HAILSHAM: Class divide set brothers on different paths

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THE sons of an East End bare knuckle boxer, twin brothers Dave and John Hill, 65, were born just 25 minutes apart and shared the same tough working class upbringing.

But their lives took two very different paths, based on the results of their 11 plus exams.

Below, Dave and John today

Below, Dave and John today

John, a carpenter, who lives in Upper Horsebridge, left school at the age of 15 with no formal qualifications after failing his 11 plus exam.

Meanwhile his twin Dave from Brighton, was one of only five children in his school to pass the exam and went on to become a well-paid university professor and politician.

It was only after suffering a near fatal car accident 25 years ago, that John underwent a series of medical tests which revealed that he and his twin brother have exactly the same IQ of 126.

The duo told their story in a new BBC One series, ‘A Hundred Years Of Us’ on Monday, in which Michael Aspel celebrated how Britain has changed in the past century.

Introduced in 1944, the controversial 11 plus exam formed the basis of the tripartite system also known as selective education. While those who did well in the exam secured a place at grammar school, children who scored less highly – often from less wealthy backgrounds - went on to a secondary modern or technical school.

“They turned you out for work,” said John. “I left school on the Friday and started work on the Monday. At 15, I went from a schoolboy to a working man in three days.

I wasn’t adept at sitting down and taking exams, I was glad to leave the exam room because I was more practical.”

But far from letting his exam result hinder him, John went on to set up a successful carpentry business, employing 32 men, and owned his own house aged just 22.

“It was seeing the opportunity there and taking it and not being afraid of it. Dad was a bare knuckle boxer and always said, ‘whatever you go up against, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Nothing is insurmountable.’”

John, readily admits he was glad to leave his books behind, but for his twin brother Dave, the 11 plus exam sparked a hatred for the inequality of the education system.

A staunch Socialist, the politics and education professor has also carved out a political career as a candidate for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

“There was a huge class divide,” he told the Gazette. “Most of the middle classes went to grammar schools where they had uniforms, GCE exams and teachers who were trained at universities. We were all steered into becoming teachers, doctors or lawyers.

Kids in secondary schools were steered into manual work.

My 11 plus and then the grammar school and then the university education gave me choices. I could choose manual work or well paid employment. Coming from a hard working class family, it made me a Socialist at an early age.”

“When I passed, I knew it was important because mum took me out to the Copper Kettle Café in Haywards Heath. In those days our parents were people who didn’t go out to eat. I still remember I had a cream cake and a coffee,” he said.

But despite the different paths their lives have taken, the brothers remain close and John has no regrets about the way his life has unfolded.

“When we found out we both had the same IQ we laughed about it,” said John. “I always suspected I was as clever as him,” he added.