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Moat Intermediate Boys’ School circa 1938
Suddenly, for me as well as for thousands of other boys and girls in 1938, scholarship time arrived. For weeks we’d gone around with the shadow of the ‘Scholarship’ hanging over us, although we continued to do our schoolwork as usual. No extra work was given out and neither did we have hints dropped that we were expected to do better than other schools!
The very high scoring children were scored as 1st class scholarship. These children went to the Grammar Schools.
2ndclass went to the Intermediate Schools which were below Grammar Schools in what was expected from the children performance wise.
Other children who sat and didn’t pass 1st or 2nd, went to the standard Senior Schools BUT LET’S BE CLEAR ABOUT ONE THING, these children were NOT classed as failures, and continued movement between schools was normal for it was realised some children never showed academic aptitude during formal testing.
Opponents of testing (Scholarship) never take into account that if you abolish testing at any age there will always be children who cannot cope or cannot keep up with their peers and feel disadvantaged. Selective testing ensures the different levels of ability are put into different groups where they can compete at their own pace and level throughout all their school years without feeling a failure.
On the appointed day along with the rest of my class, I took my place in the school hall. We sat alone at our desks and were warned about ‘looking over and copying.’ In front of us lay the Scholarship papers, face down. Further instruction was given, mainly on ‘looking up; looking around’ and sitting with arms folded, staring straight ahead when finished. Now we began, hearts pounding. I’d already decided I’d fail on simple logic ie……if our Ted, Maisie and Ron couldn’t pass, then I had no chance! I turned the paper over and got the shock of my life. It was easy. All I had to do with the first page was to match shapes, fill in the missing lines and answer A, B, or C to certain questions. My mouth stopped being dry and I no longer had a tense tummy. I worked steadily, subconsciously noting as I did so that the questions were getting progressively harder ‘but they weren’t worrying me one little bit!’ Several weeks later there was great excitement in school for the results had arrived. After playtime, we filed into the classroom, pushing and shoving and assuring anyone who might care to listen that we were sure we’d failed. Our teacher began:
1stClass Scholarship Awards first: Dear Jean, Yes Keith (these were the racing certainties) beams and smiles, even the odd tear or two whilst teacher beamed fondly on her favourites, but let’s be fair though, these first class awards were taken by kids who came from really wonderful caring homes in the main, or from homes where, although money might be short, the parents were ambitious for their children and gave them extra tuition. I came from neither. The only time I knew our Mam to know anything about me and school was when she sent a note to the Headmaster asking if I could leave school ten minutes early to put the dinner on so it was ready for them coming home from work at 12:40. (By this time Ron was at the Open Air School)
Teacher had now worked down to 2nd Class results: Michael, yes, Olive, Yes, Peter, Yes, Alan, Yes……suddenly, half asleep and quite confident I was going to follow my peers into the ‘Duffers’ Senior School, I jerked up! Miss was positively glaring at me. Miss looked again at the paper in her hand. I’d won a Second Class Scholarship!
I was allocated to Moat Road Intermediate Boys’ School under the Headmaster Mr H M Purnell. This was an all uniform school and at interview, sitting cross legged in ‘Nelly’s’ study, (this was the nickname given to him by Moat Boys) each of us was given a sheet outlining what the uniform consisted of: a navy blazer with school badge, grey flannel trousers, grey or white shirt with a Moat tie and cap with a miniature of the blazer badge. We also needed gym shorts, a singlet and football boots. I must add here that the Headmaster would often tell us,
‘Any parent who cannot afford a uniform is not to worry. As long as a boy is clean, polishes his shoes, combs his hair and wears a clean shirt collar, then that is perfectly acceptable in my school.’
I only know of one boy who did not have a school uniform. He came from a large family and all his siblings were girls. John was always neat, tidy and spotlessly clean in his person. The feeling of togetherness in and out of school was such that when, on a particular day John came to school wearing a pair of his sister’s shoes, every boy in the class ignored them and rallied around him to show it didn’t matter at all.
I don’t know if the old Man paid anything towards my finery but I do know that until I left to go to work at fourteen years, my school uniform were the only togs I can remember being bought from new during my senior school years! Actually, I tell a lie, two years after starting my new school I was told I had to make do with a blazer that wasn’t in the school navy blue so I stuck out a mile to every other kid. When this was pointed out long after I’d started wearing it, Mam purchased some traditional blazer material in the right colour from the market which some woman she knew, ‘made up’ into a blazer for me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough material so the body of the jacket was shorter up the back!
I was to find a lot of kindness in my new school but I think they were puzzled as to how this new first year boy who’d passed the Scholarship with such good marks was now failing abysmally and was consistently bottom of the class. Anyway, several months later, along with a number of other boys and without prior warning, we were called for a retest. Yours truly, bottom of the class three times in a year, was again found to be borderline Grammar School material. What the heck??? I could’ve told them why but nobody thought to ask me. It was because I just didn’t have any confidence! I knew this was true because Mam used to tell people at least once a week in my presence… ‘Our Norman daren’t go upstairs on his own because he’s got no confidence; Our Norman won’t sing like Ronnie because he’s got no confidence; Our Norman won’t tell the old Man he needs some new shoes for school because he’s got no confidence!’ Mam was quite right of course, I didn’t have any confidence BUT MAM, WHOSE BLOODY FAULT WAS THAT!
I would shut the classroom and ‘here & now’ out by letting my mind wander. I slew dragons, climbed mountains, won the Victoria Cross. There was no need for any of it. All I needed was a little love, attention, encouragement but I got none of these, and so I came to terms with my life in the only way I was able to. I shut off.
My first form master was George Page, always nicknamed ‘Doughy’ but I have no idea why.
‘Doughy’ was small in stature and in my opinion no disciplinarian. Of course he didn’t have to be as his class were all first year ‘fags.’ I cannot ever remember him using the sanction of the cane against any boy, or even needing to use the threat of it, but I do remember the near hysteria when he tried to chastise ‘Our Albert!’
Albert Driver was a very tall, well-built boy who towered over Doughy.
‘Driver, take that silly smirk from off your face,’ thundered Doughy one day, but this made Albert smirk all the more.
‘I’ve warned you,’ he continued and tried to smack Albert across the face.
From then on it was pure farce for every time Doughy tried to get a smack in, Albert just tilted his head back and so it finished up with our teacher jumping up at full stretch and never once connecting. We were all doubled up with laughter!
Albert told me that his cousin was Betty Driver, the singer on the radio. I knew who Betty Driver was as we’d to listen to her on the radio variety shows. She had a lovely voice. Television, what the heck was television!? In 1940 a television was a new- fangled gadget dreamed up in an H G Wells book! Today of course we know Betty Driver better as ‘Betty Turpin’, the barmaid in ‘Coronation Street.’ Albert, well, when he grew up he joined the Leicester Police Force and retired as a senior officer.
(Norman: Through My Eyes. A social and personal history of Leicester) get the book from Amazon


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