Bognor Regis School was the first comprehensive in the area, formed in 1967 by the amalgamation of Bognor Regis Grammar School and William Fletcher Secondary Modern School.
School friends from the Class of ’66 remember it well, having started high school in the last academic year there was an intake as two separate schools.
Bryan Gartside and Victor Coutin, former William Fletcher students, have joined forces to organise a 50-year reunion and already have about 40 people on board.
They hope attendance will reach at least 60 for the reunion at Newtown Social Club, in Greencourt Drive, Bognor Regis, on Saturday, April 29, from 7pm to 11pm.
Bryan went to William Fletcher, in Westloats Lane, while his older brother went to Bognor Regis Grammar School, in Pevensey Road.
“The selection basis was purely academic and that’s all. As my father was ex-grammar, failing my 11-plus was frowned upon in my family and sadly from that moment, I felt that I was to a certain extent not good enough,” he said.
“Within the context of my own family I felt inferior. Whereas my brother would be constantly studying, I was constantly playing football or running wild in the woods without any real desire to learn or develop any significant cranial capacity.”
After Bryan’s first year at high school, the comprehensive was formed and the secondary modern students assigned to the A-stream found themselves amalgamated with former grammar classes.
“This upsetting of the proverbial was made manifest in games periods, where the A stream and former grammar streams were truly integrated when it came to prowess on the field,” Bryan recalled.
“From my sporting viewpoint, Bognor Regis School had become that much stronger on the games field now we had, as it were, two schools combined. The rugby team, my joy of joys, began to seriously win matches and we were honoured in the local press for as much.
“Sports then gave me a boost, particularly in my father’s eyes, who was also in his days a sportsman of some prowess.”
The effects of the comprehensive educational system, where children from all backgrounds and abilities would be taught in one school, fascinates Bryan.
“There seems to have been a groundswell of opinion that a single exam at age 11 was an unreliable way of, academically speaking, sorting children out.
“In fact the general belief was that splitting the education into two distinct groupings alienated many children and helped to create a two-tiered society where those that could went on to university and higher income jobs, whereas those who could not had to be content to perform more menial tasks in the workplace, particularly manual work in factories and so forth.”
From 1965, there was a national shake-up in the education system and by 1975, 90 per cent of all state-run schools had adopted the comprehensive system.
Bryan said: “In all honesty, I did feel there was a degree of confusion and uncertainty in those early years as the life of the school and the new system began to settle down.
“From my part I felt there was a distinct lack of understanding, and effort made on behalf of the staff to reach out to those children who may of needed extra special encouragement and or guidance.”
Bryan went on to gain three A-levels and an English degree. He is well known in the town for the former End of the Pier International Film Festival.
Victor very much enjoyed his time at high school and has no sad memories.
He said: “I was happiest probably when we were playing sport and I do remember the school closing down at lunchtime one winter in, I believe, December 1967, when a huge snowfall dropped so quickly the school was snowbound.”
Victor went straight to work from school but went back to college four years later and sat four A-levels. Many years later, he did an MBA at Henley Management College. He now lives in Dubai and is the chief executive of GardX, an international company.
Others on board include Les Morten, who went to high school from Lyon Street Primary School in Bognor Regis and said he enjoyed his time there.
“I made lots of friends and like most young lads, enjoyed the sports opportunities,” he said.
“It’s very easy to look back, knowing what we do today, and maybe criticise some of the teaching methods and facilities, but it was of its day and I think it served its pupils well.
“I think I was at my happiest in the final year. Having come through the worst of the teen angst years, I was clearer about what was expected of me as a pupil – O-levels!
“I also remember we did a lot of fundraising for the new school swimming pool that was going to be built. We were promised that, although it would be built after we had left the school, we would be able to come back and use it. That never happened.”
He went on to study technical graphics at Portsmouth College of Art and Design, gaining City and Guilds qualifications.
His first job was at an engineering company in Worthing but he quickly realised his ambition of having his own design or marketing consultancy meant he would need wider skills and experience.
He moved to IPC Publishing in London, completed a business studies course at HNC level and later set up his own advertising agency in Brighton in 1982. From the mid 1990s until he retired in 2014, he was a self-employed marketing consultant.
Having lived in Bognor and Chichester for most of his life, he moved to Somerset with his wife in 2015.
Theresa Parkinson, née Spiller, recalls failing the 11-plus exam and realising she would not be going to the grammar school.
“My mother then set about equipping me with the William Fletcher School uniform, with room to grow, not knowing that within a year, she would be doing it all again for Bognor Regis Comprehensive and it would still be too big.
“But at least the straight lovat green skirts were easier to fold over and over to create a mini, when out of sight of home, of course, whereas the heavy pleated dark red William Fletcher version was a nightmare.”
She remembers Miss Mellors, her form teacher, a spinster she describes as an old-school type.
“As a treat, if you behaved in class, were well mannered, or worked hard at school, she would take you out on trips and serve you tea at her cute cottage in Shripney.
“I remember my school days with fondness and, having moved up with many classmates from Nyewood CofE, I have retained long-term friends from that time. It also encouraged me to train at Portsmouth and become a primary school teacher.”
For more information about the reunion, email Bryan Gartside at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 07718988111.
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