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Mr Bradshaw's Views - Oct 1968

From the Sussex Expess & County Herald


Destruction of a grammar school

(Former Headmaster of Lewes County Grammar School for Boys)

Forty years on when afar and asunder
Parted are those who are singing today.

So run the lines of the most famous of school songs. At this time of the year one's own thoughts hark back to a golden autumn afternoon in 1930, when the Boy's Grammar School was officially launched on its education voyage.

We did not think then that in less than 40 years we should be ship-wrecked by the very hands that performed the launching ceremony - the East Sussex Education Authority. We were being made heirs to a great tradition, that of the grammar school, which had been a feature of English life for 400 years. We were all young, masters and boys alike and eager for the adventure. Certainly we did not visualise a war in less than a decade, and that at the end of the conflict the bones of some of those youngsters present that afternoon would literally be scattered from the Channel to the China Seas.

The school walls were bare of honours boards. We had no achievements to record. Fifteen years after the opening ceremony, waiting to be inscribed, were the names of 55 dead and of the winners of 30 war honours in all three services, including a DSO by a young Group Captain of 26, 11 awards of the DFC and two of the DFM. Two-thirds of the dead were members of the RAF, where only volunteers were accepted for aircrew.


Today the walls of the Assembly Hall record academic honours, too. There one can read the names of those who have achieved distinction in the scholastic field, including those who, in one short period of five years - 1956 to 1960 - won 39 State Scholarships and college awards at Oxford and Cambridge. Also there is a photograph of a lad of 17, winner of the Stanhope Gold Medal for the bravest rescue of the year.

'Parted are those who are singing today.' If one takes a map, one can circle the earth and pause from place to place where, since the war, an Old Boy of the school has sojourned; at Hong-Kong, a professor at the University, and a member of the Colonial Service; at Singapore, staging post for Old Boy BOAC pilots, the chief of Staff to the Naval Commander-in Chief; at Penang, an import manager for a large British firm of eastern merchants. Even Vietnam has had its school representatives; a young Wing Commander was British Air Attache at Saigon before the present war started. In 1966 an Old Boy member of the Diplomatic Service arrived in Saigon on his way to Hanoi. He remained there for a year, but the expected visa from Hanoi never came. And so the Foreign Office has transferred him to Pakistan - 'much quieter, but not half as exciting' he says in a letter.

In the Diplomatic Service, too, was an ex-pupil at Cairo, when the Suez bombing started. When the Arab-Israeli war began just over a year ago, this same Old Boy, after a period at Vienna, was First Secretary at Damascus.

Strung across Africa have been Old Boys in all sorts of jobs - officers in the Colonial Service and in the Colonial Police, vets, agricultural officers, doctors, parsons, holders of posts in aviation and commerce, tobacco farmers, school masters, university lecturers, the head of a theological college for training African ordinands. Old Boys scattered as far apart as a meteorological officer on the Mediterranean coast to businessmen at Capetown in the south, from tobacco farming in Ghana in the west to headmastering in Mombassa in the east.

A University lecturer in Northern Nigeria was there with his wife and young child when the massacre of Ibos started in 1967. He was evacuated with other white personnel but has insisted in going back. Aden, Asmara in Ethiopia and Khartoum has provided openings in commerce. At Kuwait, at the head of the Persian Gulf, is an oil engineer and a little further north in Basra an Old Boy has been engaged in telecommunications.

Hop over the Atlantic and you will find Old Lewesians scattered over the North American continent. The British Trade Commissioner at the Embassy at Washington is an Old Boy: so is a doctor of science in the Ford works at Detroit. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, probably the most famous technological university in the world, is an Old Boy who, before joining the staff there was a don at Oxford. Harvard, McGill and a number of other universities have all had Lewes representatives.

Banking, Forestry, the North West Mounted Police, the Canadian Air Force, the San Francisco Comptroller's Department of the U.S.A. Treasury, The Canadian Ministry of Agriculture and advertising in New York, such are the openings which have attracted Lewes Old pupils.

If we change direction for a moment we can still follow the Lewes trail. A postcard received a few months ago announced "Am at present commanding an ad hoc regiment of one of my own batteries [British] and a Canadian and Italian battery in the Arctic Circle. New problems and great fun."

Skip a few thousand miles to Mexico. About a year ago a Mexican dye firm got into difficulties and appealed to ICI for help. ICI sent a Lewes product from Newhaven with an Oxford degree in Chemistry.

In Jamaica is on Old Boy producing sugar. A Merchant Navy officer put in at Curacao and spotted a school contemporary passing in a taxi. Go further south to Brazil and you will find that the Director of English Cultural Studies under the British Council derives from Seaford. Previously he was on the staff of Glub Pasha in Jordan. Also in Brazil in Rio De Janeiro is our Cable and Wireless engineer. He managed to get himself locked up - mistakenly - in one of those outburst which relieve the monotony of life in South American republics.

It is unlikely that an Old Boy has reached the South Pole; but an old boy zoologist has accompanied one of those scientific expeditions to the Antarctic which disappear for about two years into that vast area of snow, ice and silence.

And so back across the Pacific to our starting point looking in on our way at doctors, schoolmasters, parsons, and sheep farmers in Australia or calling on the newscaster in New Zealand who spoke to listeners in England a short time ago on the occasion of the ferry disaster at Wellington.

Had time permitted we might have looked up the former members of the school serving at Malta, Luxembourg and Brussels on such bodies as NATO, the Council of Europe and similar organisations, or stopped at the Hague to see a young Cambridge graduate well on his way to becoming a director of the vast Shell company. Nor must we forget a scientist in Sweden, researching atomic power to the shipping industry.

Back in England where most Old Boys inevitably pursue their careers in all the conventional professions, one or two are successfully practicing at the Bar, several are hospital consultants, a few are university lecturers and have included college tutors at Oxford and Cambridge. One who is reading economics at Cambridge is vetting prices and wages for Aubrey Jones' Prices and Income Board.

A Rolls Royce engineer who graduated from Oxford make periodic trips to the U.S.A. to consult on joint Anglo American projects. Two engineering brothers designed Donald Campbell's Bluebird.

The school has been represented by a solo instrumentalist at Promenade Concerts under Sir Malcolm Sargent, by a singer at Convent Garden and Glyndebourne and by an actor playing Horatio to Donald Wolfit's Hamlet.

In a different sphere, days to remember have been the occasion when three different Old Boys have emerged from the tunnel at Twickenham before a crowds of 50,000 to take part in the annual Varsity rugger match. One of those also played for England. Another is President of the Sussex R.F.U.

All this in a relatively short space of time from a school based in a small country town of 14,000. In 1960 the present Chairman of the Education Committee, in a generous tribute, wrote that we had, at Lewes, shown what a grammar school can be.

Among the parents of lads referred to above I recall a farm worker, a gardener, a carpenter, a shop assistant, and a widow who worked in a factory to keep her boy at school to go on afterwards to Oxford.


What was the secret of our success? We were a closely-knit community, not too large for each boy to be known to the staff, or for the boy and his parents to feel that he counted for something. It was possible early in a boy's career to assess his potential and to stimulate its development. Success by one boy was a spur to his fellows.

Undoubtedly the grammar school maintained by a local authority has been the outstanding democratic achievement of this century, enabling poor boys to scale social barriers and to attain positions formerly regarded as the preserve of lads from affluent homes and expensive public schools.

But we have been deceiving ourselves. Now we are told that the grammar schools should not be allowed to exist. They have a divisive effect on society. Those not selected to enter at 11 are doomed to be second-class citizens, which is tantamount to declaring that there are no first-class modern schools. The fact that modern schools - and there are some excellent ones in East Sussex - have GCE O-level courses, that transfer to grammar school at 16 takes place on a large scale, and that by this transfer children from local modern schools are already finding their way to university, is veiled in silence by our comprehensivists. Which is best for a child of borderline ability - to be an ace with a sense of achievement in a modern school, or an also-ran trailing behind abler pupils in a comprehensive?

And so the two grammar schools and the modern school in Lewes must go. And what is to take its place? An amorphous conglomeration of places for faces, which the 'Express-Herald' has so aptly referred to as the Lewes 'complex' - 1600 pupils of both sexes, of all ranges of ability, in three different buildings, one of which is half-a-mile from the other two. And, master-stroke in this conception, some children admitted without selection procedures, some on the old 11-plus. It is legitimate to make special provision for the educationally sub-normal, but not for the small minority of greater ability, estimated by the framers of the 1944 Act as about 15 per cent. Put all children in the same uniform and mix them together, and you will defeat Mother Nature's sordid trick of giving greater talents to some than others.


Probably the features that have most differentiated the good English school from those of many foreign countries are limitations of size and a strong vein of sentiment which would command the loyalty and support of pupils, Old Boys and parents alike, to many boys a first lesson in serving the community.

On the occasion of the building of the school chapel at the Boys Grammar School at Lewes, "The Times Educational Supplement" stated:

'It is no bad thing if Local Authority schools, like the public schools, make demands on those they serve. And a maintained school may feel that it begins to have parity with older institutions when all who have to do with it look upon it not only as their property but also as their pride. Why so few of them have shown the enterprise of Lewes it is difficult to understand.'

Chapel, organ, swimming bath, careers fund, as well as smaller projects, in today's monetary values worth about £50,000, acquired by 30 years of unceasing voluntary effort, monumental testimony to the loyalty and service of several generations of boys, staff, Old Boys, parents and governors. 'Their Property and Their Pride.' Under the East Sussex Authority? Calmly appropriated as amenities for the Lewes 'complex' without the flicker of a eye-lid. With good intention, perhaps, but not for the purpose so many worked for so long.

But is there a pathetic side to our would-be Sussex reformer's efforts? Are their assumptions disproved already? In some cases where comprehensive schools have been on operation for some, their zealous advocates now complain that things are not turning out as they thought they would. Heads of comprehensives, faced with a shortage of well-qualified graduates, are assigning new staff with the best academic qualifications to teach the ablest children. Moreover, there is not the social mix within the school which was predicted. Children with the same social background tend to cling together.


However, Lewes, far from being the centre of grammar school education for the district, is to become the Cinderella. Newhaven, Seaford, and Uckfield, etc., will have comprehensives developed from an existing modern school building, and will, in effect, be purpose built schools. Lewes will be saddled with a ramshackle setup in three buildings for as long as one can foresee.

Still, salute September 1969, when Lewes goes comprehensive. Salute harassed mistresses trying to beat the 200 metres Olympic record as they sprint from one building to another in Mountfield Road, anxious lest charges awaiting them create merry hell until they arrive. Salute middle-aged gentlemen from Mountfield Road, expanding in girth but contacting in mobility, puffing as they cover the half-mile to Southover. More alarming consideration, think of the eruption of pupils into Southover traffic and the time wasting procedure of going to and fro, 'creeping like snail unwillingly to school.'

Perhaps, when our county councillors assemble on October 31 for the dedication of the new County Hall, latest and greatest testimony to their many activities, soaring to the heights on St Anne, they will spare a thought for the ruined educational structure below, which they themselves are creating under the shadow of St John the Baptist in Southover.

What is the underlying secret of it all? Perhaps Lord Reith was right. On his installation as Rector at Glasgow University a couple of years ago, he told the students:-

'Excellence is anathema to the mini-man'