I was fortunate at the age of 5 to go to the Church of England Boys School. It was only across the road from our house and the air raid shelter.
We would arrive at school and the air raid sirens would howl. We knew the routine, pick up the paraffin lamps, the Bible, and the jar of sweets. Our teachers were Mrs Smith, the green grocer’s wife and Deputy Head and Mr Kent the Headmaster who kept perfect control with a whippy cane aimed at our bare legs. Our education was rather limited; Mr Kent taught Mathematics which meant us counting the local Cooperative shop ration book receipts for the week and in return the Headmaster was given a thank you parcel from the manager.
Examinations were a foreign word but there was something called the Eleven plus which I failed. Also, because we were a local Church Primary School near to Eton the school was offered a free school place.
Eton offered me that place and when my mother heard the news her instant reply was “People like us do not go there.”
So I knew two things about myself; firstly I was not very bright and secondly I was at the bottom of the social scale!
I moved to the Secondary School with the expectation of leaving school at 15.
By chance Mrs Hoskins was my Form teacher and at the age of 13 was first proper teacher I ever had. I was overawed by her knowledge and enthusiasm. She could see my interest and I reacted like a piece of dry blotting paper. At the time the Government was trialling a new scheme to help children who had ability but for a range of reasons failed to get a Grammar School place. At the end of the school year twelve children were selected to move to the Grammar/Technical school. We were an extremely competitive group of pupils with specialist teachers’ giving us additional lessons in music, a foreign language, Design and the Arts. We then had one more year in the 6th Form, having passed the public exams and ready for the next phase of our education and the beginning of a career.
Fulmer Research Institute
Our Head teacher lived next door to Mr Liddiard who was in the process of starting the Fulmer Research Laboratories and three of us were invited to join Fulmer.
By sheer accident I joined the Physical Chemistry Department and worked with Dr Gross on experimental thermodynamics. The culture of the Department was based on the Department at Vienna where Dr Gross had been a professor. Where possible he employed Oxbridge graduates and one aspect of the work was
carrying out difficult thermodynamics followed by writing papers and patents.
In fact, the graduates took me under their wing and gave me a private education in chemistry, physics, mathematics and English Grammar.
It was decided that I should study the Royal Society of Chemistry examinations to HNC followed by the professional examinations.
To cut a long story short I had many happy years in Physical Chemistry research. With the development of the Space Programme we moved into applying thermodynamics to projects within the American and European rocket programme. This was a heady and successful time that is recorded in the Physical Chemistry Laboratory Paper.
Fulmer Industry Education Project
My private interest in the education of young people was pursued by inviting students to spend time at Fulmer with a view that some of them might wish to join Fulmer. It coincided with unrest in the country about the teaching of courses in mathematics, chemistry, physics and engineering. In October 1969 Prime Minister, James Callaghan gave a speech at Oxford and as an afterthought, he suggested that students leaving Oxford should make a contribution to the economy and industry. The Dept of Industry reacted by setting up an Industry Education Department and Dr Eric Bates knowing of our work at Fulmer gave us some pump priming funds to see what could be done to change the present system. Dr Duckworth, our Manging Director was in full support of our initiative and advised we pursue our work immediately and if our project was successful, we should ask for further funds.
Move into Education
A range of schools were selected to be part of the research programme and the Chairman was Peter Edwards, the Education Director for Berkshire. After a couple of years, The Industry Education Unit suggested that I change my job. They would fund my post to go into full time Educational Research. In 1978 I moved to a Consultancy post at Shire Hall to use my time between local and National Projects.
Around the time I left Fulmer, Rolls Royce Ltd made a film of one of one of our Technology Classes for a group of teenagers tackling a design problem for an aircraft wing. The film moves to a Rolls Royce factory with Engineers working on a turbine problem. The film stresses the problems that have to be identified and the ideas that need to be drawn and communicated, to show that teamwork is essential and that engineering can be fun. The film called “Engineering is” won a Bafta award and copies were sent to all schools throughout the UK and countries with a Rolls Royce connection.
The film put our industry Education Project on the map with invitations to members of the team to contribute to Conferences and Courses throughout the country. At this time the government were starting to assemble teams of experts to rewrite the British Education System and I was invited to be a consultant to both the Science and Technology Groups. The other members ranged from education professors to schoolteachers chosen for their innovative work.
One of my first tasks was to see at first hand science and technology education throughout the UK, Ireland, US, and beyond. Suddenly I was also reporting to senior politicians including Shirley Williams, Sir Keith Joseph, Kenneth Baker and occasionally a run-in with Mrs Thatcher. I did not enjoy the way that politicians worked and at times I felt used. The work was intense and to support a family certainly was a challenge.
The Revised National Curriculum
The committee members were first class and by the time the final document was put to bed we had given our all. One of the most emotional moments of my life was the day that the new Education System was announced and we were invited to the Department of Education suite to be told that the Minister had made several changes and recognised we would be disappointed. I will leave it to you to guess how we felt.
We picked ourselves up and brushed ourselves down. Now came the dissemination process and for several years Elaine and I travelled the world taking the science and technology documents to many countries and having a holiday on the back of the lectures.
I set up my own company called Techquest and wrote several books for schools illustrated by Elaine. I had a great time working for BBC schools, giving lectures at the Royal Institution and the Royal Society. Universities were requiring new teacher training programmes which meant spending much time with Professors designing new courses. Within a year I had an invitation to apply for a chair in Education by a good friend who was retiring. Two of my professor friends and a colleague at Fulmer, supported my application for a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Chemistry based on the academic papers I produced at Fulmer and my contribution to Chemistry Education.
I just feel that there is an irony that an Eleven plus failure should end up helping to design a new Education system!
This was the most enchanting time in my life. Elaine and I would visit many countries and continue to play in an Orchestra and go to the Proms.
One day Elaine said she had a funny feeling in her tummy which turned out to be Ovarian Cancer, which lead to her death.
I was very lonely. But my family, my wife Liz and many friends came to my rescue. I offer them my sincere love and thanks.