South Devon Technical College

Were you at SDTC in the 70’s? Our paths may have crossed…

Found this not long ago and boy did it bring back memories! A timetable from schooldays or, in my case, college days. I spent three years at South Devon Tech (or South Devon College as it is known now). Why three years I hear you ask; was I so dumb I couldn’t do my A-levels in two years like any normal person? Why did I take a year out and what did I do?

The fact is, I went to a secondary modern school in Newton Abbot – Highweek – and consequently took CSE’s. Only the posh kids at the Grammar school did GCE’s but I was not at all bothered: I managed to get 8 (or was it 9?) top-grade CSE’s, which was equivalent to O-levels.

I left school thinking I wanted to be a scientist. Don’t laugh; I actually harboured thoughts of being an astronomer and working at Herstmonceux Castle! That was never going to happen but I didn’t know it yet. I should have done, because I always knew I was lousy at maths, a degree in which would be essential if you are going to be an astronomer. Was I in denial? Almost certainly!

Poor pictures I’m afraid, but I only had a toy camera at the time! A couple of snaps of the SDTC main building – geography was the top (7th) floor – great views over Torbay! I was, of course, involved with the Students Union – gigs, college dances, poker and such like – so here is our famous minibus – quite comfortable as I recall; I slept in it at least one night after a late gig/party!

At age 16 I was asked to fill out a form to go to college and take my A-levels – and had to choose three subjects. Easy! I wrote down Physics, Chemistry and Biology. What an idiot! I started at college and did not like it one bit, so dropped out after just a few weeks, realising I had made a terrible mistake.

I didn’t drop out exactly: I spent a year doing O-levels instead – and working during the holiday season at a giant laundry in Torquay cleaning sheets and towels for some of the biggest hotels in south Devon. I had time to think and, perhaps more importantly, to be honest with myself and think long and hard about what I was actually good at rather than what I wanted to be good at. I also amassed a shed-load of beer money.

That year doing O-levels was not wasted. I got good grades but, perhaps more importantly, I learned a great deal about the difference between CSE’s and GCE’s – and the latter is not always better than the former as you might think. It was a good grounding in the education and, in particular, the exam system. I also got three years at college; not a bad result.

50 YEARS AGO... I was taking O-levels at SDTC 1972-3 and A-levels 1973-5

I ended up choosing English Literature, Economic History and Geography, throwing in another O-level – Geology – in an effort to keep me off the streets and out of the pubs. Which didn’t work by the way. Those of you paying attention may have noticed that I had something called ‘music appreciation’ on Thursday afternoons; now this I enjoyed a great deal – all kinds of weird and weirder music and a far-out American (Canadian?) lecturer/freakazoid called P.Green – I kid you not.

Geography was a master stroke on my part. I knew I wanted to go to university but I was not sure what subject I would take. There’s something new. Geography is everything – physics, geology, maths, statistics, history, sociology – but in three dimensions and all rolled into one subject. Take statistics and add geography and you have spatial analysis. Geography is, in my view, the broadest education you can get. Can’t go wrong. And don’t forget all the field work; it’s surprising how many of those fields had pubs in them. Or nearby somewhere. You just needed a map – and someone who knew how to read it…

I enjoyed my time at college immensely, and thanks to my SDTC education I managed to get into the Joint School of Geography – at King’s College London and the London School of Economics – and that was a whole new and much bigger adventure.

I have many stories of my time at SDTC and often wonder what happened to the folks I knew there; let me know if you have any stories…

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