There appeared to be two types of people at Roundhay School and they can be split into those who would cause their parents concern and those who wouldn’t. When adolescence hits it is such a major change that no one can predict which way people will go. Some twelve/thirteen year olds have a sensible attitude towards their studying and set themselves long-term goals and work studiously towards them, and there are the others. I, as anyone who has read my tales will know, was one of the others.
Life for those like me was for the taking. We didn’t want to wait a second longer than we had to and, in my case, I wasn’t prepared to work hard to achieve long-term goals when there was fun to be had, new experiences and excitement. I wanted the pleasures of being a grown up and I certainly didn’t like school work that required a lot of effort. The older system of schooling that Roundhay and other schools followed was that exams were the only assessment method and how you performed on them was all that mattered. This suited me as I could do the barest minimum of homework, maybe do a bit of studying just before an exam and manage to get through. I don’t know if it is genetic or a gender trait, but one of the reasons why girls achieve better results nowadays is that continuous assessment suits a female psyche of, order, routine, security, whereas last minute, under pressure seems to suit many males. I am not one for sweeping generalisations normally and I am sure that you can think of many exceptions, but it certainly matches my attitude and my wife’s. After saying that, I have changed over the years, but to a large extent this is because I enjoy what I do now and see its relevance. Unfortunately the curriculum in the mid 1960s made little, if any, attempt to meet the relevance criteria of teenage boys. It was built on the premise that boring would be good for the soul, and that hours of tedium sitting at desks would keep us out of mischief, and I am sure for some it did, but not for me and many of my contemporaries. History should be such a lively subject, full of intrigue, murder, betrayal, politics, war and executions, but we got Enclosure Acts, Corn Laws and misery. I am sure that what we were taught would have been more use if it had had a setting and, the reason ’why’ and what it meant was explained, but alas it just seemed a disconnected series of events and facts. Maybe it is just how my brain works, but I want to know how it fits into the ‘big picture’ of the world and my place in it.
The one subject that did achieve this for me was Geography and, in particular, geomorphology. I loved it. What we learnt explained why the Wharfe Valley looked as it did, why Otley Chevin was there and how the Ice Age and aftermath had left Yorkshire looking as it does. It made sense and I had no trouble learning it, whereas French and Latin had no relevance and I only studied them beyond the first couple of years due to the requirements to study two languages. At that time Latin used to be a requirement for university entrance, but later a foreign language at O’Level would do.
The main problem with languages was that you had to learn vocabulary and that meant studying. No amount of inherent ability could avoid that, at least not in my case. CES French was introduced into Roundhay as a result of me, and some of my fellow students, being so appalling. I am sure that the school must have hid its head in shame, at the time, and I don’t know what the teacher had done to upset Mr Glover, ‘Fingers’, the Head, to be given the class. We were the guinea pigs and even had to do oral and aural tests. I do know that for the vast majority of the time the teacher read ‘La Peste’ by Albert Camus to us in English. It was gruesome enough to placate us for the lessons, but was never completed. Rather an apt choice for 2020.
I had this belief that Maths and English required no revision and, as a result, I did none. French I did nothing for and hence CSE grade 3. Biology, Physics and Geography I did put in a reasonable amount of effort, but only just before the exam. I was far too busy with the band, girls, drinking and generally enjoying life and when the exams came around I walked up to school with a heavy heart, sat in the hall at the set desks and spent the next hour and a half trying to answer questions off the top of my head. I guess that I was lucky, as I managed to eventually pass my six, if not with any great glory, and A’levels were the next choices. With the results I had I was allowed to do English, Geography and General Studies. You had to select Arts or Sciences and despite doing quite well in Biology and passing in Physics, I went the Arts way.
After the O’levels the biggest thrill was joining the Lower Sixth. Blazers changed from green to black and a certain amount of autonomy was granted. Now I can’t say that there was a great change, but doing only two A’level subjects meant I had free periods on my timetable. This was a great thrill, but was tempered by having to attend the library for these periods and a register was taken. It was still much better than having a lesson. English was disappointing as we had ‘Gobbler’ again and despite being a kind man, very clever and well intentioned, he failed miserably to control us. This was compounded by our experience of O’level English classes where we threw handfuls of chalk at him. He had even resorted to playing ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ by Simon and Garfunkel during lessons. The title song may have been a cry for help, but we took no notice and made his life a misery.
I guess he thought a Lower Sixth English group would be a much easier class, but in reality we were seasoned miscreants by this time and really he was out of his depth. The main problem was that teachers could go straight from university into teaching, with no training in pedagogy. I believe he was an Oxford scholar and he struggled to understand what standard of students he was working with. I am sure some in the group met his aims, but he couldn’t scaffold study to belligerent sixteen and seventeen year olds in any meaningful way.
Oil and water, I guess, and he seemed to miss more and more lessons and the exams showed how badly we were failing. It was time to bring in the big guns and Les Lees, head of the Sixth Form set himself the task of whipping us into shape in the Upper Sixth. In Geography there were no such problems and in General Studies we had a wide choice of subjects. The new music teacher, young, female and, compared to the one or two female staff, very attractive, found her subject was over-subscribed and it seemed hundreds turned up. Les Lees marched in and soon sorted us out, culling the masses to a reasonable number. Classics was now filled, as was psychology and other less popular choices. Music retained its popularity and was held in a downstairs room in the mansion. Heads would appear hanging upside down from the room above the bay window, as the culled members tried to glimpse what they were missing. Raging hormones did make the task of any half-decent female teacher’s life a misery.
The teacher was saved the following year when the school began to go co-ed. It started with the sixth forms and the Upper Sixth had a common room in a temporary building in the top yard of the girl’s school. We no longer had to register and attend the library and could just relax in the common room. We had never had it so good. Not only were we able to enjoy the freedom but we were joined by all the girls. There was a kettle, cups and mugs, a fridge with milk, lots of soft armchairs and coffee tables and a record player. It was heaven! My fellow students introduced me to various card games where we played for money. Brag, Pontoon and Poker were common and Brag was the most popular of them all. Relatively large amounts of coins changed hands and some boys had more money, but the skilful ones soon removed the problem they would have faced of how to spend it. It was in the common room that I first heard Genesis, Yes and many other progressive bands of the time. There were always people coming and going and it became packed at breaks and lunchtimes. Cliques of friendship groups gathered around parts of the common room and ours was always busy. Teachers rarely ventured into it and it was a sanctuary and I suppose a bit of a preparation for life at university and college. Hair was long for both genders and the school seemed to have given up on trying to keep it above the collar line. Smoking openly took place and no one ever mentioned it and yet clouds of smoke must have drifted out through the windows.
Of course we still had to attend lessons and at first English was greatly improved. Les Lees was a good teacher and he worked hard to bring us up to standard, but he was very busy in his role as Head of the Sixth Form and, bit by bit, he began to miss lessons and stand-ins were never the same. Geography was great though and we went on a field trip to Conway in Wales. This was a co-ed trip which was a challenge for the staff and being Upper Sixth some of us were eighteen when we went. I was one of those and Mr Templeton, Head of Geography spoke to me and asked if I would not drink. I agreed and, of course, took no notice of this.
The day came to leave and we gathered to board the coach at school. We sat with our own circle of friends towards the back of the bus, away from the teachers at the front. The rest of those going found places according to some understood priority seating arrangement. It was the time when cassette players were starting to be common and it was on the journey that someone had Aqualung on cassette, the Jethro Tull album, and so it must have been 1972 as the album was released in 1971. I hadn’t heard it before and I loved it. Chris M was a good friend and he was also on the trip as was Nigel C. Chris had brought a pack of cards and we started playing Brag on the way. I didn’t know until we arrived at the hotel we were staying in, but it was a marked pack of cards. He showed me later how the flower-type pattern on the backs of the cards had a missing petal that indicated the value and suit of the card. I remember playing all that first night and even knowing the hands I was playing against, I still managed to lose money.
It was a good field trip and, apart from visiting Conway Castle, we learnt about river capture and various other very interesting processes of geomorphology. We spent a day up in Snowdonia and visited the Idwal Slabs and Corrie in the Ogwen Valley where I had climbed with another Roundhay Climbing Club Trip. The second night we were allowed about the town and we followed the staff until we saw which pub they were going in and then we found another one away from them. Later that night we were walking back when a group of local youths came looking for trouble, but we avoided them and met back at the rendezvous site.
Back to A’levels, and we had to start making choices. UCCA was for those going to university and they were the focus of the school, after the Oxbridge candidates. Those wanting to teach were left to their own devices until Holy Joe came to the rescue and held a meeting, offering advice about how to apply. I applied to a number of colleges, but you put six in order. My first choice was Borough Road College in Isleworth, West London. It was a PE Wing College and the first College of Education in the world, founded by Joseph Lancaster. I was called for an interview and went all the way down on the train, caught the tube to Osterley and then attended the very informal meeting. They chatted with me for twenty minutes to see if I could string a sentence together and then I went all the way back to Leeds. A couple of weeks later I received an offer of a place even without A’levels. This took the pressure off my final year and, to be honest, the Upper Six was the easiest year I ever had and the summer of 1973 was a glorious one, but that will be another tale.