THIS SCHOOL TODAY
A Personal and Kaleidoscopic View
"DISTINCTLY young men", a stranger from America might say, if he saw our Sixth Form; and he would have put his finger on what is undoubtedly the greatest single difference between the school today and its predecessor of fifteen years ago.
For it is the size, variety and vigour of its Sixth Form which chiefly make a Grammar School distinguishable from its Secondary fellows, and under the present Headmaster, the Sixth Form at East Ham has indeed achieved these three goals. It numbers well over one hundred with an age range of fifteen to nineteen; its studies the most extraordinary array I subjects, entering for nearly twenty of them at the Advanced Level of G.C.E.; a boy can offer four Natural Sciences, two Sciences and two Maths, four Economics subjects, two Modem Languages plus English Literature and Latin, or a full Classics course plus History, or some sort of combination of these; additional subjects such as English Literature for the Scientists, or French and Latin for the Economists are regularly being added to the curriculum, as are wireless lessons and various lectures, while the Sixth Former also has his regular doses of Religious and Physical instruction, and of Organised Games.
So much for variety; for vigour, we may call to witness a great procession ion of activities of every sort, run by, and often largely by, the Sixth Form whether in School teams, or debates, or drama, or Stamp Club, or Christian Fellowship, or what have you - but more of these later. A great part of this vigour has derived in these last years from the success of the experiment with a third-year Sixth Form. This has hem achieved by allowing the "A" stream to go forward from the Fourth Form straight into the Sixth, and by these boys staying on one year after their Advanced Level to take University Scholarships and Entrances. Academically this has allowed the School to compete with longer-established Sixth Forms with a more reasonable hope of success, and the growing number of Old Esthameians at Oxford and Cambridge bear witness to the success of this venture; meantime entrances to London and the Provincial Universities have also increased, and in some years as many as twenty-five to thirty young men have gone forward from the Sixth Form of this School to Universities or University-type Colleges to continue their education.
Our stranger from America might well wonder at the standard set by some of our ablest Sixth Formers, and at the leadership they give to the rest of the School in so many spheres of activity. He might be surprised at a community of over seven-hundred, which ranges in age from children of eleven to young men of nineteen having any "oneness".
And it is this oneness, the oneness, so to say, of the youngest member of 1E with the School Captain, which is, after the Sixth Form, the second major factor which marks out a school. It is a facet of school life sometimes difficult to see perhaps, to those working here, a question of the wood and the trees. I should say that continuity is a part of it - continuity in subjects learned for five or seven years - the "A" and "B" streams having Latin, 3A having a third language - German, Spanish or Greek, to deal with - the Ordinary Level of G.C.E. after four or five years, with Advanced two years later, and Scholarship a year after that.
School uniform is a part of it; cap and blazer do not make school, but they ace a visual reminder of pride in its oneness, and the uniform is now accepted and worn as a normal adjunct of being at the School. Morning assembly is a part of it, and should and does contribute largely to our oneness; and so with School plays, and concerts, and services, and matches, and sports. Not all boys can come to everything; and there will always be a few, the square pegs, who will not come to anything; but on the whole it does seem to be true that the boys, before they leave, do begin to have at least a rudimentary impression of the School being one community with one shared raison d'être.
Were our stranger from America to wander round the School one day in the late afternoon, he might well be surprised to find that a large proportion of Staff and boys were still on the building and that they were indulging in the most extra ordinary number and variety of usual and less usual out-of school activities. And we may put this down as the third major distinctive
mark of a Grammar School, and in particular, (and to the point,) of our School.
As he entered the building he might hear the School Orchestra practising its melodious note, with some aplomb and Mr. Collins, whose advent has brought new vigour to this traditional body; the School's now enormous choir might be rehearsing with it, while from next door the fervent hymn-singing of the Christian Fellowship would show that body to have no connection with the choir, and to have more piety than melody. As he passes farther down the corridor, he would become aware of the tramp of marching feet, (which could not be the Scout Troop, as the feet are in time), of much bellowing and some Shakespeare; this would he the Dramatic Society in and around the hall doing its marching and counter-marching, and its little acting; colourful music emanates from the wing, whence every so often a drummer-boy emerges, hectic and tearful, to lament to the lighting-crew that his gramophone has fused and his drum-stick has broken, while around him -numerous boys attempt some rudimentary drama amid a chaos of extras. So much for Shakespeare.
Round to the end of the "A" block; there lives the Stamp Club sometimes reformed as the Geographical Society - a great many excited youngsters, a few more stern Sixth Formers - and Mr. Seidman, a description that might stand for the Photographic Society, that ubiquitous and all-pervading body - a trap for the unwary master, or for the Natural History Society, enthusing quietly and omnisciently with Mr. S. Forrester somewhere over some dubious dead or drying creature. Upstairs in the relaxed atmosphere of C8 - The Memorial Library - the Debating Society learnedly puts forth its views on subjects unknown to its members when they come, and more unknown when they leave. This Society has its junior counterpart where Mr. Moss holds sway, teaching his boys how to debate with parliamentary precision on such supremely important subjects as "homework" or "girl-friends". The Senior Society, putting homework and girl-friends behind it, does indeed debate parliamentary subjects, though whether with precision or relevance is doubtful.
Let us now lead our American through the long "B" corridor on the first floor whence he may see in the middle distance on green fields of Langdon (when they are visible above the winter's flood), under the gallant, athletic and ever-ready supervision of Mr. Mills whence he may see, I say, a great many playing figures: boys at soccer; boys at rugger; boys playing hockey; boys running; boys jumping; boys throwing; boys doing all manner of athletic things; some handball or other training in the School's magnificent gymnasium; if he followed his eye, and went over by the gym, he might pass, where the boys were showering, down to the metalwork room where Mr. Spavin spends remarkably little of his time extracting boys from those vast machines in which, I feel sure, anyone else would certainly have caught them. Next door reigns Mr. Handley, in a world of wood, where the boys make for themselves some very useful and beautiful furnishings. Between the gym and the hall lives the Scout Troop, who, with their Parents' Committee, are (as is right and proper), handymen to the School.
Suppose this American returned in the summer; the overall picture would not be greatly different; less indoor, more outdoor activities; a quiet game of cricket, somehow toning down the industrial background against which it is played - somehow making old this very new building in this very untraditional area.
If he had come back in the last weeks of this Easter term 1955 he would have seen the School at its Jubilee; he would have seen it giving thanks in this County Borough's Parish Church; he would have heard the Headmaster telling the Old Boys' Society of the work done here in the last fifty years; he would hare seen the School play host to the Borough's Officers at a joyful Jubilee Ball; he would have heard a tribute paid to the previous Headmaster at a gathering of old pupils now teaching in the Borough; he would have seen some more recent ex-Sixth Formers returned to see again and to thank their boyhood's mentors, and he would have seen these latter most interested to observe the progress of those they had but recently sent forth; he might have heard a concert of choir and orchestra, or have seen the School's Debating Society play host to numerous Sixth Formers, girls and boys, from surrounding Grammar Schools, in a debate encouraged by, and attended by a representative of The Observer and entitled "This House Believes that 1984 is not Far Off", and he might like to think too that the activities of this School help to prove that motion untrue. All this activity, gallantly catered for by a few mothers of the Scout Group, for a Jubilee which, so to speak, epitomised into one half-term the normal activities of the School over a year.
I personally should also choose to tell our American friend of some other highlights of the School's life in the years since, the war; of Greek plays, in Greek and English, on tour and in East Ham; of two plays of Moliere produced exquisitely in French by Mr. Hill; of a large number of Staff increasingly engaged in the annual and fruitful production of Shakespeare; of Mr. Payton and his immense undertakings with the costumes: of Mr. Spencer and his decor and his art exhibitions; of the School's contributions to the life of the Borough, whether in an annual drama festival, or verse-speaking, or outdoor Shakespeare in the summer, or sports, or art, and so on; of Sixth Form socials, always fun and sometimes, especially the one held at the end of every Summer Term for the leavers, most moving; of concerts, and madrigals round Christmas trees, and carols; of . . . of a never ending procession of things done, of achievements and disappointments, of men and boys.
Or one might rather choose to tell of memorable moments; of Mr, Pain's words to the assembled School, words which will always be remembered by the senior boys present; of Mr. Lock's going - this the Staff will remember; of the sad death of Mr. Haslam, so soon after finally leaving us; of that last day of many a Summer Term, when the Headmaster tries at the Leavers' Service to show what a Grammar School is and what it tries to do. And all the time, the normal work of the School goes on, as day by day, the Staff here, backed to a great degree by a helpful Council, and led by the unswerving faith of the Headmaster in our mission here, fights an unending battle against the slipshod, uneasy, comfort-loving tone of this - our civilisation - with its emphasis - all against the Grammar School idea - on letting others do rather than on doing, on lack of precision and on lack of learning, on not reading, and on cheapness - against these things we fight in an oasis which frighteningly shrinks before our eyes; I suppose we might even try to carry on in a comprehensive school, but we do not really believe we can, and do not think we should be likely to succeed; as it is we have, I believe (to use a military cliché on what is nearly a military occasion), a fighting chance.
Yet our American might be able to tell us that back in his country, a school such as ours would be rare indeed; he could tell us that there the comprehensive egalitarian idea is the normal philosophy behind education; that as a result, they have no Sixth Form, no academic successes, no real "learning", and so on, none of the things which, I and many others here think, make the Grammar School tradition worthwhile - and aristocratic, in the proper sense of that much abused word. Let us hope he, this American, will take away with him a proper sense of what we are doing in East Ham; let him not feel that we are snobs, and let him know that we are willing, indeed that we wish, to play our part in the life of the Borough, and are doing so, but that part will only he worth playing as long as we are left to prepare it by ourselves and in our own way.
Let our American friend depart finally, accompanied by these three thoughts from us: - if we are not up to expectation,... we say with Cleopatra:-
". . . And when goodwill is showed,
Though 't come too short
The actor may plead pardon."
:- that with T. S. Eliot, we know: -
"History is a pattern of timeless moments",
"History is now, and England".
:- and, finally, that we feel it above all things to be important that this School today should agree - (as it does agree, I am sure) - and that it should be known to agree - with D. H. Lawrence when he said:-
" We must stand for life and construction amid all this death and destruction. "
For laughter, too, I may add.