Having failed the 11+ first time round and scraped into Dartford Grammar School after supplementary tests and interview, my self-confidence was, shall we say, fragile. But I had internalised my parents' concern that I should work hard and do well. And on the whole I did enjoy lessons and learning. I was usually in the top third of the class in most subjects and did take pleasure in doing very well in History.
Going on to a university began to form as a future goal by the time I was following my seven O-level courses as an Arts student. The world of Science had been closed to me for the rest of my schooling by that simple choice: Arts or Science. A new History teacher, David Patterson, joined the staff around this time fresh from Oxford and keen to stimulate young minds. It was he who was to teach me History as an A-level subject; it was he who led the walking holidays in school vacations that gave me my first experience of mountains, in the Lake District; it was he who organised the concert visits to London that gave me my first experiences of symphony and chamber orchestras and the world of opera at Covent Garden; and it was he who provided my friend Bruce and me with the invaluable reading lists we needed for preparing for our Oxford entrance exams. Mr Patterson was an academic talent-spotter too.
Bruce and I competed with one another to see who could assimilate the greater cultural understanding from this wondrous, eye-popping exploration of ideas that had been gifted to us. Much later, In the last five or so years of my thirty-plus years in the classroom, I formulated the following aphorism for my students to hear, grasp and repeat. ‘Who is your best teacher? I am. I am my own best teacher.’ They got it. Yes, without David Patterson none of what happened would have taken the shape it did. The good teacher is priceless. But the ultimate key is turned in the head of one’s self.
If David Patterson’s nurture was critical for progress in the formal academic world, the influence of my teacher, Alan Carter, for my fourth A-level subject, Art, was also vital. He had shown me that I was not a duffer at Art as early as the Third Year and had seen me through my O-level Art course. His voice was the sound of the sixties and all the more precious for the likes of Bruce and me and others. Alan became my best-man in 1969.
In 1966. In my second year in the Sixth Form, I won an Open Scholarship to St Catherine’s College, Oxford. In 1970, I left Oxford with a good second-class honours degree. I worked very hard in the last few months.
I trained to teach at St John’s College, York, securing my PGCE, and after five years’ service in a Slough secondary modern responded to my growing desire to return to academia by taking a year out to gain a Master’s Degree in Education, specialising in Curriculum Studies, at Manchester in 1977. A cum laude pass in Part 1 gave some compensation for not getting an Oxford First.
Within two years, I was engaged in a doctoral case-study of School Management within my own school in London. By 1983, I had been awarded an M. Phil for the thesis that I wrote following my research. A fuller story of that academic enterprise I tell in ‘What’s Wrong with Schools?’ (1984).
Between 1984 and 1995, I undertook various part-time courses to satisfy my academic hunger and my own interests and needs. Certificates in Montessori teaching, English Local History, Religious Studies, and Roman Catholic Religious Education: all grace the transparent pockets of my file. Then in 1995 I began the big one: the part-time doctoral study that led to ‘Drink in Victorian Norwich’ (2003) and my Ph.D.
In 2006, as I neared the end of my teaching life, I followed up my new passion for Philosophy that I had just introduced as an AS/A2 subject in my Suffolk school by enrolling as an on-line, part-time Open University student to study for a Master’s in Philosophy. I had by now got a Certificate in Philosophy from U.E.A. through part-time study. And in 2009 I was wearing an M.A.gown again for my ceremony in Ely Cathedral.
A final thought – how did I pay for all those fees? Well, most of this collection of degrees was acquired in the halcyon days before education was commodified. But I did do a lot of private tuition too.