The English School System

About the forum, Captain W.E. Johns and Biggles. Including samples of WEJ writing

The English School System

Postby Kismet » 07 Mar 2017, 21:23

Introduction

There has always, I think, been a belief in Britain, that it was important to have a certain number of the populace educated in order, initially, to run church and governing systems effectively and then to trade profitably. How best to achieve this has always been under discussion, as have the further questions of who should be educated and what the purpose of education is.
We’ve talked in other threads on the forum about what sort of educational experiences Biggles, Algy, Bertie and Ginger would have had, and I thought, that having done a certain amount of research to satisfy my own curiosity, I might as well do a little more and pull it all together into one place in case anyone else is interested. The ever changing system of education in England and Wales (Scotland has its own system, as does Ireland) is difficult to understand, even by those of us living and educated here, so I thought I’d start with a brief summary of how it developed, with a slightly more detailed overview of education at the end of the nineteenth century when things changed quite rapidly, and then try to briefly indicate what it means for the education of Biggles, Algy, Bertie and Ginger. Then, of course, we can discuss it!

I’ve read several sources, but the one I have used the most is Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history www.educationengland.org.uk/history

This is detailed and fascinating if anyone wants to spend more time learning about the history of education in England and Wales.

Any mistakes in the following overview are mine.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Kismet » 07 Mar 2017, 21:24

Early History.

The first schools in Britain were founded from about 600AD onwards by early Christian missionaries. There were song schools to train singers for cathedral choirs (a specialist set of skills) and grammar schools (a wider education) giving a foundation in the subjects then thought necessary to create practitioners of medicine, theology and law.

Alfred the Great was highly educated, and did much to promote schooling, as did his immediate successors. Canute arranged (and paid) for the education of clever boys from all classes, freeing some slaves so they could be educated. Schools were still all run by the Church to benefit the Church.

In the twelfth century, the first Free or partially Free, Grammar Schools began to appear. Free does not refer to no cost education, but to their independence from the Church. Pupils would study at them until they were 14 or so, and then study further at one of the newly founded universities or with an institution run by the church. The curriculum taught began to broaden.

By the fifteenth century, there were three types of school: song schools, grammar schools and independent schools (independent from the church not the state, which is the current meaning of the term). The Independent schools had a nationwide catchment. They catered to sons of the ruling class who paid fees, and had some free places for poor, but outstanding, scholars. They developed into the famous Public Schools. Schools were funded by endowments, some of which had conditions attached as to what could be taught at a particular school.

The break from Rome under Henry the Eighth resulted in a number of schools closing and being re-founded . Grammar Schools were now mostly private foundations, with church and state involvement.

Elizabeth the First continued the tradition of founding Grammar Schools, and moved control of the Apprenticeship system from the guilds to the State. New schools to teach writing in English and accounts developed, to meet the needs of a society which was trading further and further afield.

Growing industrialisation led to the founding of Charity Schools in some towns and cities, and the idea of education for all was propounded. By the end of the eighteenth century, it was felt that industry required a literate and numerate workforce, and a public education system would have to be introduced.

Peel’s Factory Act of 1802 required an employer to provide instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic for at least 4 years of the 7 year apprenticeship and that this instruction was to be part of the twelve hour day apprentices worked.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Kismet » 07 Mar 2017, 21:27

The move to mass education


Education in Britain was acknowledged to be a messy hotchpotch of variable quality. An Education department was set up, and by the mid nineteenth century, was appointing School Inspectors and issuing grants to teachers. New types of schools were set up throughout the century to offer education to the working classes. In-fighting between two Church groups which supported education for children and a smaller, third group which wanted to keep religion out of education, slowed the introduction of a countrywide system of education down. Many schools were founded by churches.

Sunday Schools taught children and adults to read the Bible.

Schools of Industry taught domestic economy to girls and trades such as gardening to boys.

Monitorial schools used monitors (older pupils) and standard exercises to enable one teacher to teach many children at the same time. The curriculum was simple:
the three Rs (Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmatic) and practical skills.

Infant schools were a place where parents could leave their infants (aged 2 – 6) whilst they worked in factories and mills, but they also tried to promote the well being of the children and give them a head start with learning the 3 Rs.

Dame schools were an alternative to infant schools, basically just child minding in someone’s house.

Elementary schools were for children aged 6 – 14, but in practice this was usually 6 – 12. They tended to have all the ages split into three classes, often in one room. The teacher would teach one group. Assistant teachers would take the other two for more mechanical exercises. The government wanted a practical curriculum. The schools, run by graduates, wanted a more academic curriculum, not least because practical instruction for manual trades was much more expensive to teach effectively and couldn’t be done in large classes taught by monitors.

Mechanics Institutes (and similar) modernised the old apprenticeship system for training industrial recruits.

The upper classes sent their children to preparatory schools rather than elementary schools, to be prepared for public school. The traditional curriculum of mainly Latin and Greek taught at the public schools was now far removed from the skills needed for the modern world. Public pressure and a few influential headmasters lead to the introduction, and positioning in the mainstream, of subjects other than the Classics. New boarding schools were founded, more accessible because of the railways (and their lower fees) to more of the middle classes. Entrance examinations – the Indian Civil Service first held its entrance exams in 1855– also forced an updating of the Curriculum in Public Schools.

Oxford and Cambridge were forced to improve the calibre of their teaching by the imposition of public examinations, and an exam system for entry into the universities was in place by the 1830s. Although this raised the academic standard, it restricted entry to those who had received an appropriate education, effectively meaning those who had attended a public school. The opening of new universities, such as Manchester, encouraged Oxford and Cambridge to offer a wider range of courses so they remained competitive. It also became possible to obtain a degree without a signed paper agreeing that the minimal number of church attendances had been met.



Education for women became increasingly important in this century, and several important girls’ schools were founded to teach the traditional boys’ curriculum to girls.

There were a lot of Reports and Acts in the last 40 years of the nineteenth century. Highlights include:

The 1864 Clarendon report established the nine ancient foundations of Eton, Winchester, Westminster, Charterhouse, St Paul's, Merchant Taylors', Harrow, Rugby and Shrewsbury as a separate class of 'public schools' and recommended that the curriculum should consist of classics, mathematics, a modern language, two natural sciences, history, geography, drawing, and music. It put all management of the school, revenues, staff etc in the hands of the governors of these schools and formed the basis of the Public Schools Act 1868.

The 1868 Taunton Report looked at Secondary Education, excluding the ancient foundations. They found it generally poor, undifferentiated to children’s needs and that two thirds of towns had no secondary schools at all. They recommended:

• first-grade schools with a leaving age of 18 or 19 would provide a 'liberal education' - including Latin and Greek - to prepare upper and upper-middle class boys for the universities and the older professions;
• second-grade schools with a leaving age of 16 or 17 would teach two modern languages besides Latin to prepare middle class boys for the army, the newer professions and departments of the Civil Service; and
• third-grade schools with a leaving age of 14 or 15 would teach the elements of French and Latin to lower middle class boys, who would be expected to become 'small tenant farmers, small tradesmen, and superior artisans'. (The Commissioners treated these schools as secondary schools because the Elementary School Code of 1860 had fixed the leaving age for elementary schools at 12).

They were also very concerned at the extremely limited provision for girls’ secondary education and its blatant lack of real content.

The 1861 Newcastle Report looked at education for the masses. It was seriously unimpressed by what it found, except for infant schools, which it felt kept very young children safe and facilitated their progress when they started more formal schooling. This led to the 1870 Elementary Education Act. It required every district to provide enough school places to educate all the children in that area, that all children between five and twelve should (not must) attend school and recommended that the School Boards that it set up should pay school fees in cases of hardship. It also tried to take religion out of education. These board schools did not replace the church schools. The churches used the government funds made available for the building of new schools to build more church schools!

The 1880 Elementary Act made school attendance compulsory and introduced penalties for the illegal employment of 10 – 13 year olds.

The 1891 Elementary Act made elementary education free.

In 1893 the school leaving age was raised to 11, and to 12 in 1899.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Kismet » 07 Mar 2017, 21:29

The Early Twentieth Century.

It’s clear, that as a new century dawns, English education is in a turmoil. There are arguments over who should be educated, how, and what the purpose of education is. Appeasing interested bodies has prevented the formation of a coherent system and English education is well behind that of much of the rest of Europe. Therefore it is time to establish some new categories of school.

The local school boards had been developed to provide elementary education; however, some went far beyond this and provided schooling for older children and a few had even set up night classes for adults. Churches and endowed grammar schools, with limited resources, objected to the ratepayer funded competition, which led to a court case. The Cockerton judgement, despite appeals against it, established, firstly, that local school boards could only be responsible for elementary education, and, secondly, that there was a need for a new Education Act.

The 1902 (Balfour) Act recognised that England and Wales were far behind the USA and its European rivals in mass education and if they were to continue to trade as a superpower, they needed to address this, despite the costs (and possible loss of political support) to large landowners and industrialists.

School Boards were abolished and replaced by Local Education Authorities, based on the areas covered by the newish county and borough councils and given authority over the secular curriculum of the Church Schools. Thrashing out the religious clauses of the Bill was time consuming: there were objections to state funds being used to support denominational schools and church (some Church of England but especially Roman Catholic) objections to the rule that no pupil or teacher should be required to conform to any set of beliefs.

There were now two sorts of state aided secondary schools. There were the endowed grammar schools, whose finances were improved by grants from the LEA and there were totally LEA funded secondary schools, some newly built and some evolved from the third grade schools. Most children would not attend secondary schools, though. They would spend their entire school time in their elementary schools until they reached the statutory school leaving age.

The academic bias of secondary education spilled over from the grammar schools to the new secondaries. The curriculum was suggested as English language, English literature, history, geography, maths, a foreign language, science, drawing, manual work, physical training and housewifery for girls. This was to prevent narrowness or over specialisation, but it also suggested that schools with a good track record could have more freedom in devising courses of study for their students.

1907 saw the establishing of the scholarship and free place system for promising but poor elementary students in secondary education in all LEAs, expanding it from its previous piecemeal availability, and the start of the school health service.

By 1911, half of all pupils were staying on at school until they were fourteen and more wished to stay on longer, so, as demand for places was outstripping supply, central schools were established to provide continued education of a more practical character, positioning themselves between the academic secondaries and the trade schools. Some were selective, some weren’t, but there was now an increasingly visible trend for children to change schools at age 11.

Education was seen as important both during the war and as part of the post war reconstruction, but unfortunately funding was in short supply and recommendations were not always put into force until later.

In 1917 the Secondary Schools Examination Council was brought into being, to administer the new School Certificate and Higher School Certificate exams. The Lewis Report recommended a school leaving age of fourteen, with no exceptions, with attendance at ‘day continuation’ classes (day release) for at least 8 hours a week until eighteen. These proposals were brought into law in 1918, but the leaving age wasn’t fully implemented until 1921.

The 1918 Education Act also looked at child employment, and laid down that:

‘No under-twelves were to be employed and there were new limits on the employment of over-twelves. No child was to be employed in street trading. LEA permission would be needed for children taking part in licensed entertainments (13). Children were banned from working in factories, workshops, mines, and quarries (14) and no child was to be employed in circumstances which might be 'prejudicial to his health or physical development, or to render him unfit to obtain the proper benefit from his education' (15). The Act laid down penalties for the illegal employment of children and young persons (16).’
Chapter 4 educationengland.org.uk

Most of the inter-war period legislation after 1921 consolidated or tweaked what was now extant without changing much. The 1936 Act raised the school leaving age to fifteen. The 1920 Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act brought British Law into line with international conventions. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act 1923 updated their powers.

There were many influential reports which affected postwar education, as it could be seen that English education was moving from class divided educational opportunities to ‘intelligence’ divided educational opportunities, and in 1938 the Spens report suggested the tripart system of grammar schools for the academically able, technical schools for the practically able, and modern secondaries for the rest, but these weren’t enacted until after the second world war.

Public / Independent schools remained very much as they had at the end of the previous century.

‘Progress through school was based more on academic merit than mere age; very bright boys found themselves promoted at speed. ...The upper sixth form at Tonbridge in 1913 included boys of both fifteen and nineteen; a majority of school leavers never reached the sixth form at all. Taking public exams before leaving was very far from the norm. For the minority destined for university, the Higher Certificate would be sat, as well as scholarship exams set by Oxford or Cambridge, or by other long-established universities, including London.’

Public Schools and the Great War. The Generation Lost. Anthony Seldon and David Walsh

(Thanks to Fairblue for sending me this).
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Re: The English School System

Postby Kismet » 07 Mar 2017, 21:30

Ginger

Ginger is the only one of the four who would have received a state education.

He would have started at five and probably left at fourteen. This scenario supposes he attended the same elementary school throughout. He would have studied, probably by rote learning, a reasonable range of subjects (certainly English, maths, history, geography, art and PE, maybe more depending on the skills of his teacher). Punishment for misdemeanours could have been detention, the ruler, the slipper or the belt, and dunces may still have been stood in the corner in a special hat. After leaving school, he would have obtained a job or apprenticeship, and should have continued his education on a day release scheme until he was at least eighteen. However, as he was in the North East during the Great Depression, he may have had difficulty in obtaining long term employment. I don’t know what youth unemployment rates were like then.

It is possible, depending on the money in his family and his proximity to secondary schools, that he was able to change school at eleven, and go onto a grammar school or a technical or trade school of some kind, and stay there past fourteen, but given he came from a mining area in the North East and he was being schooled through the Great Depression, I think this less likely.

We know that Ginger was a good reader and bright technically: he must have been in order to read everything he could about flying and to impress Algy by his familiarity with an aeroplane and its component parts in Black Peril. He wouldn’t have been able to get his flying and ground engineer tickets without a fairly good standard of English and Maths (despite that appalling spelt note in Black Peril) but there is no suggestion that he studied any technical skills formally before this, which I think is an indication that he only attended an elementary school.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Kismet » 07 Mar 2017, 21:31

Biggles

We know that Biggles went to Malton Hall School before the First World War started. His age is given as fourteen and a half.

It is stated that his brother arrived at the same age, stayed nearly three years, then left for Sandhurst, entry to which was between 16 and 19 immediately pre -war. The training course at Sandhurst was one year in length, until Sept 1912, when it became eighteen months in length. (Interestingly, as soon as war was declared, this was reduced to three months of military training for the first year:

‘This new Course of Instruction excluded all language teaching and formal sports activities. Instead the syllabus, only one-sixth the length of its pre-war format, concentrated on the future officers’ most important requirements such as instruction on tactics, including elements of infantry and cavalry training, ammunition supply and outpost duty, all extracted from the 1911 Infantry Training manual; the tactics employed by the German army as well as those of Britain’s allies; field engineering based on the 1911 Manual of Field Engineering; map reading which also included ensuring cadets were made familiar with the theatre of war; musketry; sanitation; drill and physical training; riding and horse management.’

Sandhurst and the First World War: the Royal Military College 1902-1918 by Dr Anthony Morton (This is another fascinating document which is well worth a read)


Malton Hall is a school which is ‘primarily for boys going into the army’ (Biggles goes to School). Biggles’s uncle, Brigadier-General Bigglesworth, as well as his brother Charles attended this school (although seemingly not his father, who wanted to be a soldier because of the family tradition but whose health broke down. If so, his health must have broken down very young if it was before a decision as to what school he should attend had been made).

Biggles had a private tutor before going to Malton Hall, and his skill set was:

The ability to ride, play a little polo and some cricket. He could shoot with a gun and a rifle, and stalk.
He could read books in advance of his age: books about travel, exploration and other countries, history and some detective stories, and considered history and geography his best subjects with maths (especially algebra and Euclid) his worst.
He could speak some Hindi, his tutor thought his French fair and he wasn’t very good at Latin.

At school, we know he went into the Fourth Form (I was in the Upper Fourth at that age) and studied French with Monsieur Bougade, Maths with Mr Bruce, and did games, at which he neither excelled nor was the worst.

Works it Out mentions Chemistry, and Homework mentions that he had to learn the Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow one year.

If Biggles had stayed at school rather than joining up underage, then he would probably have followed the same path as his brother Charles, in taking the Sandhurst entry examination at sixteen ( and again at seventeen, and eighteen if he hadn’t passed first time) and continued his education there.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Kismet » 07 Mar 2017, 21:32

Algy

The very fact that Algy was an Honourable suggests that it is vanishingly unlikely that he attended anything other than an Independent or Public School, it being fairly normal to board at a Preparatory School from the age of seven or so. I would suggest that as he came from a remote part of Wales, (Merioneth Towers, Merioneth, Merionethshire, Biggles Flies Again) where there are very few schools due to its rural nature, Algy would have gone off to board at an early age as there were no local alternatives. It would be unthinkable that he attended the village school, and there were no suitable establishments he could attend as a day boy nearby that I am aware of. A tutor at home is possible, but less likely than boarding school, I think.

We have no information on which school he went to, what he studied, if he was a good student or not, if he was good at games or not. We don’t know what sort of a career was planned for him, although as WEJ says of Biggles in ‘What is the Secret of Biggles’ posted in the About section of the forum, ‘Born in India of parents with a military background’ it is possible that Algy, as a relative, would consider himself as coming from a military family and have expected to make his career in the army.

All we know is that he went straight into 266 from school (The Rescue Flight). This suggests that he was well underage and joined with the consent of his parents, or at least his father, and makes his mother’s actions in pulling strings to get him posted to 266 and sending a letter to Biggles enumerating the ways he is to look after Algy perhaps more understandable.

Biggles and Algy both left school before the introduction of school leaving exams and certificates, so they were never going to be able to leave with qualifications showing what they had achieved, but were being prepared at school to take entrance exams for the careers of their (or more probably their parents’) choice.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Kismet » 07 Mar 2017, 21:33

Bertie.

Like Algy, it is unthinkable that Bertie attended anything other than a Public / Independent School, again probably from a young age, although it is also possible that he had a tutor, just, I think, less likely.

Bertie, however, attended school after School Certificates had been introduced. We know he went to Cranwell (Spitfire Parade) and the entry requirements for that are:

Entry is
by examination held by the Civil Service Commissioners in June and
November each year. The examination is a joint one for the Navy (Special
Entry Cadets), the Army (Woolwich and Sandhurst) and the Air Force
(Cranwell), and candidates may sit for one or more services at the same time.
To be eligible to sit for the College a candidate must have attained the age
of 171/2 and must not have attained the age of 191/2 on the 1st July and 1st
January following the June and November examinations respectively, and
must have made application to sit for the Examination to the Civil Service
Commissioners by the prescribed date. He must be unmarried, a British
subject and the son of British subjects and of pure European descent.

A candidate must also, produce School Certificate A or School Certificate
B
Air Publication (1930?)


So we know that Bertie passed his school certificate.

‘ The School Certificate Examination was usually taken at age 16 with performance in each subject being graded as; Fail, Pass, Credit or Distinction. Students were required to gain six passes including English and mathematics in order to obtain a certificate and in order to obtain a 'matriculation exemption' it was necessary to obtain credits in five subjects including English, mathematics, science and a language. Those who failed could retake the examination.’ Wikipedia

The course at Cranwell consisted of:

First Year.
1. English Language and Literature. To be studied from the standpoint
of enabling flight cadets to express themselves clearly and concisely in speech
and in writing, of creating an interest in reading, of developing the capacity to
use books intelligently for the purposes of general culture and of technical
research.
2. General Ethnology. To create an interest as an incentive to voluntary
study of the subject, and to introduce the flight cadet to a general knowledge
of the chief races of mankind, their divisions into nations, their origin, and the
general lines of their development.
3. The British Empire. Its history, social and industrial development,
and relations with other states.
4. Applied Mathematics, including Mechanics and Draughtsmanship.
To be studied as a subject of practical utility in relation to an officer's
professional career and as a means of developing the power of clear and
accurate reasoning. A knowledge of elementary mathematics, algebra,
geometry, and trigonometry will be assumed, and the work will be closely
correlated with that in the technical subjects of study. Special attention
will be given to applied mechanics, to graphics, and to practical work in the
laboratory.
5. Elementary Physics. The fundamental principles in special relation to
aeronautics. 6. History of the Royal Air Force. The part played by it in the
Great War (1914-18) and its present organisation. 7. Theory of Flight and
Rigging. 8. Air Pilotage and Map Reading. 9. Drill and Physical Training.
10. Air Force Law and Administration, n. Hygiene and Sanitation.
12. Workshops and Engines, including practical work in workshops, with
instruction in metal and woodwork. 13. Wireless Telegraphy, Radio Telephony,
and Signal Procedure. 14. Practical Flying.

Second Year.
i. Theoretical and Practical Instruction in Internal Combustion Engines,
including Magnetos, and their management. 2. Aerodynamics. 3. Practical
Instruction in Rigging.. 4.. More advanced work in the Wood and Metal,
Workshops. 5. Outline of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony. 6. Armament,
j. Practical Flying. 8. Air Pilotage and Airmanship. 9. Meteorology.
10. Outline of the organisation of the Navy and Army with
characteristics of the various Arms and types of Ships, n. War, Strategy
and Tactics.

Air publication (1930?)
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Re: The English School System

Postby Kismet » 07 Mar 2017, 21:33

Summary

Biggles, Algy, Bertie and Ginger all left school very young compared to modern school leaving ages, and, with the exception of Bertie, had no school qualifications. However, they were all expected to continue their education in different ways after leaving school.

I’m quite intrigued by the idea that you passed entry exams to get into a career, rather than leaving exams from school, and I’m also struck by the similarity of the curriculum to nowadays. There were a lot of very familiar arguments turning up, even a couple of hundred years ago on how best to educate and what its purpose was,

Hopefully, people will spot things I’ve missed in this overview, connections I’ve failed to make, and add some new insights.
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Re: The English School System

Postby kylie_koyote » 07 Mar 2017, 22:49

I'm quite impressed with all your research, and I shall have to re-read this more thoroughly tomorrow, but you've done fantastic work.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Wanderer » 08 Mar 2017, 01:19

Kismet wrote:I’m quite intrigued by the idea that you passed entry exams to get into a career, rather than leaving exams from school...

I am really impressed by this overview: sort of confirms much that I suspected but had been too lazy to research for myself :-)

The idea of passing entry exams into the public sector continued in Australia at least well into the 1950s. I think this was because many children had their formal education interrupted by WWII, and the expanding and more sophisticated post-war society and economy required more better-educated people than were either available locally or could even be obtained by skilled immigration (a substantial proportion of Australian Public Service (APS) recruits before the 1980s came from the UK: even today we recruit widely throughout the world).

My father went through a formal training program in a Technical School to meet the APS entry exam in the late 1950s when he was in his mid-late 20s. This was for a clerical position within the Education Department. Like many living in "The Bush" in the 1940s his formal education had ended when he was 14.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Frecks » 08 Mar 2017, 09:15

Yes this is very interesting Kismet. Ginger's spelling was very poor but otherwise he seems to have been quite bright. I should think he would have had the cane or slipper for his poor spelling on more than one occasion :lol:
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Re: The English School System

Postby Frecks » 08 Mar 2017, 09:47

I have just had another thought. Ginger's father could obviously read and write to a certain extent and had access to stamps and envelopes etc. as he wrote back to Ginger very quickly in Black Peril. If he was about 25 when Ginger was born he would be in his early forties when Ginger was a teenager so he must have had some basic education around 1900. Ginger said his father was a miner which gave the impression that he was working at that time so I do not think they were at the very poorest end of the scale - certainly not destitute.

You say Ginger came from the North East rather than Yorkshire as mentioned in the books which has set me to wondering in the 1930s have far east did Yorkshire stretch? it is a very big county so it is possible Ginger came from the very North East of Yorkshire if there were any mining villages in that area at the time.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Tracer » 08 Mar 2017, 11:11

This is brilliant work, Kismet - thank you so much for correlating it all.

A few personal snippets:

I know people now who had tutors throughout their childhood and then went to public school - it wasn't unusual in certain circles. And one never went to school at all. I have never thought to ask him if he went to University, but suspect he went straight on to manage the family estate. Girls of course had a far lesser education and ironically working and middle classes often did better than upper class girls whose education depended on the education of their governesses - who were usually upper-class governess-educated girls who were unmarried or widowed.

Letters saved from working-class lads long ago show beautiful handwriting and extremely sound literacy skills. Skills might have been learned by rote and beaten into them on occasion but those skills were sound.

School leaving age was a little flexible even in my time. It was quite usual for someone with an apprenticeship to go to, to leave at 14. My brother joined the RAF as a Boy Entrant at 15.

A lot of places - notably the Civil Service - had entrance exams no matter what other qualifications were held.

Fascinating stuff!
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Re: The English School System

Postby Frecks » 08 Mar 2017, 11:26

Looking at a map of England even if Ginger came from the very north east of Yorkshire he would be walking due north to reach Newcastle and Cramlington which does not bode well for his navigation skills :lol: I think WEJ only mentioned Yorkshire in Spain which was written at a later date.

It is interesting to note on the Chat Thread that Tracer's brother joined the RAF at 15. I think Ginger planned to become a pilot when he was quite young and possibly tried harder at School as he had a definite plan in mind. I don't suppose you needed much formal education to be a miner just physical strength.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Fairblue » 08 Mar 2017, 11:53

Tracer wrote:

A lot of places - notably the Civil Service - had entrance exams no matter what other qualifications were held.

Fascinating stuff!

It is, indeed, Tracer. Yes, Kismet has done a marvellous job. In spite of my qualifications I still had to sit an entrance examination for the Civil Service.
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Re: The English School System

Postby elderlyfemalerelativ » 08 Mar 2017, 12:16

Some state schools were very good, and some public were very bad, being in those days little more than places to park children till they were grown up. Remember all the fuss that's made about Shakespeare not being a university man? As a grammar school boy he would have been very well taught.
Ginger probably had an extremely sound basic education, my parents did. Whereas my grammar school wasn't much better than a training ground for Young Ladies. And they didn't always achieve that (where do you put the fish knives?).
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Re: The English School System

Postby Frecks » 08 Mar 2017, 12:17

I have never used a fish knife but that is one of the things Ginger would have had to learn when he came to live with Biggles :lol:
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Re: The English School System

Postby Wanderer » 08 Mar 2017, 13:12

Frecks wrote:I have never used a fish knife but that is one of the things Ginger would have had to learn when he came to live with Biggles :lol:

Given the number of sets of fish knives you see in second hand sales even if, once upon a time, some people did or were at least expected to know what to do with then and where to place them , it is a long-lost skill and expectation :-) I gather they came in handy for the sort of fish that divides nicely into large flakes when cooked, which most of the favoured fish in my part of the world fail to do. The only WEJ tale I can think of where fish were a serious part of the plot is in his adult story Blue Blood Runs Red, in which it is pointed out that kippers are a serious social faux pas.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Frecks » 08 Mar 2017, 13:38

What is wrong with kippers?
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Re: The English School System

Postby Fairblue » 08 Mar 2017, 13:53

We had fish knives and forks and they were used, but not by me. I don't eat fish but I well remember watching my dad debone a fish at the table. He was a dab hand at it. I still have 1 knife and 1 fork from the set which I keep for sentimental reasons.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Kismet » 08 Mar 2017, 14:16

Tracer wrote:A few personal snippets:

I know people now who had tutors throughout their childhood and then went to public school - it wasn't unusual in certain circles. And one never went to school at all. I have never thought to ask him if he went to University, but suspect he went straight on to manage the family estate. Girls of course had a far lesser education and ironically working and middle classes often did better than upper class girls whose education depended on the education of their governesses - who were usually upper-class governess-educated girls who were unmarried or widowed.

Letters saved from working-class lads long ago show beautiful handwriting and extremely sound literacy skills. Skills might have been learned by rote and beaten into them on occasion but those skills were sound.

School leaving age was a little flexible even in my time. It was quite usual for someone with an apprenticeship to go to, to leave at 14. My brother joined the RAF as a Boy Entrant at 15.

A lot of places - notably the Civil Service - had entrance exams no matter what other qualifications were held.



I live in a remote village with a public school, with state schools in and out of special measures in the 2 nearby towns and I think that I ought to make it clear that, especially nowadays but always to an extent in the past, that people didn't fall easily into public school education / state school education black and white categories.

I went to an academic single sex grammar school after passing the eleven plus exam and had an extremely rigorous education, as did my brother(who got to study in the original Elizabethan building whilst I was in the new build half a mile up the road because god forbid that girls and boys should meet.)

My sister-in-law boarded at a famous girl's school and also had a very good education, although her domestic science classes consisted of learning skills such as how to block a bowler hat, a technique which she has never used since. She was able to attend because of the assisted places scheme: her family did not have the money to pay the fees otherwise.

My father went to a grammar school. He was allowed to stay on for his A levels but then had to leave and get a job.

My mother went to the local secondary school, missed a term's schooling because she didn't have shoes to wear, was put by my feckless grandmother into the local fee paying college (naturally she didn't pay any fees) so my mother left the second she was fifteen and went to work as a secretary for a wholesale grocer, attending night school three nights a week for qualifications, eventually ending up as a fully qualified teacher for LAMDA (London Academy for Music and Dramatic Arts).

My children went to the local state school, which was like the curate's egg, good in parts. There were some very good teachers and some dire ones. The school wasn't able to offer the A levels either of my girls wanted, so they transferred to the public school for the Sixth Form whilst my son chose to stay at the State School for his.

This movement between schools was very common. There were several groups of children at the Public School, which I ought to add was a Boarding School:

International students sent for an English education.
Children whose parents worked abroad and who felt their offspring would benefit from boarding in England (stability or lack of suitable schooling where they were living)
Local children (as day pupils) whose parents believed they would get a better education, be in with the right sort of people, and had a general belief in the superiority of private education. They were often privately educated themselves and wanted their children to have the advantages they perceived themselves as having.
Local children whose parents thought they were special snowflakes and wouldn't survive state school (a surprisingly large number)
Children whose friends were going and who wished to stay with them. These families often had another child at state school for exactly the same reasons.
Children who were perceived by their parents to be getting into the wrong company and were moved from a state school to the public school to get them into different friendship groups. This movement went both ways. Children who didn't like the public school moved back into the state system.
Children who were not native English speakers, whose parents had moved to the area from abroad (often doctors' children or Sellafield high ups) as the public school's small classes were thought better able to deal with their individual needs.

All my great aunts and uncles, born around the turn of the twentieth century had lovely handwriting and perfectly good literacy skills, too, from their elementary education. It was considered important, then.

Given the number of sets of fish knives you see in second hand sales even if, once upon a time, some people did or were at least expected to know what to do with then and where to place them , it is a long-lost skill and expectation


It's not that long lost! I haven't used a fish knife in years - probably because the fashion has changed from lots of courses to three when eating out, the fish course being one that has disappeared - but I certainly had to use one when eating out as a youngster in such auspicious circumstances as the Venture Scout Annual Christmas Dinner.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Wanderer » 09 Mar 2017, 00:42

Frecks wrote:What is wrong with kippers?

In the story, the heroine's parents were estranged, the last straw being when the well-bred mother came down to breakfast to find her lower social background husband tucking into his kippers. The implication being that well-bread people didn't eat them. Perhaps WEJ just didn't like them!
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Re: The English School System

Postby Indian Civil Service » 09 Mar 2017, 06:20

Doesn't Bertie Wooster regularly enjoy kippers? Or am I missing out here?
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Re: The English School System

Postby Frecks » 09 Mar 2017, 09:29

Yes I am sure he does. I think kippers were part of the upper class English breakfast at one time. Fancy falling out of love with someone because of something they ate. I must admit I would be quite put off by very bad table manners, gobbling food and speaking with a mouth full of food but that is probably just me :lol:
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Re: The English School System

Postby elderlyfemalerelativ » 09 Mar 2017, 10:03

Read the poem "how to get on in society" by Betjeman. It's full of the things one shouldn't say or do, that seemed posh to the aspiring middle class. If you're a duke you could eat your kippers with your fingers, if you wanted to, and someone else would block your bowler, in the unlikely event you ever wore one.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Tracer » 09 Mar 2017, 10:30

I always considered kippers classless - as has been said, Bertie Wooster ate them. I think Peter Wimsey did too. Certainly Ginger's Dad would have. Good point about the fish course being dropped - when we have fish for dinner I can still hear a voice saying: "Fish is a course, not a meal". But like most of us nowadays, my dinner at home is one course only. We don't even do puddings - I only eat those when I eat out.

Fish knives and forks nowadays are considered middle-class by those who still get anxious about class. I believe the Queen Mother despised them, but as she had her fish ready filleted (and every decade or so choked on a stray bone) maybe that is the implication. I was raised to use fish knives and forks and don't like eating fish with ordinary cutlery. No doubt that would be frowned upon by some people - but fish knives and forks really do make fileting out a whole fish very easy. And I really don't give a damn :lol:
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Re: The English School System

Postby Tracer » 09 Mar 2017, 10:32

Frecks wrote: I must admit I would be quite put off by very bad table manners, gobbling food and speaking with a mouth full of food but that is probably just me :lol:



You are not the only one - that would be a deal-breaker for me too.

I once had a man friend who claimed he'd been to public school - not that it mattered to me but obviously mattered to him - but I knew he hadn't because he didn't use his cutlery correctly. However, he did eat politely and was not unpleasant as a dinner companion.
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Re: The English School System

Postby kylie_koyote » 09 Mar 2017, 12:19

Ginger eats sardines (for breakfast, blech!) in Fails to Return, and I think Defies the Swastika too, but I can't check at the moment.

I have never eaten a sardine and have no plans to. The very thought... :shock: I'm sure some people love them and that's fine, but not me. Although if it was a matter of sardines or starvation, I could probably manage it.
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Re: The English School System

Postby Frecks » 09 Mar 2017, 12:33

I have never eaten a sardine either. I think they were very popular years ago because they came in a tin with a key attached so they could be opened readily - I think it was the same with bully beef which they eat a lot of with hard tack biscuits.
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