‘Eighty per cent of people failed the 11-plus’

12:00pm Saturday 23rd February 2013

By Amie Mulderrig

The Golden Age of education in the 1940s and 1950s never happened, not unless you attended an independent or grammar school, says prolific author Simon Webb.

The Loughton resident’s latest book, The Best Days of Our Lives, School Life in Post-War Britain, focuses on the realities of school life in the years following World War Two, with the introduction of the 11-plus exam and the provision of free secondary education for all.

“A lot of people, like education secretary Michael Gove, seem to think that selective education was a good thing, and that it would be a great thing to bring back the 11-plus and comprehensive schools,“ says Simon.

“But what people don’t know is that 80 per cent of people failed the 11-plus and went to secondary modern schools. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, they couldn’t take any examinations at all.

“Failing the 11-plus meant you left school without any qualifications. It’s not a golden age, children not going to university.

“Most nostalgia books are written about grammar and independent school pupils. Nearly all popular fiction concerns children of private or grammar schools, from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to The Famous Five – they all attended private schools.

“That’s the image people have of the 1940s and 1950s.

“This is a book about people who didn’t pass the 11-plus, who went to secondary modern schools and what it was like to be at school in those days. It’s about explaining to people what it was really like at the time, and to talk about the experiences of those children at the time.“ Having spent the best part of a year researching, interviewing subjects schooled during that era, and writing, the result of Simon’s labours is a 159-page book containing personal reminiscences and a vivid and entertaining picture of school life during the 1940s and 1950s.

“It’s not my first book, I’ve written a fair number and some under pseudonyms. I really do enjoy writing,“ says the 59-year-old.

“I do hope that readers will understand that my book is about redressing the balance of how education in the 1940s and 1950s really was.

“This book is dedicated to and about all those working class people who didn’t pass the 11-plus.“ The Best Days of Our Lives, School Life in Post-War Britain is published by History Press and available now from www.historypress.co.uk or www.amazon.co.uk

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