Memory Lapse

Is it just me, or does Iain Dale’s memory appear to be going?

In 1973 I failed my eleven plus. I failed it because I wasn’t even told I was taking it. We had taken so many government tests that year that we all decided not to take this one seriously. Whadda mistaka da maka (as Captain Bertorelli in ‘Allo ‘Allo might have said). So I ended up at the local Secondary Modern, turned bog standard comprehensive. I was lucky. Saffron Walden County High School did me proud, despite the efforts of Education Secretary Shirley Williams to deprive me of school books.

Government tests? In 1973? What the fuck is Dale talking about.

I’m slightly younger than Dale and moved up to primary school in 1973, and in the four years I spent at the school – a standard CofE primary on a council estate – I sat precisely no external tests, government or otherwise.

There was no government testing regime for 7-11s at the time, and the only test I actually recall taking was a reading age test* about a week after I started at the school, having moved up from the infants school next door, on which my score went off the scale, which topped out at 13 years of age. After that, they skipped the whole business of reading tests, pointed me to the school library and told me to pick any book I liked the look of – I actually spent much of my time in reading lessons helping out some of the other kids with their reading, but then I was a bit of precocious little bastard at the time.

In those days, I should explain, reading tests were scored by assessment against the expected reading ability at different ages.

Apart from that, the only externally driven test I was ever offered (and turned down) was the chance to take the 11+, but as the nearest grammar schools were in Birmingham and most of the kids who went there looked a right bunch of socially inadequate misfits and complete tosser, I passed on the chance and went to the local comprehensive. There were other tests, of course, but these were all internal an nothing to do with a formal government testing regime – tests at primary level just weren’t the done thing during the 1970s

I wonder if politics is playing tricks with Dale’s memory here as I’m almost certain that the only formal tests he would – and could – have taken at the time would have been preparatory tests for the 11+.


7 thoughts on “Memory Lapse

  1. Really weak. Thirty years later I cannot recall exactly what the tests were, but I do remember that there were a lot of them. Quite how you could profess to even guess what tests were being taken by ten year olds in Essex, or not, at the time I just do not know. I was there. I remember taking them. Why is that so difficult for you to believe? And even more to the point, why would i even think of making it up?!

  2. I’m not suggesting that you’re making it up, Iain, simply pointing out that there was no government policy on testing in primary schools during the 1970s, so whatever you were put through was a localised thing.

    In my own area, we’d gone over to comprehensives by that time, where Essex retained grammar schools, which does suggest that its likely to be in that that the differences lay.

    I could also have pointed out that in 1973, Edward Heath was Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education and Science was…

    …Margaret Thatcher.

    Now do you understand my skepticism about “government” tests?

    I you going to take a pot shot at ‘the government’ you might just want to make sure you’re shooting at the right government.

  3. Unity,

    I must be up to double figures now with people- in the Labour Party and outside- who knew at 11 that grammar schools were unfair/divisive/saddo/full of saddos.

    In my case, a well meaning teacher at primary talked to me about King Edward’s Schools. The prospect- even at 11- of travelling miles to school for the ‘reward’ of dressing in rigid uniform and occasionally like a wine waiter filled me with dread.

    I still fear black-tie now. And I went to my local comp and am so much the better for it.

    Would it be wonderful if King Edwards and Queen Marys and Lord Knows who else became Academies- decent, quality schools where intelligence and potential really mattered over money and the millions in endowments that these Tory finishing sch…oh…grammar schools seem to hoard?

  4. Having been born in Essex in 1962, I can remember what tests there were in my school which, although at the other end of the county to Saffron Walden was still under the same education authority.

    We had reading tests (I think they actually topped out at 13.9 or 13 yrs 9 mths and not 13) and some of those IQ-type tests – pattern recognition, that sort of thing. Not being a political animal in my pre-teens I don’t know if these tests were done under government instruction or were Essex CC’s own idea. The only element of any sort of awareness of education policy while I was at primary school was that I knew someone called Thatcher was milk-snatcher because thats what everyone was chanting all the time.

    I do remember the 11-plus though. We were given the opportunity to take the test but it was not compulsory – unless we really wanted to go to grammar school obviously. Those of us who did not want to go to grammar school had the option of taking the test just for fun.

    There was no way we could have sat the 11-plus without knowing what it was and I really can’t see any decent school that would treat pupils like that.

  5. I was in the second ever year group to take National tests at age 7, that must have been in 1995, so the first in 94, and probably they piloted it in certain areas for a couple of years previously. When I took it I didn’t even know they were tests, we did them in a small group and described to us as worksheets we had to do in a time limit. I didn’t know or care about my results until years later and I wanted to compare myself to my younger brothers. Nowadays parents get worked up and kids have to revise and get put under pressure, at 7!

    Skuds, isn’t IQ and pattern recognition what is in the 11-plus? Were your school breaking the rules and giving you practise tests?

  6. I actually spent much of my time in reading lessons helping out some of the other kids with their reading, but then I was a bit of precocious little bastard at the time

    Me too!

    I was schooled in Birkenhead, and apart from the reading test, we did some IQ type tests but it was maybe one per school year. I always came 3rd to Jonathon Bagley and Robbie Cross (who used to fight for first year on year) until my last year at Devonshire Park when I got the top spot. I was bell monitor that year as well! Happy days.

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