Sunday, 25 December 2016

570 Kingswood : A Comprehensive School

First  viewed :  Autumn  1982

I've  been  expecting  this  one  to  crop  up  for  quite  a  while; I'm  surprised  it  was  as  late  as 1982.

Kingswood : A  Comprehensive  School  was   a  sequel  of  sorts  to  Public  School   which  featured  Radley  School  and  was  broadcast  a  couple  of  years  earlier. The  format  was  the  same, a  fly-on-the-wall  documentary  capturing  as  many  aspects  of  school  life  as  naturally  as  possible. Kingswood  was  a  medium-sized  comprehensive  school  in  the  unemployment  blackspot  of  Corby , Northamptonshire.

My  mum  seemed  to  be  watching  it  just  to  wind  herself  up. Education  was  her  obsession  probably  from  the  day  we  were  born, fuelled  by  permanent  regret  at  having  left  school  at  14  without  taking  exams. She  was  a  convinced  meritocrat  and  regarded  the  scrapping  of  the  11-plus  as  an  act  of  murderous  vandalism. What  made  it  worse  for  her  was  that  its  main  political   advocates, the  likes  of  Tony  Benn  and  Shirley  Williams, hadn't  used  the  state  system  at  all  for  educating  their  own  children  but  were  preventing  the  talented   children from  less  privileged  backgrounds  ( and,  perhaps  more  pertinently,  those  who  had  slipped  a  notch  or  two  down  the  social  scale )  from  rising  up  the  ladder.  She  had  mooted  the  idea  of  sitting  the entrance exams  for  two  local  private grammars  to  me  but  I  wasn't  interested. When  I  went  on  to  a  middle  school  - which  was  crap, no  doubt  about  that  - my  sister  was  pressed  a  bit  more  urgently  and  eventually  went  to  one  of  them, with  the  later  assistance  of  the  Assisted  Places  scheme.

Now  she  had  a  new  target   in  Kingswood's  head,  Brian  Tyler, an  interesting  contradictory  figure  who  looked  like  a  cross  between  Eric  Morecambe  and  Elvis  Costello  and  employed  some  unusual  hand  gestures  to  get  his  point  across. He  was  a  posthumous  child  and  a  Londoner  whose  family  had  struggled  on  a  low  income. He'd got  his  degree  as  a  mature  student  after  doing  A  Levels  at  night  school.  He  was  a  zealot  for  comprehensive  education  with  a  king-size  chip  on  his  shoulder  about  private  education. He  firmly  believed  that  children  from  privileged  backgrounds  should  be  forced  to  sit  next  to  poor  children  while  being  educated.  I  recall  Mum  discussing  the  programme  with  her  more  liberal-minded  sister  that  Christmas  and  screaming  "He  called  me  a  prostitute !"  which  was  not  quite  true  as  he  had  applied  the  term  to  the  staff  who  worked   in  private  schools  rather  than  the  parents  of  the  children.

I  felt  inclined  to  defend  him  somewhat  as  you  might  expect  and  in  his  interactions  with  the  kids  he  seemed  to  be  a  decent  guy  though  inclined  to  let  negotiations  drag  on  too  long. Direct  to  camera  though,  sitting  in  his  chair  in  a  hideous  pink  shirt  and theatrically  throwing  his head  around, he  came  across  as  a  self-regarding,  opinionated  wanker  with  a  very  Alpha  male  outlook. " A  family's  OK  if  Dad's  alright  isn't  it  ? It's  not  much  more  complicated  than  that"  just  makes  you  cringe.

There  was  much  more  evidence  of  this  in  the  episode  I  recall  best, number  6,  where  they  had  to  appoint  a  new  deputy  head. It's  hard  to  conceive  that  employment  law  as  it  currently  stands  would  allow  cameras  into  an  interview  and,  even  given  the  passage  of  time  it  seems  astounding  that  all  the  seven  candidates  must  have  agreed  to  it.  One  of  them , a  nice  lady  called  Mrs  Pinner  who  looked  a  bit  long  in  the  tooth  to  be  moving  upwards, completely  collapsed  in  the   final  interview  and  it's  hard  to  believe  the  presence  of  the  cameras  wasn't  a  contributory  factor.

The  internal  candidate  was  a  man  called  David  Bates, a  thirtysomething  Derek  Jacobi  lookalike  who  had  been  doing  the  job  in  an  acting  capacity  for  a  few  months. He  came  across  as  a  decent  guy  but  not  really  senior  management  material. That  was  the  opinion  of  the  staff  panel  under  the  chairmanship  of  a  history  teacher  who  Tyler  described  as  "very  Machiavellian"  ( it  would  be  interesting  to  know  what  their  relationship  was  like  after  the  programme  was  broadcast ). Bates  had  managed  to  wheedle  himself  out  of  having  to  face  them  and  they  were  unanimous  that  new  blood  was  preferable  and  he  wouldn't  be  on  their  shortlist.

The  final  interviews  were  conducted  by  Tyler  and  two  school  governors  with  two  representatives  from  the  local  authority  present  in  an  advisory  capacity. At  the start  of  the  episode , Bates  had  said  he  thought  the  head  and  governors  would  be  onside  for  him  and  it  was  the county  representatives  that  he'd  have  to  convince  and  boy,  did  he  call  that  right. Both  the  LA  men  ( Alan  and  Alistair  ) were  unimpressed  by  Bates  and  agreed  with  the staff  panel  that  he  wouldn't  have  made  the  cut  as  an  external  candidate  but  fatally  they  had  different  preferences  for  the  winner.  Alistair  thought  the  qualities  of  a  Mrs  Beardsley  gave  them  an  ideal  opportunity  to  appoint  a  woman  to  the  all-male  senior  leadership  team  while  Alan  preferred  the  intellectual  heft  of  a  Mr  Shepherd .  When  the  female  governor  plumped  for   Mrs  Beardsley, Tyler  threw his  toys  out  of  the  pram  and  resorted  to  personal  abuse  calling  Beardsley  a  hypocrite  and  a  poseur. The  look  of  incredulous  contempt  from  Alan  at  that was  priceless. Tyler  then  said  he'd  want  to  re-advertise  rather  than  appoint  her. The  threat  was  enough  to  get  Alan  on  his  side   and  the  governors  meekly  came  to  heel  and  agreed  to  Bates's  appointment. It  was  a  riveting  demonstration  of  power  politics. Tyler  got  some  stick  in  the  press  for  his  apparent  misogyny  and  deployed  what  would  become  the  trusty  shield  for  Big  Brother  evictees,  that  it  was  down  to  selective  editing.

Tyler  had  a  brief  media  side  career  on  the  back  of  the  programme  , appearing  on  Question  Time,   but  the  circus  moved  on  and  he  fell  back  into  the  nitty-gritty  of  headship. He  eventually  retired  in  1998. I  didn't  see  the  2008   What  Happened  Next   programme  which  re-visited  the  school. Today  the  name  survives  in  a  Secondary  Academy  but  the  original  school  merged  with  another  in  the  noughties   and  the  buildings  featured  in  the  programme  were  razed  to  the  ground  a  few  years  ago.

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