry for those I have forgotten. It was the end of the afternoon and some of us had a mixed netball game after school in the girls’ playground. I don’t know why it was arranged for that day and it was boys versus the girls. The game was good, we beat the girls and then set off home. My letter was in my satchel, and when I approached my house on Gipton Wood Crescent, my mother was waiting outside, almost hysterical. I think she thought I had, in her words, ‘Failed’ and didn’t want to come home. In reality I had just forgotten all about it at that point.
Needless to say, she was delighted at the result and I was allowed to buy a toy from Varley’s toyshop at Harehills. That weekend I did. I bought an Action Man, later called GI Joe. It was when they had just been released and they had appeared on Blue Peter. That was about the height of my excitement. I did hear some friends had bicycles, with gears and all sorts of things. I can only think they had more affluent families.
My mother quickly signed the acceptance slip and I returned it to school the next day. After that I forgot all about it until much nearer to leaving Harehills CP School.