Footplate footnote


Knowing my interests, a neighbour recently gave me the book shown in the picture above. Quite apart from its nerdish historic interest 😉 I noticed something poignantly but topically significant on the back cover:


I can honestly say that the multiple prejudices stacked up in this modest text make the modern me instinctively recoil as much as the next person.

But perhaps we should pause and ask ourselves whether this truly represents a more blinkered era, or whether it reflects a time when personal differences and aptitudes were more readily accepted than they are today. Our modern lives insulate us from so many harsh realities – but it does not necessarily do us good. Consider, for example, the problems some have coping with the concept of death, or indeed misfortune of any kind simply because we encounter them so rarely in our sanitised lives.

In 1958 (the year of the book), more work was available for non-academic types – and it is conceivable that they would have neither wanted nor coped with the demands made of “Grammar and Public schoolboys who have the right qualifications…”

One might do well to consider whether this really represents a repression of the opportunities available to people from certain backgrounds, or a more pragmatic acceptance that not everybody is, or wants to be, the same. I think it is also highly significant that apprenticeships were on offer in “specific trades” which could well have offered furtherment to those prepared to work hard.

The world has changed immensely since the publication of this book, and I am certainly not suggesting that our (hopefully) more tolerant and positive language is a retrograde step . But it’s also noteworthy that the language here in no way talks down to young people as is the tendency today.

I’m no nostalgic, nor an apologist for undeserved privilege, but I wonder how different the outcomes from the present system really are, for all our sensibilities. Are we really much further forward when it comes to addressing these issues?


5 thoughts on “Footplate footnote

  1. Once upon a time in Y5 we persuaded whizzy Sprogette and her less-academic best friend to go to after-school football to fill the gap until working parents got home. They were the very first girls to attend, but within a few weeks their example had encouraged enough others to start a girl team. So football was one of her activities and continued at the comp until Y8 when their after-school club became too popular and they kicked out the girls who “weren’t likely to do GCSE PE”. Sprogette wasn’t too distraught so I accepted that exclusion, in part because the friend was still invited and I’d long been uneasy about the effects on her in a relationship where she was rarely the best at anything.

    I’m unsure about the moral of that tale, but it looks like the future will have significantly fewer jobs for the less-academic e.g. what will driverless vehicles do? Although I won’t concede everything that isn’t academic, I don’t really want my child getting in their way if she can do something else that they can’t. Of course Middling State Comp might need to help by living up to the “full potential” promised by their mission statement. It’s probably too optimistic to expect them to plan beyond the next month, but it’s conceivable that some of the gov. screw-turning with threats of grammars is because of concern about the shape of things to come and the economic influence of ‘smart-fractions’ etc.

    • Precisely – as you say, behind the noise of the ‘headline’ objections, there are all sorts of other dilemmas to be considered and discussions to be had. We also never seem to have the one that questions whether the present system is actually any better.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Why is it terrible to specify a “grammar school boy” for a job, but not to specify a “university graduate”?

    Is it just because you are used to seeing job ads that require a “university graduate”?

    Or will someone come up with some other excuse?

    • Only because some people have an ideological objection to grammars. I agree that ten/eleven is a young age for a fairly significant life event – but other than that, it is all just forms of selection by ability.

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