A Guinea-Pig’s Tale

I feel that I should record the details of an experiment in education that I and many of my contemporaries were unwittingly involved in during our time at Heath.

I was a member of the 1936 ‘A’ stream intake; the form that I was in took the Oxford School Certificate examination (the GCSE equivalent) in July 1940, after four years instead of the usual five, which got us into the Sixth form a year earlier than would have been usual. I always thought that this was a wartime measure, but my form-mate, the late Geoffrey Washington, always averred that it was because we were a particularly bright form. Perhaps it was a combination of both reasons.

The corresponding form of the 1935 ‘A’ stream intake took the same examination at the same time after five years. The 1940 School Prize List enables me to compare the results obtained by the two groups. The grades awarded at that time were ‘pass,’ ‘credit’ or ‘distinction.’ The Prize List just gives credit or better results. Details of grades obtained were published later in the School List.

Twenty members of the four-year group obtained ‘credit’ or better in a total of 93 subjects, an average of 4.65 subjects per pupil. Nineteen members of the five-year group obtained ‘credit’ or better in a total of 94 subjects, an average of 4.95 subjects per pupil — not much in it!

I note two interesting things about the subjects taken in the examination. Firstly, no-one took English Literature. The set books for this examination were:

The last book never arrived — a wartime shortage or economy? So a paper was not set.

Secondly, all those taking a science took Chemistry, except that three members of the five-year group took ‘General Science.’ This was not a well-recognised subject as it is nowadays. And there was no Biology taught at Heath in those days — intending medical students went to Princess Mary High School for biology lessons — the rest of us envied them!

Men from both groups went on to have fulfilling — sometimes distinguished — careers that were a credit to themselves and to the school. It might be invidious to pick out individuals, as I was not able to follow everyone’s history. But I may be forgiven for mentioning: from the five-year group, His Honour Judge Jeffrey Collinson, and from the four-year group, the 2009 Nobel Laureate in Medicine and my former classmate, Oliver Smithies.

John Fletcher [Heath 1936–1943]