What’s it like to take the 11-plus? ‘To be written off as a failure is a travesty’
So read the headline in the Guardian. It mentions the word traumatic and the sense of failure for some.
I moved area with my family from Oswaldtwistle to Bispham, just at the start of the exam period. I moved from Oswaldtwistle school from the Victorian era in build to Moor park infants, a prefab site, a half mile across fields from the back of our new house. I can remember nothing much of it apart from the day I walked over in the middle of the summer holidays to pick up my results.
I had been goaded by the woman masquerading as my mother in the morning about finding out how brainless I was in the morning, jocular in front of everyone else, but she meant it all, as her eyes had been directed at me. So I was a little surprised initially on her instruction to go and collect them, not so about the fact they where sealed, but to find her not interested on my flashing it at her, through the kitchen hatch, unopened, so I deposited it on the Formica top. There it stayed as I washed up that evenings dishes, fed the dog and cleaned the shoes and received my nod to get to bed through the hatch.
I was in bed as my father came home from work, shortly after seven. I say bed but it was a sleeping bag on the floor, my step brother had the bed. On the floor I could hear everything that happened down stairs, I know the soundtracks and words of many a film I have yet to see, heard through the eighty-twenty mix Axminster carpet and underlay, the first time I had lived on it. I’d heard the Conservatory door open followed by the kitchen door, the brief pause as he took his boots off, followed by the buckle on his lunchbox strap landing on the Formica top. A short greeting followed by “your tea is in the oven, get a cloth it will be hot”. What’s this?, it’s our Brian’s exam results, unopened, there is surprise in his voice. The oven door closed, the cloth was tucked in a cupboard door handle, I waited, anxiously, a rustling in the cutlery drawer, the required landing on the plate as he exited the kitchen for the lounge. My dad was the only person allowed to eat in the lounge. What’s on he asks, this says Norma, Les Dawson is on in ten minutes. As he sinks into his seat, “Bloody hell, our Brian has the highest marks in the school”. My heart jumped a beat, my father rarely swore, I wondered if it could be heard downstairs, my father was sat underneath me, Norma at the far end by the hatch, he was obviously reading, “he’s been invited to a local Grammar school”. I was in shock, my heart was going mad, thumping away, in a split moment of time, I thought about the next morning and Norma, Grammar school ? how?
The next sentence I heard has been tucked away for many years, only the current media frenzy about them on a daily basis has brought it to the fore. “He’s not going to a Grammar school, I don’t want him thinking he’s any different from any of the others”, and that was that, I never heard it mentioned again. I never actually saw my results that year, and I was never allowed to do Homework, ever, only help my siblings with theirs, something I can remember doing at Oswaldtwistle School and for the rest of my home life.
So off I went to Montgomery high school, one alpha, I spent many a day gazing out of the window over the next few years dreading home time, meanwhile at home carrying on with regularly running away from home, which I’d started in Rochdale. I dropped to the bottom sets in Maths and English, my mind still full of fear. My first years English essay had raised my teachers eyebrows, I had extra school dinners all through my school life, I put this down to my essays, but I still dropped.
As I gazed out of the window (it would have been no different in a Grammar school) a constant question arose, how did I pass my eleven plus? my life in Oswaldtwistle and Rochdale preceding, had been bad enough for me to be running away from home. The woman masquerading as my mother was a monster of the highest order and had been as long as i could remember, I still find it very puzzling, how did I pass my eleven plus, just with the teachings at Oakenrod in Rochdale and Oswaldtwistle school, it must have been top notch, the fear I was under at that time still upsets me today, just thinking about it. Very rarely do I wonder on what I might have been, but wonder on who I should have been.