KES ARCHIVE
The Changing 'sixties
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon 1963-1981


 

Nicholas Colloff, pupil 1974-1981, recalls his time at the school

 

We lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in Clopton Road. We had lived there for most of my childhood, apart from 2 or 3 years at the beginning. And I went to school at Thomas Jolyffe County and Infant Primary School which was a school which had been built in the 1950s, I think to serve the growing housing that was expanding to the north of the town. It was a primary school of about 200 pupils right the way from 4 to 11. And on a modern site, a greenfield site with a range of modern facilities and with a reasonable kind of reputation from what I can remember of it.

One of the most striking things I think was how the 11-plus was handled, on the one level one thought it was important and there were certainly indications at home and at school that it was a significant kind of thing, but it was quite a new thing, it was an exam. One had never done an exam before. And at the same time it was kind of slotted in so one actually arrived at school not knowing that today one was going to do the 11-plus and it was simply presented to one and I remember it caused me some difficulty filling in the initial part because I couldn't remember how to spell my middle name, I mean it came as something of a shock to have to do this and was true of the mock exam and the subsequent exam proper. And one had discussed where one was going to go and if one passed. And so there was this curious balance between its importance and significance and at the same time it was done rather gently, one didn't feel nervous or out-of-sorts. It just came upon one and one did it and one really forgot about it.

The first thing one noticed from moving from Thomas Jolyffe to KES I suppose really was the change of the kind of staff, I mean primary schools tend to be dominated by female staff and this was very true of Thomas Jolyffe, I think there was just two male teachers, there was the headmaster and one other. And one came to KES and one had a staff which was predominantly male, I think with two exceptions. So that was the most noticeable shift and the kind of formality, which one was struck by. The fact that one was called by one's peers in the form by one's surname, something which I suspect has well evaporated by now. And that sort of had a kind of formalisation about it which was something of a shock really, one took getting used to it really, because it was such a stark contrast.

There were 3 others [from Thomas Jolyffe] and there was also somebody who had just arrived in Stratford who lived in the same area, so one very quickly made friends with them. And so there was very quickly a small group, about 4 or 5 of us who knew each other and were friends who had been to primary school and who had played together and so forth. I think that was a great help and it somewhat accentuated the contrast between referring to people by their surnames and referring to these people quite clearly by their first names - it was quite curious. We had what I suppose might be described as a good year in terms of 11-plus entry.

The earliest memory of a class, of actually being taught, was a Monday afternoon, and I presume this was the following week having started perhaps on a Wednesday of the previous week, was having two Latin periods with two different teachers and being suddenly confronted with the understanding that they were going to teach you Latin in very different ways. And that they were in conflict, that was a very interesting thought, a thought that adults, teachers, could actually be in conflict with one another about how they were going to do something, about how they were going to teach. Because all one's understanding about teachers prior to that was that they had relatively little to do with one another outside the classroom. And that one had been taught by the same person all the way through and things looked, at least on the surface, quite harmonious. But it is interesting, that one's first memory is being given vocabularies to learn from one member of staff and these being collected at the lesson two periods later, eighth period, and actually thrown in the bin! It was actually a really stark kind of thing, and "we are not going to learn Latin that way". But those are the first two lessons one remembers. I think one remembers them for that reason. Because it was so different and one was suddenly confronted by something one hadn't handled before. So I think the transition was quite difficult and sharp I think from a primary school to a secondary school.

Buildings

I suppose there was a general sense, I think, that many of the buildings were rather tired. Certainly the classrooms, the SH classrooms were a little on the dreary side, particularly the ones that had been built last, 11 and 12. They had the feeling of being well used, the desks were rather grotty and vandalised . . . or at least carved, not vandalised, they were sort of functional and there was this extraordinary plasterboard against the walls which had been gauged out, sort of dug out. So there was a sense in which some of the more modern buildings in particular were certainly well used, and in need, perhaps of refurbishment. And another contrast between KES and primary school was that everything was very functional and austere. You moved from the primary school where walls are full of posters, pictures and activity to rows of desks and plain walls. And also a sense of people having carved their names on desks which is not something that I can remember from primary school. So there was that kind of shift, which is common enough, of actually coming back to the bottom again, having got to the top of something one comes back to the bottom, and there were all those people who were much older than oneself, and you were once again down at the bottom of the pecking order.

I didn't consider the old buildings as anything special, not when one first entered. They were used for assemblies at the beginning and end of each term. The headmaster, Mr Pratt, taught in them, his first year class, which was essentially reading, was held in Big School. And one knew Council Chamber because the library was there and one was a great user of the library, one of the places one frequented regularly. But they made very little impression which I suppose is perhaps significant. And Council Chamber was just where the library was, and they were interesting just for their functions not in themselves. One's interest in them as buildings grew up much later. And their sense of history grew up much later. Some of that actually really began when one began to see them out of school time when from the third year onwards one was involved in school plays particularly which meant one was at school often on Saturdays and Sundays and in the evenings and one began to see them as buildings, one was not seeing them as functional units and they were also quite atmospheric when there weren't hundreds of boys traipsing through them, or beyond them or around them. I mean, those summer evenings of plays and concerts with swallows diving in and out of the courtyard. All of that gives an impression which begins to make them important but it was only once they had stopped being somewhere you were taught by the headmaster or went to use the library. And I think also partly when one began to have access to all of them. The Guildhall Library in particular, so that they had ceased to be remote, or at least a part of it ceased to be remote and distant. Also, the first couple of years one was so busy getting used to school that it was anything other than where one had lessons and homework and exams didn't really make an impact until much later.

House system

We had arrived shortly after the reorganisation of the school houses. There had previously been four I understand and they had then been streamlined into two, Kings and Guild. I found myself in Kings. I wasn't involved in the competitions held between the two - I was hopeless at sport so there wasn't any great importance for that. I think I took part in only one inter-house competition the whole time I was there, it was fencing and it was a disaster and we lost. For the whole 7 years that was the only engagement in competition. By the time one was beginning to get one's academic feet and notch up points, one had got into the fifth-form, and that sense of contributing to the academic shield was also lost on one. There was quite a lot of relatively tame sense of difference from one's contemporary Guild form. They were them and we were us. There was a definite division, there was some kind of interchange but friends crossing the boundaries really didn't come until really much later. Somebody in the Guild form said they'd really liked to have been in our form because we were much nicer - which I think was true actually! That was perceived as rather out on a limb, that somebody from that form who would be seen more in our company than the company of his own form - that was very unusual. So there were very strong demarcations even between the some age group - perhaps less so if one had played football in the quad. I think that made a difference but if one didn't, or wasn't in that there was a very clear sense of demarcation. I don't really remember having any friends in the Guild form equivalent until we got to the sixth-form. By that time one had established friendships with people which were clearly more important and long lasting in one's own form. Its sense of importance was fairly limited. It didn't strike one as being particularly significant.

School day

The timetable was 40-minute periods, eight a day. In the first two years Friday afternoons was sport which was quite dreaded and horrid and subsequently it was Wednesday afternoons. The favourite subject was history, it had been at primary school and it continued to be, right the way through. Partly intrinsically and also partly because the way it was taught, which was very enlivening and interesting and demanding really, demands were made upon you in history lessons. I think the method of teaching didn't change in one sense, we had Mr Pratt in the first year and that was interesting because that was the closest that one had come to a continuation, apart perhaps from RE too, to a primary school because one was drawing pictures and maps, and one was almost doing projects (something that presumably with GCSE has re-emerged) which we did very little of in any other lessons. We were doing work individually but it did have this kind of project quality to it and it did have this kind of . . . almost continuation of primary school in terms of pictures and drawings and that continued with Mr Benson in the second year when we were drawing castles and so forth. And the sheer sense of excitement with which Mr Benson taught it was very impressive. He was very entertaining, there was a great deal of almost drama involved in his teaching it. He made you feel it was important and significant. It is interesting that in the fourth year we were split into two sections and we did economic history with Mr Mallison and we did "Hitler" with Mr Benson. There was a sense that his teaching of Hitler actually had some really tension behind it. It was not simply he was teaching because he was interested in the period - it is a very compelling period - but there was actually a kind of desire to introduce you to that period in order to inculcate in you certain attitudes and values which you otherwise might not have. It was very skilfully done because one of the ways in which one came out of those lessons was a feeling that there was something quite . . . ludicrous in not the right word . . felt diminished by if you had any kind of attitudes that were carried in Hitler's Germany. He used a very clever band of argument and ridicule in a sense to feel that those kind of attitudes were clearly wrong and ought to be resisted . . . that was the feeling, it wasn't just that he was teaching it because it was interesting, he was teaching it because it did have some purpose to it. That sense of history being taught because it inculcated values was something that was also continued from beyond that point. When we were doing nineteenth-century history it was quite clear who was in and who was out, what values you ought to consider good, without any sense of necessarily having propaganda . . . it wasn't as if one was being brainwashed but there was definitely a sense that history was being taught because it was important and that was very exciting, and important in itself not because you've got O levels and A levels. Definitely history was the most exciting and interesting subject.

Although there was a fairly broad strand of agreement amongst the staff in terms of the ways one was going to learn, and the emphasis placed upon learning things so that one could say, regurgitate them . . . there was great emphasis in competence, you ought to be competent, and you would do it in different ways time and again until you got to that competency was a common strand but everyone had their own style and way of communicating interest, or failure to convey interest in some cases! . . . and the subject's importance. But lessons did have a similar quality to them, definitely. You didn't feel that you were being taught in a radically different way. One class to another, you did feel you were doing in a similar pattern but there were different styles. I think the only potential difference was Mr Dyson's classes in the first year - he retired in '75 so we only had him for the first year - they had a very different quality to them, there was a much greater sense of being explorative. A great contrast in terms of experiments, if experiments went wrong well that was okay, experiments went wrong - that's what happens to experiments. Whereas afterwards, many of the experiments we did, there were much fewer, there was quite a distinct dropping off, the results seemed to be fixed beforehand, or things were manipulated because the important thing was to get the right answer so that you know what should take place. Whereas previously there had been much greater emphasis on the "how" of getting to where we were. That was perhaps one of the most significant differences. I think the only other sense of difference would be Mr Smerdon's English classes which had again a stronger explorative feel to them than other classes. One was in a sense kind of doing experiments, in a strange kind of way, in English and one was engaging one's imagination and exploring. If there were two members of staff that I would remember most vividly it would be those two - and Mr Benson - even though, they only taught me only for a year, before either retiring or being ill.

Current debate about child-centred education . . . there was something more child-centred about those two classes than there was about others, the others were about communicating information and competency and skill. Those two had something more to do about imagination and exploration and making mistakes, you could make mistakes; in other classes that was "wrong", and you must correct them, in a very austere kind of way.

Examinations were dominant. We had them twice a year in the spring and in the summer and they grew to occupy more and more of one's attention. For me they took a great deal of getting used to, I have to confess. I never left enough time to revise, I didn't really know what an examination was when I first began to take them and what would be required of one. They took a great deal of getting used to, in my case. I think I probably resented them, though as one got more competent the resentment grew less and less. They were the key thing. Though there was a great deal of discussion, particularly as one grew older, in the school for the need for real rounded people and this kind of thing, and some kind of attempt to generate that, it was quite clear that the important thing was to pass O levels and A levels, and the important thing was to go to university and anything other than that, though no one would want to say it would be a failure, it was perceived as such, I think. Not what one was there for, so all the other activities were "good" and important and one got patted on the head for them but the key and most serious thing was to pass exams - no doubt about that.

I think Mr Holland's classes stood out because it was one of the few forms that you were seated according to your ability - Mr Adams' was another. You went toward the back as you got better. Which reminds me of a rather nice thing that Mr Cross did. Mr Forster who taught French and Latin had gone to Iraq, suddenly and Mr Cross who had taught at the school for some years before came out of retirement for a term. We went into his class and we sat down where we wanted to and the very first thing that he did was to take the people who had sat at the back row and sit them at the front, and the people who were sitting at the front row were sat at the back and we had to stay where we where. Mr Holland's class and Mr Adams' class were the only two classes that were ranked according to order of ability, most of them were ranked according to alphabetical order. You moved each term, backwards and forwards. In the case of French I usually was quite near the front and in the case of geography quite near the back. Mr Holland always felt somewhat remote, partly the simple physical presence of this huge desk on this dais looking down on one in the classroom that seemed to have a great deal more space than the other classrooms, I think that is probably true, it is larger in point of fact.

Sport

Sports - I hated them. The first two years I hated being cold and wet and dirty, I've always hated being cold and wet and dirty. The thought of playing rugby which seems to me the most abominable kind of invention was depressing. Fortunately, I was so bad at rugby we ended up playing football, with Mr Blunt. That was an improvement because one got less dirty and wet and cold playing football than one did playing rugby. But I was completely happy when the first two years of rugby was over. Cross-country running was even more depressing - well, no, cross-country running was better because you could walk, as long as Mr Mallison didn't catch you you could walk so that was a great improvement. You could just go for a walk and show a bit of effort at the beginning and a bit of effort at the end - and cricket, well I was so hopelessly appallingly bad at cricket that we ended up playing rounders with Mr Gibbins. Rounders was quite fun, I was quite good at rounders so that was a great improvement.

Other activities

The two principal ones one was involved in, I suppose three indeed. One was school plays. This began in the third-year when Nigel Hall and I auditioned for the "Imaginary Invalid" and Mr Bullock almost went back to school tradition where the women's parts were played by boys. But he decided not to in the end so our theatrical careers were thwarted. So instead we joined the stage crew and spent every Saturday from October half-term, when we spent two days putting up the stage, and putting up the proscenium arch and various other bits and pieces, every Saturday until Christmas, the end of the Michaelmas term, working on the stage set. Often on Wednesday afternoons as well, and Friday afternoons to get it ready and it was only ever finished after the last performance. They were enormous fun . . . if there is one thing I remember about it will be those Saturdays. They were enormously enjoyable and when we started doing plays in the summer it meant that Saturdays in the summer were absorbed . . . I remember one fortnight when I was at school every day and during the week only got back home about 10pm on each of the days in the week. So it was extraordinary absorbing and enjoyable and we produced some really rather good stage sets I seem to remember apart from one for "The Rivals" which was a fiasco because we tried an abstract set with rather huge windows which were meant to go up and down . . . they were far too heavy and rather straining. There was all kind of involvement and the people one was with were really a very nice bunch, they changed over the years but they were really quite . . . they were all quite enjoyable.

Those kind of moments were really very memorable, and the sense of achievement of having constructed the set. I remember the one we did for "The Importance of Being Earnest", the garden which was applauded as soon as the curtain went up. And also the "Winslow Boy", the evening set, which also got the same kind of treatment.

I think we only had one moment of real conflict which was over panelling of some doors. We had got some plastic panelling from the theatre and someone had wanted to put this in and paint it and had done so and Nigel took one look at it and started to tear it off, regarding it as completely inferior and was going to do it himself. That was I think the only moment of real tension that I experienced in five years of building sets.

The Friday afternoon activity, in the sixth-form, was voluntary social service. It must be confessed that our voluntary social service was a doddle. We went to see a Miss Goode who lived in Mulberry Street and she was an invalid and she had one leg shorter than the other. We took her out in the wheelchair occasionally but most of the time we sat and ate cakes and drank tea and talked with her and she was fascinating on her childhood and in Stratford in the pre-war period. She also was quite happy just to listen to us, the two of us, talk to one another. It was interesting because I did it on both occasions with people I would not normally have spoken to . . . not normally have much to do with, and actually got to know them very well. Some people had people who made them go shopping, put up shelves, garden and so forth, our social service was rather more befriending.

Parents

In general, my parents' involvement with the school was fairly restricted. It seemed to be restricted to fetes and parents' evenings and occasional FOKES evenings. FOKES evenings were slightly remote because my parents didn't go to FOKES evenings, so they'd go to parents' evenings, and they may well have gone to fetes, yes they did, but they certainly didn't go to FOKES evenings, so it was tenuous and other peoples' parents were remote figures too. Unless you happened to know them as friends. I knew Nigel's parents quite well but that was about it really, everyone else was somewhat distant, and weren't really seen. That began to change towards the end as FOKES became more active and more 'parent-teachery' and I suppose in the run-up to parent-governors.

As far as I was concerned it was almost certain I would go to university, I had great difficulty deciding where to go and what to study and I think I went through every conceivable combination that was possible and my mother asked a very interesting question, "did I really want to go?" and I think that struck me as a very surprising question because "what else did one do?" That in one sense is rather sad because to be so focused and, had somebody come along and said "well Nicholas why not try this?", I can't even begin to imagine what "this" is, but I might well not have gone but it was very definitely this tramline of a definite university or polytechnic and if you went to polytechnic well you were perceived of, I think, as being somewhat inferior to the people who went to university, however hard Mr Pratt worked at trying to persuade us that polytechnics were really important. I just didn't even consider them, they were just non-starters, they were just out of the way. So it was very clear that university was the option and then there was the question of deciding what to do and where to do it and there wasn't a great deal of help on that it must be confessed, I think. That was partly due to the fact that one wasn't studying the subject one had decided to do, I did, when I was doing history, go to see Mr Benson and he made suggestions . . . I gave him a list of places I could go, they were fairly restricted because I didn't have a French O Level and we organised a list of priorities so he was very helpful on that basis. But when it came to it of deciding to do a subject I hadn't dome for A Level there wasn't really anybody to ask. And so I chose it on criteria I invented myself - I went to five places that seemed reasonable and chose the one that stood out from those five choices, it was interesting that I chose somewhere that was small and quite a cross-section of people . . . it was Heythrop College in the University of London to do theology.

 

 

In terms of abiding impressions I suppose the one that stands out now was perhaps greater use was not made of the opportunities that were available to the school, not in terms of one's own use of opportunities, but one had buildings and facilities that were very good, perhaps not quite as good as your average independent school like Warwick for example but were reasonable but somehow one didn't make as much use of them as one could. The school didn't seem to participate in many competitions outside of itself, sporting competitions yes, but things like 'Young Scientists of the Year' for example which was something Mr Smerdon picked up when he retired, seemed to be somewhat remote and distant and in terms of clubs or societies there weren't any, there was the debating society which began to disintegrate towards the middle period I was there, perhaps towards the end, sixth-form, fifth-form. There was a dramatic society which put on drama but that was about it really. So you did feel more might have been made use of the facilities that one had. The other abiding impression is this absolutely rather rigorous focused concentration on getting to university. It is interesting looking back at some of the people one knows now who were with one then that the most, I won't say 'contented', is perhaps a curious word to use, but the people whom seemed to have the most fun in terms of their life somehow didn't go to university in a sense, either went to polytechnics, which was rather interesting, or though they went to university and did subjects they don't actually find themselves doing the subjects that had any connexion to that. They kicked over the traces with that focus and are doing something quite different.

A slight sense of disappointment that people couldn't have been enabled to get to that point earlier, that they needn't have gone through that whole great business, and then having to kick over the traces and start again, that would have made a difference. As one got older in the school one clearly got more comfortable but also the things that stuck out are the extra-curricula activities, not the teaching, not the academic work. When one left primary school one really enjoyed school tremendously, all sides and aspects of it and one hated holidays and by the end of being at KES I actually looked forward to holidays and one actually looked forward to . . . and in terms of school one actually looked forward to those activities like stage, openings, VSS, which were not part of the general curriculum. There was a sense in which one really wanted the curricula somehow opened out. Those are some of the most abiding impressions of it.

Having enjoyed my time, on reflexion I can see that things might have been done somewhat differently.

 

Nicholas Colloff, pupil 1974-1981
talking in 1992

 

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