Reporting: Summary

Exercise 24

Write a paragraph of not more than 100 words summing up the problems which, according to the author, faced working-class children when they went to grammar school.

Grammar school

The first weeks at grammar school were strange. For the children who already had contacts, they were exhilarating, the exciting prelude to promised satisfactions. Whole new areas of inviting study presented themselves - algebra, physics, Latin, French.
‘I took to Marburton College like a duck to water,’ said Ronald Turnbull. For children who had broken most friendships and connections with the old neighbourhood, here were fresh children, fresh clubs and societies, the school scouts and the school corps to join. The invitation was irresistible, and many were glad to accept it in full and become from the earliest days loyal and eager members of the school. Their whole-heartedness was naturally reflected in their first pieces of work, and finding themselves soon well placed in class, they were conscious of latent power thrusting through, of their ability to command new and more testing situations. We have shown that most of the parents came from the very upper reaches of the working-class, and once their child reached grammar school, these parents were whole-heartedly behind the enterprise. In very many small ways they influenced their children to accept, to belong. Both grammar school and home supported the child in orthodox and receptive attitudes. But under particular strains and pressures, this home support could, and did, break down; and this happens more and more of ten as either the school disturbs the parents (directly in an interview, indirectly through weight of homework and so on), or the parents find no way of obtaining vital knowledge, or coming to terms with the middle-class ethos of the grammar school. The parents may have been ‘sunken middle-class', but many of these discover how different this can be in knowledge and evaluation from that range of middle-class life endorsed by the grammar school.
For the majority of the children, unlike Ronald Turnbull, the entry to grammar school was uncertain and confused. They had suddenly lost in some measure that mesh of securities, expectations, recognitions, that we have called ‘neighbourhood’. ‘I had this feeling of not belonging anywhere,’ said Patricia Joy. They found themselves surrounded by more middle-class children than they had ever met before. These children spoke better, seemed more confident, some already knew bits of French and Latin, their fathers had told them what ‘Physics ’ was about, a few even knew the teachers. They, evidently, seemed to belong. This insecurity was heightened by confusions over getting the right books, the right sports equipment, the right uniform. ‘I didn’t like it,’ said Rita Watson, ‘my uniform seemed too big all round - long sleeves - I suppose my mother had to do it like that so it would last longer, but I felt awful. All the other girls’ uniforms seemed all right. I was wrong.’ On top of this came the new subjects, the new vocabulary (not ‘ kept in’ but ‘detention’, not ‘playtime’ but ‘break’ - and was it ‘yard’ or ‘playground’ or ‘cloisters’?), the masters’ gowns, the prefects, the whole body of customs, small rights and wrongs, that any well-developed grammar school holds. Some of the schools made a practice of teaching the new children aggressively for the first weeks, to ‘break them in’, and, presumably, to nip behaviour problems in the bud. The effect on children already bewildered was to knock them off balance rather than ‘break them in’ and to create, rather than cure, behaviour problems. This was obvious in our study of the middle-class child where a highly gifted boy could be so robbed of confidence in the first term, as to seem dull for several years afterwards. For some of the working-class children, confused by a genuine loss of part of their social life (‘ Neighbourhood’), perplexed by the strangeness and sheer difference of grammar school, conscious of new social barriers thickening the normal barriers between pupil and teacher, and unable to turn to parents for explanation and understanding - for these children the beginnings could seem almost hallucinatory. ‘I had that feeling like when you were in the forces,’ said one boy, ‘after you got your jabs and you got inoculation fever, you felt away from it all. You felt in a bit of a haze, everything was a bit bleared. Well, that’s how school felt at first. I felt just as I did later when I’d got inoculation fever.’

(From Education and the Working Class by Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden)

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