I’m afraid I am running out of sensible ideas for cryptic titles. This is the first of several blogs about my experiences at Secondary School.
The school is still there and from the outside it hasn’t changed much. You can find it from Google Maps if you search for ‘Ilford County High School.’
It’s still a selective grammar school for boys only and it has its own web-site now at http://www.ichs.org.uk/ so I will leave it to you to find out about it now. I will take you back over fifty years to how I remember it – from 1958 to 1965. (It no longer calls itself Ilford County High School for Boys. I think the equivalent school for girls, near Gants Hill, was more short-lived.)
I am hoping that I have enough for two or three quite long posts about my school life here, only roughly chronologically, but I have to go back a tiny bit to say how I got there.
Younger readers will need to know this to convert forwards. Oldies like me may need it to convert backwards. Those in between probably know already. But there won’t be a test! OK, we used to have Primary school (Infants and Juniors) then we moved to Secondary School where we had First Form to Fifth Form; and finally Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth.
These are now called Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 (Infants), Year 3 to Year 6 (Juniors), Year 7 to Year 11 (Secondary), then Years 12 and 13 (still, just to confuse us all, sometimes called Sixth Form). This is just for England! Wales is fairly close but not exactly. Don’t try to understand Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have different systems of education – they always have done. In what I write, I will stick to the old designations – so at ICHS I went through First Form to Sixth Form.
Selection at 11 Plus
Selective schools are relatively uncommon now but then they were to be the norm. Back in the fifties there were no comprehensive schools (and none of the more modern versions, Free Schools, Foundation Schools, City Technology Colleges, Academies and whatever else subsequent governments may invent.) The break between Primary and Secondary education was very important, called ’11-Plus’ and it involved selection by examinations for all.
For my early education see  Highlands School (1) and  Highlands School (2). My equivalents of Year 4, 5 and 6 were at Highlands School. We all knew that the 11-Plus was coming and I suppose that our last year there was intended to prepare us for it.
The test was in three parts – English, Arithmetic and Intelligence.
I think that my parents assumed that we would pass but there was a bit of ‘cramming’ to help us. (Observant readers will note my use of the plural and perhaps remember my twin brother.) I remember two large books, something like A3 size but thin and card-backed, plain greyish brown. They were full of typical IQ questions, words, numbers and symbols with analogies like: ‘Horse is to Foal as Sheep is to ???’. Like all such tests in those days, the intelligence test didn’t only measure intelligence, it also depended on memory, vocabulary and culture.
From 1945 to 1970 in England and Wales there were three types of school. (Wales used to be part of England.) Those who passed the 11-Plus went to Grammar Schools. Ilford had about ten Grammar Schools. Those who failed went to Secondary Modern Schools. (Technical Schools, which were few in number, were alternatives to Grammar Schools. Many local authorities did not have Technical Schools. Ilford had just one, West Hatch Technical High School at Chigwell, now West Hatch High School.)
I don’t remember anything about taking the actual exams but we both passed and went to Ilford County High School. There was a process by which parents had put down their choice of Grammar School. I think they put about six of them in order. With an older brother already there, ICHS was the obvious choice.
Before I continue, here are three short notes about selection. (1) There was then no National Curriculum, no SATs, and nothing like them. (2) Three of us at Highlands were offered the chance to take Scholarship exams to the local Public Schools – probably Brentwood, Chigwell and Bancrofts. My parents declined the offer because even free fees would have left them with extra costs such as uniforms and travel. (3) In those days those with physical difficulties and learning difficulties (not called that!) had separate education. Now Comprehensive Schools more or less have to take everyone. (Sweeping generalization alert!)
Ilford County High School for Boys – School Location and Building
I will say so much about it that I will call it just ICHS from now onwards. The picture above, from the current web-site, is very familiar. (Of course, we didn’t go in through the front door.) On the map now there is a roundabout by the school. That wasn’t there. The triangle of land to the West, directly in front of the school, used to be open land. Now there are blocks of houses. We walked up Fremantle Road from Barkingside, which was as far as the bus took us.
Looking on the satellite view from Google Maps, the buildings have expanded but the original parts are still there. There were two quadrangles joined by the school hall in the middle. Round the quadrangles were classrooms and five science laboratories – two for Physics, two for Chemistry and one for General Science. (There was an option to do Biology, which I didn’t do. There may have been a Biology laboratory.)
By the entrance to the main hall were the Headmaster’s office and the Secretary’s office. Above this we had a Library. The picture shows lines of classrooms, with the office and library section in the middle.
Outside, the school still has a playground and a large school field. It looks as if some additional buildings have now encroached into the playground area but the large field behind it looks untouched.
As new First Form pupils we came on our own the day before term started for an introductory day. This was a useful, calming experience. We had sometimes heard tales of bullying of new boys by older pupils on the first day but I think these were apocryphal. We were told not to worry. We were shown round the buildings and told a little about procedures. My older brother, four or five years ahead at the school, had already given me some useful information and an annotated map.
School Rules were always prominently displayed on every class notice board. The thing that always struck me was that they also covered the journey to and from school and any time we were wearing school uniform. There were rules against smoking and we were expected to be polite and well-behaved on busses. (Yes, of course we were!)
In those days the rules about school leaving allowed pupils to leave at the end of the Fourth Form but at Grammar School we had to stay to complete our studies for ‘O’ Levels (GCE, the precursor to GCSE.) As a requirement for acceptance, parents signed an agreement to keep us on to the Fifth Form.
There was also the ‘School Fund,’ which was not exactly compulsory but I don’t think any parent ever refused to pay it. Five shillings a term (25 pence) was collected to cover extras such as transport costs for school teams in sports. We paid reduced rates as a family with more than one boy at the school. I have just checked my receipts. Early ones were for 2s 6d, and later 4s. (Yes, I know, I am a bit of a hoarder.)
I think Junior Schools like Highlands School had uniforms but they were pretty optional and I don’t remember ever seeing them. Grammar School uniform was compulsory and each school had its distinctive colours. For ICHS it was grey creased flannel trousers, white shirt, school tie, maroon blazer, grey socks and polished black leather shoes.
The modern uniform has the same badge and is almost unchanged but there are two differences. In the First Form we all wore short trousers. There was no precise age rule but we moved to long trousers around the second form.
In the uniform list, which we took to the appropriate shop in Ilford, was a school cap. I think it was plain maroon to match the jacket. Most boys bought them, some wore them for the introduction, but it was soon evident that nobody at school wore caps any more. The one boy in our year who wore one after the first day was severely mocked for it.
On a daily basis, we reached school in time for Assembly at 8:40. There were seven periods each day, many of them taken as double periods. In theory there were five minutes between lessons to allow us to move round the corridors and line up outside. From 9:00 to 10:30 we had two periods, then a break with two more from 10:45 to 12:15.
In the afternoon three periods without a break lasted from 1:45 to 3:50.
I cannot remember whether the classrooms had clocks but pupils generally did not have watches. Watches were expensive luxuries. My first watch was a present from my godmother on my confirmation at about thirteen. Time in the school was regulated by a prefect. At the appropriate time, the bell prefect went to the Office and pressed the button to ring the school bell in the corridors.
When the bell went we continued working. It was a guide for the teacher. He would stop the lesson and tell us to leave. We never went into the next lesson uninvited. We lined up outside and waited.
[OK, a diversion about time. We never used expressions like 8:40 or 10:45. They were ‘twenty to nine’ and ‘a quarter to eleven’ respectively and the school day ended at ‘ten to four.’ In general conversation, I don’t believe anyone used more accurate time than the nearest five minutes. Before ‘ten to four’ no one would ever say ‘twelve minutes to four.’ It might be ‘just after a quarter to four,’ or, perhaps, ‘nearly ten to four,’ or ‘between quarter to and ten to.’ Train timetable and bus timetables might have been more accurate – but I don’t want to imply that public transport ran on time!]
Hall and Assembly
The hall was an impressive room with its stage at the front (used sometimes for school plays) and gallery at the back. It could just about seat the whole school of 800 pupils and we came in by classes, in silence, for Assembly every morning. Classes sat in rows with the form teacher at the end. The gallery was for the Sixth Form.
I have talked of formality in an earlier posting ( Formality.) Schools have always been relatively formal and Assembly was the most formal point of the day. Some teachers had their gowns from university and those teachers always wore their gowns in Assembly.
When we were ready, the Headmaster, HS Kenward (known to the boys as Harry when no one was listening,) came from the back of the hall and we would always stand in silence for his entrance. (The class always stood if the head came into a lesson.) He would mount the stage with the Deputy Head, Mr Taylor and ask us to sit down.
Somehow we knew that talking in assembly would be dealt with severely. There was the possibility of … having your name announced in assembly with an order to see Mr Taylor afterwards. (That happened occasionally. The deputy head was feared, in quite an affectionate, respectful way. We didn’t know what would happened if called for an interview with him and we didn’t want to find out!)
As at Highlands, assembly was a primarily a short Christian service. For many years the only legal requirement in the school curriculum was that it must include this religious act – a requirement that gradually came to be bent or ignored in the eighties and nineties.
It started with a hymn from a pocket hymn book which fitted neatly into a blazer pocket. I suspect it was Hymns Ancient and Modern as used at church. Unfortunately I threw mine away about two years ago as part of a long term project to declutter, so I can’t check.
There was a small orchestra of about half a dozen instruments at Assembly, teachers and pupils. Not everyone sang enthusiastically but there was enough support to produce the tune and the words.
After the hymn there would be reading, not always from the Bible, and a few words, perhaps ethical or philosophical rather than religious.
Then we had prayers, always including the Lord’s Prayer, in the archaic language described in  Religion.
Finally, there were normally a few notices, including internal and external school events. We stood as the headmaster made his exit, then we left to return to our form rooms in preparation for the first lesson.
Classrooms and Teaching
Teaching was very formal using the old-fashioned ‘chalk and talk.’ Classrooms had desks lined in rows, four by four pairs of desks making room for the normal class size of 32 pupils. We lined up outside the classroom until asked to come in.
We did actually use desks like the picture above for all of our school work. Moreover, we used the desk in our form room to store all our text books and exercise books. We would take with us just what we needed.
The teacher’s desk at the front was on a raised platform and most teaching was done with the help of chalk on a blackboard. I may comment on individual teachers and their teaching styles later. (I have done a few years teaching so I will be a bit sympathetic.)
It was more or less one text book and one exercise book for each subject, issued by the teacher at the start of the year. Exercise books, between A4 and A5 in size, had 80 pages. When they were full you could take the full book to the office and get a new book, issued by a prefect.
All of our written work, especially homework, was in an exercise book using fountain pens. The only ink I ever saw was Parker’s Quink SOLV-X, normally blue-black.
We had to write clearly and neatly, so we had rough books, then copied work out neatly. We could write what we wanted in rough books, in ball-point pen or pencil. The paper was poor quality and you could not use a fountain pen.
Although it was never mentioned, we changed immediately from the printing style of Junior School to ‘joined-up’ cursive writing from the beginning of the First Form.
Before I end this introductory ICHS blog I have to show you this. It looks very similar to the satchel we all had, but very new, probably still smelling of leather. (The picture may be imitation plastic but ours were leather.) We all carried one to school with our homework and it came round with is to each lesson, at least for a few years. My memory is uncertain and I think we may have changed to duffel bags later on.
I still have a lot more to say about ICHS, maybe another two or three postings …