Over the half-term holiday I have started to read Old Nottinghamian Ken Clarke’s autobiography entitled “Kind of Blue.” In Chapter two he talks in some detail about his school days and in particular what he gained from them. He was a pupil here at the High School from aged 11 until completing his A Levels. He came to the School on a city scholarship and talks movingly about this being a great age for social mobility allowing him to eventually go from being a watchmaker’s son in Bulwell to becoming in later life Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Chancellor.
As well as telling the story of his time at the High School he speaks about what his school years gave him. There is no doubt that he learnt academic rigour at the School and is full of praise for those of his teachers who inspired him. He says that his economics teaching was in effect the only formal education he had to become Chancellor of the Exchequer! It also taught him the importance of working hard – up until he joined the High School he had been well ahead of his peers but upon arrival had to push himself to thrive. It was during his school years that he developed a love of cricket – not as a player, he scored a duck in his one outing for the school team, but as a spectator at Trent Bridge. The School gave him his first exposure to foreign travel – a History trip to Bruges. This gave him a love of mediaeval architecture and Flemish painting which he still enjoys today. During his time at school he also developed a love of Jazz – again this has remained a lifelong interest. His love of politics was fostered in the School’s debating society, like so many of our ON politicians. At that stage he admits that his views veered quite widely across the political spectrum but it taught him the rudimentals of public speaking. Standing for a role of responsibility in the Debating Society gave him his first electoral defeat. Above all his interest in Politics was inspired by a trip to Parliament organised by History Teacher David Peters where he witnessed an aged Winston Churchill and on another occasion Nikita Krushchev was a visitor to Parlliament at the same time.
It is a very warm account of his time at the School and it made me reflect on just how those things you are exposed to at School become the influences for what you go on to do and enjoy in the future. In my own case such things as my love of football were generated by the many debates at school as to whose team was best. These were the days before televised football so we could all dream that our team really was the best – and I am still dreaming this today! Like Ken Clarke, I too was inspired by particular teachers and it was because of one of these, Geoffrey Scott, that I developed my love of History which set me on the road to teaching this subject. It is also due to a teacher that I ended up following this career – I was looking to take a gap year and one of the staff suggested that I took up the opportunity he was aware of to teach mainly sport in a prep school in Devon. I enjoyed it greatly and this again was to inform my later career choice. My first incursion into helping to run a school came when I was one of a few students who led a protest about the standard of food at the School I attended. We had led a boycott of one meal in protest and then I was invited to sit down to help the School with finding a solution to the issues. This exercise taught me that we actually achieved far more from our talking than through our protesting! Importantly it gave me a sense of justice and a belief that by making a strong case anything is possible.
I hope that all those at the High School today are also being inspired in ways that will live with them far longer than they are at school. Whether this be in a love of foreign travel or a passion for Music or theatre, or by developing those skills which will equip them to be so successful in the years beyond school. The influence that a school has is truly life-lasting and it is our role as educators to provide as many opportunities as we possibly can so that such passions are inspired.
I would love to hear from anyone reading this as to those things that they first encountered at school have gone on to be passions that they have taken forward in life. I will use the best of them to inform a future assembly I am planning on this topic.
What did your school give you?