Out with the cane and in with GCSEs for the Class of ’88

I will admit it. I still have to resist the urge to refer to John Lamont as ‘Sir’. I guess we’re all the same when it comes to our teachers.

In our heads we revert back to the days when these individuals were colossally important figures in our lives.

John never taught me and so, mercifully, I don’t have a nickname for him like ‘Sweaty’ or ‘Doc’ – as we did for other teachers.

He was simply ‘Mr Lamont’, head of English at Holden Lane High School in Sneyd Green. Crucially, for the purposes of this article, he also became our ‘head of year’ – which means no-one is better placed than he to run the rule over the Class of ’88.

John said: “Becoming head of year in the mid-Eighties is something I look back on with great fondness as perhaps one of the most enjoyable periods of the my teaching career.

“It meant that I could better get to know many of the pupils and it really helped me to learn more about the diverse community we drew youngsters from.”

John, now aged 62, is a Londoner who came to study at Keele University for four years and then never left North Staffordshire.

He began his teaching career in 1972 – spending seven years at Longton High School before moving on to Maryhill High School in Kidsgrove for a couple of years.

He joined the staff at Holden Lane High in 1981 and watched it grow to become the biggest school in the city.

With my rose-tinted spectacles hooked firmly on, I look back on the Eighties as a more innocent time when discipline was better in schools.

After all, there was no internet, no cyber-bullying and no mobile telephones to be confiscated.

John’s take on it is slightly different, however. He said: “The challenges facing teachers are different because of the technology that’s available these days – something which I just caught the start of, really, before I retired.

“I wouldn’t describe the Eighties as more innocent but I know what you mean. It was certainly easier back then to organise events and school trips and the like because there wasn’t all the form-filling and risk assessments or health and safety considerations.

“This has perhaps taken some of the fun out of the system by making it harder for teachers to be creative and give students different experiences.”

By experiences I think John means the wonderful eccentricity of the likes of my history teacher Geoff Ball who – with his clipboard under his arm – was the scourge of the school corridors, dishing out lines and detention for all.

Nevertheless, his brilliant teaching and classroom museum inspired me to work hard and get an ‘A’ when I left.

John is also talking about regular days out to the ice rink in Telford and numerous educational visits – including holidays to places like Valkenburg in Holland which was my first trip abroad.

He recalls one trip to Switzerland where, because of the unusual male/female signs on the toilet doors, he managed to persuade one pupil to roll up his trouser legs before going to spend a penny. No, it wasn’t me.

There was also the annual end of year show (they call it a prom these days) which once involved some of the lads in my year taking part in a beauty pageant and yours truly dressing up as Santa Claus for a Christmas ‘Blind date’ contest.

I can only apologise to Sarah Harrison who had to endure a candlelit meal with me in the dinner hall.

The Eighties was a time of huge changes in the education system – both nationally and locally.

The cane was banned in schools in 1986 – just too late to prevent a 13-year-old Martin Tideswell having it for back-chatting our form tutor, Mr Jones.

Then in 1988 my year group became the first to sit the new GCSE exams which, controversially, introduced coursework to the grading system.

John, who retired in 2010 and lives in Madeley, said: “During the Eighties there was a big change in the way in which the teaching of secondary school children was approached.

“Previously youngsters in the lower streams who were less academically gifted would perhaps have been earmarked for jobs in the pits or on the potbanks. Brighter children would have gone to work in a bank or carried on their studies at Sixth Form College.

“There had been plenty of jobs around but suddenly the landscape changed and there was a real emphasis on making sure children left school with as many qualifications as possible.

“Education became more tailored to the individual which was definitely a change for the better.”

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

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