Archive footage telling the history of modern Britain. A look back to the 1960s when an exam, the eleven-plus, could map out a child's future.
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'Just over a century ago, the motion camera was invented
'and changed forever the way we record our history.
'For the first time, we saw life through the eyes of ordinary people.
'Across this series, we bring these rare archive films back to life,
'with the help of our vintage mobile cinema.
'We'll be inviting people with a story to tell to step on board
'and relive moments they thought were gone for ever.
'They'll see relatives on screen for the first time,
'come face-to-face with their younger selves
'and celebrate our amazing 20th-century past.'
This is the people's story - our story.
'Our vintage mobile cinema was originally commissioned in 1967
'to show training films to workers.
'It's been lovingly restored and loaded up with remarkable footage,
'preserved for us by the British Film Institute
'and other national and regional film archives.
'In this series, we're travelling to towns and cities across the country,
'showing films from the 20th century
'that give us the "reel" history of Britain.
'Today, we're going back to school in the '60s...'
# Multiplication #
'..to capture the spirit of secondary modern education.'
# ..Multiplication That's the name of the game
# And each generation... #
We're in the Francis Combe Academy in Watford
to find out whether the eleven-plus in the '60s hindered or helped pupils.
'Coming up, a former pupil who comes face-to-face with his younger self.'
I look at that pimply, untidy child
and think, "I could be outside playing rather than in here."
'The TV presenter who fell foul of the eleven-plus.'
I failed - and it was shock horror.
'And I hear what secondary modern schools meant for children.'
It was considered to be one of the more pioneering aspects
of the education system.
'We've come to the Francis Combe Academy in Watford
'because this school was chosen to be the subject of a 1962 film
'about a day in the life of a secondary modern school.
'Today, it's a thriving comprehensive with over 1,000 pupils.
'But we're winding the clock back
'to capture the spirit of secondary modern education.
'We all have schoolday memories,
'but if you were a ten-year-old in the '50s and '60s,
'one memory might be stronger than most.
'Your future rested on the outcome of a single exam, the eleven-plus.
'In 1944, the Butler Education Act brought educational reform,
'designed to break down class barriers in England and Wales.
'Scotland followed in 1945.
'It made secondary education free and compulsory for all children.
'The Act also created the eleven-plus exam,
'to select pupils for the right school.
'Passing granted you access to grammar school and university.
'Those who failed received a vocational education, occasionally at a technical school,
'but usually at a secondary modern.
'Supporters of the eleven-plus argued it gave working-class kids
'a fairer chance of success.
'Critics said it meant failing one exam at 11 doomed you for life.
'On Reel History, we'll be hearing how this exam affected the lives
'of all those pupils who sat it.
'Joining me today are former pupils from the '60s
'who've come from all over the country to tell me their experience of secondary school life.
'Many of them will be seeing our films for the first time.
'Some will be watching themselves on our silver screen.
'Marylyn Mason has travelled here today from Lincolnshire.
'She is among three out of four pupils to fail the eleven-plus in the 1960s.
'That didn't stop her from carving out a career in television.
'She was the face of Calendar TV in Yorkshire,
'and co-presented a programme with Richard Whiteley for 20 years.'
-You failed to pass your scholarship.
-I used the word "fail", which people don't use nowadays.
-You felt that you failed.
-Yes, because all through primary school,
through junior school, I'd been in the top three.
There was never any doubt
that I was going to pass and go to grammar school.
-I failed, and it was shock horror.
-Did you enjoy being at the secondary modern?
I had a marvellous headmaster, because when I went there,
he said, "You're better being a big fish in a small pool, than a small fish in a big pool."
I thought, "Oh, yeah."
The people who'd gone on to grammar school thought they were the elite.
They had everything in front of them.
My father actually said to me, "This will make you fight harder.
"You will work harder to achieve more." I suppose I did, in a way.
'Today, we're taking this former TV presenter back to her schooldays.
'What memories will these films evoke for Marylyn?'
I thought I was back there. It was absolutely amazing.
I knew that we were going to see film from the '60s,
but you actually see yourself.
It's so true that you think, "Oh! That could have been me!"
And the school looked exactly like my school. So yes, amazing!
Transports you right back there.
'Marylyn sat her eleven-plus in 1958.
'Her mother was a teacher, so there were high expectations.'
My mother was absolutely devastated. It was the end of the world.
It had shamed her in front of the family.
I'd let her down. She was SO upset.
I cannot tell you how upset she was.
It was awful.
She blamed my father for moving his job so that I had to move school.
'The eleven-plus tested pupils in three areas - writing, arithmetic
'and general problem solving.
'Critics believed the exam was elitist and put young children under stress,
'according to this BBC Panorama programme.'
Mummy and Daddy want me to pass.
-Daddy said if I don't, I'll get a thick ear.
-Are you frightened of that?
I'm sure he didn't mean it...
'Marylyn thrived at her secondary modern, Ribbleton Hall in Preston,
'and passed eight O-Levels,
'but the stigma of failing her eleven-plus was difficult to shake off.'
You do feel a failure. I'd felt a real failure
throughout my time at secondary school.
You think the people at the grammar school are the clever people.
I felt I had a lot to achieve.
I had to prove myself, so I did work hard at school.
'Secondary modern schools didn't have sixth forms so Marylyn's headmaster helped her transfer
'to Chorley Grammar School to take A-levels.
'She later became deputy head girl.'
I found it daunting, thinking, "How am I going to manage at A-level
"with all these clever grammar school people?"
I fitted in very well and found that I was just as good as they were.
I really enjoyed my time there. There were some good teachers there.
Had I always gone to the grammar school,
I probably would have, inevitably, gone to university.
'Like many other former secondary school pupils,
'Marylyn went on to achieve success.'
Because I felt I'd let my mother down so badly, I had to prove that I could achieve things in life.
I suppose my A-levels were the next big thing.
So I felt I'd achieved something.
Made amends! LAUGHS
'My next guest also failed the eleven-plus.
'58-year-old Barbara Lee from Twickenham suffered all her life
'from a lack of confidence.
'She believes that being told she wasn't good enough at a young age
'had a long-term effect.'
The word "failure" sticks in your mind. It's the word, isn't it?
'Barbara came from a traditional background in Hendon,
'and was expected to raise a family rather than have a career.'
This is a diary from 1963, all the things we did when we were younger.
We'd better keep that private. Had enough in the newspapers.
'We're going to transport Barbara back
'to the days when she was an 11-year-old schoolgirl.
'Will this BBC documentary made in 1962
'about secondary modern education bring back difficult memories?'
Well, Janet, you're 11 years of age now.
You've left the primary school and come to the secondary school.
'It shows an 11-year-old girl at her new secondary modern school.'
We were rather sorry Janet failed the eleven-plus.
Well, I hardly think that "failed" is the right word, Mrs Kitchen.
'When that teacher mentioned about failing the eleven-plus,'
it got a weakness in me because that's what I did, I failed the eleven-plus.
What happened was that Janet took a test so that we could find out
exactly which school would suit her best.
You were pigeon-holed. They saw you as having that ability for the rest of your life.
She would have failed had she been selected for the wrong school.
If she's been selected for the right school, then she's passed the test.
That's quite damaging for children to think at that age
that is going to be them for the rest of their life.
'Barbara remembers how the two sexes were typecast.
'Boys got metalwork and woodwork.
'The girls were steered towards typing and cooking.'
We were doing domestic science.
If you went to grammar school, you might have been doing a language
or literature or more academic subjects.
So you were very much put in that "womanly" subject area.
For us, it was either be a secretary
or teacher's training college if you got the qualifications.
But really, it was a stop-gap before getting married and having a family.
'At 22, Barbara embarked on seven years of night school,
'obtained a degree in social science
'and today she's an adult education lecturer.'
How many quarters do we need to make a whole one?
I haven't gone round in my life saying, "I failed the eleven-plus."
The word "failure" carries such a powerful message,
if you get it when you're younger it's difficult to shake it off,
whatever you do as you mature.
'So what was the thinking behind an education system
'that gave many children like Barbara a sense of failure?
'The Francis Combe Academy was one of the new secondary modern schools
'built to accommodate the 75% of children who failed the eleven-plus.
'I'm off to the woodwork room to find out more from educational historian Kathy Burke.'
What did the eleven-plus do?
In shorthand terms, it sorted children. It sorted them.
Whether it tested or measured their intelligence is subject to debate.
And it was a fierce debate that occurred in the 1950s.
But it effectively sorted children so they could be slotted in,
and it would fit them, then, on a route for life in general.
'The secondary modern schools that sprung up in the 1950s were light,
'airy and modern in design.
'Free from the constraints of preparing children for exams,
'teachers could afford to be experimental.'
Teachers could have freedom to experiment
and to teach the way they wanted to,
design an education within an atmosphere of freedom.
That was quite a progressive idea.
-"Snap", not bad. Let's put "snap" down...
And so, for the first ten years, the secondary modern school
was considered to be one of the more pioneering aspects of the education system.
'Kathy herself remembers passing her eleven-plus,
'but it's a memory full of trepidation.'
I was acutely aware that, um...
there was a chance of failing or passing.
And if you passed, you were somehow safe.
I knew the physical space I was going to, the school I was going to,
the grammar school.
Those who failed, who went to the modern school,
seemed to go into an abyss, you never saw them again.
I was aware of that.
We were all told that this was THE most important thing in our lives.
'Initially, secondary moderns weren't expected to offer O-levels.
'Pupils received a School Leaving Certificate instead.
'As the '50s marched on, teachers realised their pupils were capable of more.'
Some teachers started to put children through examinations
in these schools, and, lo and behold, they passed.
So this was a crisis for the idea of the modern school,
which was to avoid those sorts of things.
It seemed to be not distinctly different from the lower end of the grammar school.
'By 1963, one in ten secondary modern pupils were sitting O-levels,
'and some got very good results.
'The writing was on the wall for the two-tier educational system.'
Don't throw them, Brenda. There's a good girl.
'On Reel History today, we're at the Francis Combe Academy in Watford,
'to hear some remarkable stories of how the eleven-plus exam
'affected the lives of children who sat it in the 1960s.
'This school was thrust into the limelight in 1962,
'in a documentary about a day in the life of a secondary modern.
'Paid for by the National Union of Teachers,
'the aim was to show parents what goes on during the school day.'
..For ever and ever, amen.
'We've organised a school reunion for former pupils who appeared in the film,
'and invited along the film-maker, 87-year-old John Krish.
Did you have a sense that people felt they'd failed because they'd not passed their eleven-plus?
Not for one moment. I felt that they were at home.
They were pleased to be here and they were succeeding.
'63-year-old Bernie Bachelor was one of the stars of John's film.
'Bernie was the class clown.
'He left school without being able to read or write.'
Did you feel you were well-taught at this school?
Um...from my perspective,
in the early days of the school,
not really - I left school not being able to read and write properly.
I never got round to it till I started long-distance lorry driving.
I had to read the place names
and road signs to get to where I was going.
I feel that I learnt quite a lot in life skills, having left school.
'Someone else who starred in the film was Yvonne Shaw from London.
'She suffered from dyslexia
'and was a bit of a rebel during her time at Francis Combe.'
-Did you enjoy it here?
-It was an experience.
Also, coming from any infants school to a big school like this -
it's big now, it was big then -
was a cultural change, big shock.
The company was great. The school clubs were great.
But any authority that you have to deal with, students have to rebel against.
I was quite rebellious.
'Now they're all about to step on board
'and travel back in time to 1962, and come face-to-face
'with their younger selves.
'The documentary featuring Bernie, Yvonne and the others is Our School.
'It's a fascinating record of teaching styles in postwar Britain,
'and was shown on the BBC to millions of viewers in the 1960s.'
Come on. Get a move on.
Sit down and get your homework out.
'Yvonne, now a medical therapist, has never seen the film before.
'How will she feel now, watching her 15-year-old self?'
When the solution is pumped in, we pick up current through this brush
and transfer it onto the copper cylinder, revolving in the solution.
We can set up a similar arrangement in the lab...
It was like being back at school.
You could remember physically being there, so I found it quite moving
to see that and then see the people around me.
'Yvonne appeared when the film followed her class on a school trip
'to a local paper mill.'
I think the school represented a place of change.
Seeing very young beings, which I was,
reminds you so much of those tender feelings which you forget,
and it was just nice to see them again.
Just remembering who you were and who one is now,
makes one feel more complete, brings your childhood back.
'Yvonne passed 11 O-levels at 16,
'but until 1972, secondary modern pupils could leave school at 15
'without taking any exams, and many of them were girls.'
-Who made the decision that you leave school at 15?
-My mum and dad asked me and I said I wanted to leave.
-On the word go, up and down the wall bars twice.
Two backward rolls, touch each of the four walls.
Coming back to a physical place where you almost feel the history.
I don't know. It's something that will take me a while to think about.
You seem to be finding some difficulty in speaking, Keith.
-What were you eating?
-Chewing gum, sir.
-Will you kindly remove it?
-And don't stick it under the table!
'The making of this documentary
'left an indelible mark on Yvonne's memory.'
It was the outside world coming in.
There weren't very many instances of being valued.
That was someone coming in and valuing people, so it was exciting.
'For Bernie, schoolwork was a necessary evil.
'What memories does he have of the film being made?'
I remember the film taking place.
We're walking along the corridor, me and my mate Terry,
it was a great time, like.
We got out of some lessons,
but I don't think our lessons were disrupted that much.
I think we found it all as an interesting thing.
We didn't realise, really, that we were being filmed.
At least that's my memory of it.
It was done so well and so natural,
that it just became part of what we were doing every day.
This is the sort of scene when you went into London in mediaeval times.
My part was in the classroom. There are several classroom lessons.
One of them was where I had to spell the word "people".
And I think I got it wrong at first attempt,
but I think I got it right in the film in the end.
I've never really forgot how to spell it.
-Bernard, tell them how to spell "people".
You learned it. Too many of you spell "people" with P-E-E-P-L-E.
It's not necessary.
'Bernie had trouble reading and writing and was placed in the bottom stream with Mrs Peacock.
'But he enjoyed school and got a reputation as "the funny one".'
When I look at that pimply, untidy child
going through a spelling test, I think to myself,
"What am I doing here? I could be outside playing rather than in here."
'Bernie loved the practical skills he was taught at school.'
I remember going into the metalwork lessons,
good lessons where you could get to grips with some materials.
I always felt I wasn't great an academic,
but I always liked practical things, engineering, machinery.
'Bernie left Francis Combe without any qualifications,
'but he didn't let it hinder him in life.
'He went on to manage a logistics company
'and is now a driving instructor.'
-You could have done a little more than this.
-I did this part wrong.
I had to rub it out and do it again.
'I enjoyed myself at school. I must say I enjoyed myself.
'My worst memory is the fact that I didn't do as well'
as I could have done academically.
'Although I didn't leave really being able to spell'
and read properly, I did have the ways and means to learn it later on.
Wait a minute. Take a breath. Don't rush it. Say it properly.
What do you think they might be selling?
-They do sell banjos.
-The old musicians would go la la la.
-A sort of banjo in the Middle Ages.
'When the documentary was shown on BBC television,
'for a short time, Bernard became a bit of a celebrity.'
For a while, I was a film star. For about a month,
people kept spotting you and talking to you cos it was a good thing.
'The man who made Bernie a star, John Krish,
'hasn't watched this film for many years.
'What memories does he have of making it?'
My job was to bring back the atmosphere of the school on film.
You said, "Relax, like." Why "like"?
Don't know. It just...just came out.
Before I started shooting, I came every day for six weeks
and sat in every classroom.
And in that time, decided which teachers I would use
and which pupils I would use.
What do you feel about this...?
'John made his film look like what we now call
'"fly on the wall" documentary,
'but in fact, he spent days constructing every scene.'
I turn each classroom into a studio.
Nothing is snatched. Everything is rehearsed.
If there's a spontaneous moment, then we have caught it, of course.
Speech is like quicksand. It drags down, it doesn't push up.
It's a good analogy. If you don't know the meaning of "analogy", you know what to do.
Look it up in a dictionary.
The spirit of this school is what I set out to capture.
'By 1963, with one in ten secondary modern students obtaining O-levels,
'the idea of dividing young people using the eleven-plus exam started to fall from favour.
'Two years later, in 1965, the government announced plans
'to switch to the non-selective comprehensive system.
'Selective education was finally abolished
'The eleven-plus exam still exists in a few education authorities,
'but for most of us, it's passed into history.'
Everybody I've spoken to
really liked their secondary modern schools.
They liked the teachers, the lessons, the learning processes.
But almost everyone felt that they'd failed by not passing this eleven-plus test.
'Which is why I'm delighted to have marked their considerable achievements
'and add their stories to the National Archive.
'Next time on Reel History, we're on Horse Guards Parade in London,
'to recall the Queen's coronation in 1953,
'the first royal event live on television.'
Everybody was wearing their best clothes.
We were in the presence of the Queen!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Melvyn Bragg, accompanied by a vintage mobile cinema, travels across the country, to show incredible footage preserved by the British Film Institute and other national and regional film archives, and tell the history of modern Britain.
This episode comes from the Francis Combe Academy in Watford and looks back to the 1960s, a time when passing or failing an exam - the eleven-plus - could map out a child's future.
Former Francis Combe pupil Bernie Batchelor comes face-to-face with his mischievous 12-year-old former self; former TV presenter Marylyn Mason explains how failing the eleven-plus drove her to work harder in later life, and pioneering film-maker John Krish, who made a documentary about this very school back in 1962, shares his memories of filming at the school.