Dear Diary – Page 50 (Early 1960’s – Career Decisions)

Around 1962, my Dad decided that we needed to talk about my future. I explained that I knew what I wanted to do when I left school.

I wanted to work for British Railways and go through their apprenticeship program to eventually become an engine driver. He told me (with absolute clarity), that nobody spends 5 years at the King’s Grammar School for Boys to become an engine driver! Fortunately, while a heavy disappointment, he was quite receptive to me having a career in the merchant navy which complimented my love of ships quite nicely.

He decided to research it for me and came up with a college in Cardiff which offered a highly focused one year program on nautical navigation, meteorology, shipbuilding and other related subjects. Assuming one passed the final examinations, the 1 year program would count for 2 years off the necessary 5 year requirement before applying to become Master of a ship.

There were a number of issues to resolve however. The oldest they would take me was 18 and they wanted 5 G.C.E. ‘O’ Levels which must include Mathematics and English Language. This meant that I had to get all my ‘O’ levels in the same year otherwise my age would make me ineligible for the college. The cost of the program was also apparently a problem.

Paying for it was resolved with the assistance of the City of Peterborough. I have no idea whether they made a generous contribution in the form of a grant, or a loan, but whatever was arranged solved that problem. I just had to make sure that I got my minimum 5 ‘O’ Levels!

This was a potential problem for me because learning things did not come easy. I would have to conjugate Latin and French verbs many, many times before they would “sink in”! The same went for mathematical equations, various physics Laws, and anything else that needed a verbatim recall. In my last 2 years at school, I was often awake around midnight due to homework requirements and studying for various tests which were all leading up to the GCE ‘O’ Levels.

Whereas I needed to pass Mathematics and English Language, and as Art was going to be a “steal”, I only needed 1 other subject to get my 5. English Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Music, History, Latin, French and Divinity were therefore all candidates for potential exclusion. I met with my home form teacher to get his opinion, and ultimate approval to dismiss some subjects thereby removing some of the workload pressures.

All my requests were denied on the basis that I could pass them all if I tried! Even Latin, which was my worst subject (me and two other boys regularly fought for last place in any tests!) was kept on my list of ‘O’ Levels that I had to take. Thinking back to those times, there was something inherently wrong with putting a 16 year old under that kind of pressure!

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12 thoughts on “Dear Diary – Page 50 (Early 1960’s – Career Decisions)

      • Well, much like yourself in the story, my young human is 15. He loves to take loooong bike rides, and tinker with things, and he LOVES trains. He has model railways and so forth. He wanted, from a young age, to be a train engineer. Now he is thinking of other kinds of engineering (similar to the reasons your father gave, so his father did, too). I could go on but I think you catch my drift! 😀 by the way…do you model airplane at all? He loves all kinds of models. Woof!

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  1. I so agree. Way way to much pressure at any age, let alone 16. I had to take 8 subjects and passed 4. I failed physics, biology, chemistry and French because I just couldn’t grasp them. Not a bloody clue.
    Now I study them with interest but under my own terms.

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    • Hi Chris – From my totally biased perspective, it would make more sense to encourage a student to take those subjects that were strengths, plus some “borderlines”. I cannot understand the rationale behind anybody being forced to take subjects that they are clearly not “getting” for whatever reason (Me = Latin & Divinity), unless it was totally self-serving by the school!

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      • My pass grades just got me through. My fail grades were BAD. If I could have dropped the subjects I so struggled with I could have achieved better grades for the ones I did pass. The rationale was: our pupils sit 9 academic subjects on average. It seems that the actual pass rate wasn’t so important. I pity the poor A level students where anything below a B is just not acceptable. I took three … got D – E E. My Dad just said … well done son. You’ve gone and got THREE A LEVELS.

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        • Our “A” level students had to cope with Ancient Greek as well as the other subjects!!!! I have no doubt that there is value in each of the subjects being taught but, to make them all mandatory examination subjects is a waste of everybody’s time and seems to be quite ludicrous. 🙂

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  2. I had a similar problem with school subjects and the teaching staff dictating to me what I could and should take at O level. It must have been a bonus scheme for them based on results and numbers taking the exam, not those who passed or had a chance to. I was down for 12, took 5 and passed 3 (Maths, Eng Lang and Music). There were a lot of problems at home slap bang in the middle of my studies which didn’t help.

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      • Possibly. Is that not the way UK schools are run now, by result aka Ofsted?
        Career choices was another matter for me: if you didn’t want to be a nurse or a teacher, the staff didn’t want to know. I was told I didn’t have the brains to work in a bank, and had GREAT satisfaction in serving the teacher who said it from the First Till position two years later . I just wish she had been alive to see me flourish as a Financial Analyst for an International Bank as well as being an authorised signatory! That would have made her eat her words, if not choke on them (btw, I hated grammar school) ! 🙂

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        • I left the UK in 1975 so I am totally out of touch with their education system. I do know that my “old school” is flourishing but it is now Co-Ed. How things do change! I never hated Grammar School …….. it was just a major inconvenience. 🙂

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