Leeds Modern School, The Early Days, Part Four

A tall figure clad in an all-encompassing black gown appeared at the top of a flight of stone steps that led up to one of two entrances into the school from the junior yard, his appearance was met with immediate silence from all of the second year boys and a look of bewilderment from the first years, something magical had happened with the appearance of this tall person, his effect on the crowded yard was incredible as the second years now formed themselves silently into four columns and at a click of the tall figures fingers the first column began mounting the stone steps and filtering into the school, all in complete silence.

Within a minute they had gone, leaving 120 of us new boys, stood stock still in the junior yard, not daring to move or speak except for the few still pointing up at the toilet block roof at their possessions.

The tall man in the black gown spoke, issuing a command for us all to approach the foot of the stairs, we moved forward silently and whilst doing so the man in the black gown was joined by four other adults in black gowns, two of them looked barely old enough to be classed as adults, but when we had all gathered together it was explained that the 120 of us were to be split into four groups, or forms, and that these four gentlemen were to be the masters in charge of each first year form.

This was new terminology to us, classes were to be called forms, teachers were to be called masters and would be addressed as “sir” at all times (there were no women teachers), the four forms in each year were to be affiliated to the four houses in the school, to which you were supposed to pledge your allegiance and do your utmost to score house points on the playing field and in classroom excellence – I have to admit that all of this went completely above my head, I was not, and am still not into such team building nonsense, I had got to grammer school by my own fine efforts and had just done enough to scrape in by one mark on the exam paper, and that is how I intended to continue my education, by just doing enough and no more, time and again in future years my half term and end of term reports would state “could do better”, or “may have potential but refuses to show it” – suffice to say that I recall being allocated to “School” house but cannot for the life of me remember what the other three houses were called, nor has it ever troubled me that I never knew their names.

The tall man in the black gown read a list of 30 boys names from a clipboard, amongst them mine but not the two friends that I had come to school with, with a quick wave of the hand we were instructed to follow Mr Summers, one of the younger masters, to our classroom. Like sheep we silently climbed the stone steps and into the dark and cavernous junior entry to Leeds Modern School, directly through the door to our right stood the immense toilet block upon which, through the skylights, we could see many caps and several bags but there was no time for dawdling, Mr Summers had turned left as he came in through the door and was now in full stride down a long corridor, we followed in a hurry.

Passing a large cloakroom with its many rows of steel framed pegs we continued down the corridor, to our left were windows leading out into one of the internal courtyards or quadrangles as we were later told to call them, access to the quadrangles was unheard of, no boy had ever ventured in there. To the right of the corridor were several doors each leading into identical classrooms and above each door and running the length of the corridor were windows, too high up to see through and too dirty to let any useful light through.

We were led into the second classroom down the corridor and informed that this was our form room for the next year, five columns of desks greeted us, six desks to a column, each with a narrow bench attached, each facing the front where on a small stage stood the largest desk I had ever seen and behind, taking up most of the wall, a huge slate blackboard, the ceiling of the room being so high that another large slate blackboard hung above it suspended on rope so that it could be pulled down over the first blackboard when the master couldn’t be bothered to clean it, or rather couldn’t be bothered getting a boy to clean it for him.

Our new form master checked his list of names then pointed to the first row of desks by the door, and called out a name, Asquith. The boy named Asquith, who resembled an owl with large glasses on a moon shaped face, stepped forward and was directed to sit at the front desk next to the door, for the next five years Asquith would always sit at the desk next to the door in whichever form room we found ourselves.

Bateson was next, located at the desk behind Asquith, then Buckley, a big plump lad, the only one in our form who’s mother had gone for the plain black blazer rather than the recommended stripy one, Buckley could kindly be described as “a daft lad” with his Barnsley accent making him the butt of many jokes, but we were to find that he was the most generous lad in our form by virtue of the fact that he was given a pound a day pocket money by his prison officer father to spend as he wished, an immense amount of money for one so young when a school dinner was only 12 pence and an ice cream at lunchtime from the ice cream van, which stopped right next to the fence halfway down the playing field only cost three or four pence. Buckley often bought ice cream or sweets for 10 or 15 of us and the next day he’d be back with another pound and that big daft voice of his asking “does any of tha went a lolly then eh”, Buckleys dad made sure that his big daft son could buy his friends, and it worked, we all quickly became Buckleys friends.

After the first few names it was obvious to us that we were to be seated alphabetically in the rows, and with the surname Kitchen I ended up sitting exactly in the middle of the form room, behind Kirkbride and in front of Knowles, when we were all seated we were told to always sit in alphabetical order for the rest of our school career, the first of many inexplicable school rules which would be outlined in the next few days.

Our form master introduced himself, explaining that it was his first day too, not only his first day at the school but his first day as a teacher and as such he didn’t have one of the black gowns that the older master wore, in fact he never wore the black gown as he was a sports master and so was allowed, along with the four other sports masters, to wear either a tweed suit, or more often, his beige coloured track suit with its Carnegie sports college badge.

More rules were explained, the north drive rule, the rule that when a master walked into a room we were all to stand to attention, the rule that no-one was to talk in a class unless requested to do so by the master, that homework should be done immediately and handed in the next day, that slackness and slovenliness was not tolerated, that hair was to be kept short and always above the shirt collar and ears (ie a short back and sides), shoes should always be polished to a high gloss, uniforms should always be kept clean, jackets buttoned, ties tied tight and hung straight, in short we were expected to conform, work hard and keep quiet.

All of which was admirable of course and many people of my age group now look back at their grammer school days and lecture their children on how they should behave based on their own strictly regimented educational experience, but its also important to remember that outside in the real world it was 1968 and as we were receiving the first of many Mr Summers lectures, the real world was still very much under the influence of The Beatles “Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band” album. When we went into Leeds city centre most of the older teenagers were wearing long hair, kaftans, embroidered shirts, long strings of large wooden beads, small round blue tinted spectacles and greeting each other with a reversed “V” sign and the mantra “love and peace man”.

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