I went to St Joseph’s College in Blackpool from 1960 to 1968.  I joined the prep school in Jimmy McGrahan’s class.  And after his forceful teaching, I passed the 11 plus and went into the secondary school.

In my first year in the senior school, I was a nerdy kind of kid, with national health spectacles and still in short trousers.  For one hour a week the class had elocution lessons from an old, portly teacher called Mr Priestley. He had a hard task wrestling with our flat northern vowels and trying to get us to enunciate the Queen’s English. One day he came up to me and said, “Sloane, I want to put you in for a festival.”  “Why me?” I asked. “Because I think you can do it.” I had to learn and recite a poem.  It was Play up, Play up and Play the Game by Sir Henry Newbolt, a classic motivational poem ringing with the heroic values of the British Empire.  I had to practise it in front of the class, which was rather embarrassing. Especially when dear old Mr Priestly said, “That’s good but you need to pause and to put feeling and emotion into it.” 11-year-old boys are disinclined to express feelings.

Anyway the Saturday of the festival came and I went there on the bus (my parents never had a car).  I gave it my best shot but there were other children there who were more polished or experienced than I was and they scooped all the prizes. So I had to return to school on Monday and tell Mr Priestley and the class that I had not won. I was then, and still am, very competitive so it felt like a failure to me. We did not have Mr Priestley again after that year and I never thanked him for that intervention.  I am sure it is too late to do so now.

Nowadays I go around the world giving keynote talks on leadership and innovation and often address large, prestigious audiences. Part of the reason that I can do that is because a teacher took the initiative and gave me a challenge. He asked me to do something I had never done and helped me to learn how to do it.

It seems to me that education is not about league tables or exam results. It is about opening doors for people and showing them rooms that that would otherwise be hidden.

I have positive memories of St Joe’s. I learnt French from Monsieur LeBrun, known to the boys as Panker and I am reasonably competent at it to this day. Mr Charles took us for History. He accurately predicted what the GCE questions would be and most of the class got A’s as a result. We had Mr Cartmel, ‘Chinny’, for Physics which I always enjoyed. I have happy memories of school trips to the Lake District where we stayed in a hut at Langdale and climbed mountains and sang songs. Ted Schools was a great teacher and leader in those days.  I was not a great sportsman but I ran in the school cross-country team and I remember competing in the steeple jump on Sport day.

The Christian Brothers were not the most academic of teachers and their methods were often brutal. I was strapped along with many others. But when you see the lack of discipline in many of today’s schools and the disrespect shown to teachers who have no effective sanction you can see the benefit of the corporal punishment we suffered.

I went from St Joe’s to Cambridge where I read Engineering. I have had a flourishing career in computers, software and now in writing and speaking. I owe much of my success to my father and his coaching but also to St Joseph’s College. They shaped a rebellious and unruly boy into an achiever.

[Editor's note. Paul is too modest to mention his excellent website, which you can see if you click here.]

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