Split remains 40 years on

13th August 2004 at 01:00
"If you were a clever kid with a good brain, you passed the 11-plus and went to grammar school to learn brainy things. If you were a dumb kid, you failed and went to secondary modern and learned how to do things with your hands. I was a kid with hands."

This is how Melvin Burgess, author of Junk and other teenage fiction, recalls his secondary modern days.

That'll Teach 'Em will rekindle fond memories for some of an emphasis as much on practical instruction as on exams. For others it will evoke bitter memories of being labelled a failure.

Secondary moderns were created following the 1944 Education Act to provide free education for all up to the age of 15. Only in the late 1950s did some secondary moderns offer public examinations. However, most pupils left at the earliest opportunity for apprenticeships.

David Crook, of London University's Institute of Education, said: "I have spoken to people who said they were split up from their friends and felt they were second-class citizens."

On the other hand, he said, the bold curriculum of the secondary moderns will be remembered positively by those who benefited from it. "Things such as gardening, cooking and husbandry were covered alongside maths and English. People were allowed to develop life skills most schools do not pay attention to now because the curriculum is overloaded.

"As long as we have grammar schools, we will also have, by default, secondary moderns. A comprehensive that is down the road from a grammar school is not really a comprehensive," he added.

Famous former secondary modern pupils include the deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, celebrity chef Delia Smith and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey.

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