Sunday, 2 August 2015

How History Was Beaten Into Me

How History Was Beaten Into Me

School - Sharmans Cross

I started at Sharmans Cross High School For Boys in Shirley, Solihull in 1958, aged 11. Now do not get confused about it being called a High School, for in Solihull you needed to fail your 11+ to qualify, unlike Redditch High School which I went to when 16, where you needed to pass your 11+, but that is a different story.

Sharmans Cross had 950 boys and in my baby boom year there were 8 classes of 38 boys in each class. I was in the top class so goodness knows what it was like to be in the lower reaches.

History Lessons

In the four years I was at this school we had the same history teacher. His technique was simple, we were given a text book, told to read a chapter and towards the end of the hour lesson we would close our books and he would open his and ask us a series of questions. You were required to answer a minimum of 60% questions correctly in the first year when aged 11 to 12 an amount that increased by 5% each academic year. Fail to do this and you had to go to the front of the class to be slippered. This meant you bent down and touched your toes and then the teacher would hit your bum with one or two strokes with the sole of a large pump (plimsoll). Slippering was a lot less feared than the cane which was reserved for more serious misdemeanours although a few more sadistic teachers never bothered with the slipper but reached immediately for the cane.

Now I realise this is not a good or perhaps now even legal method of teaching but back in the late 50s and early 60s we never questioned it. We did however develop a tactic to reduce the chances of being hit.

The diagram above shows the layout of the classroom. Note the boy at Desk 28 balanced the history book on his knees beneath the desk. He got 100% every week. His answers were copied by the boys in his row and also the row behind. The answer was whispered to a boy in the row before 28 and so the answers were propagated around the class. The accuracy of these answers diminished as they travelled, similar to the game of Chinese Whispers so those further away would sometimes fail to meet the mark and be slippered.

I sat in the back row so escaped but the poor lad who sat at Desk 1 had no chance and I can see and hear the teacher even now saying "It's always you Youngblood" (not his real name, but close) as he bent over and touched his toes.

None of us thought of complaining, not that it would have done any good. The teacher was quite decent and never laid it on hard. He was probably bored with the lesson as much as we were and looked forward to his fag in the staff room whilst we looked forward to 20 minutes of mayhem in the playground.

The only time I can recall him beating me was when I tried to eat an apple. "Are you eating Tallis" he yelled. I swallowed the piece of apple and replied "Not now sir." He was not amused and I was summoned to the front and given a couple of blows.

The sad thing is I can only remember one thing from the 4 years he taught us and this was one of the rare occasions when he picked up chalk and wrote on the blackboard. It was about Charlemagne and the extent of his empire.

Change of School - Ridgeway

In the 4th year just after my 15th birthday we moved to a Worcestershire village which meant changing school. Ridgeway was much more rural orientated and only one third the size. The classes were smaller, about 30 in a class which made a bit of difference but the fact that half of them were girls made a big difference.

Mr. Lippet was our teacher and he could not have been more different. I believe he was a Baptist lay preacher, but I may be wrong on this. He controlled the class effortlessly, never spoke down to us and the thought of him beating any pupil was unimaginable. We were studying social history and I remember many small points of interest he talked about. For example he discussed with us why a man who works many hours of hard labour still works in his own garden afterwards, a mixture of necessity and the satisfaction of working for oneself he believed.

Eighteen months later I spent a day in glorious sunshine sitting on the flat roof of the local Observer Corp building on top of a hill just outside our village cramming history dates before tomorrow's O-level exam. Around me are Bredon Hill, Malvern Hills, Abberley Hill and in the distance the Clee Hills and beneath me swallows catch insects just above the grass.

It must have helped as I managed to pass the exam quite well with a grade 2, in those days grade 6 was the minimum pass level. This went towards the five passes I needed to qualify for a place in Redditch High School 6th form to study for A-level. At the time I did not realise going into the local grammar school was possible, it was only a chance remark by someone asking my father if I had started at the school that made us aware of the possibility. Dad made an appointment to see the headmaster and I started a week after the term had begun.


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