Really, there’s not much in life I regret. I’ve sometimes said that if I regret anything, it’s leaving school after O levels and not staying in education longer. (Actually I did start sixth form but left after two terms for the lure of a job in Waitrose. Which I then left. That’s a different story.)
I wrote once before about one other possible regret in life, but concluded it wasn’t really a regret after all. You can read that here, if you’re really bored. But when I wrote about my school visit a few days ago (here), I mentioned something in passing which I now realise is a genuine case of regret.
Why did I let myself get talked out of doing two of my favourite subjects?
I’m pretty out of touch with secondary education, so I don’t know how things happen these days, but back in the early 80s we spent the first three years (which, incidentally, were just called “first year”, “second year” and “third year”. None of this “year 7/8/9” nonsense) doing a bit of everything. At the end of the third year we chose which subjects to take for our exam courses, which you then studied in the fourth and fifth years before taking the exams. Is that pretty much what still happens?
Choosing subjects was a matter of discussion. You met with your teachers. Head of middle school, I’d guess. Or were there specialist careers advisors? Can’t remember. There were some things you had no choice about. English and Maths, of course, and you had to take at least one language, one science and one humanities subject (I did German, Physics and Geography). But apart from that it was up to you, as long as you weren’t choosing subjects that would clash in the timetable.
There was never any doubt I’d take Art. I wasn’t too bad at it and one of my brothers was a bit of a superstar a few years before me so the precedent had been set. But if you read my other piece about school you’ll have seen that the other two subjects I really wanted to take were drama and technical drawing. And I let myself get talked out of both of them.
Drama was the simpler reasoning of the two: the school only offered a CSE course and I was “perfectly capable of doing all O Levels.” So I dropped Drama. Ho hum. I’ve messed around in a few musicals with local Operatic societies over the years and I don’t suppose having a Drama CSE was likely to make any difference in the long run. But I would have enjoyed it at the time.
Technical Drawing was a more political thing. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first let me just set the scene: I loved TD and was, if you don’t mind me saying, utterly brilliant at it. Seriously. My school reports showed ‘A’ for effort and attainment every time (the only subject where that is the case) and to the very best of my memory, in every single test that we took throughout the entire course I scored 100%. Clearly, it was an obvious choice that I should continue.
The Technical Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) was just getting started, and with it came a new type of course. Forerunners of the GCSE that was soon going to take over from the split CSE and O level system. Courses based on a Modular approach, where course work itself would form part of the grade, rather than just the exam result. Our Headmaster, Dr Ron Wallace, who had been brought in to revive what had been a failing school in 1972, was in fact leaving Bedwell that very year (1983) to head up TVEI for the county so needless to say we were set up and ready to run courses for some lucky guinea pigs.
And though my memory may be playing tricks on me a little, my recollection is that they seemed desperate to persuade students to sign up for this new-fangled “Modular Technology” course.
The timetable clash would mean dropping Technical Drawing.
I took the course.
I did modules in electronics, in mechanics, in pneumatics, and others I can’t recall. I’ve just been reminded by a classmate that we all did an IT course of some sort, though I’d completely forgotten ever using a computer of any sort back then.
But while doing these modules, I could see what those who’d taken TD were getting up to. And I was utterly jealous. You see, what had been “Technical Drawing” was in the process of evolving into “Graphics” which would have been even more up my street. They were working on packaging design and all sorts. I’d wanted to be a graphic designer! And they’d talked me out of doing the very course that could have pointed me in the right direction.
It was too late to change by then. Or maybe it wasn’t, but I probably just assumed that changing wasn’t an option. And sure enough I came out two years later with a grade one CSE in technology.
Hang on… Did I just say “CSE”? Yes. Yes I did. I didn’t realise until five minutes ago when I fished out my exam certificates that the Modular Technology course had led to a CSE rather than an O Level.
Er… why did they say I couldn’t do drama, again?
Well, that was a bit of a rant, wasn’t it?
It’s take 27 years to realise how I feel about that.