The Barclay School, Stevenage - home, in the 1970s, of some good teachers but also imbecilic bullies

 

A nervous, far from healthy little boy aged 11 in his first year at secondary school(February 1970) - he had been cruelly bullied from day one with none of his friends from primary school; he was absent for 40 days (8 weeks). HALF his class deserved to be permanently excluded! From his report for that year (below) you will see him near the bottom, =27th (by the time of 'A' levels, he was probably 6th best academically in that class (which contained the most able academically of five), with the top  4 or 5 pupils getting straight A*s in Pure and Applied Maths and Physics) explained in part by his treatment at the hands of the bullies but the final year of primary played a significant role as well.  Chris had not been bullied there but the school had an unsatisfactory approach to the brightest pupils, which he and other boy were in Mathematics - so they were left to read (and not Maths material) whilst the teacher focussed entirely on the others.  This is inexcusable, as it is so easy to set extra Maths tasks.  By the time he left primary school, he was still the best at Maths there but missed out on more advanced topics like algebra, brighter pupils covered in other schools.  Hertfordshire turned 'Comprehensive' in 1969, the year Chris arrived at Secondary school.  They had informally tested all final year primary school pupils, allocating a class (at Barclay 1A1 - under the present system it would have been 7A1 -  then 2A1, 3A1 and so on) of pupils who would previously have  place at a Grammar, to every school - I personally think this is a fairer system that operates in Slough, where my 3 sons were educated. Some nominally 'Comprehensive' systems are no such thing, such as in Maidenhead, Berkshire, where the former single-sex grammars still manage to attract the majority of the most academically-able pupils! 

Barclay my secondary 'streamed' (classes A1, A2, B1, B2 and C - with some pupils classified, horribly as ESN, would you believe 'Educationally Sub-Normal') also 'set' in some subjects such as Maths & English.  Chris, upon arrival, was faced with a class who had all studied Maths in their final years at primary, with at least six pupils being exceptional in this subject, who would have been near the top at any secondary in the country (incl. the best Public Schools) - they went on to perform well at 'O' level, then A*s at 'A' level, three of them e.g. studying Maths & Statistics at Bath & Bristol, one or two bagging a first class honours degree, then a Ph.D.  Chris fell foul of a similarly lax approach to English at his primary, the teachers being complimentary but not one word about grammar nor effort to work on his poor handwriting.  This ultimately led to his ridiculous demotion to Set 3 in Year 4 English - primarily because he had disagreed with the old-fashioned Year 3 teacher (who preferred girls with neat hand-writing).  On the first day of year 4, the mistake was partially recognised, as he was moved up to Set 2 (should have been Set 1).  Only Set 1 studied English Literature.  Months later, the 'best' of Set 2 were given the opportunity to take Literature but had missed many weeks of teaching and were expected to catch up on reading several rather heavy books.  Chris was the last to admit defeat and abandon this.  What a loss, not so much to miss out on the 'greats' of English literature but the social issues raised and such titles as Laurens Van der Post's 'Lost Tribesmen of the Kalahari', in light of his subsequent travels.  He liked his teacher but this person spent months in hospital (he did mark some submitted work), however, lessons consisted of playing cards - nowadays this could not be permitted to happen.  Chris had the last laugh, as despite near non-existent grammar instructions he got the highest grade in English Language 'O' level, beating those in the top set, including the star pupil, set to become a Fleet Street journalist (not that Chris has a high opinion of most journalists ......). What a shame about the loss of study of English Literature - two others in the Set 2 went on the study at the University of Newcastle, one of the Marcus Richards, ultimately secured a doctorate in Geology.


Chris Chadwell's school report at the end of his first year at Secondary School, aged 12 (one of the youngest, being born in late June) - the comment of the English teacher rings true to this day! "HAS A LIVELY MIND, BUT HAS NOT YET LEARNED TO MARSHAL HIS THOUGHTS IN A FULLY EFFECTIVE MANNER"! - as readers of this web-site and my university lecturers can bear testament.... Mind you, he ha always been serious-minded with the content of his work being accurate and truthful.  The same cannot be said of most journalists, who are serial liars!!!

Regrettably, a majority of his memories of life at secondary school are not pleasant - down to severe bullying which began the very  first day at this school, when he was picked on for, like one other boy, turning up in short trousers....  His parents were short of money and wished to get the most out of the short-trousers he had worn at primary school in Stevenage (he had moved in his penultimate year of primary from Cranleigh, Surrey, getting on fine but unfortunately, none of those pupils befriended there went to Barclay, which was the other side of town).  This left him prey to the cruel, downright vicious behaviour of my so-called class-mates, within the 'Top' class academically (a few years ago I met a former secondary school teacher who experienced a 'break-down', who considered the 'brightest' were the worst!  There were a small number in the class who did not participate  much but not one ever defended me, not even the one 'friend' I supposedly had - he was more interested in protecting himself.... Chris attended a couple of School events 20 or more years years after he had left the school; one to commemorate the retirement of Don Monk, the long-serving Deputy Head and then one class reunion at a pub in Stevenage (there had been a previously class reunion but he had not been contacted on that occasion, which took place at the Marquis of Lorne Public House, where Chris regularly played darts, aged 16).  He had hoped to meet two pupils who were not guilty of any bullying but they did not attend (one was working in America at the time).  The saddest thing was that most of those I spoke to had not "improved with age", in all probably bring up their children to behave as spitefully as they had ..........

I have no real complaints against the teaching staff, a couple of whom were excellent (in particular Mr Pull, my form tutor for my first five years and Maths teacher up to 'A' level along also Mr White the Rural Studies [this became Environmental Studies] teacher).  I suspect some of the staff did not make that much effort to sort out the widespread bullying, which is prevalent in most schools in the UK to this day. If I had been Head, quite a number of those bullies would have been permanently excluded! Given that certain of those involved were to attain the highest 'A' level grades the school ever recorded.

My elder sister was at Barclay but she did nothing to protect me, which she could have, as girls in the early years of secondary can be as physically strong and tall as the boys and had friends.... She was two years ahead of me - Year 3 (Year 9 in today's typical systems), well-developed in the chest department for her age, so already attracting attention from older boys, well able to deter my bullies, if she had wished to be impressed. By Year 4 (Year 10 nowadays) she had a boyfriend in the '6th Form' (Years 12 & 13 in todays terms).  When his family arrived in Stevenage, his sister went to Bedwell, a nearby (but not the nearest) secondary, which was awful!  She kept quiet initially but what went on eventually was exposed with my mother making a fuss, taking her out of that school (quite rightly); she transferred to Barclay, in the 'Old' Town, involving two bus journeys.  Thus 'Chadwells' were already 'known' to the Chief Education Officer for Hertfordshire.  As mentioned earlier, Chris on got fine at Lodge Farm Junior School and when he asked to get a place at Nobel, literally a stone's throw from my house, where all his new friends ended up.  His mother had made it be known that a place at Bedwell would not be acceptable.  You have guessed it, he was assigned a place at Bedwell!  No coincidence, as surely the Chief Education Officer held grudges against 'trouble-making' mothers.  Chris ended up at Barclay, travelling the 3 miles each day by bicycle - well, it turned out to be an extra mile either way, because after a matter of days using the bicycle enclosure at the school, his horn was broken (recently, I discovered the two culprits who stuffed the horn with the fruits found on perimeter hedging - who thought it was funny at the time.  My parents reacted badly to this, especially, as money was so tight.  They knew the parents of another pupil in my class and it was agreed that I would cycle to their house and leave my bike in their shed, then walk back to school.  I did this for 5 years - and am fortunate to have survived without a serious accident, as the additional route had a section with serious risks.  Once in the "6th form", pupils could leave our cycles in a separate part of the school and by that time,  Chris had started to grow in size and the bullying was much reduced.  I had little or no trouble from the A2, B1, B2, or C classes, who were much friendlier towards me than my own 'bright' class-mates - which reflects badly upon them, especially as they took so much pleasure at ridiculing me. There was never any provocation on my part, though my obvious distress undoubtedly led to repetition - "Oh what a hilarious time they all had". IF any of them ever bother reading this, they will no doubt celebrate the long-term damage this has caused.

Famous statue and clock tower in Stevenage town centre

The year I began secondary school, Hertfordshire went 'comprehensive' but as far as I know, this was either a unique or at least uncommon experiment at that time.  No formal 11+ examinations were sat but school still assessed pupils.  EVERY school in Stevenage (and presumably all over Herts) were allocated a class which would otherwise have attended a grammar.  Barclay School was built for the 'Festival of Britain' in 1951 (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festival_of_Britain) just 6 years after the end of World War II.  The location was chosen bang next (in places just a footpath apart) to a long-standing grammar Alleynes, which in fact was one of the oldest schools in the country.   Both schools have seen better days, with Barclay being on 'Special Measure' after an unsatisfactory Ofsted Inspection in recent times - though the most recent one is more positive (see: http://barclayschool.co.uk/), though I am 'amused' that almost 50 years after my first day there are STILL issues about 'protecting' pupils!  In fact a pupil was stabbed to death in the footpath/lane between Barclay and Alleyne's.   Alleyne's Grammar School as Chris knew it, can trace its roots back to 1558!  It became the grammar back in 1869. In 2013 it became the Thomas Alleyne Academy (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thomas_Alleyne_Academy).  By chance, I got to know a former member of staff there, who did not rate the equivalent science department at Barclay highly, saying that longer-standing members of Alleyne's staff considered the change to having to educate non-11+ pupils, lowered the tone of the school!

Chris' year may well have been the best ever at Barclay both academically and sporting achievement-wise (it had long enjoyed a good record in this respect and certainly despite my experience, compared favourably with Bedwell - on one occasion an older, much larger Bedwell pupil stood in the middle of the cycle-path holding a brick (one of Stevenage New Town's strengths were its cycle-paths, which were much safer than roads) forcing me to apply my brakes, threatening to punch me; from time-to-time, I had stones thrown at me as I cycled past the school, once again, once I reached a certain size, this stopped).  When my sister completed her 'A' levels, she secured a place at Hatfield Polytechnic (which became the University of Hertfordshire); I think one pupil in her year got a place at a traditional University. Whereas, two years later (Chris' year), with the more academically-able intake, more than 10 pupils got places at Universities.  There were a number of very able Mathematicians, one went to Bristol, two Bath (one of whom bagged a First Class Honours in Statistics and then a doctorate] another got into Newcastle on Clearing to study Maths & Geology, where his academic career took-off, going on to take a Ph.D. in Geology - my academic achievements have been modest in comparison.  I felt the Maths teaching at Barclay was of a very high standard and that our most able pupils (not me, though I got a decent grade in 'A' level Pure Maths, though not an A*) could have held their own with those in any school in the country including the top Public Schools.  Overall, I did not consider I had missed out academically by not attending a grammar - except for my English education, where I was let down badly.

However, there is no escaping the serious psychological harm I suffered due to bullying and persistent ridicule.  I took no interest in girls in the early years of secondary school, describing them as "faggot faces"! It would have been a smart move to maintain this until 18.  I then started to notice the undoubtedly pretty sister of a classmate.  She had been the girlfriend of another one of my classmates (she was in the year below) when we were in year 2 (nowadays year 8), if my memory serves me correctly.  I then learnt a cruel lesson in life - it never pays to feel sorry for people.  I did start to notice Fiona Cameron, who was called 'flatsy' (clearly, pupils at Barclay at that time got top marks for cruelty - aren't 'children' wonderful.....)  I had always been painfully shy and never rushed into things.  For a long period, my classmates (including Fiona's brother) kept on suggesting she liked me and she played along with this con-trick.  Eventually, I paid her a compliment by asking her out. BIG, BIG mistake.  I suffered months of RIDICULE, having my exact words thrown at me, time after time, much to the hilarity of all concerned.  I wished that the ground would have opened up.  The experience damaged me for decades afterwards.  What a contemptible thing to do.  Girls are not obliged to go out with a boy just because they are asked out but should conduct themselves in a CIVILISED way. I later discovered that even her brother, blond-haired, blue-eyes, county footballer, cricketer and golfer, who most girls at the school, from years 7-12 fancied, had occasionally been rejected himself.  As it turned out he made a mess of his life, never making it to university, when he was bright enough to secure a place (in the late 1970s only 5-10% of an age group were offered places cf. 40-50% currently.  Being too popular with the ladies brings its own problems. 

Nevertheless, it is fair to describe this 'girl' in the vernacular as a C _ _ T - along with those who contributed to what happened*.  A few years ago I was approached by one of those class-mates, admittedly not one that played a major part in the bullying, to attend the funeral of one of the bullies.  Why on earth would I wish to show him that level of respect?  Not least, as I suspect the children of those bullies have been bullies during their school-days and the uncivilised moronic conduct continues.  I am not in agreement with how schools deal with (in most cases, denying) the existence of bullying in schools - I observed bullying in Holy Family R.C. School in Langley, Slough, which my 3 sons attended, which ultimately led to my youngest being removed (he had not been bullied himself) and 'Home-Schooled' for 18 months... I took a stance against such behaviour. The senior management sided with the bullies, especially from one particular family, the mother guilty of intimidating staff members.

*CHRIS HAS BEEN SERIOUSLY ILL DURING THE PAST FEW YEARS, SPENDING MUCH OF EVERY DAY IN MAJOR PAIN, THANKS TO PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY AFTER NERVE DAMAGE IN HIS FEET, WHICH HAS BEGUN TO SPREAD AROUND THE BODY. HE TAKES A COCK-TAIL OF MEDICATION INCLUDING PAIN-KILLERS.  THIS HAS BEEN DEBILITATING MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY, WITH 'CRUSHING' EXPERIENCES LIKE THE BRIEF EXCHANGE WITH FIONA BEING REPEATED OVER AND OVER AGAIN IN HIS MIND, 45 YEARS AFTER THE EVENT! SUCH HUMILIATION AND RIDICULE STILL CONTINUES TO DO DAMAGE HIM. WHAT A PITY SUCH EXAMPLES OF 'POND-LIFE' EXIST.

IT IS ODD THAT OTHER PAST EXPERIENCES, SUCH AS VERY NEARLY DROWNING ON HIS SECOND PLANT-HUNTING EXPEDITION TO THE HIMALAYA IN 1983, DOES NOT TROUBLE HIM AT ALL.

ANOTHER UNFORTUNATE EPISODE WITH ANOTHER SUPPOSED YOUNG 'LADY' (THE DAUGHTER OF A VICE-ADMIRAL) PROVED TRAUMATIC TO CHRIS, SOME 4 YEARS AFTER THE FIRST HUMILIATION.  AT THE TIME HE WAS TREASURER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON ROYAL NAVAL UNIT.  HE AGREED TO ORGANISE A SOCIAL EVENT AT A HOTEL IN PORTSMOUTH, TO BE ATTENDED BY MEMBERS (WHO WERE ACTING JUNIOR OFFICERS IN THE ROYAL NAVAL RESERVE) & GIRLFRIENDS PLUS MEMBERS OF THE CREW OF THEIR TRAINING VESSEL (H.M.S. ISIS - AN INSHORE MINESWEEPER). CHRIS HAD A SERIOUS GIRLFRIEND FOR MUCH OF HIS SECOND YEAR AT SOUTHAMPTON BUT THAT RELATIONSHIP HAD ENDED.  HE BECAME FRIENDLY WITH ANOTHER MEMBER OF THE UNIT, WHICH LED TO A SATURDAY OR TWO WORKING ON THE BOAT OF HIS PARENTS, WITH A VIEW TO GOING OUT ON HER.  THIS UNIT MEMBER HAD A LIVELY, CHATTY SISTER, WHO SUGGESTED SHE WOULD SEE IF ANY OF THE GIRLS IN THE 6TH FORM MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN BEING CHRIS' 'DATE' FOR THAT EVENING; SHE DID, CHRIS MET HER BRIEFLY IN PORTSMOUTH BEFOREHAND WITH THE INFORMAL 'DATE' AGREED. WELL, CHRIS HAD VARIOUS FUNCTIONS TO PERFORM, WHICH TOOK HIM AWAY FROM THE TABLE HE SAT AT WITH HIS SUPPOSED DATE.  WHEN UNDERTAKING HIS DUTIES, ANOTHER MEMBER OF THE UNIT, STUDYING AT PORTSMOUTH POLYTECHNIC, STARTED PAYING UNDUE ATTENTION TO HER.  I HAVE NEVER BEEN ONE FOR 'FIGHTING' OVER A GIRL AND VIEWED BRAWLING OVER A GIRL OR PUNCHING THE BLOKE ON THE NOSE, NOT THE BEHAVIOUR OF "AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN" - I ALREADY HAD A LOW OPINION OF HIM (COMPOUNDED BY HIS BEHAVIOUR THAT EVENING - AS ONE SAYS, YOU SHOULD NOT 'SHIT ON YOUR OWN DOORSTEP).  CLEARLY, THE LITTLE MADAM WAS BEHAVING IN AN UNCIVILISED WAY; UPON REFLECTION, I SHOULD HAVE RUNG HER PARENTS AND GOT ONE OF THEM TO COLLECTION.  AFTER WHAT HAPPENED, A RULE WAS INTRODUCED THAT ALL UNIT MEMBERS HAD TO BRING A DATE.  THE NEXT DAY I GOT A SAVAGE HAIRCUT AND SPENT DAYS NOT ATTENDING LECTURES.  I SHOULD HAVE RESIGNED FROM THE UNIT AND
MADE A FORMAL COMPLAINT TO HER FATHER.  I ALSO SHOULD HAVE LEFT UNIVERSITY.  CLEARLY, I WAS NOT CUT OUT FOR UNIVERSITY LIFE.  HAD I DONE SO, I WOULD HAVE AVOIDED THE INVITATION TO JOIN THE SOUTHAMPTON UNIVERSITY EXPEDITION TO LADAKH - WHERE I WAS BADLY LET DOWN. MY CAREER IS LIKELY TO HAVE FOLLOWED A DIFFERENT PATH.  GIVEN HOW BADLY I WAS TREATED BY THE BBC, I DEARLY WISH THINGS HAD TURNED OUT DIFFERENTLY.  

Summary of First Year's Report - quite an achievement given how badly I had been bullied (which no doubt contributed to my absences due to ill-health; I was diagnosed with stomach ulcers - my intestines have always been my 'Achilles' Heel').

Year 2 Report - note complimentary comments (for that time) with observations of being serious-minded and hard-working, though in life, taking my responsibilities seriously has not always served me, as it shows other people up.... 'Satisfactory' was over-used...

Once again a 'satisfactory' report, though I managed be given my first ever 'debit' (unfairly) - which involved a visit to the fearsome Headmaster; Kinsey was a large, balding figure who had played cricket at county level for Glamorganshire.  He once played in the Staff versus Old Boys match, at one point dispatching a thunderous six into the distance.  I do remember him not permitting a Sixth Form Girls Soccer Match as he considered the males in the crowd would be ogling their legs. The girls played hockey.  Anyone who made the First XI football team were banned from playing mixed-hockey, in case the were nobbled by a hockey stick!














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