Secondary School Reunion

There’s a feature in today’s Guardian about inspiring teachers, a not uncommon subject and, as a former school teacher, of course welcome. But what about inspiring pupils? To take just one of the schools at which I taught – Harrow Way Secondary Modern School in Andover, Hampshire, where I was Head of English in the latter years of the 196os – I could single out one former pupil who is now a college principal, one who went on to become Head of History in a comprehensive school and another, who, after many years of dedication, hard work and study, is now a surgeon. And, yes, this was a secondary modern school; these were all people who were rejected by the education system at 11 plus as not fit for academic study. And these are but three inspiring examples.

Last week I had the very great pleasure of meeting up with another former student from Harrow Way, Mary McCormack. Mary, who now lives in Ireland, was over to visit her daughter, Lucy, who lives in Dalston, East London. It was the first time we’d met in 46 years. Mary had been one of the bright lights of my English class – I still recognised her writing, when she showed me, on her iPad, a poem she’d recently written – and she had been one of a small number who had helped run the school’s weekly radio broadcasts. It was lovely to meet her – Lucy, too – and to catch up over a long lunch. [The lamb was especially delicious.]

Just a couple of hours later and we were saying goodbye again. Lucy had arranged to take Mary to have her first tattoo as a 61st birthday present. And it was Lucy  who took this photograph of Mary and I outside the grocer’s conveniently adjacent to the restaurant: as happy to have met one another again as we look.


Author: John Harvey


2 thoughts on “Secondary School Reunion”

  1. Mr. Harvey,

    I’m an American in far-off (from London) Seattle, the international identification of which, for many years, was salmon, forests and Boeing. Now we’ve been a bit overtaken by Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon, not always for the best.

    I’m not sure what an English “secondary school” is. If it’s anything close in a student ages sense to a U.S. high school, your experience with your alumni resonates with me. I’ve just attended my class’s 60th annual reunion, and, happily there were a few with whom I could renew acquaintance and embellish anecdotes.

    I volunteered for the sad and challenging task of making up display boards of images of those in our class no longer living and, surprisingly, warmed to the experience of seeing their images in the 1956 “Annual”, as I labeled and copied the photographs to the display boards. Of those fellow alumni I recognized, I appreciated that I’d known them, however slightly, all those years ago, and I must admit I was pleased to be still be around to help memorialize them.

  2. Jim – It’s basically 11 – 16 or 18 and those who ‘failed’ their 11 Plus examination which would have sent them to a grammar school, went instead to a secondary modern school, where the expectation was that the majority of them would leave school at 16 and go into work or an apprenticeship, whereas the majority of students at the grammar school would stay on till 18 and then, in many cases, go on to college or university. Needless to say those selected for grammar school were in a minority and came overwhelmingly from middle class homes. With the advent of comprehensive secondary schools – where I taught latterly, where my children went, and where,until recently, I was on the board of governors, took students from across a wide (almost full) range of abilities. A few areas retained their grammar schools and there is currently a move in the ruling Conservative Party to allow new grammar schools to be built, with a return to selection at 11. Shame!

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