About WHS Jim Atkinson R.I.P.

I suppose I'm classed among the "older" intake. I would have been very surprised if the 1970s intakes and later were not a completely different bunch of characters. We each reflected our times.

Woolvo did not select boys according to particular talents, unlike some of the Public Schools. We shouldn't delude ourselves that any of us were special for having been admitted to WH. But the school was special - for what it did to many of us who went through its system. A great many of us were relative no-hopers when we went in. Many of us came out of it better equipped for life than we would have been if we'd attended many of the other state schools, or the private schools. I'm a classic example of that (though I won't bore you with my personal details).

That WH changed in character in the 1970s and 1980s could not have been prevented. It was the natural order of things, including the fact that London's and Britain's ethnic minority populations - by that time - were growing. Most of the expensive, fee-paying schools underwent precisely the same change, and they also began to have drugs-related problems and petty crime. Woolvo was no different.

But it's also natural that people, as they get older, resent change - of any kind. And some see change as a bad thing, and tend to compare unfavourably the new order with the one they had been accustomed to.

When I joined Woolvo in 1956, as a 12-year old short-arsed sprog who'd never before lived in England, I thought it was sheer hell. I couldn't understand why older boys enjoyed bullying, and why some of the Masters were so sadistic. When I became an older boy I too threw my weight about. But after I had left, and had spent a few years in the real world, I began to understand. Just like the army, Woolvo took all those directionless boys, shook them out, and made (most of them) survivors.

I sent my daughter to private schools. They charged the earth, and provided teachers who cared nothing about the young people in their care other than wanting to make them into personalities who didn't exist in the real world. My daughter did not do well. Then when she was 16 I put her in a state sixth form college. Two years later she's a confident, capable and academically successful young woman.

Moral? Woolvo, 30 years ago, as a state institution, was producing people that today's private schools are incapable of dreaming about. Forget the Etons and the Harrows. What one hears about them is myth. Old Etonians and Old Harrovians are what they are (some of them) because of the old boys' network. Old Woolverstonians who did okay did it by themselves, whether they graduated in the sixties or the eighties.