‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Eleven Plus at Harehills County Primary School. Post War Family Life, and the Importance of Secondary Education.

David’s Bookshelf Issue 2 Cup of Tea Tales

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://davidmcameronauthormusician.com/2022/10/02/davids-bookshelf-issue-2/ — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/david-m-cameron/message
  1. David’s Bookshelf Issue 2
  2. David’s Bookshelf – Issue One
  3. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Lifetime of Global Successes, Disasters and Wonders! Space the Final Frontier.
  4. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hetchell Woods (Bardsey) and Crags – A Special Piece of God’s Own Country or County! One of my Favourite Places to Visit.
  5. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Wonderful Yorkshire Dales. Trollers Gill, a Place with a Mysterious Legend and the Hell Hole where I Diced with Death.

When I have written about the Eleven Plus in the past, some people have been upset, as their experiences of the system were far from positive. However, it was a feature of my primary schooling and for the rest of those who were educated in the 1960s in England. I am not trying to defend it but to share my personal experiences of the system. It was a clumsy attempt to provide high school education that suited the abilities of the masses of children who, prior to its introduction, would have had little opportunity to remain at school beyond thirteen years. A grammar school education was no guarantee of a successful career, and they introduced the comprehensive school system in Leeds for my upper sixth year at Roundhay. The school became co-ed and merged with Roundhay Girls. The first year had a non-eleven plus intake that moved through the schools and I believe is the same today.

My mother (right) and my aunty.

For ambitious 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 that was introduced after the war in 1944. Prior to this, there were direct-grant grammar schools that were largely independent but offered 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 and put it in context, I must take you back to my mother and her sister. 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 were working people and 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 academically capable or wealthy went further. She met my father, an engineer at Catton’s foundry on Black Bull Street and they married. Immediately after they married, she had to leave 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. This was the case in most families that I know about. The concept of the housewife was not the reality for most families that I knew. The women would usually have jobs and have to do all the household chores of cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing and raising the children.

A drive through Harehills and I know I shouldn’t have turned right at the lights – (a senior moment)

When my parents got married, they were living in a flat at the back of the shops at Oakwood, next to Gipton Wood. The moment she became pregnant with my older brother, they had to leave the flat and find new accommodation. 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 managed to get a mortgage and buy their first house, 36 Lawrence Avenue. It was a small two-bedroom semi-detached house, in which my father later divided one bedroom to make three small ones.

Now this all sounds as if women were powerless at these times, but my mother certainly wasn’t. She was a very strong-willed woman, sensible, careful with money and passionately a defender of her children. My father was the major breadwinner, but my mother controlled the finances of the house. My father’s salary was handed over to her and she would give him back his allowance of cash to pay for petrol, cigarettes and other personal expenses. She would keep the rest and produced a very careful budget to pay for the mortgage, rates and bills, food, clothes, furniture, holidays, Christmas, and emergencies. Dad was happy to relinquish this responsibility and I believe this was very common in households. There was only one bank account, and she controlled it. Money was tight and I remember holidays, in cottages at the East Coast, being cut short and we returned home if it rained a lot and money had to be spent to entertain us. My mother took on some evening jobs to supplement the income, and she worked as an insurance agent collecting the weekly instalments around the Gipton estate for many years. Now, I am amazed how a woman on her own could walk around, in the evening, collecting cash and never have any problems. She then spent time at night with a ready reckoner, tallying up the accounts and paying the money to the bank. After this, she did the same thing with Vernon’s Football Pools. Times were very different and later in the 1970s she was the wages clerk for Wraggs Motor Cycles and she had to take the week’s takings to bank in Leeds City. It was several thousand pounds, and she was a small lady. It was in her shopping bag, and often she would go through Leeds Market on the way, doing a bit of shopping. If anyone knew, she would have been an easy target.

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 a 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, because of 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 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 because of 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 we marked our own or each other’s. We spent weeks doing these and there was a buildup to the test date and I know my mother was becoming stressed, but I don’t remember us kids worrying. For the tests themselves, all the classes came together into the hall. We sat in rows alphabetically. I think it was all done in one or two days, but I could be wrong there. This was quite an important time in the school and the classes that surrounded the hall had to be very quiet, on pain of death from their teachers. There were test booklets, and they instructed us how to fill in the covers and then sit until they gave us the command to start.

When the word ‘start’ 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 exam. 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 from 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 read 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 a 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, Paul Banks and Dick Rodley went with me to Roundhay School and several girls went to Roundhay Grammar. It was the end of the afternoon and there was 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.

4 Replies to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Eleven Plus at Harehills County Primary School. Post War Family Life, and the Importance of Secondary Education.”

  1. My experiences were very similar with a transition from Queen’s Road Junior School to Lawnswood High School and I still have the letter of acceptance that my parents received. With it came a terrifyingly long list of uniform requirements that stretched the family budget to its limits, but they were so proud that they didn’t care. I still feel very sorry for the 3/40 (two boys and one girl) in our class who were consigned to a secondary modern. Every bit as bright as the rest of us, they must just have had a bad day when taking the exam. Our teacher did his best to comfort them

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting to read about the 11+ exam, I left the school in 1967 a year before i was due to take it, and the village school I went to didn’t do the 11+ so I will never know if I was good enough to pass! I must have been at the school the same time as you but think I’m a couple of years younger, went there from 1963 to 1967. Didn’t know the classes were streamed, I was in Mr Woods class for a couple of years. I have the exact same report from that time, although mine didn’t have as good grades, very little was written about each child unlike todays reports which go into unbelievable detail! Funny how you mention Action Man in 1966, one of the boys in my class got one when it came out, I can remember him bringing it to the school and being very popular with the other boys. Regarding working Mum’s, my Mum worked too in the early 60’s, she got a job at a chemist, the extra cash must have been very handy, wasn’t long before we had a telly! Both parents worked hard, and yes Mum’s always did most of the housework and child minding. But in my eyes Mum’s should be at home when the child is small, very important time to spend with your children before they start school, I do think Nurseries do a good job now looking after children but it does seem a bit sad that Mum’s are missing out on their kids growing up because they have to work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I probably agree with Yvonne, about mothers spending the arly years with their children, but in our case it just wasn’t possible until we had the twins. At this point we’d saved money from Papua New Guinea and so could afford it for a while. We shared a lot of similar experiences, Yvonne.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s