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 in attendance.  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 the class, with the top  4 or 5 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.  He had not been bullied there but the school had an unsatisfactory approach to the most able 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 the more advanced topics like algebra.  Hertfordshire turned 'Comprehensive' 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 7A! -  then 2A1, 3A1 and so on) of pupils who would previously have  place at a Grammar, to every school - I personally think this is fairer, as some nominally 'Comprehensive' systems are no such thing, such as in Maidenhead, Berkshire, where the former single-sex grammars still managed to attract the majority of the most academically-able pupils!  Barclay '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 was faced with a class who had all studied Maths in their final yea's 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, studying Maths & Statistics at Bath & Bristol, one or two bagging a first class honours degree, then a Ph.D.  He 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 led to a ridiculous demotion to Set 3 in Year 4 English - primarily because he had disagreed with the Year 3 teacher.  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 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).


My school report at the end of my first year at Secondary School, aged 12 (I was one of the youngest) - 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, I have always been serious-minded with the content of my work being accurate and truthful.  The same cannot be said of journalists, who are serial liars!!!

Regrettably, a majority of my memories of life at my one and only secondary school are not pleasant ones - thanks to severe bullying which began the my first day at this school, when I was picked on for, like one other boy, turning up in short trousers.  My parents were short of money and wished to get the most out of the short-trousers I had worn at primary school in Stevenage (we had moved in my penultimate year from Cranleigh, Surrey and got on fine but unfortunately, none of those pupils I befriended there went to Barclay, which was the other side of town).  This left me prey to the vicious behaviour of my so-called class-mates.  There were a small number who did not participate but not one ever defended me, not even the one 'friend' I supposedly had - he was more interested in protecting himself.... I attended a couple of School events some years after I had left, 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 I had not been contacted on that occasion, which took place at the Marquis of Lorne, where I regularly played darts, aged 16).  I had hoped to meet two pupils who were not guilty of any bullying but they did not attend (one was working in America).  The saddest thing was that most of those I spoke to had not improved with age.....

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

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.  When we arrived in Stevenage, she went to Bedwell, a nearby (but not the nearest) secondary, which was awful.  She kept quiet initially but what went on eventually was exposed and my mother mad a fuss, taking her out of the school (quite rightly); she transferred to Barclay, in the 'Old' Town, involving two bus journeys.  We were already 'known' to the Chief Education Officer for Hertfordshire.  As I said, I got fine at Lodge Farm Junior School and we asked for me to get a place at Nobel, literally a stone's throw from my house, where all my friends ended up.  My mother had made it be known that a place at Bedwell would not be acceptable.  You have guessed it, I was given a place at Bedwell!  No coincidence, as I am sure the Chief Education Officer held grudges against my 'trouble-making' mother.  I 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, my horn was broken.  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.  Once in the 6th form, we could leave our cycles in this separate part of the school and by the 6th I had started to grow in size and the bullying was much reduced.  I had little trouble from the other classes in the school, as reflection on the most academically able pupils in the school.

Famous statue and clock tower in Stevenage town centre

The year I began secondary school, Hertfordshire went 'comprehensive' but as far as I know, they 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 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 issues about 'protecting' pupils!    Alleyne's Grammar School as I 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 department at Barclay highly, saying that longer-standing members of Alleyne's staff considered the move to having to educate non-11+ pupils lowed the tone of the school!

My 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 (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 that year got a place at a full University. Whereas, two years later, with the more able intake, double-figures 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 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.

However, there is no escaping the 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 (as I have stated, I really had no interest in girls at the time).  I then learnt a cruel lesson in life - it never pays to feel sorry for people.  I did start to notice Fiona, 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 1-7 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 _ _ _.  Not long 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, deny) 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) and 'Home-Schooled' for 18 months... The senior management sided with tbhe bullies, especially from one particular family, the mother guilty of intimidating staff members.

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 male 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.

Notwithstanding, wishing I was dead for long periods, it was not all bad and by the end of the Sixth Form, I was largely left alone.  I had established myself as a regular in the First XI cricket team (we had several players who represented Hertfordshire at Under-19 level) and also been First XI goalkeeper for long periods - we won the vast majority of our games in both sports. I was rightly respected as a fielder who took spectacular catches being prepared to field suicidally close with quick reactions; this nearly cost me dear in Year 4, against the Licensed Victuallers at Harpenden, when our county bowler let one go outside the off-stump which was promptly hit straight at me on the full, bouncing off my forehead - if I had the presence of mind, might have even caught it!  A large bump appeared (fortunately this is a strong place, thus the choice for head-butting). The alarmed Art Teacher  every male teacher was expected to be in charge of some sort of sports team' dispatched me to the boundary. I never lost my nerve. My father witness a fellow pupil being killed by a cricket ball, though on that occasion the ball hit a rather delicate part of the anatomy. Oddly, enough, when in my gap year between school and university (see: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/laboratory-assistant-unilever-ltd) I was asked if  I played cricket early in summer 1977, to make up the numbers for a village team one of the scientists at The Frythe played for.  He inquired if I could bowl, so I said yes - having not once been given the opportunity for my school First XI, not even in the two matches we lost (we won all the rest, comfortably, so there seemed no need), as the two senior team-members who played for Hertfordshire, dominated the bowling. Never occurred to give others a chance.  Luck was with me, it was a cloudy day.  My medium pace moved around, more by luck than judgement.  I ended up with 3 wickets and promptly elevated to number 4 in the batting order, which proved a bad move as I was out second ball to a cross-batted attempted hoick!  From then on, I was first change bowler, safely down at number 10 as a batsman.  I also played as goalkeeper (never a popular position) for The Frythe Football team; the most aggressive opponents being the local police team (never imagined that 4 years later I would have joined the Hertfordshire Constabulary.... In one game, windy, very wet and cold, one of my team observed that perhaps a strategically placed oil-drum with have been more use....  You need to be a resilient character to survive as a goalkeeper.


Axes

Bill-hooks


Saws











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