Clive Whitehead's Performance Analysis
JRGS Alumni Society

The Croydon Archives:

Clive Whitehead investigates the origins
of John Ruskin Grammar School

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Clive Whitehead was not only a pupil at the old JRGS school in Tamworth Road from September 1950 until May 1952, but returned in the late-Sixties as a teacher of Social Studies, English and PE. [More]

This information about the origins of the school was gathered during two days that I spent in the Croydon Borough Local Studies Library in March 2005. At the time I was on a three-month sabbatical leave (March to May) based in London.
   I wish to express my sincere thanks to Chris Bennett, the Archivist, for being so helpful in making my relatively short stay so profitable. The information recorded here is derived mainly from the minutes of the Education Committee (and its sub-committees) of the Croydon Borough Council, which constituted what is commonly known as the Croydon Local Education Authority.

 

Progressive spread of elementary education
The second half of the 19th Century saw the progressive spread of basic elementary education amongst the working class in England and Wales. The 1870 Education Act provided for a dual system of schools - the long established church or voluntary schools; and a new type of state or board school provided for by local rates and central government funding. By 1900 roughly two-thirds of primary (or elementary) schooling was provided for in schools run by local education boards. A further Education Act in 1902 abolished the many education boards that existed up and down the country and replaced them with far fewer Local Education Authorities, of which Croydon was one. State or government schooling continued to be provided for from local property rates and central government sources.
   The first half of the 20th Century saw progressive attempts to provide for more schooling for working-class and lower middle-class children beyond the basic six years of elementary schooling. It should be noted, however, that by the late 1930s only a relatively small proportion of children (some 10%) received any worthwhile education at what we would nowadays call the secondary level. It was only after the passage of the 1944 Education Act that the school leaving age was raised to 15 and universal secondary education became the norm.
   By 1900 the school leaving age for most children was approximately 12 or 13. They usually started school at five or six years of age, and if they progressed through the six elementary grades without repeating a grade they completed the basic course by the time they were 11 or 12. By then it was no longer as easy as in former times to leave school and enter adult employment - the trade unions had seen to that to protect their own from cheap child labour. By the time a child was 12 or 13 they were either still finishing their basic primary schooling or potentially at a loose end for a year or two until they could enter full employment.
   Many such children were the brighter ones who had not had to repeat grades. To counter the problem many primary schools made provision for further classes - grades 7 and 8 - for the brighter students. As the primary schools became progressively more efficient in schooling children through to grade six and beyond, pressure mounted for the state to make further provision for secondary education. Prior to 1900 secondary education was available only to children from affluent families who could afford to pay fees. In many instances entry to high quality secondary schools was also dependent on attendance at private preparatory schools and the passing of an entrance examination involving a rudimentary knowledge of Latin or Greek which were not taught in state elementary schools.

 

1902 Education Act
By 1900 the pressure for public provision of some form of secondary schooling for children from working and lower middle class homes was such that the government of the day was forced to act. The 1902 Education Act made provision for rate and state aid to be paid to existing secondary schools (like Whitgift Grammar and the former Whitgift Middle) if they agreed to take some children from local state elementary schools, and for the newly created Local Education Authorities to create new secondary schools. (This is how Selhurst came into being) Five years later the Free Place Regulations stipulated that private secondary schools receiving state aid (the so-called Direct Grant schools) must accept a minimum of 25% of their intake from public elementary schools. These so-called Free Places were offered on a competitive academic basis and were in effect the forerunner of the Eleven Plus places offered in grammar schools after 1945.
   In inner London, and also to a lesser extent in Manchester, the local education authorities acted on the basis of the 1902 Act and introduced a new type of "central" school designed to provide a course lasting for three years for children, mainly aged 11 plus, who were prepared to stay at school until they reached the age of 15 or 16. In many such schools places were allocated on a competitive basis. London established its first central school in 1911, Manchester followed suit a year later, and thereafter the idea was quickly adopted elsewhere.
   The success of the central school concept was reflected in the Education Act of 1918 which not only raised the school leaving age to 14 but also empowered all LEAs to establish central schools "to secure adequate and suitable provision for courses of advanced instruction for the older and more intelligent children". By 1927 there were 71 central schools in London alone. Such was the background to the establishment of John Ruskin as a central school by the Croydon Local Education Authority in 1920.
   In late 1918 the Croydon Education Committee appointed a sub-committee to prepare a scheme in response to the 1918 Education Act for the further education of children aged 12 to 16 years. It was proposed to establish a pair of Day Central Schools (one for boys at the Central Polytechnic and one for girls at the South Norwood Polytechnic) "as an experiment". Initially, it was proposed that each school should accommodate approximately 200 students, although this was later raised in response to demand. The boys' school was to be called the "John Ruskin School". The girls' school initially was unnamed but was later called the "Lady Edridge School" after the first "lady freeman" of the Borough of Croydon. (I didn't have time, but someone may be able to provide more details about Lady Edridge for sisters of JR old boys who may have attended LE.) Entry to both schools was to be based on the recommendations of elementary school principals which were to be based, in turn, on academic school records. The final decision to proceed with the two schools was made at a special meeting on 20 June 1919.
   At a meeting of the Day Central Schools sub-committee in early January 1920 the experimental nature of both schools was stressed, as was the possibility that at a later date the schools might be converted into fully fledged secondary schools like Selhurst Grammar School. It was intended that both schools should provide a three- to four-year course for pupils from 12 years upwards whose ability and progress fitted them for a more extended curriculum than it was possible to provide in the elementary schools. The courses were to include maths, English, French, handicraft (woodwork and metalwork) for boys, science, history, geography, drawing, physical education, needlework for girls, and singing. In the latter years commercial subjects (shorthand, book-keeping and typewriting) were to be available for those likely to enter commercial life.
   There were to be no fees and no charge for books. In some instances maintenance grants were to be made available to enable pupils who had turned 14 to complete the course. Emphasis was placed on the importance of pupils completing the course and parents were to be required to indicate their willingness to allow for this and not to encourage their children to seek paid employment once they turned 14. Initially, John Ruskin accepted 210 boys in its first year but this was subsequently raised by a further 36. Lady Edridge accepted 203 girls in its first year.
   In a paper on the two proposed schools written in July 1919, Stewart A. Robertson, the Chief Inspector of Schools in the Croydon district, claimed that both schools would provide four years of pre-vocational or "good education" that should produce pupils with disciplined intelligence and good habits of mind and morals for a variety of vocations, especially in "business". Robertson pointed out that in Croydon many pupils went into commerce and transport rather than into factories, as in the north of the country. Nevertheless, he still argued that the special problem of both schools would be to retain their pupils beyond the compulsory attendance age of 14. At that point in time there was no suggestion whatsoever that central schools might provide a route to university education.

 

Opening of John Ruskin and Lady Edridge Schools
Both schools opened on 12 January 1920. The ages of the first students ranged widely. There were 88 boys and 63 girls aged 12; 94 boys and 70 girls aged 13, and 30 boys and 70 girls aged 14 and upwards.
Log book   The first staff members at John Ruskin -as listed in the first entry in the school log book, dated 12 January 1920, shown right - were as follows: Headmaster - William Field MA (Dublin) Trained Teacher's Cert. (Trinity Coll.); Gordon Groom, Herbert Mayhew, Henry Locke, Bernard Pring, Hugh Reid, Cecil Drummond, and George Chinnock, who was still on the staff as a craft teacher when I was a pupil in the early 1950s. (He started teaching at John Ruskin on the princely sum of 185 p.a.)
   From the outset both schools sought to extend the range of their courses, especially at the upper end. For example, within a year of opening Lady Edridge was offering science (experimental physics and botany) French and advanced maths. In March 1921 Croydon sought approval for grant purposes to allow a select group of pupils to stay beyond the age of 16 to sit the General School Examination of the University of London.
   Within two years of its opening John Ruskin had a roll of 425 and an average class size of 35. Within a very short time most pupils were also admitted on the basis of the same entrance examination as that used for selection for secondary schools in the borough like Selhurst, Whitgift and Croydon Girls' High. As Mr. G. R. R. Routh, the School Inspector, said in his report on John Ruskin School in November 1923, "Discipline throughout the school is firm and stimulating. The boys are well managed and their speech must be specially commended. They have learned, too, to put their backs into their work and regard their school as a step towards advancement."
   In 1934 William Field was replaced as headmaster by A. W. McLeod. Within a year he pleaded with the Borough Education Committee to move the school to Tavistock Road and succeeded.
   In 1944 the Butler Education Act was passed. This raised the school leaving age to 15, thereby ensuring that all children went to secondary school. The act also introduced the tripartite system of secondary education - grammar, technical and secondary modern schools - and selection based on a battery of intelligence tests - for some parents, the dreaded Eleven Plus - sat at the conclusion of primary schooling. It followed that many central schools were upgraded to grammar school status, including John Ruskin as of 1 April 1945. Lady Edridge did not acquire grammar school status until the start of the 1951-52 academic year.
   The history of the John Ruskin School after 1945 is a familiar story that has already been amply examined on this website. The parallel development of the John Ruskin and Lady Edridge Central Schools in the interwar years may prove of more than passing interest to sisters, cousins and former girl friends of the older cohorts of former John Ruskin students, and even mothers of younger past pupils of John Ruskin Grammar School who went to Lady Edridge.

 

1944 Education Act
The 1944 Education Act introduced universal secondary education for the first time in England and Wales, but it did not follow that educators thought that all children should receive the same type of education. Traditionally, the affluent middle and upper classes in Britain sent their sons to public schools like Winchester, Rugby and Eton, and from the latter stages of the 19th century, their daughters to the likes of Cheltenham Ladies' College or Roedean. If they could not afford the fees at the most expensive schools there were numerous other very highly reputable private schools - like Whitgift and Croydon Girls' High School - to which they could send their sons and daughters.
   Throughout the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, secondary education in England and Wales was directly associated with social class or the capacity to pay. (What has changed, I hear you ask?) It is true that some children from humble social origins were able to attend such schools by winning scholarships of various types, but they were a very small minority and often they had to leave prematurely when their scholarship money ran out or their families could no longer afford to pay the difference between the scholarship and the real costs of sustenance.
   Academic ability was another limitation on access to secondary education. Even wealthy families might find access for their children to a desired school prevented by the high standard of academic competition for entry, although there were, of course, many "other" private schools that provided a genteel environment for less able children. Secondary education was traditionally geared towards entry to the professions, which might or might not include entrance to university.
   Moreover, prior to 1939 a "liberal" secondary education, which still provided for a study of Latin, was not seen as the logical extension of the elementary schooling provided for children of the lower social orders. A high proportion of children who went to public and other prestigious fee-paying schools did so after attendance at private preparatory schools. In many instances the elite secondary schools ran their own preparatory schools or junior classes.
   In essence, then, there were two education systems operating in England and Wales prior to the Second World War - one for the wealthy and another, based on local council elementary schools, and central schools like John Ruskin and Lady Edridge, for the rest! Given this background, it is not hard to see that for many people the post war prospect of universal secondary education heralded both an educational and a social revolution, or did it!

 

Study of human psychology
The first half of the 20th century witnessed a strong growth in British and American universities of the study of human psychology, and especially the study of human intelligence, which had obvious educational implications. In the interwar years, British educational psychologists were especially interested in the concept of IQ and how it could be measured.
   By the late 1930s it was widely believed that there was a common "g" factor or intelligence quotient; that it was inherited and varied from person to person; and that it could be measured by an array of tests given to children at the age of about 11 or thereabouts. It was also believed that children with a high "g" quotient were the most intelligent, and therefore those most suited to attend university and enter the learned professions or become leading administrators and the like. Finally, it was also widely believed that it was manifestly unfair, especially to the less able, to subject all children, regardless of their level of intelligence, to the same type of schooling and a common curriculum.
   This was the logic which gave rise to the tripartite concept of secondary education enshrined in the 1944 Education Act. All children in state primary schools were to follow the same basic curriculum. In their last year they would be tested to determine their IQ by means of a battery of tests - what became universally known as the 11-Plus exam although it consisted of several rather than one test. On the basis of their IQ they were to be allocated to one of three types of school. In theory, although not in practice, the top 25 percent were to be given a grammar school education to enable them to attend university or to go into professional careers of one sort or another. The next 10 percent, adjudged to be suitable for work in technology and sub-professional occupations, were to attend special technical schools. The remaining 60/65 percent, who it was thought would leave school at 15 to enter adult employment, were to attend what became infamously known as secondary modern schools. They were to offer a "broad general curriculum" as a preparation for "so-called life" - whatever that meant.
   Without going into detail one can summarize by saying that a true tripartite system never eventuated because very few technical schools were ever built. The perilous state of the national economy, and acute shortages of raw materials for the building industry in the aftermath of war, saw to that. In most parts of England and Wales children went to grammar schools or secondary modern schools, but the ratios varied greatly from one Local Education Authority to another. A child's chances of attending a grammar school were generally higher if they lived in a predominantly urban area like Croydon rather than in the Yorkshire dales. This was because there were more schools in urban areas due to the greater population.
   Furthermore, boys had a greater chance of attending a grammar school than girls because there were more boys' schools. This was partly a legacy from the 19th century when boys were regularly sent to school whereas girls were often schooled at home. It was only in the latter stages of the 19th century that secondary schools for girls began to proliferate but they were always fewer in number than the much longer established boys schools. For example, Croydon Girls' High was established in 1874 but boys' schools of comparable status like Whitgift, Whitgift Middle and Dulwich College had in many instances been established decades, even centuries, before.
   Hopefully, this rather long introduction to the 11-Plus has not bored you all to tears. It is, however, important to see the advent of the 11-Plus and the role of John Ruskin Grammar School in the post-war years in historical focus.

 

Transition from Central School to Grammar School
On 1 April 1945, John Ruskin Selective Central School changed its status to that of John Ruskin Grammar School and henceforth entry was based on the 11-Plus exam. Despite the singular term, the 11-Plus was actually a battery of objective tests in English and arithmetic; a group intelligence test; a spatial test; and a written English essay. The tests had all been developed and standardised by Moray House, the prestigious Scottish teacher-training college in Edinburgh, in the 1930s. Not all local education authorities used the Moray House tests but a majority did, including Croydon.
   Some of you may recall the English test and its components: a comprehension exercise, correct use of words, rhymes and synonyms, spelling, applied grammatical rules, and explanation or use of proverbs. I certainly do because my class at Kensington Avenue primary school was systematically prepared for the tests on a daily basis throughout the autumn term of 1949. I have always thought that the ability to explain the meaning of proverbs is an especially revealing exercise. Not only does one need the "intelligence" to understand their often complex meaning, but one also needs the equally complex linguistic skills to convey their meaning via the written word. From memory, the spatial test was similar to the Raven's Progressive Matrices test. This consists of a series of patterns and you have to complete the black space. The Raven Test was/is commonly used in the public service in recruiting staff. It is a test that can, if required, extend even an Einstein to ultimate distraction as it gets progressively more complex and difficult to master.
   The following is a list of Croydon schools that used the 11-Plus and the number of places available for those who passed the exam in January 1947. There were 14 schools (10 grammar schools and three selective central schools). Croydon appears to have decided to maintain its existing selective central schools on the grounds that they might eventually be upgraded to grammar school status if there was sufficient demand. This point needs further research to substantiate my conclusion, but the elevation of Lady Edridge to grammar school status in 1951 lends support to this belief.
   I am not familiar with the history of all Croydon schools in the late 1950s and early 60s. Perhaps someone else can explain what happened to the other two selective central schools?
   The number of places each school offered is placed alongside.
 

Boys' Grammar Schools

Girls' Grammar Schools

Selective Central School

Whitgift

14

GHS

34

Lady Edridge

61

Whitgift Middle

31

Coloma

75

Heath Clark

63

Selhurst

87

Selhurst

83

Archbishop Tennison's

31

John Ruskin

58

Old Palace

33

 

 

Dulwich

9

St. Anne's

7

 

 

TOTAL

199

TOTAL

232

TOTAL

155


Lady Edridge was, of course, a girls' school; Heath Clark was coeducational while Archbishop Tennison's was a boys' school. In 1947, in the Croydon borough, there were clearly more grammar school places available for girls than for boys, a scenario which ran counter to the national scene. In subsequent years, Croydon was also to establish a reputation for providing more grammar school places than most other LEAs.
   It should be noted that the figures quoted above are for places available to children living in the Croydon borough. Dulwich College, for example, also offered free places to children in other adjacent LEAs like Wandsworth. Doubtless Whitgift did the same. The LEA records record that in 1945 Whitgift Grammar changed its status from a direct grant to a fully independent school - i.e. it ceased to receive government financial assistance that had traditionally meant that it had to take 25% of its first form intake from 11-Plus pupils. Henceforth it agreed to take 10% of its intake from 11-Plus pupils.
   As a matter of passing interest, it was stated in the Croydon LEA Minutes that it cost 51 per annum to send a child to Whitgift. By contrast, Old Palace - a direct grant girls' school - charged annual fees of 21 for girls over 10 years of age.
   I will now look in some detail at the 1950 report of the Chief Education Officer on the admission of pupils to grammar and selective central schools in the Croydon LEA. This will reveal the highly competitive nature of entrance to Croydon's grammar schools. To simplify matters I will summarise the report's relevant contents in point form.

 

1.

1,450 boys and 1,415 girls sat the 11 Plus - a total increase of 616 children over the previous year (1949).

2.

Most children sat the tests in late January.

3.

Initially marking was done in the schools, then checked by a Marking Panel, and finally all children's marks were standardised.

4.

Children considered likely to benefit from attendance at a grammar or selective
central school were then called for interviews by the Heads of the receiving schools and officers

of the Croydon LEA.

5.

The most striking fact to emerge from the results was that the mean IQ figure for Croydon children who sat the Eleven Plus (107.6) was substantially higher than that of any other LEA in the country that used the Moray House tests. It was even higher (107.6 as opposed to 106.3) than the mean score of the previous year which was also the highest of those LEAs using the Moray House tests. The Inspector's report went on to state that the high intelligence figure for Croydon's children might well justify more provision for selective secondary education in the future. The national aim was to provide selective secondary education for approximately 25 percent of children sitting the Eleven Plus. The Croydon data for 1950 suggested that some 33 percent of Croydon children acquired an IQ score of 115 plus. If this figure was maintained there would clearly be a need to provide for more places in selective secondary schools within the borough.

6.

When the test papers had been marked the Head Teachers recommended 396 girls for the 245 grammar school places available. The comparable figure for boys was 328 recommendations for 229 available places. For selective Central schools the figures were 162 girls recommended for 90 places and 217 boys for 94 places. Clearly there keen competition for places in both types of school. Given the total numbers of girls and boys who sat the Eleven Plus, cited as point 1, girls had roughly a 1 in 5 chance of getting a grammar school place. For boys the odds were 1 in 6.

7.

57.6 percent of parents of children who sat the Eleven Plus indicated a preference for a grammar school type of education for their children. This percentage was increasing annually.

Clearly many parents were doomed to disappointment.

8.

The 1944 Act made provision for some children (late maturers) to transfer from secondary modern schools to selective secondary schools at age 13 if their academic performance merited a change and if there were vacancies. In 1950, 3 children were transferred to grammar schools and 25 to selective Central schools. These figures suggest that there was little room for transfers because very few children left grammar or central schools before they were 15 or 16.

9.

The following figures appeared in the 1950 report as Appendix B.

 

Number of Children recommended for transfer to Grammar and Selective Central Schools

Boys' Grammar Schools

Girls' Grammar Schools

Selective Central School

Dulwich College

20

Croydon High School

40

Lady Edridge

59

Whitgift

13

St. Anne's College

10

Heath Clark

61

Whitgift Middle

40

Old Palace

33

Archbishop Tennison's

64

Selhurst Grammar

90

Selhurst Grammar

89

 

 

John Ruskin Grammar

59

Coloma Grammar

71

 

 

John Fisher, Purley

5

James Allen's

2

 

 

St. Joseph's College

2

 

 

 

 

TOTAL

229

TOTAL

245

TOTAL

184

 

The Croydon LEA Minutes also included the 1951 11-Plus results. In that year Croydon had the second highest mean IQ score. Placements in grammar schools were as follows:

 

Boys' Grammar Schools

Girls' Grammar Schools

Dulwich College

19

Croydon Girls'

38

Whitgift

14

St. Anne's College

11

Whitgift Middle

40

Old Palace

39

Selhurst Grammar

88

Selhurst Grammar

90

John Ruskin Grammar

61

Lady Edridge

63

St. Joseph's College

10

Coloma Grammar

73

   

James Allen's

2

TOTAL

232

TOTAL

316


In the early 1950s, girls living in the Croydon borough continued to have a major advantage over boys in acquiring grammar school places. How this problem was overcome remains a matter for further research.
   Throughout the 1950s the 11-Plus generated ever increasing discontent on the part of the parents who thought the selective process disadvantaged their children, and from educators who challenged many logic on which the process was based. When Harold Wilson's Labour Government came to power in the early 1960s, it set about converting grammar schools into comprehensives, a long drawn out saga which signalled the demise of schools like John Ruskin Grammar School.
   In retrospect, schools like John Ruskin gave children from lower socio-economic backgrounds the chance to "get on in life". Many of the new grammar schools set high academic standards, especially with the introduction of O- and A-level examinations which, in turn, were reflected in much more intense competition to enter Oxford and Cambridge and other leading English universities.
   Some people look back on the 1950s as somewhat akin to a golden age when grammar schools like John Ruskin flourished but like most things in life, their success came at a price. The vast majority of children were consigned to secondary modern schools - effectively an educational cul-de-sac - and left school at 15. The 1944 Act did not produce an educational revolution. The grammar schools certainly provided a ladder of opportunity for the fortunate minority but English education still continued to function largely on the basis of social class. What has changed?
   In retrospect, it would seem that the grammar schools took the intellectual cream of the working and lower middle classes and schooled them for five years in middle class values and aspirations, thereby converting many of them into supporters of the Conservative Establishment! No wonder the trade unions supported comprehensives! I had better close on that note because I can already visualize heated debate surrounding that statement.
   Before I do, the following points extracted from the archives might be of interest to some of you.

1. An extract from the School logbook that I don't think anyone has mentioned before: Mr. Lowe, the Headmaster, was absent from school on 13 March 1951. Why? He was being interviewed for the post of Headmaster at Epsom County Grammar School!

2. While at the Croydon archives I hurriedly went through the admission registers for the period 1948-66. According to my calculations there were 1970 boys admitted, of whom 31 left due to emigration abroad. 13 went to Australia; four to New Zealand, eight to Canada, three to the USA, and three to Southern Rhodesia. A further 63 were cited as going on to university. This figure may have been marginally greater as some entries did not indicate where to from school, but clearly the overwhelming majority of the 1970 boys who attended John Ruskin during those years DID NOT go on direct to university. Frankly, I was surprised. I would have thought far more did so.

3. If, like me, you went to John Ruskin after attending Kensington Avenue primary school, which was established in 1932, you may be interested to know that in the period 1948-66 there were 30 of us who shared that dubious distinction. I appeared to be the only one in 1950.

   Warmest regards to all of you who take the trouble to read about the 11-Plus. Your own memories of the experience of sitting would be a most valuable addition to what I have written.

Clive Whitehead, Perth, Western Australia, June 2005 Email

 

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