Coatdyke Primary School (now demolished) was an old-fashioned, no nonsense seat of learning. Apart from teaching the three Rs, its aim was to get the academically more able pupils through their Qualifying Exam (11+). Those who 'qualified' proceeded to the superb Coatbridge High School, where the aim was to get the most academically gifted onwards into University. I was fortunate to have been in the 'academically gifted' group but felt it wrong even then that so many of my primary school chums were sent to the junior secondary with a leaving age of fifteen. It would have been far better to have one secondary school for the town, the same uniform for all, including Catholics, but with academic streaming.
In both schools, corporal punishment (the tawse) was used regularly by both male and femal teachers. I experienced many painful 'beltings' - far better than being given a hundred lines to write. I had and still have no objections to use of the tawse but am not in favour of the English habit of caning on the backside, which seems to have sado-masochistic implications.
My aim at school was to qualify for officer entry into the Royal Navy. That demanded similar academic entry standards to universities plus a three day interview process. Coatbridge HIgh School did not let me down. At sixteen, I won a scholarship to Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. To this day, I still thank my wonderful teachers for the great start they gave me. At school, my main intersts were football, running, cycling, sailing, tennis, badminton, debating society, school opera, Citizens' theatre club, the excellent 2nd Coatbridge Scouts with its inspirational leaders, Cliftonville Community Association Youth Club created and managed by we teenagers with no adult involvement, camping, youth hosteling and, of course, the girls, some of whom I had known since primary school. What a childhood!
Alas, Coatbridge had one great social fault line. Due to the number of Catholic Irish labourers who came to the town during the Industrial Revolution, 60% of the town's population was of Irish Catholic descent. It was like a transplant from Belfast. We lived in parallel worlds. Although I grew up in the Protestant community, I was entirely ecumenical in spirit but mixing with the Catholics was virtually impossible. We went to separate churches, separate schools and even separate Scout groups. As secretary of the school debating society, I broke this sectarian mould by inviting St Patrick's High School to visit us for a joint debate but on the football field, it was a different story. Playing against St Patrick's was like a juvenile Rangers v Celtic match.
Coatbridge High School was then one of the top footballing schools in Scotland. We reached the final of the Scottish Schools Senior Shield competition in both my fifth and sixth years, the finals being played at Hampden, the national stadium. Tragedy upon tragedy, in both finals we were beaten by Catholic schools (St Mungo's Academy of Glasgow and Our Lady's High School of Motherwell). The reason for these defeats was obvious; our opponents had brought busloads of priests to support them!
Ironically, my first friends in the Navy happened to be Catholic. I discovered this only when they fell-out from Sunday divisions to attend the Catholic church service. 'I didn't know Catholics were like you,' said I to Tony. 'What do you mean?' he asked. That brought home to me, the nonsense of having religious apartheid in our schooling.
Coatbridge gave me the firmest of foundations for life, a fantastic childhood and a moral compass.