Adams’ Grammar School – the wasted years.

I spent five years at Adams’ Grammar School in Newport. At the time I was totally convinced that I was largely wasting my time. The school’s only obvious target was to prepare me to pass as many exams as possible. The exams were largely regurgitating data that you had “swotted up” on just prior to sitting them. The school and the teachers made almost no attempt to prepare me in any way for the “real life” that was to follow.

Pink Floyd described school perfectly

Now, with over thirty years hindsight, I realize that I was absolutely correct.

The lessons were in:

  • mathematics
  • English language
  • physics
  • English literature
  • religion (only Church of England style Christianity)
  • history (only the parts that affected the United Kingdom)
  • geography
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • music (but only music written by dead people)
  • art
  • French
  • physical education
  • craft

Mathematics and English language are the two subjects that stand out as being a hundred percent useful. Throughout my life I have needed these on an almost daily basis. Much of what we learned in Physics has proved to be irrelevant but at least we learned how to arrive at results through experimentation.

If I had never had to read Chaucer, never compare St. Mark’s version of a myth to St. Luke’s and never learned about the Corn Laws, I would have been at no disadvantage in later life.

Learning the names of every African country, differing shapes of trees leaves, the chemical formula for sulfuric acid and Mozart’s & Picasso’s dates of birth were all a useless means of filling a brain and I forgot as much as I could as fast as I could.

French could have been a huge advantage if any teacher would have tried to teach us to converse in French rather than merely the endless tables of verbs and tenses we needed to “pass the exam”.

Strangely some of the most important life skills I learned were in the two subjects that were not taken seriously by the school as they didn’t lead to “real exams”.

In physical education I learned that if there is something awful to do – dive in to an icy swimming pool – then it is better to do it straight away. I also learned to do the hardest task first while you are still fit. Both of these have turned out to be amazing life skills. In craft I learned one of life’s most important rules. “Measure twice and cut once!” Truly the ultimate lesson for a successful life.

School could teach you so many life skills and prepare you for the reality that will be your life. In my case it was Scouting that did that for me. School was mostly just something that interfered with the real learning.

5 thoughts on “Adams’ Grammar School – the wasted years.”

  1. We never discussed your youth when you stayed Neil, but interesting re scouting. I was a leader in scouting for thirty years, twenty in charge of the scout troop and ten as the Group Scout Leader, I did a total of fifty five years in scouting. I dispared at the education system which tried putting ‘square’ children into’ round’ holes – often sending them in the wrong direction career wise. I’m still in touch with many of my scouts who are all grateful for the skills they aquired and of the opportunities scouting gave them. Not one of my scouts failed to get a job, whatever their level of ability, and some ended up in jobs they had not thought possible had it not been for scouting. Good to read your support in your blog.

    1. Hello Mark,

      It was definitely scouting that made me the person I became.
      I am eternally grateful to my scout leaders and all those others, like yourself, who put so much in to scouting so that I could learn from them.
      As we travel around the world, it is the skill set I learned as a scout that I need every day.


  2. John often uses that phrase ‘Measure twice, cut once’. I learnt more skills at college than school and Scouting ultimately helped with resilience and independence. As a now ex teacher, who has encouraged young people to join clubs, take on part time roles. It is all about lifelong learning. Wouldn’t want it any other way.

    1. Hello Caroline,

      You will notice that I did not criticize the teachers. We had good teachers (the minority looking back). We also had bad teachers and some were atrocious. Ask John about the teacher who threw desks at people!
      But it was not the teachers that were the problem. It was – and probably still is “the system”. If you tell teachers to concentrate solely on ensuring a high pass rate in exams, and they want to be successful, that is what they will do.


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