Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 27th February 1979
The end of year exams are fast approaching and Susi’s feeling the strain. Miss Summers later tells her that the first year exams aren’t terribly important, but Susi’s mother is putting considerable pressure on her.
Next year she’ll be in the top set in French and English, but in a lower set in Maths. This comes as a disappointment to her (although it’s clear that it’ll be more of a disappointment to her mother). Miss Summers is able to explain that it’s no disgrace to be in a lower set in some subjects, it simply means that she’s not quite as good at Maths as she is in other subjects. Therefore it’s better that she’s placed in a set with others of a similar ability, rather than struggle along in a higher set.
There’s a clear divide made between Mrs McMahon and Penny’s mother, Mrs Lewis. Mrs McMahon never seems to give her daughter any encouragement at all and also tells her that she’ll be voting to keep school uniform in the upcoming referendum. Mrs Lewis is a much more relaxed character (for example, she’s quite happy to vote for the abolition of uniform). The juxtaposition between the two mothers makes a telling point – if Susi didn’t feel her mother’s constant disapproval thenno doubt she’d be a much happier person.
Mr McMahon (Bill Treacher) is more supportive, telling Susi she can only do her best, although he’s rather distant, which seems to make it clear that Mrs McMahon is the driving force of the family. This is Mr McMahon’s only appearance and it does come as a slight shock to see a rather well-spoken turn from Treacher (later to become very familiar thanks to his decade or so as Arthur Fowler in Eastenders).
Elsewhere, Tucker finds an exam paper which he’s convinced is the one they’re about to sit. We’ll revisit this plot-line in later years when Pogo tries to make a profit by selling questions from a paper he found. Here, Tucker doesn’t attempt any such free enterprise – he’s happy to share for free – but it doesn’t take a mind-reader to work out that it’s clearly not going to end well. Mr Mitchell’s reluctance to act, although he knows that something’s going on, makes it plain that whatever Tucker’s found, it’s not that year’s paper.
This is made quite obvious when none of the questions come up in the paper they take – resulting in poor Tucker suffering attacks from all of his angry classmates!
The referendum to make school uniform optional votes in favour of the proposal by a narrow majority, to the delight of many.
One thought on “Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Seventeen”
I found this episode quite moving and also a good look at how what were then recent changes in schools had not filtered through to all expectations. Although presented through the eyes of a child under heavy pressure and without terms that would be meaningless to their school experience, there’s a clear element of the aftershocks of the abolition of the Tripartite System of grammar schools, secondary moderns and technical schools underpinning some of the expectations here. The McMahons seem to be the sort of parents who were not happy with comprehensivisation but this process was largely complete by the late 1970s and standalone grammar schools only survived in a few areas. The talk of exams to get into other schools, boarding schools and the like suggests that their only real alternative is a private school and probably a scholarship to cover the fees – but those have rarely been about widening participation and are instead treated as prizes. And so you have parents with expectations based on an exam production line rather than on what’s best for their daughter’s development.
And because of the staggered way the grammars were phased out some of the subject requirements shifted as well but not all at the same time. Needing Latin to get into at least some universities is a clear hangover from the grammars but it’s a subject that was largely ditched when ex grammars merged with ex secondary moderns (in part because there were insufficient teachers but also because it’s a subject that frankly all too often only taught to pass exams to get into institutions that only teach it because everyone arrives having been taught it!) or only taught to limited groups due to teacher availability.
No child aged 11/12 should be worrying about what subjects they will need to get into university or panicking that how they perform on one day (are they really taking all the exams in all subjects in a single day?!) is going to chart the whole course of their life.That is far too early to be making such decisions. And how much of that was the reason for comprehensives in the first place?
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