Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Drunken Aunt

Yesterday I was booted out of a Facebook group dedicated to my old school. Well to be more accurate, I removed myself from the group after one of the moderators stated that he was "sick and tired" of my "foul language and aggressive behaviour" and "had no option" but to delete me.

You know what it's like, that moment of "I'll walk out, you ain't throwing me out!"

To be even more accurate, the page was dedicated to a previous incarnation of my school, specifically Kenilworth Grammar School, which existed from 1961 to about 1976 before becoming Kenilworth School (and is now Kenilworth School & Sports College). Originally there had been TWO schools. A High school where the plebs went and a Grammar school for swots who passed their 11+ exam. When Grammar schools were abolished in the mid 70s they pulled the fence down and made Kenilworth School composed of Abbey Hall (former High) and Priory Hall (former Grammar). One Principal, two Heads.

Photo by Tony Lamley

The issue for me was that it was still the same school when I got there as KGS. It had a lot of the same staff, the same buildings and the same godforsaken attitude to how to educate children. Best comparison was that the original had been William Hartnell's Doctor Who, while I had been there during Peter Davison's tenure in 1983. Same shit, different face.

Problem was that the period I went to school in was what could romantically be described as "the wilderness years". Corporal punishment was on the way out (abolished completely by about 1987) and the old ways were being swept aside to make room for new and innovative methods of teaching. The staff and teachers however were lost and confused. The "six of the best", "stiff upper lip", "don't answer back" attitude that had lasted for generations was gradually being chipped away to allow children more room to express an opinion. It encouraged debate and removed the automatic assumption that a teacher, or even a Dinner Lady, was in the right and in a case of "he said, she said" if the argument was with a pupil, then the adult was, by default, believed and not the kid.

Sticking to the Doctor Who analogy, this resulted in what could also romantically be described as a "stuck regeneration." The assumed omnipotence and faultless god-like aura that teachers had had for so long was slowly being eroded. Like a public sector pension plan under an unfriendly Tory government. The teachers found it hard to change. Most simply didn't want to and many would lash out at kids, up to and including the D-day when it became not only unethical but actually illegal. My Headmaster would automatically believe that a teacher was telling the truth and if a pupil accused a member of staff of unprofessional conduct, he would either ignore them or, if they pursued it, would wait for them to do something wrong and then call them into his office to bark "Complaining about members of staff?!! HA! Complain about yourself!"....and then use that as an excuse to bin their grievance.

In the 1950s and even the early 1970s fighting amongst boys wasn't officially condoned but teachers tended to look the other way provided it was done out of sight, was fair, and a handshake was offered after and the matter was considered done and dusted. One teacher in the 1970s was apparently notorious for talking to two boys who'd been caught fighting and, while talking, move his hand behind their necks. Without warning he would then bang their heads together as hard as he could (which is gonna hurt and then some!!). Bottom line. You weren't gonna fight again if you knew THIS was likely to happen. It also apparently led to a camaraderie between the two boys as their grievance paled into insignificance next to sudden and unexpected cranial trauma.

Looking back, a lot of what I posted on the KGS Facebook page was misplaced and, having slept on it, I now realise that the group was for former friends to get together and chat. It wasn't a sounding board for someone like me, with a very clear memory of just how bad my school years were and a desire to voice the opinions that I'd had quashed when things had happened...all those years ago. While some people supported my desire to be honest about what had gone on and not just reminisce about "the fluffy stuff" even these guys were apparently glad when I'd gone (judging by the comments I've read on the moderator's posting about me being removed). However, what is interesting is that at least two people have noted that certain staff were indeed abusive and should be told that...but my attitude was out of place for the group.

Best comparison I can think of is that I was, to them,  like the drunk aunt at the wedding/ Christening/ birthday party who had had one too many sherries and would loudly and aggressively remind everyone yet again about how badly uncle Tom had treated her and then left her for a younger woman. It's not the story or the feelings that are wrong. It's that aunty Edith is spouting them at an inappropriate time and basically getting on everyone's tits.

Kenilworth School was 90% staffed by morons who simply didn't care about the kids they taught and regarded their jobs with the same level of passion as factory workers. Rare exceptions were wonderful teachers like David"Jim" Hardy who taught English.

The spark that lit the fuse yesterday was when I was Skypeing with a friend of mine and he told me a story that I hadn't heard before. He went to Abbey Hall and had one day seen a notorious bully (who was also one of the genuinely hard kids and big as well). He apparently punched a younger kid to the ground outside the school canteen, kneed him a few times and then kicked him about 20 times when he was down. This wouldn't have struck so many chords within me were it not for the fact that it was apparently in front of both the male Deputy Head and one of the male PE teachers, who simply stood there looking visibly frightened and did nothing to intervene. The bully wasn't punished as they were both afraid of him and the whole incident was merely brushed aside.

Our Headmaster at Priory Hall had made at least two speeches about not having "gang warfare in the corridors" and that, if you were being "bullied" or "picked on" then you should go and see him and he would deal with it.

I vividly recall going with a black eye, to see him and he (with a fixed smile on his face) shooed me gently out the door and told me to go and see the Deputy Head. When I got to her office she said the following:

"Manley! It's you again. This isn't the first time and I'm really NOT interested. If you want to make this official then I'll be in my office at 3.30 but I'm really NOT interested!"

I didn't go to her office at 3.30.

When I went back to the school on official business in 2013 I was waiting to see an Assistant Head (a position invented since 1987, above a Senior Teacher and below a Deputy Head) who came out with a piece of paper and handed it to a rather morose looking 12 year old boy, sat slumped in a chair in the waiting area. He said to the kid:

"This is for you to take home. Another copy's in the mail in case you don't take it. Go and sit outside my office for the rest of the day!"

Curiosity got the better of me and I asked, "What did he do?"

The AH replied, "I'd like to say he was in a fight, but that would imply that the other boy had something to do with it."

"'re not automatically assuming 6 of 1 and half a dozen of the other?"

The AH looked at me confused and went, "! Why would I?"

He then stood open mouthed when I told him the "black eye" story.

Kenilworth School in the 1980s was a festering shit hole that perpetuated and inadvertently encouraged a pecking order amongst the pupils. Staffed mainly by people who, at the lower end of the scale, simply didn't care and at the worst end of it, were physically abusive to the children.

Kenilworth School now appears to be striving to excel. It had a very good Ofsted report recently (for non UK readers, that's like the Special Forces of school governors) and the staff I met seem to genuinely care about the kids under their tutelage. 

However...there is indeed a time and a place to voice this kind of thing. People on the KGS group have said I have "deep seated issues" and I don't deny that and even embrace it. I will however be focussing my efforts and energy into writing a book about it all. I know a lot of people feel the same way as me, but are in the main confused as to why I feel so vitriolic and bitter about it all.

I'll end with this. On another official visit to the school I met a member of staff in her 50s who used to be a pupil at the Kenilworth School back in the day. She is very sweet natured, professional and courteous but, when I mentioned the name of one member of staff, her face paled and she told me this story.

"Oh my God!!! I remember him. He used to lash out all the time and hit boys in class. I remember one time he threw a wooden blackboard rubber at a boy who was talking. Luckily the boy turned his head at the last second so it hit the side of his face. He had a big bruise but it would have broken his nose if he hadn't turned away. I tell you what! About 3 years ago he came back with some boys from another school and as he walked down the drive I felt my blood run cold. I hadn't seen him in about 30 or 40 years and I felt my blood literally run cold. My heart stopped. He still had that effect on me after so long."


  1. Aha! Good old Chapman, the Oddjob lookalike who through a rubber like a boomerang and grab young boys by the hair....thank god it was on their heads...

  2. Oddjob was our nickname for him...

  3. Oddly, now I think back, I'm sure the boy he hit with the board rubber was also called Chapman...

  4. ...good cross country runner....


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