Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.


[107] University

As I clear up the remaining topics I am getting towards some odds and ends. This will be about University life in the sixties but I am going to go back a few years to some more about school. There may be a bit of duplication.
National Curriculum and SATs

The fifties were well before the National Curriculum . Schools had their own curriculum and they got on with it. They certainly did not explain it to the parents and of course the parents didn’t ask. Schools were managed by local authority Education Departments, which were controlled by central government. So, presumably all schools taught the same basic curriculum.

There were tests and exams every year. Reports would show how we did in our particular class at school but there was no national coordination. To be honest, every class could have different exams and we didn’t even coordinate results over the whole year group.

GCE subjects

You will have read about Ilford County High School and my experience was just of Grammar Schools. Most (but not all) were all-boys schools or all-girls schools. Here the curriculum included English, Mathematics (without calculators), Latin, French, History, Geography, Physics and Chemistry.

When we came to GCE ‘O’ Level English Language, English Literature, Mathematics and French were compulsory with options on other subjects – other languages (Latin, Greek, Spanish or German) or sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology or General Science) or humanities (History, Geography or Art).

Almost all Grammar School pupils would achieve 5 or 6 “O” Levels with the best passing eight or nine. This was of the order of 20% of the school population at that age. This standard is what they now call GCSE grade AA to C and the expectation now is that 60% of children will achieve this in six subjects. Some might say that teaching has improved, others may think that the standard has been adjusted. I will let you guess where you think I lie in this discussion.

A Level

Those who achieved the required “O” Levels went on to the final two years – then known as the Lower Sixth and the Upper Sixth. They studied for “A” Levels, specializing in three subjects. (The main exception was for Mathematicians who would take Physics, Chemistry, Pure Mathematics and Applied mathematics.)

We were still limited to the same subject choice with perhaps the addition of Music and Art. The aim was to achieve entry to University and almost all Sixth Form students succeeded in this. Those who could not quite make the grades required for University might go into teaching as a career. Teacher training Colleges then did not provide the same degree level education standard as universities.

University Entrance

There were far fewer University places and correspondingly fewer pupils who passed the required GCSE – normally 2 or 3 “A” levels were needed with 5 “O” Levels including Mathematics and English and a modern language.

Subjects at University were largely restricted to the traditional subjects which were still the main options at school as listed above. There were degrees available in Botany or Zoology rather than Biology. There were also some traditional subjects which had never been specific “A” level options – Economics, Statistics, Medicine, Law, Psychology, Geology and Astronomy, and some more narrowly defined options like Medieval English, Italian, Theoretical Physics, Biochemistry, History of Art. There were none of the more modern subjects like Sociology, Media Studies, Theatre, Sports Studies and of course there was nothing even remotely like Computing or Information Technology.

School Careers

In theory schools had Careers departments to advise pupils on their future after school. There were some advisory brochures in the library but these were more or less just those provided by each university to its potential applicants.

We had Mr Rigby, a Mathematics teacher, who covered careers and university applications. I think each pupil had a brief interview with him about which universities to apply to. I remember mine.

Space was limited at school. The Headmaster had an office. The Deputy Head had one – no, he didn’t – he used the Art store cupboard! Yes, he did. Poor Mr Rigby did not have anything. He did his interviews in his car in the school car park.

UCCA form

As a diversion let’s look at UCCA, the Universities Central Council on Admissions, which dealt with university applications in the UK from 1961. [In those days there were things called polytechnics, instituting various diplomas and some degrees, generally considered as of lower status than universities. In parallel with the UCCA scheme there was a scheme for the polytechnics called the Polytechnics Central Admissions System (PCAS). All degrees were supervised by the CNAA, the Council for National Academic Awards. In 1992 CNAA was abolished, all polytechnics became independent universities and UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service was formed by merging UCCA and PCAS. As a resident of Cheltenham I have to point out that UCCA, initially in London, moved to Cheltenham in 1968.]

University Applications

There were two important things about these application forms which we did in the first term of the Upper Sixth.

Firstly there was a section where we all had to write a description of ourselves including hobbies and anything we thought might influence the decision to award a place. So we joined clubs, did jobs, helped with voluntary activities – or at least we said we did. I am sure that some put in comments that were not totally accurate. (Not me of course.)

For the other point you will have to remember how much we were pre-computers. The form was handwritten without automatic spell-checking and correction and it was assumed that the accuracy of our English and the quality of our handwriting were important. This was a fountain pen job and we did it on a piece of paper first to get it right. A lot of time and effort went into it. At the appropriate time we were gathered together in a classroom, allocated time to write it out correctly, supervised and helped. A mistake or a blotted letter could be fatal. There were one or two spare forms but basically we had to get it right the first time.

Student Finances

In the fifties, student grants were provided to all students to cover fees and living expenses. Some students worked either during the holidays or in the evenings during term time and by the end of the year most kept more or less solvent. Grants were means tested with the adjustment of a ‘parental contribution’, and in general parents paid the sums which were expected of them – even though a degree course could take students well over the (then) age of majority of 21. I remember for my first year I was assessed at £305 rather than the full £370. (Yes that’s for a whole year. Dad did not make up the difference so I lived on £305. It wasn’t too difficult. I think that the fees were about £2000 per year but they were transparent. Students had nothing to do with them – it was handled by the grant.)

For many the receipt of a first student grant cheque would represent the first need to arrange their finances and set up a bank account. No students ever had either a credit card or a debit card (- nor did anyone else!) I set up a National Giro account in my first few days at university.

So at the end of a University course few students had acquired significant debts. There simply were not the banking facilities for them to do so! I did some work in the holidays. Two weeks working as a temporary postman before Christmas was a popular job for students.


I won’t say much more about how universities were different then but I will come to life at university later.

Two things about life in general affected the way things were done. Firstly, everything was more formal.

Also, while students were under 21 they were still minors in the eyes of the law, and university and college officials maintained a position of control in loco parentis. They looked after the moral welfare of the students and this continued even when they passed the age of 21. Basically this meant discouraging alcohol and sex. The Universities and Colleges were mostly mixed but halls of residence were all separated by sex. [OK, now we would say by gender.] Oxford and Cambridge colleges were nearly all for men only, with a few for women only.

We had to be back in by in college by 10:00 p.m. and men were strictly forbidden to entertain women guests overnight. (There were, of course, ways round some of these technical restrictions. Although colleges were surrounded by high walls with a Porter’s Lodge controlling access out of hours, there was generally a well-known convenient tree which could be climbed.)


I went to one of the colleges of Cambridge University and studied Mathematics. (I won’t go into the differences between Oxford and Cambridge and other universities, which were more marked in those days. I had to stay another term at school, applied to Cambridge outside the UCCA scheme, took GCE ‘S’ level and Cambridge entrance exams.)

Teaching was effectively lecture based. Each year we chose various topics to study. Lectures ran for the term and for Mathematics the times were 9-10, 10-11, 11-12 and 12-1 on Monday to Saturday. Option choices meant that we each did two each day. For example, one topic might be 10:00 to 11:00 on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It was generally accepted that the actual times left five minutes each end to walk between the different lecture halls.

There was always the pretentious idea that you said you were ‘reading’ a university subject rather than studying it. At the first lecture of each course the lecturer would supply a list of recommended books, which we would buy at great expense. I always assumed that the lectures defined the course content and only used text books to clarify things from the lecture if necessary.

We each had a Director of Studies and I think the theory was that we met once a week for individual tuition. With increasing numbers it we had groups of two or three and postgraduate students (studying for Ph. D. in Mathematics under the same Director of Studies,) deputized. We were set homework from the text books that we might talk about at the next session – it was never formally assessed.

At the end of each year we had three-hour examinations and these were the only means of assessment. There was no hint of coursework.


You may wonder what part computers played in my Mathematics degree. Well some universities had some computer facilities but Cambridge was not an early user of them in education. There was one small course in our choice of options called something like Computing but it had nothing to do with using computers. It was about numerical analysis, a mathematical technique using iterative methods that was suited to computers. No one studying Mathematics there ever saw a computer.


University Life

Remember here that I am talking a about Pembroke College, Cambridge. The picture above, taken from their web-site now, looks unchanged from when I was there in the late sixties!

  • Eating

The central building was a large Hall which served as the location for our formal evening meal served together to the whole student population at a series of long tables. (We could see the Master and Fellows at High Table at the end.)

I don’t think attendance was actually compulsory but it was included in the overall term boarding costs. It was a three-course meal (with no choice) served by college servants. To us it was quite posh, the sort of thing you might have in restaurants, and there were sometimes more unusual things like Jugged Hare.

Breakfast and lunch were available in the same hall but on an informal basis. They were optional and we queued up and signed in. Some lunches were more popular than others with Egg, Bacon, Sausage and Tomato coming high on the list. Breakfast was virtually unattended.

Often it was cheaper to eat less in our college rooms. There was a shop called the Buttery supplying some basic food on tick. (It went on to the college bill paid at the end of term.) To be honest I can’t remember what I used to eat but mostly I went into Hall for lunch and survived on biscuits.

  • Rooms and Facilities

Rooms did not have much in the way of facilities for cooking. My first room in college was a small bed sitting room. It had a bed, a desk and chair for studying, a small wooden bookcase and presumably one easy chair. It had a gas fire. There was no television – we went to the Junior Common Room (JCR) for that. The JCR was packed for Top of the Pops and Pan’s People.

On a landing with four such rooms we shared a single toilet and two gas rings for cooking. The gas rings were really only used for instant coffee. The usual practice after evening Hall was for large numbers to go back to someone’s room for coffee and chat.

For a telephone we could use the payphone. I think the college had just one.

Baths were in a block the other side of the site – a long walk not taken too often. I probably had a bath every week and shaved every two weeks. Somewhere on the site was our own little laundry facility but clothes could last a long time for students.

In years two and three most students moved to rooms in town in shared flats. I was lucky enough to be allowed to stay in college but moved to another room. I think I brought a small portable TV to my room, which was much the same as the first one.

  • Bedders

The days of individual servants had gone but we were left with ‘bedders’ who came every morning. They may have done a bit of tidying but basically they made the beds. (It was before duvets. We had sheets and blankets.)

I’m not saying anything about my personal life but you had to get on well with yours if you accidentally allowed a girl to stay overnight.

  • Gowns

I think Oxford and Cambridge were behind other universities in abandoning the formal dress requirements but on the first day we had to buy gowns. They were required for four things: in Hall in the evenings; during formal examinations; at the University Library and after dark in town! Yes, we really did need them for this. If you were caught without one you were fined by the Proctors (who had legal rights to police students.)The standard fine was 6s 8d. More serious offences, which usually involved being drunk, could cost 13s 4d (That’s 33.3 pence and 66.7 pence!)

The formal hood that went with the gown was only required at Graduation ceremonies, where it could be hired. (For Graduation you needed the BA Gown, which was not the same as an undergraduate gown.)

  • Dons

We saw little of the dons at University, the Master and Fellows. We all had a Tutor who was in charge of what we might call pastoral care. He was our point of contact for anything. He would try to get to know us by social events. As far as I remember these were always sherry parties – probably before evening Hall. Of course the easy way to persuade students to attend anything was to provide free alcohol and in those days sherry was what people drank. I think there were two or three every term and also occasionally similar soirees with Directors of Studies and even the Master. The Dean, M B Dewey, was a more enigmatic character. He invited small groups to tea parties.

  • Personal

To put my time at university into perspective you have to realise that I was not a typical student. I was and still am very introverted. At university I never got to know even the students in rooms next mine or the others from Pembroke doing Mathematics. And I took the need to study very seriously.

I attended almost all the lectures. Some students didn’t bother. I took copious notes on a large foolscap note pad. Then I went back to my room and copied the notes neatly into exercise books making sure that I understood everything. This might take a couple of hours. When the lecturer said: “It can be easily shown …” I might spend a long time poring through textbooks to make sure I got it right.

I must have visited the JCR a few times every day. As well as providing a television set it was the location of pigeon-holes for incoming mail and internal mail. It would be wrong to suggest that we had junk mail but I think Endsleigh Insurance were always trying to sell Student Insurance. It was a common room full of comfortable chairs and daily papers and magazines were available to read there.

What else did I do? I read a lot of books. I had a transistor radio. I wrote letters to my girlfriend – proper letters on Basildon Bond paper. In the daytime I must have walked around town a little and done some shopping for food. Once or twice I ventured into other colleges but I never ventured out of town. I think once or twice I went to an Indian restaurant on my own. But I never went into a cafe or pub for a drink and I did not make friends. I think most of the students did do a lot of café drinking.

[Don’t worry, I have made up for it in later life. I can manage a coffee and cake almost every day now – sometimes two!]

I am not sure how but I did take up Tenpin Bowling. This was a craze from the USA that spread widely about that time and has since died down a lot. I played for the University and about once a month we travelled to other universities for matches.

Of course I did not have a laptop computer or tablet or mobile phone or any form of computer games machine!

 I survived my three years there and graduated with a B.A in Mathematics.


Marie de St Pol, Countess of Pembroke (1303-1377) widow of the Earl of Pembroke, Aymer de Valence, founded Pembroke College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve 1347 when Edward III granted her the licence for the foundation of a new educational establishment in the young university at Cambridge. The Hall of Valence Mary, as it was originally known, was thus founded to house a body of students and fellows. The college was later renamed Pembroke Hall, and finally became Pembroke College in 1856. There were some instances when individual colleges were identified when Pembroke used the letter V.

The arms of the college shown above are: Barry of ten argent and azure, an orle of martlets gules (for De Valence), dimidiated with, Gules three pales vaire and a chief or with a label of five points azure (for St. Pol). This coat was confirmed to the college at the Visitation of 1684.

I still get a regular magazine called the Martlet. [A martlet is a stylised bird with no legs.]




[82] ICHS – Part Five

I have done my school days in roughly chronological order, so I am left with the Sixth Form at Ilford County High School. But because it’s been a bit rambling, there will be lots of other leftover bits as well!


You will, of course, have read Parts One, Two, Three and Four already.

I have described the school and its location but have only recently found this picture. It shows the school frontage, which is largely unchanged today and the local church that we sometimes used – for inoculations, medical visits and GCE O Level oral examinations.

But also shows this large rough field to the front. You will remember, from Blog [36] that fireworks on the Fifth of November used to be much more common. This feature would have a rough bonfire and some of the boys might gather with bangers. Organized Fireworks night events were unusual – they were just informal gatherings.

Sixth Form

It was assumed at Ilford County High School (ICHS) that all students would move on to the Sixth Form to study selected subjects at A Level and there were very few exceptions to this rule. There was just one boy in our class who left after O Levels.

GCE A Levels were the only option for us. (AS levels did exist but I never heard of anyone taking them. The other qualifications below degree level were OND, HND and HNC. There were Further Education Colleges doing things like these.) A few scholars who failed to achieve the necessary grades could re-sit and catch up later with A Levels. The general standard – for continuation into Sixth form, or for many jobs elsewhere – was five subjects at O Level, including English Language and Mathematics.

As for O levels there was no element of coursework in our studies.


I will do things the other way round and start with the options available to us, the classic subjects which were more or less the only subjects generally available at University, so they were the main subjects available at school.

There were the sciences: Physics, Chemistry, Botany and Zoology; Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics; Languages: English (which at A Level meant Literature,) French, German, Spanish, Latin and Ancient Greek; and the arts and humanities: Art, Geography and History.

[I may be wrong about Botany and Zoology. It may have been just Biology. I am not sure how a few had managed to get to O Level Greek. Music, PE or RI may have been available but were rarely chosen.]

For the Sixth Form we picked three subjects. Probably not every possible combination was available. Those doing Mathematics generally did four, like me, usually Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.

ICHS Today

AS Levels have come into use as the first half of A level courses and the School now starts the Sixth form with four AS subjects selected from quite a long list. Their web site suggests that any combination of four subjects is acceptable. These are usually cut to three in the final year for A Level study.

Sciences are Physics, Chemistry and Biology with the addition of Psychology and Computer Studies. (In the fifties and sixties, Computer Studies did not exist and Psychology started at University level.)

Mathematics and Further Mathematics are both available (replacing what to us were Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics.)

Languages are English Literature, French, German and Spanish. Classical Civilisation is available, replacing the Latin and Greek of our days, which sadly seem to have disappeared as school subjects. (There is also English Language and Literature.)

Art, History and Geography effectively complete all the options available in our day. (Music, PE and RI are still there, probably still very much minority choices.)

With more stress now on real life and business, they have the three additional options of Economics, Government and Politics, and Design Technology (Product Design).

I must add this section with the following, taken from the School web site: “The Sixth Form at Ilford County High School is one of the most successful in the UK and in 2012 the Department for Education cited it as the most successful state school in England for progression to university.”

I think it was pretty good back in the sixties!

Sixth Form Studies

Then, as now, the Sixth Form was different. We were taught in much smaller groups in a way that was slightly more relaxed and informal. (I suspect that all teaching is much more informal nowadays!) We had free periods when in theory we did private study and the Library was allocated for this use. I am not sure to what extent we were allowed to leave the school in free periods but we certainly did sometimes. We used loose-leaf files instead of exercise books.

There were some other things in the timetable. There was a new thing called ‘Use of English,’ for one period a week with an examination at the end of the Lower Sixth. It was designed, I think, to side-track English O Level for non-native speakers of English – it may have included an oral exam.

There was also something called General Studies, which covered some odds and ends of real life to avoid a blinkered sphere of study. (Don’t ask me what was included. Perhaps politics, economics, British Constitution, current affairs.) The School now includes an AS subject called Critical Thinking which develops analytical and writing skills it develops. This looks like the successor to General Studies.

It was at the height of the importance of Russia and the USSR and we had a teacher who I think came back from a year learning the Russian language. When I started in the Lower Sixth, there was an optional O Level Russian course available.

[It clashed with something so I couldn’t do it. I bought the standard text book, which in those days was effectively produced by a department of the USSR government, and could only be ordered by post from Moscow. I taught myself while at school and University and took the O Level a few years later.]


Back to subjects – I have left until last those I did at A Level and next on my list is Mathematics, always known as Maths. (US: Math) I think I always knew that I would go on to study Maths at university. It was always my favourite subject but I can’t remember the particular Maths teachers. It was just Maths up to the Fourth Form, taking O Level Pure Mathematics early, then Additional Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics in the Fifth Form – and Pure and Applied for A Level. I think Mr Taylor, the deputy Head (known as Gat) taught some of the A Level Applied Mathematics.

I remember Mr Rigby as a Maths teacher but I am not sure if he actually taught us. He was near to retirement and, in a time when all teaching was done on a blackboard, he was allergic to chalk dust. He wore gloves when writing on the blackboards and would write everything for the day before lessons started.


I need to go back to the earlier years of Maths, when we did algebra and geometry and the geometry include various constructions with triangles and circles – things like bisecting angles and bisecting the sides of triangles. We all had geometry sets, often in a little tin like the picture above.


A geometry set always contained two set squares (US: triangles) of different proportions (90-45-45 and 90-60-30), a protractor for measuring angles up to 180, a pair of compasses for drawing circles (now sometimes just called a compass), and dividers (like compasses but with two points). It may also have included a six-inch ruler, coloured pencils and a pencil sharpener. The picture above is, of course, far too modern. Set squares, protractors and rulers were wooden, not plastic, buy otherwise modern equipment is similar.

Later we did trigonometry and learned to use logarithms. I think slide-rules were not used until the Sixth Form. (Calculators were just emerging but were not yet allowed for use in schools.)

We did trigonometry round about the Third Form and some calculus in the Fourth Form. I think our syllabus reflected changes so that the calculus was new.

For A level much of what I remember for Pure Mathematics was more calculus – including trigonometric expressions and natural logarithms. For Applied Mathematics we did uniform acceleration, statics and friction – basically mechanics. There was none of the statistics which has come in later to the syllabus.

I can’t comment much on how the teaching of Maths has changed except to say that by the early eighties (when I taught for a few years) it had changed little. In the eighties calculators had replaced logarithms and slide rules, probability and statistics were included, but the basics were similar using textbooks.


There was a very popular combination of Pure Maths, Applied Maths, Physics and Chemistry and those were the subjects I did. For Chemistry I am pretty sure that we had the same teacher through O Level and A Level but I can’t remember his name. For reasons that were not clear, we did O Level Chemistry half a year early, in January – presumably to allow more time for the A Level syllabus.

Chemistry was heavily based on practical experiments – something like two theory periods each week and two double periods of practical experiments. I definitely preferred practical lessons. There was a Junior Chemistry Laboratory (JCL) for O Level and Senior (SCL) for A Level. Chemistry theory seemed relatively boring – just a new element every week – reading about its sources, mining and extraction and uses etc., just reading learning by rote from textbooks.

Conical-Flask1 Flaming Bunsen Burner Against Black Background

Practicals, done in pairs, involved chemicals in conical flasks, burettes, pipettes, Bunsen burners and litmus paper. (Pictures above of conical flasks and a Bunsen are far too modern.) We always wore our own white lab coats for practical lessons. For Chemistry we also had to supply a small metal spatula at our own expense.


We had chemical balances that would weigh to 0.001 grammes.

The balance was in a box like the picture above. It was so accurate that it was sensitive to air movements.

Normally we knew what the result of the experiment would be, having done the theory. But for A Level we developed a complex flowchart of tests to identify a simple sample. The A Level included a three-hour practical exam – we were allowed to use our flowcharts.


I loved Physics and might have chosen it as a subject at University. We were taught by the senior Physics teacher, Mr Landau, always known as ‘Tonks.’ (He took the Jewish boys for separate assemblies and I am told that his nickname derives from his piano playing abilities.)

He was by far the best teacher at ICHS, on a level with the revered Mr Adlam from Highlands.

As for Chemistry, lessons were mainly practical. Tonks instilled in us the need for rigour in experimentation – often doing things in two or four directions and averaging results. We had to write up each experiment formally in a special exercise book. Unlike all others (small 80-page standard school exercise books) the Physics practical books were black, larger and semi-hard bound.

Every experiment had a description of the apparatus, with a diagram, and a clear Method with Results and Conclusions. Only when it reached his standards of excellence would he initial the page as a true representation of work done. His aim was that for those doing Physics at university, work approved by him would not have to be repeated. (If the work was imperfect he would put a note on a piece of paper slipped into the book – so that the final approved pages would be all in our own writing as our work.)

(Somehow I lost my Physics practical exercise book. I regretted this fifteen years later when I taught Physics briefly in a minor capacity.)

In describing the apparatus everything had to be included. For work with electricity this always included dccccw – double cotton-covered copper connecting wire. It was well before the time of plastic coated electric cabling.

Physics included electricity, heat, light, sound, and things like Hooke’s Law – for the expansion of a wire under stress.

Lab assistants

For Chemistry and Physics there was some work to be done in preparing for practical exams. Each year one boy from the Upper Sixth was selected to help the teachers for a few hours each week. They were paid real money for this. (About a pound a week?)


To complete my notes about ICHS there are a few more bits. As for most schools then, there were prefects with prefect’s badges and the power to give minor impositions (essays) to erring pupils. Among other things one prefect would ring the bell between lessons. (He had to go to the school Office to do this.)

They controlled the boys in school dinners and made sure that only those with notes from parents could leave the school grounds at lunch time.

Up until our year more than half of the Upper Sixth would become Prefects. With the much larger numbers in our post-war bulge a tier of sub-Prefects was instituted. I didn’t make Prefect but was a sub-Prefect. [If you haven’t read about the War or our bulge year, don’t blame me. It’s there if you look.]

School Life

I can’t add much to what I have said already to represent what happened in the Sixth Form. After about the first year I always walked to and from school – about two miles each way – and I gave up school dinners.

In the Sixth Form we didn’t have the 32-strong forms but were in smaller groups, and I mostly associated with those doing Maths and sciences. Sometimes a few of us went to the Curry Emporium at Gant’s Hill. It had just opened and was for many people their first taste of Indian cuisine. A prawn biriyani cost, I think, 8s 6d. (That’s 42.5p) I liked it with chappattis.

You can read about my initiation into alcohol with a few school friends.

I spent too much of my spare time in the Upper Sixth form playing Three Card Brag, something like Poker but with just three cards. Stakes were very small staring at a penny. (That’s an old penny, less than half a modern penny.) I wasn’t particularly good at it.


Finally this is me, a bit earlier than the Sixth Form.




[78] ICHS – Part Four

I have done ICHS Part One, Part Two and Part Three (and, of course, I trust you have read these three avidly!) We move on now to the Fourth Form and Fifth Form, but it’s still a bit random in the ordering of topics.

In those days the School leaving age was younger. It was possible to leave without doing the Fifth Form (Year 11) but it was always understood that parents opting for grammar school education for their children signed an undertaking to keep them on to complete GCE studies. (Like many things, I don’t know how this rumour spread. I never heard it said officially.)



The web site today outlines the curriculum for what is now called Year 10 and Year 11, culminating in GCSE examinations. Its core programme includes English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and one from French, German and Spanish. In addition Religious Studies, PSHEE and PE are non-examination subjects. It hasn’t changed that much in fifty years.

Option subjects (under review as at September 2015) are Art, Computer Science, DT Product Design, Economics and Business Studies, Engineering, History, Geography and Music. PE and RS are also available as GCSE subjects.

In our time there was a similar choice to be made for the Fourth Form but I can’t give all the details. I only know for sure what I did. We all continued with English, Mathematics, French (or German or Spanish for some) and History. English Language and Literature continued to be taught as a single subject and the whole school always did History O Level a year early in the Fourth Form. I am fairly sure that everyone continued with Latin but Physics and Chemistry were options. Biology was certainly an option, not a subject I was able to do.

We had never heard of PSHEE and the subjects of Computer Science, DT Product Design, Economics, Business Studies and Engineering were not then available – nor were any of them available at A Level. (Economics and Engineering were University subjects then.)

I think my positive choices were Additional Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, so that my list of GCE subjects was: English Language, English Literature, Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Additional Pure Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, French, Latin and History.

I wish I could remember more about those Fourth and Fifth forms but not much remains. Our form teacher in 4A was Mr Pegrum, who I think taught us English. We had a notice board at the back of the classroom and he sometimes posted clippings from papers or magazines or other things of interest. He once posted something that revealed his Christian name. (I can’t remember what it was.) This was a bit of a shock to us. Apart from the headmaster this was the only time we ever knew the first name of any of our teachers. He was Alan Pegrum so inevitably that became his nickname. I cannot remember the names of form teachers in the Fifth form – or the Sixth Form!


I am doing subjects fairly randomly and have three more to look at – before moving to my Sixth Form subjects later.

I always enjoyed Geography, particularly anything to do with maps, but it just got squeezed out when I had to choose. We covered South America, I think in the last year that I did Geography. We learned of the Amazon rainforest, which has continued its rapid de-forestation since then. At the time the capital of Brazil was Rio de Janeiro. A new capital, Brasilia was being formed in the heart of the rainforest.


I remember the teacher (possibly Mr Evans) once spoke eloquently about population. The World population was then estimated at 2 600 000 000, with China at 600 000 000 and India 200 000 000. The prediction by the year 2000 was for a World population of 6 000 000 000, which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. (In those days 6 000 000 000 was six thousand million. The American use of ‘billion’ has crept in and is just about universal now.) Now it’s over 7 000 000 000. (China, despite its one child policy, now has 1 400 000 000 and India at 1 300 000 000 has nearly caught up China.)

Increasing World population is a problem that has been with us for far longer than fifty years. We knew about it then and did very little about it. Now it is still largely ignored but will continue to become more of a problem.


We started History in the First Form with the civilizations of the Tigris and Euphrates, cuneiform writing, the Phoenicians and Egyptians. We progressed chronologically with Roman Britain, (missing out the Dark Ages,) the Renaissance, Tudors and Stewarts, and the Industrial Revolution – going as far as the middle of the Nineteenth Century. The Second World War and even the First World War were too modern for our consideration (although I think A Level History at least covered the First World War.)

I remember two strong speeches from History lessons. One was linked to the question of population when the teacher was considering why families had so many children. Among other things it came down to the fact that in hard times, with no electric lighting and heating, no radio television or computers there was nothing else to do in the dark winters but retire to bed – with consequent results.

The other thing I remember was the description of people through the Middle Ages as parochially minded. In early times people had no idea what happened anywhere else. They were either entirely self-sufficient or lived in very small settlements. They may have only visited the nearest town once a month on market days – a journey that could involve hours of walking each way.

English Literature

English Literature gets a special mention because it’s the only subject I found really hard. I could keep up with Mathematics, science and languages (including English Language) without doing much work but I found English Literature hard.

We did poetry, plays (which only ever meant Shakespeare) and books. From school I remember Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, the Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night. I also have to mention Cymbeline, which was done as a School Play when I was there.

We did Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, which I like. I have read all Jane Austen’s books a few times since then and can watch television adaptions of them every day.

And then there was Typhoon by Joseph Conrad. It was dreadful, so dreadful that I just couldn’t read it all. (I was not the only one.) As the title suggests it was about a storm at sea but reading dozens of pages about a storm (and nothing else) was just boring. I couldn’t finish the book. I don’t remember detecting anything more in the way of plot

I spent more time and effort revising for English Literature GCE than everything else put together but it still produced my worst grade. I didn’t miss it when we went on to the Sixth Form.

GCE O Level

I ought to say something about the exams. When they were just GCE, there was absolutely no element of coursework. It was all three-hour examinations. For the last term in the Fifth Form we stayed at home to revise except when we had exams. Apart from anything else, it was hard to keep up the physical process of writing with a pen for three hours! French had a separate oral exam and Chemistry and Physics had practical exams. (I’m not totally sure about this. They did have practical exams at A Level, of which more later.)

You may be surprised at how we received the results. We each had to provide a stamped addressed envelope. There was no Internet, no mobile phones and no mass television coverage. I presume that the school received a list of results by post and they produced and sent out tiny slips of thin paper with the individual results. We received them by post. I remember Mum bringing up the sealed brown envelopes to us in bed. While it may have been possible to telephone the school during the preceding twenty-four hours, it was made very clear that no exam results would be divulged before the postal delivery.


We just pre-dated CSE. In those days it was GCE O Level or Ordinary Level. (Now you can see why Hogwarts awards OWLs, Ordinary Wizarding Levels!) Pass grades were A to E with Fail grades F, G and H.

CSE started in 1965, as a separate exam, with grades 1 to 5 and it was said that Grade 1 was equivalent to GCE grade C. Grade C was a requirement for many things, including progression to sixth Form and A Level studies. Later the two systems merged to form GCSE, with exams taken at different levels with overlapping results.

In theory the modern GCSE grades A*, A, B and the top half of grade C correspond to the old GCE O Level pass grades of A to E. (There have been many other changes, including the use of coursework, major changes to Exam Boards, and changes in course content and exam methods, so comparisons can only be very approximate.)

When considering ICHS, because the selection process picked only those likely to find upper levels of qualification relatively easy, we would not have considered CSE or the lower grades of GCSE.


You will remember from [47] Standards that corporal punishment was still used in schools. You may also remember from [13] Secrecy, that we generally respected authority much more. As children we tended much more to respect our elders.

As an example, any teacher (or even any adult) did not have to steer a way through corridors of children. The crowds would make way and open up gaps to allow an adult through. I suspect that not showing due deference would have been taken as punishable disrespect. Later, when I taught at a Comprehensive School in the eighties I found myself ignored in corridors, having to wait for gaps in the streams of children.

Most teachers did not have any problem with discipline because we were basically well-behaved children who wanted to learn. The only exceptions were in RI (Religious Instruction) which was not really of interest to us.

There were school detentions once a week for the upper school (from the Fourth Form) and a junior detention for the first three forms. They rarely had more than two or three pupils. I think I was put into junior detention once but I can’t remember why. (It might have been twice and I may have had a senior detention. Not producing homework when due was the most common misdemeanour.)

Above this was the cane, feared more for the associated entry in the Punishment Book than for the actual event. My understanding was that three detentions in one term (or school year) might produce a caning but this may have been apocryphal.

I was caned twice and I suppose I have to tell you about them …

You will remember, from [70] ICHS Part Three, about our Latin master, who we called Solly’. He was easy going, chatted about many things other than Latin, but generally taught us well in an enjoyable manner. I never felt that we were disruptive but we did mess around a bit. He obviously complained at one stage to our form master – I think it was Mr Cully. Probably during lessons with him, or perhaps in form period, he took us outside, one at a time, and had a quiet almost man-to-man chat. I had to accept that we were less than perfect in behaviour in Latin lessons although I never quite understood why I had apparently been picked as one of the ringleaders. Some of us, (I’m not sure how many) were given one stroke of the cane each, on the hand. I don’t think it hurt that much. We were ‘bound over’ to behave better but continued more or less as before.

The other incident was in a French class of Mr Stenner, while the lesson was being taken by a student teacher. As I remember it, my crime was being a little overactive while sharpening a pencil at the back of the class. It was reported to Mr Stenner, again with two or three others. He was known to be strict and supported his student teacher without question. We said nothing when asked to admit guilt or provide a defence. This time it was two strokes and it hurt a lot more. With two strokes you knew what was coming next as you kept you hand out for the second one.

There was no malice in any punishments and no sense of disliking the teachers for what they had done. We just accepted that the teacher was always right.

School prefects could give out Impositions, which were along the lines of: write 1000 words on a specified title. I suppose we more or less respected prefects as well. As long as you did the imposition (generally by writing a lot of rubbish at speed) you could avoid referral onwards.

schooldinners1950s  School meal break

School Dinners

With apologies to ICHS, I have to come to school dinners, a subject that seems to have slipped the net somehow, and it’s mostly very early memories, from the days of Grange Hill Primary School.

When I first went to school, in the early fifties, everyone had school dinners. There was no alternative. They cost a shilling each so we took the equivalent of 25p to school each week. The price was unchanged when I left school! (Memories of paying are a bit unclear for Junior School.)

With a break of just over an hour at lunchtime it was always a regimented procedure. But, of course, we did what we were told and behaved perfectly for the whole procedure. (Well, most of us, most of the time.)

We lined up and went in by classes and sat down on long tables by classes, with supervising teachers everywhere. (At ICHS prefects were involved.)

When we were all there we said grace, generally much more common then, always the simple: “For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful.”

We lined up and received the first course and took it back to our tables. When we were ready we lined up, took our plates back, emptied what was left into a slops bucket (where, supposedly, it was fed to pigs) and received afters.

The first course was awful stuff, normally a slice or two of meat, gravy, a scoop of mashed potato and a dollop of green vegetables of some description. The meat, often mutton, had a lot of fat and gristle, and the potatoes had unsavoury lumps. (I always had an aversion to greens that was probably not helped by school dinners.) We ate what we could as there was nothing else. Afters was either a square of jam tart or treacle tart or rice pudding (or other milk pudding) with a dollop of jam. Maybe there were some days when things were different, perhaps liver or sausages. Memories of school dinners are not my favourite memories.

When we went to Highlands there was an option to take our own sandwiches, which we did. (Sandwiches were never anything other than plain white bread with cheese or ham.)

I’m not quite sure what happened when we moved to ICHS. The option for sandwiches was there but for some reason we reverted to school dinners. Every week we presented five shillings to the form master for it. That was the theory. After about a year we stopped going to lunches. Mum and Dad gave us 5s:0d every week which we kept for our own use – all the way through to the Sixth form. We just didn’t eat at lunch time. By then, we generally skipped breakfast in the rush to get out on time, so a ‘doorstep’ with jam was quite common on arriving home.

School dinners have changed a lot since then. The quality was awful, quantities were fixed and there was never any element of choice. We may have had tap water in jugs on the table but there were definitely no other drinks.

Sorry but ICHS blogs don’t go well with illustrations.

One more to come …


[70] ICHS – Part Three

In a fairly random pattern I will continue where [62] ICHS for Boys Part One and [66] ICHS – Part Two left off, looking next at some more subjects and their teachers from the first three years.


As a core subject we had English for one period a day from the First Form to the Fifth Form. In the first year our teacher, Mr Lowe, was known as ‘Selwyn.’ Don’t worry, I’m not going to do every teacher of every subject for every year! I can’t even remember most of them.

Selwyn was in his last year of teaching. He seemed pretty old to us and was a bit absent-minded. He lived in Fremantle Road just a few yards away from the school and it seemed as he had always been there.

English lessons were supposed to come in five categories and unfortunately I can’t remember exactly what they were. They could have been Grammar, Poetry, Drama, Essays and Comprehension but there were also plays and books.

What I do remember is that at the beginning of each term he would tell us which days were which – maybe Monday Poetry, Tuesday Grammar … He asked us to remind him and every day he would ask. Needless to say the boys said every day what they wanted so the mixture was not what it should have been. We didn’t have essays as often as we should have done!

In those days everyone at school took English seriously. We studied grammar and were always expected to use proper English with perfect grammar and spelling. In exams, this applied to all subjects.

I will come back to English Literature around the Fifth Form, for reasons which will become obvious then.


It was always assumed that all the staff at a Boys’ School should be men. As for so many things, perhaps we just assumed it without any evidence.

There were two exceptions. The school secretary, with her own office opposite the Headmaster’s office, was Miss Glasberg. Typing and secretarial work were so much jobs for women that it would have been very unusual for a man to do this. (See [20] Sex Discrimination.)

The other exception was Miss Scott, a French lady who taught us the language in the First Year. Again with no evidence to go on, she was presumed to have been employed in exceptional circumstances in the post-war situation. We had no idea what these circumstances might have been.

Having done a little training as a teacher I now see how our teaching was influenced by the education of the teachers. I think Miss Scott had done a course at University on pronunciation!

We spent the whole of the first term learning how to speak French properly while learning virtually nothing of its vocabulary or grammar. We went through its sixteen numbered vowel sounds in order, picking up just a few French words as examples. We learned some of the vagaries of French spelling, with its accents and cedillas, much easier that English spelling. We must have been taught thoroughly because I can still remember much of it. (It did take a whole term just for pronunciation.)

The first four vowels, numbers one, two, three and four, were approximately as the English vowels in ‘meet’, ‘mate’, ‘met’ and ‘mart.’ Number five is a longer sound, a bit like number four, as in ‘marsh’, then six, seven and eight are heard in ‘mott’, ‘moat’ and ‘moot’ (Not as in ‘mute.’)

The second half were a bit more difficult, starting with number nine, best seen as the German ü. It’s a mixture of numbers seven and eight. Ten and eleven were similar to each other (but different!), both a bit like the first vowel in ‘murder.’ Somehow French ‘eggs’ and ‘ears’ managed to use both sounds. (In the singular ‘un œuf’ and ‘un œil.’ In the plural the vowel sounds changed for ‘des œufs’ and ‘les yeux.’ Don’t ask me which were ten or eleven!)

Twelve is the unaccented vowel of the word ‘the,’ known as a schwa. (I only learned that in studying Russian. We think of it as unaccented and insignificant but it gets accented in Chinese, even carrying different tones.) That just leave thirteen to sixteen, the four nasal vowels sounds.

I remember nothing else of Miss Scott. Perhaps she only taught us for one term, or perhaps we had a whole year of pronunciation. I can say little of her successor, Mr Loeser except that he was Czechoslovakian, with an accent, possibly another refugee from the War. He may have spoken good French but his English was sometimes hard to understand.

He was followed by Mr Stenner, who was strict and taught boringly and rigidly by the book. We worked through the text book by chapters. First we had time to look at the book and learn the new vocabulary listed at the start of each chapter. Then there was new grammar – things like verb tenses.

Then we went round the class one by one in alphabetical order. (For many classes in the early years we sat in alphabetical order as directed by the teacher.) We read the set text of the book, sentence by sentence, getting the pronunciation perfect, and we translated it into English – going over it again until he thought we had the best English equivalent. Sometimes it seemed that it was not so much the literal translation of the words but getting perfect idiomatic literary forms of English.

Mr Stenner will get another mention later.

I don’t think I have mentioned homework yet. We didn’t have it at Junior School but it started at ICHS – carried home in those leather satchels – two or three subjects every night – or each subject once or twice a week. You have to know about it for the next topic.

General Science

We had General Science for the first two years before splitting into Physics and Chemistry with Mr Bown. (He was known as ‘Pinhead,’ perhaps because he had a small, bald head.) He was not popular. He was strict and bad-tempered, sometimes threatening violence in a believable way. We were frightened of him. He may never have actually stuck any of the boys but we thought he might.

He was one of the worst teachers and was notorious for not marking homework. Homework was always collected when due but would be unmarked when returned to us. Every few weeks he would try to catch up, rushing through an attempt at marking the work he had missed. Partially marked books would be returned and he would be in a bad mood – always blaming the problems on us!

I remember in particular what could have been the best lesson we ever had, demonstrating the effects of water on sodium, potassium and other metals. He had tried to mark a few week’s work, gave us back our books and punished the whole class for poor work by saying that we would not have the demonstration. We had to spend the lesson in silence, copying up what we would have seen if he had been bothered to do it for us. (Maybe he didn’t like this demonstration and did the same every year!)

I don’t think anybody liked him and it was a relief to end General Science.


I cannot remember the name of our Latin teacher, perhaps because we never used it. We had the same teacher up to the fifth form. I am told that it was a Mr Morrow, which is vaguely familiar. He was known as ‘Solly.’ (I don’t know why.) We liked him because he spent much of the time talking about things that had nothing to do with school, sometimes about sailing. In those days Latin was a standard part of our education. We learned all the declensions of nouns and conjugations of all the tenses of the verbs, which helped both in understanding grammar in English and French and in the meanings of English words with Latin roots.

He wasn’t very strict and we didn’t behave perfectly in his lessons – but we were never really disruptive.

I remember our first year Latin exam. Exams were in our form room and as we were ready he delivered the papers to the invigilating Mr Jermy. He announced to the class that he had put in a word by mistake that we hadn’t covered yet in lessons. The word SAXUM meant rock, which he wrote on the board. It’s strange what useless things we remember in later life!

We had to study one book of the Gallic Wars by Caesar and went through it chapter by chapter. I think by the time we did ‘O’ Levels we could do many of the chapters from memory without needing the Latin!

Gym and PE

We called it PE (Physical Education) but it was nearly always in the school gymnasium with its wooden floor and all the standard gym equipment. There were wooden ladders at the side which we could climb; ropes hanging downwards; a long wooden vaulting horse; benches, mats and medicine balls.

We weren’t taught much about actual gymnastics. Often it was more like circuit training. Sometimes there was a game called ‘Pirates,’ a sort of tag version of tag, which involved staying off the ground.

I think I was vaguely interested in Gymnastics. Once I went to Gym Club, which did give the opportunity for a little bit of individual tuition. But it was about five o’clock, after waiting around at school, and just wasn’t convenient (or perhaps I wasn’t that keen.) I only went once.

For PE we just wore shorts, vests and the standard black plimsolls that were still the only gym shoes available


Games were outdoor activities (in all weather), for a double lesson each week. The teacher had two classes of 32 together so there was not much in the way of individual tuition. I can’t remember the names of any Games teachers but we didn’t have Ron Pickering. He taught at Wanstead, another Grammar School in Ilford.

Through the winter, games meant Football. We played three separate matches, a first team, second team and third team. I presume that the teacher selected the teams somehow and he looked after and refereed the first team match. Second and third teams looked after themselves. I was third team material so I never had a word of education about football, apart from what I noted in [61] Match of the Day.

I’m not sure why but football wasn’t always on the school field at the back of the school. Sometimes we went somewhere else.

Just once, when the weather was really bad we were told about offside. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I grew up without a love of football. (For football we had to buy football boots and socks.)

In the summer the sport changed to Cricket. The arrangement into teams was as for Football (and again I was third team material) so I was never told anything about the rules of the game or how to play it. I have picked up a lot from watching it on television but it far too complicated. I think if the ball hits the body it should be LBW whatever else happens – much simpler!

You well be getting an idea already of my memories of how we were taught in games. I mustn’t forget Athletics. Once a year, for just one double lesson, in the summer out would come shot put, discus, javelin, hurdles, high jump and long jump and the teacher would do his best to tell some of something about each of them. Yes, without worries about Health and Safety, a few boys would be left throwing the javelin on the school field. I always felt that I might be good at long jump but there were no other opportunities for athletics.


It wouldn’t be the same without a bit of side-tracking and backtracking. This is about water.

My earliest memory is of being dropped in the bath. I think it was my father and I must have been about one. I also remember at a very young age, on holiday somewhere like Margate or Clacton, stepping from a very small seaside pier on to a small boat and falling between the two into the water. I grew up with a fear of water, especially a fear of putting my head under water. It’s not quite so bad now but it’s still with me.


At some time we moved to a sort of rota where a third of us went swimming every week. We had to catch a bus and walk to the swimming pool at Ilford. We took swimming trunks in a rolled-up towel.

Lessons started at the shallow end. All we had to do was glide from the middle to the side to gain the confidence for proper lessons at the deep end. I could never do this. Soon teaching concentrated on the able pupils and a small number of non-swimmers entertained ourselves at the shallow end. I never learned how to swim, never developed the confidence to glide to the side and kept my fear of water. I don’t think the teachers were interested or even aware of me or other non-swimmers.

There was a brand new swimming pool and a new gymnasium built somewhere around the time when I was in the Fifth Form or Lower Sixth. I still couldn’t swim. In the Sixth Form I remember standing at the shallow end while a classmate showed me how to do two lengths underwater!

[At about the age of fifty, I did gradually learn to swim a little. At first I could only swim along the side, now I can manage a length in some small pools.]

 I have made a few minor changes about names and nicknames, thanks to those whose memories are better than mine.

Sorry, it’s been a rambling blog with no pictures. Before you get the wrong idea, I want to make it plain that I loved almost everything about my years at school. I have always enjoyed learning new things. I loved Mathematics and Science and languages (because of the logical structure of their grammar.) I liked reading and writing and anything that didn’t involve too much physical activity. The only times when I didn’t enjoy lessons were when Mr Bown was not in a good mood.

More to come …


[66] ICHS – Part Two


I have many more (mostly good) memories of my seven years at ICHS. While I will try to look at things roughly by years, I also have to look at specific topics and subjects, so it will be a bit rambling. Yes, I know, it’s always a bit rambling!

As now, the school’s curriculum was split into three chronological periods. I will compare things fifty years ago with modern day ICHS, where many basic points seem unchanged.

Curriculum for the first Three Years

ICHS now teaches the following subjects for the first three years: English, Mathematics, (General) Science, History, Geography, French, Music, Art, PE and Games. So far it’s the same as back in the sixties.

Spanish or German is chosen in the second year as a second language. Well, when I was there we all had Latin as a second language from the Second Year. Spanish or German came later as an option. (Not for me. I think I took Additional Mathematics instead.)

They also now have Food Studies, Design Technology, Information Technology, Philosophy and Ethics and PSHEE, none of which came into our education at any time. The nearest thing to Food Studies would have been Domestic Science (more or less cooking) a subject taught to girls only. (See [20] Sex Discrimination.) Design Technology and Information Technology didn’t exist as subjects but we had Woodwork. Instead of Philosophy and Ethics we had Religious Instruction or Religious Education (RI or RE).

Parents could exclude children from RI and from daily assemblies. Ilford had a significant Jewish population and about a fifth of our class had their separate Jewish assembly and religious education. No one then ever indicated any other religion or opted out of Christian (Church of England) teaching.

If you remember [60] Young and Innocent you will understand that Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (which I had to look up) and, in particular any education about sex, simply did not exist. Anything in these areas would be left to parents, who would probably say nothing.

[I have been juggling with possible timetables on a spreadsheet. I can make the First Year add up to 35 periods, as it must, but I’m not sure what happened in the Second and Third Years. We added Latin so somewhere we must have lost five periods. Maybe Art and Woodwork were just for one year.]

The First Year

We were the post-war ‘Bulge,’ which caused some problems. (See [46] The War) Until we arrived, ICHS had worked on a four-form intake but when we came they had to take six classes of 32. Initially, there was no attempt at streaming so that the first year could be used to sort us out. Classes were named from the form teacher. I was in 1J and I always assumed that Mr Jermy was in his first year of teaching. He was learning what it was like to be a form teacher. I have no idea what subject he taught!

(Some Facebook chat about ICHS suggests that Mr Jermy taught Mathematics, so he probably did. That means that he almost certainly taught us Mathematics. I can’t remember everything!)

They say that ‘boys will be boys’ and inevitably there were those among us who tested the limits to see what we could get away with. But Mr Jermy did learn to cope. We were more or less kept under control and we all survived the first year.

There were also other pupils who suggested that 1L was the class for those expected to form the ‘A’ stream, with the others being generally mixed. As one of the top pupils from Highlands I was disappointed not to be among those in 1L. It was said that Highlands was not one of the better streaming schools and so their pupils were not expected to do so well. I felt the challenge to prove myself capable of doing well. (I suppose I was a bit of a swot. I have always liked learning.)


At the end of every year term we had formal examinations in every subject. Marked papers were returned to us. As well as a percentage score, everyone was given their position out of 32. (Always exams in first and third term, not sure about middle one.)

We had reports, which we took home in a sealed envelope. The report listed every subject with a very short comment, the exam result and position. Then there was a section marked ‘Conduct.’ Dad was always much more interested in our conduct and expected ‘Good’ or ‘Very Good.’ Sometimes it was only ‘Fair.’

Second and Third Years

I remember the transition to the next year, which was unusual because of the bulge. From the Second Year onwards we would always be in streamed classes by ability (and in some subjects, in sets, over-riding class streams.) But for the bulge year this would be difficult. Nobody wanted to be put in the bottom stream of six streams. They invented a new structure with 2A, 2B and 2C for the top three classes. The rest went into 2X, 2Y and 2Z, which were treated equally. We were all called into the Hall and class lists were called out. I went to 2A. Classes for our cohort kept to this structure as we moved up to the fifth form.

I can’t remember all the names or details of teachers but my old Latin dictionary has been useful. This was also pocket-sized, like the hymn book, always carried round with us and my receipts for School Fund were stuck in the blank pages at the end. One for April 1960 is signed by Mr Cully, so he must have been the form teacher in the Second Year. I think he taught History. That’s about all I remember of him. He probably taught us History.

Unfortunately the teacher for the third year just put his initials ‘JE’ on the receipts. I think he was Mr Evans and taught Geography

[It was only long-standing teachers who seemed to come with established nicknames. The headmaster was ‘Harry’ and his deputy was ‘GAT,’ which we all assumed, wrongly, was from his initials. My older brother assured me that it came from an allusion of him with his gown, which he always wore, looking like Batman. I will come to a few other nicknames later but Mr Jermy, Mr Cully and Mr Evans did not have nicknames.

Our respect for authority meant that we always called teachers ‘Sir’ and referred to them as Mister. But when the boys talked about teachers Mr Jermy would become just Jermy.]


From the Second or Third Year some subjects (Mathematics, French and Latin and, later Physics and Chemistry) were taught in sets rather than streams. So, for example, 2A, 2B and 2C had Mathematics lessons at the same times but were taught as 2 Set 1, 2 Set 2 and 2 Set 3.


I am going to end this post with a look at all the subjects we only did in the early years.

I can’t say I remember much about Religious Education. We were growing to the age where we questioned things and no longer took what the teacher said as necessarily true. So belief in God was beginning to waver. Lessons were still effectively stories from the Bible. (Religious Education meant Church of England education. We were never told anything about other religions.)

It was the subject where pupils had little interest and teachers found things like discipline most difficult. I can remember quite well-behaved boys testing the teacher with a bit of messing around and I think several teachers did not last long.

It was one of the first subjects to disappear. It may have been an option for GCE but I don’t think anyone did it.



In today’s world, where Health and Safety concerns permeate life, it may be hard to believe how we did woodwork. With just the supervision of a single teacher, a class of 32 were let loose in a room equipped with hammers, saws, planes, chisels and other pieces of equipment. At the front of the room there was a circular saw and the only safety measure was that we were sent outside when this was in use. (Facebook chat suggests that the teacher may have been Mr Noakes. The name is familiar.)

There were no serious accidents but I do have a line across one thumb, which many years ago was a blood-marked line following over-vigorous use of a chisel.

We learned to measure accurately and to construct in the old-fashioned way – with dovetail and mortise-and-tenon joints and strips of wooden dowel. Measurements were, of course, sixteenths of an inch, not millimetres!


I have to squeeze in Art, which stopped in the lower school. To be honest I can’t remember whether we had one, two or three years of Art. It was more or less a single drawing or painting in a double period every week but we did learn some of the techniques – light and shade using highlights and vanishing point perspective.



Music was a subject that we only did for two years. I wish I could remember the name of our music teacher because it was a subject I enjoyed. I did have the advantage of having had a short period of piano lessons. (See [44] Boars and Antelopes, Craneflies and Earwigs.) We had Music in the School Hall where the teacher could use the piano that lived there for assemblies.

There was no attempt to teach us to play music or to read musical notation.

For the first year we sang. We had song books with the words – usually the sort of song with several verses and a repeated chorus. I suppose the books had the music (or perhaps we just picked up what the teacher was playing.) To be honest, I have no idea whether we sang in tune but that was not the point of the exercise. We enjoyed singing heartily.

There were familiar English folk songs like Barbara Allen, Scarborough Fair, Clementine, Heart of Oak, Early One Morning and the Lincolnshire Poacher; and sea Shanties like the Drunken Sailor.

The Second Year marked the beginning of puberty for most boys, when voices broke. Our music teacher felt that with our changing voices boys would be self-conscious and less keen to sing. So there was no more singing. Instead he played us classical music on an early record-player.

He picked pieces that he could use to illustrate musical topics and would explain everything about the piece before playing it, so that we had something to listen out for. Some of them told stories through music, like Peter and the Wolf.


Danse Macabre

I am sure that you all know that Danse Macabre is an artistic genre, dating from the Fifteenth Century, portraying by analogy the universality of death, showing a personified Death calling those from all walks of life, typically the Pope, an emperor, a king and a labourer, to dance among the graves – to remind us of the fragility of life and its vain glories. (To be honest, I have had a little help from Wikipedia.)

Camille Saint-Saëns wrote a song in this genre for voice and piano and later re-worked it for an orchestra as a piece of music that I will always remember from our music lessons. It uses various instruments and musical tricks to paint a picture of the dance of Death.

I can’t recount exactly what the teacher described to us, but here are some notes, again helped by Wikipedia. The legend is that at midnight on Halloween Death calls the bodies of the dead while he plays the violin. (I will say something about Halloween in a later blog.) The music starts with a single note repeated twelve times for the chimes of midnight. The solo violin is tuned down a semitone so that it can use two strings to make a harsh dissonant sound to call out the dead.

There are then two themes, played on separate instruments through the orchestra, gradually becoming more energetic. After a direct quote from the Gregorian Dies Irae, it returns to its two themes in a full orchestra crescendo.

The ending represents the cock crowing at dawn (with an oboe) and the skeletons scuttling back to their graves. As in another piece by Saint-Saëns (Fossils from the Carnival of the Animals) a xylophone is used to indicate the rattling bones of the skeletons.

This is still, definitely my favourite piece of music, and it always reminds me of that lesson. (More about music in [26] Music (1) and the two follow-ups.)


Although I have lots to say about ICHS, it’s going to be a series with unexciting titles and few pictures. More to come …


[62] Ilford County High School for Boys – Part One

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 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 [15] Highlands School (1) and [16] 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 ([40] 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 [3] 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 …















[16] Highlands School (2)

I have talked a little in my last blog about my two Primary Schools, Grange Hill and Highlands. Now we move to the basics of education, the Three Rs.


Education then was said to consist of the Three Rs – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. We certainly started with them. I cannot remember learning to read but I must have done it, presumably at school with some help at home. I can say that our early reading pre-dated all the varieties of phonics. We only ever used normal letters and correct spelling. I can remember a series of books called ‘Janet and John’, which we may have used. They were about – wait for it – about a girl and boy called Janet and John. As Wikipedia notes, they were typical, English middle-class children. (We were not then a multi-cultural society.)

(There was another series of Ladybird  books for children, including a graded sequence of books designed to teach basic reading. We used these with our children in the late 70s.)

Readers will be aware of the Beatrix Potter stories for children, beautifully illustrated. I can remember my first of many visits to the Children’s Library, where I brought home one of these. I loved the pictures. We certainly used the library regularly after that. I can’t remember how old I was. On my first visit, together with the Beatrix Potter was another book, which was a great disappointment to me. It was called the ‘Story of Rayon.’ I thought it might be a story, but it was a children’s book about the production of rayon. After that, I looked inside carefully before choosing library books.


Writing at school was very different then. We wrote in exercise books and used a simple ink pen or pencil. Each desk had an inkwell for our pens. I can remember that when the nib of a pen was broken the teacher would supply a new one. For some reason, we had to take the new nib into our mouth and suck it for a few seconds before use. It must have had a waterproof oil to preserve it before use.


At Primary School, none of the children ever used a fountain pen or a ball-point pen. (Teachers could use fountain pens. I don’t think we ever saw ball-point pens at that stage.)

The quality of writing was important. We learned how to shape each letter. At Primary School, we stuck to what I later learned to call printing. We simply did not do joined-up writing. Cursive script was not acceptable at Primary School and was never taught. (Somehow, we all started to do it when we went to Secondary School.)

There were lessons in formal handwriting, when we would try to produce perfect, artistic script. (Mr Adlam taught us to do a simple form of Gothic lettering with a broad nib.)


There were, of course, no calculators but we all did ‘sums’. Without calculators, it was more important to be able to handle numbers (and our complex currency!) We learned tables and had to know from 2 x 2 = 4 up to 12 x 12 = 144 by heart. We learned Long Multiplication so that with a pen and paper we could work out 123 x 456. [It’s 56088. We may not have done quite such difficult sums at first.] We did decimals and Long Division, so we could work out 123 ÷ 456 [That comes to 0.2697..]


Other Subjects

With just the one class teacher, there was no formal timetable and we must have covered other things – History, Geography, Religious Instruction (RI), Art, Music and PE, about which I remember little. RI certainly included the Bible stories of the Old and New Testament (and nothing of other religions). Art was based on powdered paints, which came in just three colours, to be mixed to make others. Music was singing, accompanied on a piano, with occasionally the chance to use percussion instruments.

For PE, once a week, we had to remember to bring shorts and plimsolls in a bag. For many years, the only trainers [US: sneakers] seen in England were the simple, cheap, black, Chinese made plimsolls shown in the picture. All I remember of Geography is that we would be given a map of the World (printed as described above), showing the location of two or three cities, a few days before end-of-term exams.

The other thing I remember being taught, in our final year, was Country Dancing. We did the Valeta, the Gay Gordon and one or two others whose names escape me. (‘Gay’ had a quite different meaning then.)


We knew nothing of SATs. We did not know what was in the curriculum (if there was a curriculum,) nor did our parents and, for the most part, no-one wanted to know. It was up the school, presumably dictated by the local education authority. They did their own testing, when appropriate, and had examinations at the end of every term (or sometimes just twice a year). Parents received a report at the end of term with examination results. In every subject, the report would show exact percentage results from exam and position within the class.

The school report was almost the only contact of parents with the school. In addition to exam results, there was a comment on ‘Conduct.’ This was what interested our father. He wanted to see: ‘Good’ or: ‘Excellent,’ and was never satisfied with ‘Fair.’ (One word was all we ever had.)


There was corporal punishment. The Headmaster had a cane. It was very rarely used. Perhaps it was the threat of punishment, or perhaps we were just well behaved. I cannot remember any child ever being punished, or any action of disobedience or disrespect to teachers – at least at Primary School. The class size of forty was not a problem.

There were House Points awarded as incentives – for good work (neat writing and drawing) and for remembering PE kit.

Mr Adlam

There was no way of knowing how classes were defined, but we assumed some sort of streaming. The top class of third Year Juniors was always taken by Mr Adlam. All teachers tended to keep the same class, which meant that they could re-use material. It is clear that Mr Adlam taught mostly the same topics from year to year.

Most teachers then were women. Mr Adlam was a middle-aged, pipe-smoking man. (I don’t think he actually smoked while teaching. He did smell of tobacco.) He had a charismatic approach. Somehow, we both loved him and feared him. Behaviour in his class was always perfect.

[Think back to the blog about carol singing. When we were much older and went round the streets of Ilford with the Youth Club carol singing and collecting for charity, we knew where Mr Adlam lived. Even at seventeen or eighteen, no one dared to knock on his door and ask for money!]

He would explain the lesson to us, drawing on the blackboard and leave us with a task involving writing and drawing. Every piece of work might have a tick when marked. If it was good, it could be marked ‘G’, ‘VG’ or ‘Ex’ for one, two or three points towards House Points. It was so hard to get a mark of ‘Ex.’ I can remember trying really hard at drawing the red cells within a diagram about blood – and being disappointed with a mere ‘VG.’

I can remember lists of new words to learn, written on the blackboard. Once, one of the words was ‘candid,’ which he said meant completely honest. As an example, he said: if your wife asks you whether she looks nice in a new dress, and says she wants your candid opinion, it means you must tell the truth. Of course, he added, she still wants you to say yes even if it’s not true! (I don’t think Mr Adlam was married.)

There were many things that Mr Adlam taught, that I have heard others say he also did on other years. He went through human skeleton in a series of lessons, and did digestion and the alimentary canal from end to end in another series. As we did the skeleton, we used card, scissors and glue to construct our own skeleton, week by week, which we proudly took home at the end of term.

Craft work with scissors and glue was part of the syllabus. I remember knife-edge folds made in card, and envelopes made from variously coloured pieces of card to take home. When it came to pressing on knife-edge folds, or gluing together, his motto was: “Keep on doing it until you can’t do it any more … Then keep on doing it!”

I wasn’t all work. Once a week he would read to us the continuing story of Moonfleet by J Meade Falkner. It was the same book each year, an adventure story with smugglers. Mr Adlam would write up a list of characters on a side blackboard and the list stayed up there. He had to explain why one significant character in the book was marked as ‘(deceased)’.


At the end of term, in a little entertainment for the whole school, we would always see Mr Adlam, dressed in full regalia, sing a Gilbert and Sullivan classic song. There was ‘A More Humane Mikado’ who would “make the punishment fit the crime,” and the Modern Major-general’s Song from the Pirates of Penzance.

I will leave the Eleven Plus until I consider Secondary Education, which may be next time …