The Sixties

by Dr. M. G. Hinton

The school flourished in the sixties, in the golden age of the tripartite system of secondary education. In general, the decade was one of marked academic success. The sixth form doubled in size, and by the late sixties nearly half our leavers had at least two A levels. An enlarged entry and an enlarged sixth produced considerable over-crowding, only partially alleviated by some modest extensions, notably the new art block. But the overcrowding was less important than the general sense of expansion and improvement, which was good for confidence and built up morale.

In 1960 the school had been a sound traditional grammar school. Ten years later it had changed in many respects; but the changes, though bulking large at the time, were not fundamental. Sixth form general studies and sex education were now part of the curriculum, but conventional subjects remained the main business of the classroom. Staff came and went, but overwhelmingly they remained, ensuring continuity and stability. The first two years were unstreamed, but teaching methods were little altered. Caps disappeared, but uniforms remained. The cane was used less, but still frequently. Senior boys had more freedom and there was now a school council, but the traditional authority structure remained basically intact.

So the school adhered to established values, tempered by the prevailing liberalism of the decade. As the sixties wore on, however, the question of comprehensive reorganisation became a more urgent one. The first plans for the area were drawn up, and then shelved; but things could never be quite the same again, since the conception of education for which the school stood was losing ground nationally. One welcome by-product of the new thinking was a much closer degree of co-operation between the local primary and secondary schools, and between the secondary schools and each other; another, more open to criticism, was a modified system of selection at eleven.

My own most vivid recollection of those years is of intense happiness. We worked for a gentlemanly authority which for the most part left us to our own devices. The governing body, under the saintly David Bradley, was benign and supportive. The staff subscribed to a common philosophy, and gave themselves generously to the wider life of the school. Stability may have bred some complacency, but it also released energy so that more and more could go on. The boys were conscious of their privileges, and though they were quite capable of giving staff a lively time their fundamental loyalty and goodwill were never in doubt. The outcome was a steady routine of solid work, enlivened by an annual sequence of special events, and graced by the occasional major achievement. I retain a specially affectionate memory of those things with which I was personally most closely concerned – successes at Oxbridge, plays and operettas (Hamlet and Patience in particular), and the annual service – but there was much, much more besides. It was all eminently worthwhile and all the most marvellous fun. Though my sympathies now lie with a different organisation of secondary education, I entirely agree with Bill Lister’s words in the Diamond Jubilee Pharos: “If grammar schools . . . must perish then at least this school will not be unworthy of a decent obituary notice.”