WATCHING television coverage of schoolchildren's recent 'away day' to to central London, I recalled the then coalition government's 1944
Education Act, introduced by the Conservative RA Butler. I, and a number of my equally poor school friends at Rothschild Road, School, Acton, were among the first to benefit from one of its provisions, which was that from 1946 there was to be no more fee-paying at grammar schools run by the county.
Admittance was to be totally by the passing of an examination at the age of 11 - the 11 plus. We were also among the first to be involved in the next change.
Previously, the goal was the School Certificate or Higher School Certificate, which involved sitting a set of examinations such as English, mathematics, a science, a foreign language, history and geography. All the subjects had to be passed in one go, otherwise there was no School Certificate. This was proof of a good general education.
In 1951, a certificate known as the General Certificate of Education (GCE O-levels) was granted for each subject passed. The Higher School Certificate was replaced by A-levels. As we had started aiming for the School Certificate, this was reflected in the worthwhile subjects passed by the early examinees.
Later, an examination for the slightly less able was introduced called the Certificate of Secondary Education.
This need not have been the end of anyone's education because there were many night classes to aid progress.
My wife left school at 15 and acquired her GCEs by attending night classes at Chiswick Polytechnic, which is now a university. Apprenticeships were available and professional qualifications could be obtained by correspondence courses.
In 1988, GCE O-levels and CSEs were abolished and replaced by the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). The current
intention is to get 50 per cent of children to 'uni'.
One of the disturbing reports regarding the lout who swung on the Cenotaph flag during the student protests was that he claimed, despite its inscriptions, he did not know what the memorial was. Yet he had got to Cambridge University for a history course.
The tragedy is that he will probably be given an honours degree and still not know what the Cenotaph is about.
Another thing. I notice that Thames Valley University is wasting money on posters stating 'In the Community for 150 years'. It forgot to add 'mostly as Ealing Technical College'.
JAMES DARBON Greenford