Updated: May 24
Part I: Heading for the Downfall
My mother put me into a Grammar School when I was ten or eleven years old which is normal where I come from as primary school is only for four years. At first, I didn't know anyone there but that changed over time.
I must confess that I generally liked school. It was an all-girls grammar school (all others within reach were all-boys-schools) and I usually had a quiet time there. At home there was my - let's say boisterous - brother whom I received enough hits and kicks from over the years. School was definitely an improvement.
So it was an all-girls school. It also filtered out to be about the worst school not just in the town and in the county but also in the country, because the most stupid children went there - according to their marks! By the way: THE GIRLS WERE ALL LOVELY! No problem there.
The most stupid girls in the country! Wow! That's an achievement! All down to a lot of the teachers and the headmistress. Some of the things that happened were actually quite funny. We were not in any physical danger. But, oh dear, did we have "interesting" teachers.
B: Bad Marks for Working Class
One of the school policies was to force the teachers to give more and more bad marks to the pupils, especially to the ones who came from non-academic backgrounds like e.g. working class. The teachers mostly followed these instructions. In the following are some lovely examples.
1 The Old Teacher
For maths and biology, we had an old man - he was in his seventies - for a teacher. He was repeatedly announcing: "I'll see to it that a good few of you don't make it into the next class up. There are far too many doing the higher leaving cert." And so he did!!! And so did some other teachers.
Same maths and bio teacher also said to one girl: "I should let you fail in maths and biology. However, I have turned a blind eye and I'll let you pass this time. It can't be that the daughter of a school principal can't do it." Me and a friend of mine were not so lucky...
That teacher also had a tendency to NOT call girls from working class areas of the town by their names but just by the name of their part of town. Parents started to complain about it at a parents evening. However, our class teacher who had to run this evening, wasn't happy to do something about it. He said: "Weeelll, he is a colleague. I can't tell him off. I can't tell him what to do." The parents insisted that this was NOT ACCEPTABLE. I don't think it happened again afterwards.
2 The Boring Teacher
Our Class teacher was the second most boring teacher I had. He taught us Latin and history and did oral mini tests in history writing down the results in his mini book. One day, among others he questioned me and then another girl about something. Neither me nor the other girl knew much about it. So he said to the other girl he would ask her again next session. Naive me thought: "I must learn this properly for next time, too." I did and the following session the teacher started to test the other girl again. I waited for my turn - but nothing. Some months later he announced our marks received during the year according to his little book and the end of year marks based on those. The other girl had an excellent mark where I had got the worst mark possible. I was shocked. It couldn't have been more unfair. But then, the other girl was a teacher's daughter. No competition!
3 The Sneaky Teacher
Another biology teacher did some interesting stunt. She sometimes went to my godmother to get some clothes made to measure as my godmother was a dressmaker. By sheer chance, her daughter was in that teacher's biology class. During a fitting session the teacher told my godmother: "I have given all the girls one mark below of what they should have got so they make more of an effort next year."
These days I just ask myself: How many didn't make it and failed because of that? Would it have hit the children from non-academic households a lot harder again? They often got the worst marks in class anyway. How many would have left school instead of repeating? Repeating isn't done any more these days. But back then, it did mean to go into a new classroom with everyone knowing that you were too stupid and didn't make it. I did it. I was stubborn enough to repeat and I'm glad I did it. But: No way is it great for self-confidence!
4 The Headmistress
Nearer to the end of the school year, the headmistress called me into her office one day and told me: "IF YOU LEAVE SCHOOL NOW YOU'LL GET BETTER MARKS!" I was totally perplexed and lost for words. When I told my mother back home she was furious about the headmistress.
So, first they give you bad marks and then they tell you this, trying to get you OUT. - OUT! - It didn't work. I didn't go. I stayed. For a while I was dreadening it. Self-confidence down!
Although it turned out to be great. Really great! But that wasn't planned like that, by them, was it? The whole thing just sort of backfired. Maybe it was kind of the best thing that happened to me and my friend because we had soooo many friends afterwards.... Super!!! I liked school more than ever!
5 A Great Teacher's Fate
Another teacher, an excellent maths teacher, came to our class as a sub once and did maths with us and it was just brilliant. He explained things this way and that way until the last student had got it and everyone was happy.
In between he told us that he had been asked to give worse marks or, if he didn't comply soon enough, he should find himself a different school. Which he did. He said: "I'm an excellent teacher. I can get any child to at least get a pass in maths. I'm not taking this. So I'm leaving at the end of the year. I have found myself a different school." So he left. I know where he went to. It was a mixed school where children got great marks. - I'm still frustrated about this whenever I think of it. Luckily, that's not often.
C Result: THE WORST SCHOOL IN THE COUNTRY
All these "incidents" were pretty bad and there were a lot more of them if not as extreme but maybe more sneaky. Less obvious. I do remember some other bits. However, "incidents" like that were a constant and planned means of undermining the girls!
But how do I KNOW that ours was the worst school in the country???
Well, there was this vice principal...
He didn't seem to interfere much into the general school policies. But one fine day he proudly announced with a big, big smile in his face (he was actually positively sparkling) that he had arranged with certain authorities for our school to get an additional bonus point in the overall mark in the leaving cert.
Our county's schools had got one bonus point already years earlier because the children in our county had the worst marks in the country. This causes disadvantages if someone wants to go to university to study i.e. medicine or apply for a job or an apprenticeship. Studying medicine requires top class average marks. The competition would be even worse if someone wanted to study in another county with higher average marks.
So we got this bonus and the vice principal got us an additional bonus. We were still at stark disadvantages but that was the best the vice principal could do at the time. He said: "As the children in our county are the worst in the country and our school is the worst in the county, the children in this school would be the most stupid children in the whole country. That can't be. THAT'S COMPLETE NONSENSE!"
Really: COMPLETE NONSENSE! I couldn't agree more.
Luckily, there were big changes ahead ...
see Part II: The Crash - Stars of the Show coming soon.
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