Sunday, 15 August 2010

Jimmy Reid 1932 - 2010

As most of you know Jimmy Reid was the Communist shop steward who, with his colleague, Jimmy Airlie, led the work-in at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1971 and forced Edward Heath's government to abandon its policy of letting 'lame duck' industries go to the wall. I wasn't witness to these days because I was out of the UK, but their actions were discussed far and wide.

A highly articulate man, he declared "We are not going to strike. We are taking over the yards because we refuse to accept that faceless men can make these decision. We are not strikers - we are responsible people and we will conduct ourselves with dignity and discipline." He told the workers there would be no hooliganism, no vandalism and - a phrase that reverberated round Clydeside - "nae bevvying".

There have been many tributes to him in the MSM and the blogosphere but one in particular interested me and it was from Kenneth Roy who included an extract from a long interview he did with him in 2003.

What were your parents' ambitions for you?
Very limited indeed. I was sent to work – started in a stockbroker's office in Renfield Street. I left school at 14. I had been streamed for Latin, Greek, French. That's what happened if you passed your 11-plus well. I'm not sure if the 11-plus was a measure of a youngster's intelligence but I got 99% and so did a number of others from the poor part of Govan. But though we were streamed for the Oxbridge thing, none of us ever contemplated that we would go on to university. We were leaving school at 14 because we had to help out at home.

In the past 60 years has anything changed, within our education system, for children from homes where money is short? I was tempted to say 'in poverty' but I don't consider any child lives in poverty these days so perhaps there has been an improvement the financial status of many families but are our brightest children slipping through the net?

Jimmy Reid mentioned the 11+ which all primary seven children sat in those days. Those who passed were offered a place at the local academy and those who failed went on to the local secondary modern. Those who passed were further graded on arrival at secondary school and were streamlined according to what the academics decided was their ability. I wonder how many of today's primary seven children would pass.

Sadly for Jimmy Reid, many of his generation and mine, there were plenty children whose parents couldn't afford the mandatory uniforms for the academies or the books, jotters and all other equipment necessary for school pupils in those days. The parents also knew that their children would have to leave school as soon as possible in order to contribute financially to the household, so some went to the secondary modern which usually specialised in vocational skills. He left at 14 to go to work. By the time I started secondary school the leaving age had increased to 15 and not long after I left it was increased once more to 16. This gave an opportunity to have their 'lowers' to add to their Leaving Certificates. (Lowers were taken in 4th year as preliminary exams for highers).

Local technical colleges in those days provided high quality evening classes covering a wide choice of subjects and there were always lengthy waiting lists. Young people paid for their tuition out of their wages (although the colleges were subsidised by the councils) and any extra study had to be in their own time and not undertaken during working hours.

These days are long gone. Most evening classes today consist of vocational subjects with little or no relation to a work situation. Young people now expect time out of work to attend day classes. Few colleges provide high quality qualifications as most concentrate on the NVQ/SVQ system which has perhaps been the catalyst for the dumbing down of our education system.

I know there were many Jimmy Reids who did well for themselves even though their schooling was curtailed. They learned the work ethic early. They also learned the greater the effort the greater the reward. They learned job satisfaction even though the job wasn't to their liking and they knew they had a duty towards their family. Each child learned these values regardless of their families financial circumstances.

The Jimmy Reids of this world believed that future generations should have more opportunities. My generation did too. Some of you will say that back in the 40s, 50s and 60s many children left primary school without reaching a basic level in reading, writing and arithmetic. That may be, (I can't find statistics), but I doubt if the numbers were anything like the one in three there are today.

It saddens me to say I think education today fails our children. Their heads are filled with climate change propaganda and sex education - to name but two - and teachers no longer spend their days teaching but parenting. Only this past week a report states there are 250,000 homes in the UK in which no one has ever worked.

Households are no longer poor in the way they were 60 years ago, yet children are not achieving their potential. Some do, but that's in spite of the system rather than because of it. We're unable to produce a majority with quality degrees which would be their passport to work anywhere in the world. Sixty years ago schools and then technical colleges did that. Quite a few of my peers left these shores knowing the piece of paper they had in their pocket would be recognised worldwide. I was one of them. Now we have young people who consider it their right to attend university and feel failures if they're not accepted. We've moved from selection at 11 to selection at around 17 or 18. Governments have granted technical colleges university status and most grabbed that with both hands. It sounds so much better to say your child goes to university than the local tech doesn't it? There are plenty school leavers studying courses which 'fit' their school results rather than courses which fit the subjects in which they showed potential at school. All because a university degree is a must today, regardless of its quality.

RIP Jimmy Reid. You proved, above all, that trust, integrity, discipline and respect for your fellow man is more important to a fulfilling life than the extra 6 or 7 years full-time education offered to most nowadays.


Jim Baxter said...

What is this 'dumbing down' that you take for granted?

Teenagers tend not to know Latin roots these days perhaps as much as some once did but they know other stuff that many didn't 35 years ago. They see through cant and pomposity - bogus 'authority' a lot better than they used to and are quicker to stand up to it wherever it comes from. They see through bigotry, presumption, and patronising attitudes a lot more quickly too.

subrosa said...

I don't take dumbing down for granted Jim but academically our children are failing compared with 60 years ago.

They may be far more street wise than I ever was which, in some ways, is good but they have lost some traditional values en route.

That is not the fault of the children. It's the fault of educationalists, politicians and parents all fighting against each other instead of working together.

Jim Baxter said...

I disagree Rosie, in case you hadn't suspected. What traditional values were those?

Streetwise isn't what I mean. Young people today are much more sensititive to unfairness than my lot were and they are more determined to make their lives count than my lot were. Our ambition was for as easy a life as possible. There would be hooliganism and bevvying.

Somebody might point to the so-called 'underclass' of today and say we never had an entire social stratum that planned to live on benefits or who rejected jobs because they were 'boring'. But that is Daily Mail thinking. Very few plan such lives and many now seek higher education who would have been told in the 1960s by ther families and friends that they were traitors to their class fior even thinking about it. Not an attitude Jimmy Reid would have had any time for.

JRB said...

Scotland has indeed lost one of its great intellectuals with the passing of Jimmy Reid. He may well have been a Marxist and a socialist, but he was an honest, concerned and caring man of the people, his was the voice of an entire generation.

In 1971, I was a young university graduate, thanks to having passed my 11+ years earlier. Twice a day I passed the Fairfields’ yard gates and never have I seen an industrial conflict which had such universal support that cut across all known class and political barriers.

I would have to disagree that my generation were unable to “see through cant and pomposity - bogus 'authority … through bigotry, presumption, and patronising attitudes

One of the greatest speeches of the 70’s was an inspiration for my generation -

“Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice, lest you jeopardise your chances of self-promotion and self-advancement.
This is how it starts. And before you know where you are, you're a fully paid-up member of the rat pack.
The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit.”

Jimmy Reid 1971
On being elected as rector of Glasgow University.

subrosa said...

Of course I suspected Jim. :)

My own ambition was certainly not for as easy a life and possible and I met many more with greater strengths along the way. We felt we had a freedom young people had never experienced and we aspired to be pioneers.

My background is from a working class family and area and I can't say I ever heard of anyone complaining they couldn't have further education. Mind you in those days university was mainly for parents who could afford it and they were few. Most acquired their qualification via the old techs then, if they could afford it in later life, sought higher qualifications at university.

I don't think children of the 40s and 50s were any less sensitive than those today. It's true they were more naive but there was no information highway where so many opinions could be studied. We relied upon the adults around us to provide or at least guide us towards our knowledge sources.

subrosa said...

Thank you for that quote John. As I said in the post I missed much of Scottish politics in the 70s with not being here although my father was delighted when Jimmy Reid was installed as Rector.

If I recall he stood as a labour candidate in the 70s but, to everyone's surprise, lost. Maybe I'm wrong about that - the memory isn't what it used to be.

May I ask a question? Do you feel the comprehensive system has improved the quality of education?

fourmenterian said...

Jimmy Reid's speech to students at Glasgow University was reproduced in full here in the Independent:

It is no less moving, inspirational and relevant today than it was almost 40 years ago. It is sad to reflect that not a great deal has changed in those 40 years - Jimmy Reid could have been writing about bankers in sections of the speech.

Edward Spalton said...

For those interested in the education debate in England, I would recommend "The Great Reading Disaster", jointly authored by Mona MacNee. There is not much doubt that reading standards have declined catastrophically since the Thirties.

As an employer, I had dozens of perfectly intelligent youngsters through my hands who were functionally illiterate and innumerate. Most were from one parent households with little stability in their lives.

As a school governor (at the school to which my own children had gone a few years earlier) I found that the younger teachers regarded the teaching of phonics (C-A-T = cat) as equivalent to sending children up chimneys.

In the then highly Stalinist Derbyshire Education Authority, this orthodoxy was enforced. I knew a secondary school English teacher who was forced out for using traditional methods at O and A level.

The governors of the INFANTS' school (5-7 year olds) where I served adopted the following statement. "It is the policy of the school to make the students responsible for their own learning". It was a bit like a North Korean general election as almost every other school in Derbyshire did the same!

With such a start in life, it is difficult to see how the youngsters who do not manage to learn in spite of the system can make their own livings, let alone become the sort of articulate campaigners like Jimmy Reid.

subrosa said...

Many thanks for the link fourmentarian. I did miss it so it's appreciated.

You're right but I would also add politicians to that.

Unfortunately education hasn't solved the problem because education is as tightly controlled now as it was 60 years ago. Yes we have modern technology but are we producing a larger percentage of exceptionally well-educated and rounded young people? I think not.

What certainly has been lost is a strong sense of community which will never return. That's the worst alienation of the past 60 years.

subrosa said...

Mental arithmetic was another thing to suffer back in the 80s in England Edward. Infant schools refused to teach the times tables and concocted a system of 'units'. It was the teachers who thought spelling didn't matter and those who insisted basic arithmetic shouldn't include the times tables, who brought me back to Scotland where my family could and did receive an excellent infant/junior education.

After we had been here about a year the primary headmistress admitted to me that she had brought in special tutors to teach them basic reading and arithmetic so as they were on a par with their peers.

When I mentioned there had been no extra homework she agreed and said the responsibility lay completely with the systems used in their old school and was nothing to do with the children. She felt giving them extra homework would be seen as a punishment by the children and that would be unjust.

A very caring and enlightened woman she was indeed.

JRB said...

Morning subrosa

If I may be allowed a second post on this topic.

Firstly, I would like to thank fourmenterian for the link to a complete version of that famous speech. Which on re-reading, once again in its entirety, is as relevant now as it was then.

On education, subrosa. Like you I am from a working class family, and a product of the, now archaic 11+ system. I was the first in our family to go to university thanks only to the sacrifices of my parents and to the then Scottish education grants system.
My daughter was fortunate enough to have a traditional, rural Highland primary education, which has stood her in good stead.
Her secondary ‘comprehensive’ education was, with but one or two individual exceptions, simply atrocious.

So when you ask if the comprehensive system has improved the quality of education? My answer would have to be a resounding – NO!

Weekend Yachtsman said...

I bet you can't find any statistics that say "...back in the 40s, 50s and 60s many children left primary school without reaching a basic level in reading..." because it simply isn't true.

Hardly anybody other than actual imbeciles left primary school unable to read in those days.

We know how to teach children to read, and we knew it then: you sit them in rows, you make them shut up and attend, you teach them phonics, and you keep them at it until they do learn; other than the aforementioned actual defectives, they all do learn.

If you want a 30% failure rate, let them run around and chat all the time, take no notice and no effective action if they disrupt what you're trying to do, apply no sanctions if they arse around, and try the whole word method.

The clever ones will work it out eventually, in some cases the parents will teach them, the others will be your 30% failure rate.

Just so.

subrosa said...

You're right Weekend Yachtsman. I did try to find statistics but none were available (wonder why?). Because today's educationalists know they're failing our children that's why.

How sad that 30% of our children are denied the opportunity because of a system which was changed to help them but has failed them miserably.

subrosa said...

John, I wasn't forgetting to respond to your post and of course you may post as often as you wish here.

I had never read all of Jimmy Reid's rectorial acceptance speech so I found it very moving and perhaps more relevant today, because we had communities in those days. Today we have few.

May I thank you for your contribution towards my concerns regarding comprehensive education. You too have what is called 'front line' experience.

I chose to go along another path with mine for personal reasons and, although it caused many hardships, I will never regret doing so. Even today you don't need money for your children to receive a good education as has been proven by the increase in private schools. Thankfully here in Scotland many private schools don't attract the ludicrous fees some English schools do, though it can be a battle of wills to ensure your children gain access to these places if you are not part of the 5% of wealth in Scotland. Sometimes the battle is worth it, especially if you've experienced the English system in the past.

Need I say more?

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