As mentioned previously [See Introduction] Frank left school shortly before his 14th birthday in 1917 ‘with no qualifications except an aptitude for figures’ (1). Frank admits that he does regret leaving school without any qualifications but was naïve to the fact in his early years of employment.
The first insight to Frank’s education the reader receives is the local village school in Withyham. Frank discusses the commitment of ‘the friendly teachers whose work did not finish with their daily duties inside the school, as they found time to visit us in our homes and give advice and encouragement to both children and parents’ (9). Frank does not go into detail as to how this school benefited his education. Following this point the only other time Frank refers to the village school is when the children were informed that a local boy was missing, when unfortunately the young boy had drowned.
Following their move to Berwick, after Frank’s father’s promotion, Frank attended a ‘higher grade’ school in Eastbourne, as there was not a local school in their new village. ‘Higher grade schools were an extension of the elementary schools… [They] were seen as recruiting students from lower classes who would be going into jobs as soon as they left school but wanted more training and education’ (Keating, 2009, 2). Frank does reveal that he did perform well at this school but ‘did not take kindly to the constant ragging’ due to being overweight for his age (14). He vividly recalls one incident on the train home where a group of lads ‘produced a stick of dark red lipstick and smothered my face, legs and hands and my light grey suit was also badly marked during my struggles and I was left with many bruises’ (14). Following this incident his father relieved ‘his feelings by a heavy slap on the boy’s face with the back of his hand’ (15). The boy’s father, who held a high position in London, wrote to his father demanding an apology or further action would be taken. Frank writes that ‘bearing in mind my father’s position, he had no alternative but to comply… Folk in our position did not have the means of redress in those days’ (15). Frank makes several notes on the impact being working class had on his education. He notes that school lunches were unheard of at that time, so lunch consisted of sandwiches, and on occasion he would receive pocket money which he would use to buy stale buns for his lunch.
On informing his parents and his headmaster of his desire to leave education they attempted to keep him in education. Frank writes that this desire ‘was entirely against my parents’ wishes and although the headmaster of the school appealed to them and me, to continue for at least another year, I finally obtained their permission as I reached the age of 14 years before the end of the summer holidays’ (16).
Frank took several opportunities following his decision to leave school to improve on his education later in life. The first opportunity Frank took was to become a part time reporter in his local area. He initially took this role to improve his financial situation. Frank writes that being a reporter ‘was hard work, especially in my case and I once regretted my mistake in leaving school before I had properly completed my education’ (41). Frank notes that secretaries helped him to improve and submit articles that editors would be impressed with. Furthermore in 1935, Frank began a course in mental and physical training to improve his position in the railway. Frank writes that ‘when I was 31 years of age, I completed a correspondence course in mental and physical training and although it was not easy to spare the money for the necessary fee, I can say this small outlay repaid me over and over again in the years to come’ (47). Frank motivated himself and ‘took the course seriously’ (47), and he credits the course for finding an interest ‘in things around [him], both at work and at all other times that had previously gone unnoticed’ (47).
Unlike Frank and Frank’s father, his twin sons were very motivated to get the most out of their time at school. Frank regularly updates his memoirs with the twins’ progress and it is clear that Frank and his wife were immensely proud of them. In 1946, they transferred to John Ruskin’s Grammar School, which Frank claimed was for convenience as it was a shorter bus ride for the pair. Frank believes that one element that contributed to their success was ‘the fact that they were always together, at home and in the same class in school… [Which] helped them considerably to concentrate and keep at it’ (116). Both of his sons’ passed their exams with high grades and were rewarded with a wristwatch. Following their exams John went on to study as an actuary and Peter went to the Imperial College of Science with the view to be an Entomologist. On their twenty-first birthday, looking back on their lives Frank writes that ‘in absolute truth, we could say neither of the boys had given us any cause for anxiety or regrets at any time and they certainly deserved their success’ (174). He continues, writing that ‘I must risk the possibility of being considered arrogant and boastful, but nevertheless these are actual facts and in 1968, when compiling these notes, I feel I am quite justified in what I have said’ (174).
Keating, Jenny. ‘Government policy towards secondary schools and history teaching 1900-1910’, History in Education Project, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, June 2009.
‘Frank Prevett’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:638.
Prevett, Frank. ‘Memoirs of a Railwayman’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection
Shrivenham Primary School c.1900 – Shrivenham Heritage Society
Wolverhampton Higher Grade School – Historywebsite.co.uk
John and Peter Prevett – R. J. Hawkins