"Common sense is not so common".

Voltaire (1694-1778); French writer

Abbeydale Grange - The Whole Story

Part 1

When I started the site one of the principles I adopted was that wherever possible, the content of the site would be original. In September 1999 The Guardian newspaper published a major three part enquiry into the state education in the UK. In the first two articles, Abbeydale Grammar School and its successor Abbeydale Grange School figured prominently. The third article can be safely ignored as it centered around the ramblings and musings of the former Secretary of State for Education, Mr. Kenneth Baker whose sole claim to fame was to give teachers a further five days holi.... sorry training.

I have posted the first two articles to the site in .pdf format

Part 1 - Revealed the fatal flaws at the heart of our Education system.pdf - This article was published in The Guardian on Tuesday 14th September 1999

Part 2 - Bias that killed the dream of equality.pdf - This article was published the following day on Wednesday 15th September 1999

To view the files you will need to download the Acrobat Reader which can be downloaded free of charge 

I have also posted an article that appeared in the last edition of the Abbeydale Boys Grammar' Schools magazine "Torch" which appeared in 1969 just before the Grammar School was replaced by Abbeydale Grange and turned into a Comprehensive school . Written by the Headmaster W.J.G. "Bill" Massey the article was called an

Introduction to Torch - the magazine for Abbeydale Boys' Grammar School 1969.pdf

For many years I have wondered why I found secondary school a thoroughly dispiriting experience. Primary School was more or less bearable but it did nothing to prepare me for attending what was then a prestigious Grammar School in the leafy suburbs of Sheffield. The reader will have to realize that attaining a place at a Grammar School was and still is perceived as being essential for future "success" in  life It is only with the value of hindsight and a far more rounded education than that what was offered by the State that you come to realize that Abbeydale Boys' Grammar was an anachronism that belonged to the past. In its values, beliefs and attitudes, the School and its predecessor were never properly integrated into the State sector. In reality the School imitated the style and traditions of the minor public schools with house masters, house teams, head boys, prefects, uniforms, cap and gowns etc. Reading page 3 of School Notes in "Torch" you are told that Mr. O Robertshaw after forty years service to the state sector was "the staff expert on detention" and that Mr. L.P.Cook supervised the long bike rides into Derbyshire as well as the Chess Club. If you want confirmation of this backward narrow minded view of life look no further than the link to ABGS's predecessor Nether Edge Grammar School and the photograph taken in 1958 of the school's teachers (the lady in the centre is the school secretary). Nearly fifteen years after the 1944 Education Act there were schools in the state sector that were still aping the mores and prejudices of private schools - even ten years after this photo was taken I can still remember teachers at ABGS walking around in their traditional black gowns.

Even the parents had grim reservations about the school. Arthur Bedford in writing his life story noted that on his relocation transfer to Sheffield in 1946

"My two elder sons had to leave their two nice scholarship schools of Ilford County High and Buckhurst Hill Grammar, for the
pinched and creepy crawley crabbly old Nether Edge Grammer (sic) School...,"

However the key phrase in the whole "Torch* article is on the opening page

"When the day comes to look back over our formative years we hope to be able to see that with your help we have built a sound future on the sure foundation of the past"

The problem was that the past was not a sure foundation, it was based on principles that had more in common with an elitist  public school rather than a school in the state sector. The school was built on class-ridden socially exclusive society that was not prepared to tolerate an influx of children from socially deprived areas. The whole ethos of the school was based on what are now called traditional middle class values. Boys who passed the eleven plus and who came from non middle class backgrounds i.e. from the less privileged areas of Sheffield found that they had to acquire a whole new set of beliefs and values. It was imperative that the pupils and the staff of the school shared these values hence the repeated emphasis on the traditional role of the school. Pupils who came from what was perceived as the less attractive parts of Sheffield had to conform to this system of beliefs and practices and so the staff ensured that they received a far harder time than those pupils that lived in the wealthier suburbs. This of course was re-enforced by the fact that very few if any teachers lived in the less attractive areas of Sheffield. Teachers at that time were seen as one of the professions and lived in the areas favoured by the professional classes. They mixed socially with the parents and relatives of the boys from middle class parents and so gave far greater encouragement and assistance to those boys than to those from working class backgrounds.

The pupils may have been equal in academic ability when they started the school but they certainly weren't when they left. The school was constantly streaming pupils and I always had this impression that the streaming had less to do with skills and ability and more to do with social and class prejudice.

Of course this viewpoint could be disproved and dismissed quite easily by a detailed statistical analysis of the pupils social background and their attainments whilst at the School. As far as I'm aware no such analysis ever took place and it is easy to see why. The School and the Education Authorities had all this information available to them but I strongly believe that any investigation would reveal that pupils from the less privileged areas left school earlier and achieved less academically than those from the more affluent suburbs. By the time the pupils had reached the sixth form the School and its environs had became a perfect enclave for the middle classes.

It is only with hindsight that you can marvel at the absurdity of it all

The above photograph was taken in May 1964 - the two ladies in the photograph were the school secretaries! The teachers seem to have something in common

The list could be extended still further but I think most people will now have got the idea that the place had become totally outdated and that the archaic practices that were indulged in by The School were becoming unsustainable in the Britain of the 1970's.

For the next installment please click here

Thanks to Dave Corbett for permission to use the photograph

"Education would be much more effective if its purpose was to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they do not know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it".  ~William Haley

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This page was last updated on 04/04/14 16:14