Burnley Grammar School

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Burnley Grammar School
Burnley Grammar School
Year: 1959
Views: 864,322
Item #: 1607
There's pleny of room in the modern-styled gymnasium for muscle developing, where the boys are supervised by Mr. R. Parry, the physical education instruction.
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, December 1959

Comment by: Ben on 21st December 2020 at 17:39

Alan, I can tell you why we encouraged our PE teacher and his shirtless policy. More than other teachers, he had succeeded in giving us an idea of what it meant to be young men which we almost were when leaving school. We were at ease with our developing bodies, we accepted your own body and were taught to be respectful of others and their physique, we developed a strong feeling of togetherness as boys which probably came from living up to harsh sounding challenges like the shirtless cross-country run in freezing temperatures as a group. He certainly had a profound effect on me and on my classmates as we experienced that we were able to succeed in seemingly adverse conditions and the we did not need to be pampered or protected. He made us feel proud of who we were!

Comment by: William on 21st December 2020 at 16:20

Ben, I thought your comment was very interesting, especially as you were at school in the '90s. What you meant by bodily changes was clear enough to me.
I doubt whether Alan's time at what he describes as a "dump" in east London is a sound basis for dismissing the experiences of others which are different from his own, or for making sweeping assertions about the generality of boys' schools. Alan advocates a level of male modesty that many would think excessive. To justify it gym masters have to be perverts, boys have to be "fodder" and parents naive or "ill-advised".
Our gym regime was disciplined and the minimal kit helped me with bodily confidence. I realised that there was no good reason for worrying about wearing just shorts or going through the showers, and thus school helped to liberate me from that anxiety about bodies and nudity which is rather British and very different from the more balanced cultural tradition of northern Europe.

Comment by: Alan on 21st December 2020 at 16:11

Ben: You need to remember that perverts can be teachers and teachers can be perverts, or at the very least drunk on power. You yourself wrote in your piece that when arrangements were bought more in line with modern day thinking in the 90s, and you were allowed shirts, some of you refused to go along with it and how "grateful" your teacher was that you stuck to his old policy of being shirtless. If it gave him that much gratitude, I put it to you that you have to question why outdated concepts gave him such pleasure. You might also wonder why some of the boys who so admired his strict discipline wanted to encourage him. It sounds almost like Stockholm syndrome.

I am sorry my original response upset you so much

Comment by: Ben on 21st December 2020 at 14:41

Alan: There was nether any suggestion of checking out other boys genitals as you seem to imply. What I wanted to say with 'bodily changes' was meant in much broader way and he encouraged us to pay attention to our own bodies and to notice how we developped in muscle mass, stature, etc. It is deplorable how some people here are obsessed with sexual aspects that most teachers, apart from a few perverts, never brought up.

Comment by: Alan on 21st December 2020 at 12:58

Tom B: Are you seriously suggesting the only way to get boys working hard and to conform to your ideas of "discipline" is for them to be bare chested?. Really?. Why? The kids today still work hard, without that requirement.

Ben: Your teachers views on "physical education" and the tacit suggestion the boys might like to check each others development out, sounds very questionable. It smacks of voyeurism to me. It is always noticeable that such teachers were known for (and apparently admired for being disciplinarians

Comment by: Rob on 21st December 2020 at 12:20

I went to a High School in Essex in the 60s. I think that our PE teacher was ex army and so was very strict. We had to wear white shorts for gym and games including cross country runs. He insisted on us not wearing tops or any pants under our shorts. In fact he used to stand by the door of the changing rooms to check. We had to open our shorts so that he could look down to check that we had no pants on. Eventually we got used to it. It wasn't until we go to age14/15 that we became embarrassed by everything "flapping around" when we ran. The white shorts when wet left nothing to the imagination. Some of us by the age of 15 or so were quite mature and had developed quite well ie a bit of chest hair and shaving a couple of time a week! So we explained our concerns to our PE teacher and asked if we could wear pants under our shorts. He said "no" as it wasn't healthy, but he introduced us to and showed us a jockstrap. He suggested that we got one and said that would give us the support we needed and keep us cool at the same time. So most of us took his advice. He was right. We felt better about ourselves and no longer embarrassed. As we got older we began to respect him even though he was really quite scary at the start.

Comment by: Ben on 21st December 2020 at 11:49

I went to an inner city comprehensive in the 90ies and our PE Kit was white shorts for gymnastics and PE. Outside we were allowed socks, trainers and a vest in the winter term even though cross-country was always conducted shirtless, irrespective of the weather.
PE was boys only and besides general fitness sessions we engaged in a wide range of sports, basketball, badminton, table-tennis, etc all done shirtless and barefoot. For team sports one team was given coloured sashes to wear across our bare chests. Gymnastics was a coed lesson with the girls in leotards.
What I would like to emphasise is that although this might be considered a harsh regime by today’s standards, it truly helped me a lot to become a more confident boy. Coming from a single parent family with only my mom and two sisters, I did not really have any male role model and was forced to figure out for myself what it meant to be a boy. I did however intuitively understand that I was different from my sisters.
Our PE teacher’s approach genuinely helped me a lot. Even though he was a disciplinarian which in itself is all but negative and us boys liked him for being strict but fair, he always explained his reasons instead of demanding only obedience.
In our first lesson in year 6 he had us lined up in our minimal kit and told us that he was aware that some of us might feel uncomfortable and wanted to wear a T-shirt but that his lesson was called ‘physical education’ and that meant we were going to work on our bodies, our physique and that there was no reason for a boy to cover up. We should learn to appreciate the freedom us boys could have, feel at ease with our bodies and notice the bodily changes we were going to go through. He made it clear that he would not tolerate any bullying in his lessons and that it was going to be a place were us boys should be comfortable with ourselves working out shirtless.
He truly encouraged every single boy not only the less sporty ones but even the only overweight classmate, we always tried to please him and give our best and we always looked forward to his lessons as a result of which, I did become a more confident boy, started to take my shirt off in front of my mom and sisters and generally began to assert my masculinity more.
In my last year of school there was a change of PE kit and boys were now expected to wear a top. However, all the boys in my class and in at least one other one protested until we were allowed to continue to do PE barechested. We could tell he was very grateful to us allowing him to teach his philosophy of PE and I generally felt sorry for him and the younger boys that would miss out on an important experience.
Being expected to take your top off, to be pushed out of your comfort zone in a secure and encouraging male environment gives a boy a lot of confidence and helps him grow up into well balanced man at ease with himself and others.

Comment by: Michael on 21st December 2020 at 11:09

Most of the boys in my school (and presumably the girls) would, if given the chance, have preferred to avoid the rigours of regular PE and sports.

Our PE teacher had many years of experience in overcoming these lazy attitudes, and due to his efforts, I left school lean and fit.

If I had been able to exercise my own choice, there is no doubt I would have become a "couch potato", with all of its health implications for my later life.

As it is I am nearly 70 and (touch wood) in reasonably good shape , owing to the healthy exercise habits drummed into me at that school.

Although I hated and feared the PE teacher at the time, if he was still alive today I would probably thank him, and even buy him a drink!

Comment by: Tom B on 21st December 2020 at 07:37

I am fed up with the continued implication that my belief boys should receive a hard physical education and that a fairly basic kit such as that boys still regularly wear wear for gymnastics or boxing training is adequate is perverted and homoerotic.

I will also not apologise for the suggestion that some boys, perhaps many boys, need to be forced well out of their comfort zone in order to get the best out of them. I know because I was one. If I was given an inch to slack, I’d take a mile.

Comment by: Alan on 19th December 2020 at 21:15

Hi Dave, Early part of the decade - our school was a dump in East London run by teachers hanging on for retirement, as was the headmaster. The PE teacher was younger but clearly had issues, to make him the dictatorial misanthrope he was - a man who thought the louder you shouted, the more demeaning your remarks, the more obedience you got.

Our teacher told us what to wear - nothing was ever explained , we were clearly considered too unimportant to communicate with. We were merely fodder for their monthly pay check, much like raw material in a factory.

Several boys were uncomfortable with the set-up, one even more so than me. You couldn't complain because it would encourage ridicule from the teacher, and also from some of the more- gung-ho boys, who tried to emulate the teachers "tough" demeanour to ingratiate themselves with him.

You were supposed to run around the streets in his minimal "normal" kit, but I had discovered truancy, which was my answer to the regime.

All the schools featured on this site were/are based in the North of England. It is a shame there isn't an inner London school represented. as London schools seemed to be run on the whims of the headmaster and a cadre of favoured teachers, and there were many others which were as run down as ours. Our dump was demolished long ago, I am happy to say.

Comment by: Sterling on 19th December 2020 at 19:44

Alan, I agree. The regime we were subjected to wouldn't have been permitted in our Prisons at the time.

Comment by: Dave on 19th December 2020 at 18:55

Hi Alan!

From since when did you go to secondary school? I mean: Was it the first or second part of the 80's or the 90's..etc.(Sorry if my english is not perfect. I'm from middle Europe).
You wrote that you wore shorts only in indoor lessons. What was the reason given to have such a minimal PE kit? Was it a uniform list or the PE teacher himself told it to you? How did you play team sports with everyone being shirtless? What was the other boy's reaction having to be barechested for all of the PE lessons? Did they tell something to each other about that? As I rememeber here you mentioned co-ed lessons. Why did your school need co-ed lessons? I've thougt in England PE lessons are separate.
You wrote that you had barechested PE even in outdoors. Were there some reason said why? Did you have to run on public streets?
Were there any PE lesson where boys were allowed to wear a shirt?

Comment by: James on 19th December 2020 at 16:19

Alan, thank you for your profound comments,it was certainly a tradition to wear shorts only for games and running at the school that I attended.
As the older boys accepted this, boys who objected would be in a minority and teachers and parents alike also accepted this bizarre tradition.

Comment by: Alan on 19th December 2020 at 03:36

Adam: With all due respect, I am not concerned how "gendered" the girls kit was (does it matter?). The fact remains that at the school pictured above, and many others well past the 1950s, and, apparently well into the 1990s, there was no regard paid at all to boys modesty - I very much doubt the girls were ever made to parade around topless at any time, they were allowed to cover up. This courtesy was not even extended to boys who had to run along public streets with no top on, often in cold and wet weather.

I think that treatment was disgusting, and what is even more disgusting to my taste are the number of elderly gents on this site, who appear to get some homoerotic thrill at the idea that boys should be treated in the same way in the 21st century and regret that it would not now be allowed, so they denigrate today's lads by implying they are "soft"

Comment by: Adam on 18th December 2020 at 18:11

Bo - some of your experiences mirror mine. I also finished my compulsory education in 1996. The gym and sports hall at my school were both fairly enclosed, neither of them had large windows so you were relatively free from the gaze of anyone who happened to be walking past.

I was in a group of 5 or 6 boys who all ended up doing gymnastics topless once because we had brought the wrong top for PE. Unfortunately gymnastics was a part of PE lessons, which was with your form group at my school, so it was a mixed lesson. As the girls had leotards and footless tights for their gymnastics kit, I guess my school decided us lads needed a different top to go with our shorts.

The girls in my year campaigned to be allowed to wear shorts in PE, this was allowed from Year 9, although the gym skirt and PE knickers technically remained part of their kit until we finished school.

Comment by: Adam on 18th December 2020 at 18:04

Alan, as for your comment from 6th December I do not think the girls got 'softer treatment' when I was in high school.
Like Bo, I finished my compulsory education in 1996, my experiences are very similar to his.

I feel the girls' PE kits were far more gendered even in the 90s. Top, gym skirt and knickers as 'default' for most of their lessons. It just put most of my female friends and relatives off PE.
By contrast us lads just wore a top and shorts for everything. With hindsight the contrast is bizarre.

Comment by: Alan on 16th December 2020 at 03:59

James: It just shows that some teachers have ulterior motives, and that parents, pupils and teacher colleagues were ill-advised to trust them as much as they appear to have done in the past - another good reason for CRB checks and probing the mindset of them.

Comment by: James on 15th December 2020 at 14:54

Alan,as you can imagine I was very shy to strip off to my shorts and when the teachers supported the sporting events,my form teacher told me that" she couldn't wait to see me wearing my shorts".I suppose some teachers just enjoyed the sight of so many boys wearing their shorts.

Comment by: Alan on 14th December 2020 at 06:43

Bo That is appalling as late as 1996 - I think we ought to be grateful for Cyril Smith and Jimmy Savile as it at last rang warning bells that even "important" men were no longer beyond suspicion.

I think it is very noticeable that those teachers had their "favourites" to take their tops off - it has struck me several times on this site that lads who were in shirts and skins schools, were always the ones picked on to be shirtless, (it happens too often to be coincidental) - did nobody question this behaviour? (if I had been a parent I would) and these teachers always seemed to enjoy looking at lads in the changing rooms, under the showers and in the gym with next to nothing on.

if it hadn't been for major well publicised scandals, given the complacency of this country, it wouldn't surprise me if it had continued to this day. I think you are the most recent bloke to have had this treatment, and you have to wonder at the mindset of a headmaster, or head of department, now that students mature much earlier, and have mixed lessons, as to why they allowed such a questionable system to continue.

I don't want to turn this into a grotesque auction, but did anybody have to endure Bo's situation beyond 1996?

Comment by: Bo on 13th December 2020 at 22:00

Alan, I left school in 1996. To be fair a lot of the girls were okay, there were the inevitable jokes and comments about our bare chests and physique but on the whole they were respectful. I never really understood why we needed to strip off outside during the winter, lessons were hard enough especially in the gym where you were guaranteed to show sweat, Winter for me was hard and even when a vests team was picked, I would end up on the skins team and strip off regardless of the conditions. I think having an unusual name (it was my Grandfather's) was probably one reason I was picked to strip so much. There were a couple of other lads in my class who were also picked to strip off 99% of the time so at least a wasn't just me.

Comment by: Bo on 13th December 2020 at 20:44

Hi Alan, My education was at a mixed comprehensive school and girls never wore leotards only regulation yellow aertex tops and either skirts/shorts and trainers.
Though officially our kit was vest/shorts for indoors and outdoors, in practice we were kept stripped to the waist. Our gym had large reinforced glass window going the whole length of the gym making it so easy for other lads or girls to pass by and see 30 lads all stripped off and sweating freely. The gym was rarely warm and the coolness hit you walking in. The girls found it fun to watch but they were some of the few. I did not relish being bare chested it was something I had to do. I found being stripped off outdoors during winter was hard. There were sometimes teams of vests vs skins but I very rarely ended up on the vests team
Both teams were handpicked by the teacher who preferred I stripped off as much as possible until I left.

Comment by: Alan on 13th December 2020 at 19:28

Bo:

You have my sympathy - as I get older, I wonder why we tolerated the pathetic and dictatorial old men who ruled their little kingdoms in the gym - and you increasingly wonder why they were so obsessed about getting kids clothes off. Was your schooling post or pre 1980s?

Comment by: Bo on 13th December 2020 at 17:41

Hi Alan, My education was at a mixed comprehensive school and girls never wore leotards only regulation yellow aertex tops and either skirts/shorts and trainers.
Though officially our kit was vest/shorts for indoors and outdoors, in practice we were kept stripped to the waist. Our gym had large reinforced glass window going the whole length of the gym making it so easy for other lads or girls to pass by and see 30 lads all stripped off and sweating freely. The gym was rarely warm and the coolness hit you walking in. The girls found it fun to watch but they were some of the few. I did not relish being bare chested it was something I had to do. I found being stripped off outdoors during winter was hard. There were sometimes teams of vests vs skins but I very rarely ended up on the vests team
Both teams were handpicked by the teacher who preferred I stripped off as much as possible until I left.

Comment by: Michael on 11th December 2020 at 10:36

James was lucky in that he did his PE lessons in a heated gymnasium. The two gymnasia at my old grammar school were not heated, and each had one wall fully glass panelled from floor to ceiling with only single glazing.

These glass walls kept out the wind, but little else. As can be imagined, the temperatures therein were not much different from outside, at any time of year.

Any 'heating' in these vast echoing voids was provided by ourselves, as we were regularly pushed to our limits by the humourless PE master.

I became so hot from all the exercise that I ended each session being glad that the gym was not heated!

Comment by: Alan on 11th December 2020 at 06:30

William: No I don't - I think you would find in a real world scenario if one boy chose to wear a shirt in lesson one, more would join him in future lessons. It must have been even worse for co-ed pupils, where boys were wearing minimal kit, while the girls, in their leotards gawped at them, especially as the school leaving age increased (the way we are going people will be attending school soon when they are 20, so the old rules would be entirely inappropriate now). I genuinely believe some teachers were voyeurs, but luckily for everybody's sake (including their own) their wings have been clipped now.

Tom:

Obviously everybody is different, but you must remember that other lads at your school were probably grateful the regime wasn't too draconian. If you are reserved, you probably still would be, regardless of how some dictatorial teacher made you conform in your teens. I am sure if you had felt that strongly and taken your shirt off, nothing would have been done. The fact you didn't suggests that you were probably more at ease with your status quo

Comment by: Tom B on 10th December 2020 at 19:44

Alan, I’m not particularly bothered about the choice of shirtless, vest or t-shirt. I do feel kit should be more basic than schools now demand with the lists of branded items, baselayers, tracksuits etc.

My comments about the content of lessons are my observations having been reluctant to take part in and realising in later life that it has hampered me physically and mentally. I also believe mandatory showers would have forced me to face up to and overcome body issues.

I’m always happy to agree to disagree. My thoughts just add a different opinion into the forum.

Comment by: James on 10th December 2020 at 16:24

Alan,what seemed illogical and unfair was that we were expected to wear just our shorts in a heated gymnasium and wear the same in the freezing cold outside.

Comment by: William on 10th December 2020 at 15:44

Alan, How would that work if only a couple of boys wanted to wear vests and the rest were barechested, or vice versa? Wouldn't the tiny minority feel more uncomfortable than if all the boys wore the same kit? Don't you think the majority might laugh at them?

Comment by: Alan on 10th December 2020 at 15:26

There was a typo in my ptrvious message: should read "shirts" not shorts", but the gravamen of my argument remains - just because A is happy with the status quo doesn't mean B is, or should be.

Comment by: William on 10th December 2020 at 14:23

Tom B, I agree with you about allowing exceptions. To allow boys to miss showers is not in my view empathetic. Bodily hygiene should not be optional. Our gym routine was nothing under shorts, no tops and compulsory communal showers. This was quite a shock to a shy and skinny boy like me, but the fact that there were no exceptions made it easier. Gym vests were in our uniform list but we never wore them indoors and at an all boys school I could never see any reason for them. I never felt remotely humiliated. In time I grew to like our minimal kit. It was practical when you were exerting yourself.

I agreed also with Ambrose's concluding sentence on 6th December. If children at school are not sometimes required to do things they would rather avoid, how will they know what they are capable of? At first I would have gladly dodged the showers but because I had no choice I realised after a couple of weeks that they were nothing to make a fuss about.

The gym regime made me realise that I could cope with more than I thought. That was good; it helped to make me resilient. I am sorry that some contributors found a bit of communal nudity difficult. My parents told me that showers etc were nothing to worry about as we were all boys together - and to me that was far more helpful than being allowed to opt out.