My Uncle and the Secondary Modern

My Uncle on his bike
My Uncle on his bike

My Uncle Pete died a few weeks ago. The picture is one I painted for him when he had a motorbike. He was a bit of a loner and a hippy as I wrote in the poem that I read out at his funeral.

When I talked to my Mum about his life it became clear that his schooling had had a profoundly negative effect on his life. Not academic enough for grammar school and not sporty enough to fit in at the secondary modern where he was sent, he was bullied terribly.

Uncle Pete painted. He wrote poems. He was writing a book. He was philosophical, with interesting views on a wide range of things. He was gentle. He died with a smile on his face.

Yet I feel his creative talent was never fully fulfilled. Instead of being nurtured and allowed to develop at school, his talents were bruised and crushed by those around him. He first ran away from home when he was sixteen or seventeen and disappeared at other times throughout his adult life. Whether it was the teachers, or his peers, or the system itself, I will never know.

But what I do know is that Uncle Pete would have had a better chance of doing well in the current secondary schools in this country. Yes, I know it would not be certain, but our secondary schools nurture talent when they identify it. Far fewer students slip through the net into failure.

I wonder what Uncle Pete would have thought of the current debate on Grammar Schools. I didn’t get to ask him.

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