In the long hot summer of 1975 my family moved from Scotland to Royal Leamington Spa (which, out of both convention and sheer laziness, I shall just call Leamington for the rest of my story). I was 7, almost 8, and about to start at a new school.
There were, of course, no school league tables in those days, no OFSTED reports to look at. I went to Telford Middle School for the very simple reason that it was about 100 yards up the road from our house.
When I started at the school that September, a few days before my 8th birthday, my family had a bit of a surprise. At that age, I should have been in the first year, with all of the other children who had just come up to the Middle (or Junior) school from the First (or Infant) school. But there was no room in that year for any more pupils in that year, so I was ‘upgraded’ to the second year.
There were four of us who started at that school that day, and we were all put into the same class, 2L, under the care and guidance of Mrs Laws, a stern lady in her late 50s whose introduction to us all was “I’m Mrs Laws and I make the laws around here” – benign sounding now, terrifying if you are a kid in a class full of older children at a brand new school.
There was another boy in that class who had been elevated a year, John James. He and I bonded, as children will do, over the simple act of being the youngest in the class (in fact, I was the very youngest, being born a fortnight after John). We were very different in many ways – he was extremely sporty where I was not, I was more cerebral without being significantly more academic, which gave me an advantage so far as virtually all of the staff were concerned, and I didn’t have the difficulty with reading that John had.
Despite our situation, there were no concessions made to John and I having had a year less of education than the others in our class. We were just expected to keep up with everyone else. I remember Mrs Laws firmly disabusing us when she caught us plotting to produce a piece of work for display on the wall using our best printing, rather than the new-fangled joined up writing she was trying to teach us. The only time that we were treated differently from the rest of the class was in the annual Richmond Tests, a form of assessment based upon multiple-choice questions which predated SATS tests. In those, at least, we were allowed to do the tests that were appropriate to our age.
Did this jump up a year harm me? Yes and no, would have to be the answer. Academically, it almost certainly did. For example, one of the important things that I missed out on learning was about verbs, nouns, adjectives and so on. Even today I don’t really know the difference. I can spot a proper noun, because you are not allowed them in Scrabble, but apart from that I am lost without a dictionary. More importantly, at some point I had to repeat a year, otherwise I would have been at secondary school too early. Instead of having John and I (and two others who joined the school later, Nick Quinn and Katherine Allen) repeat the second year (where I might have learned what an adjectival noun was) we repeated the fourth year, the one just before secondary school, and I promptly got out of the habit of studying at all.
On the other hand, I got very used to having friends of all ages and even today I have friends who are twenty years older than me and ones who are two decades younger. So socially, I benefitted.
The saddest thing of all, though, is that because of that repeated year I lost touch with almost everyone from my original class, 2L (2H, 3E and 4G as we became over the years). After all, when you are in secondary school, you cannot possibly be friends with kids from the year below.