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Apotheosis of Tanner

May 5, 2015

hertford bridge side window wm trimmed

Invitation: Tanner day SATURDAY, 5 SEPTEMBER 2015. Please save the date for a day at Hertford celebrating … his unique approach to broadening access to Oxford.

According to the Hertford website, The Tanner scheme “was designed to level the playing field, giving state-schooled students a realistic chance of an Oxford education at a time when their presence at the university was virtually non-existent.”

In practice the Tanner scheme created the circumstances in which Hertford College apparently overlooked my A-level grade As when awarding the chemistry “open” scholarship and the associated accommodation entitlement to an Oxford University chemistry professor’s son, offering just a “place” to me.

The Tanner Scheme encouraged the headmaster of Warrington Grammar School to use unorthodox means to persuade me to apply to one of the poorer Oxford colleges. Headmaster Jackson was easily encouraged – I believe he was keen to gain prestige for the school my father was unable to attend for reasons of poverty a few decades earlier.

If I’d taken up the place offered at Manchester University, I wouldn’t have been troubled by Oxford’s accommodation problems. Without those practical difficulties I would have achieved at least a good second at Manchester.

Alternatively, taking a year out would have enabled me to apply to universities on the strength of my A-levels in Maths, Physics and Chemistry, all achieved at grade A at a time when grade A was awarded significantly less frequently than now. There were jobs available in Warrington at the time, and I could have gained work experience before university admission. I’d have been well placed to apply to any university, perhaps to Cambridge colleges which did provide student accommodation.

Hertford College’s attitude seemed to be that it didn’t matter if the proletarian types underachieved, they could always go back to their northern slums. It didn’t matter so long as the Tanner Scheme helped Hertford’s Norrington (academic results) table ranking. I believe I’d have had a career and perhaps a better life if I had avoided Hertford.

The good thing about the Tanner celebrations is that it gives me licence to write up the past.

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