This is autobiography
Sociologists distinguish between Contest and Sponsored social mobility. Contests are things like Civil Service Examinations - if you pass you move to the next stage; if you don't, you don't - even if your father is a very important person. Sponsorship is usually equated with nepotism, but it also includes talent spotting of various kinds. Some people only become upwardly mobile because they are picked out, encouraged, flattered or coerced.
From 1958 to 1964 I attended Bromley Grammar School for Boys in Kent. I had passed the 11+ and this is the Grammar School my parents picked for me. Neither of my parents, none of my aunts and uncles and (I think) none of my cousins had attended such a school and they were all early school leavers, though some later acquired qualifications. My mother left school at 13 or 14 and went to work in a paper mill; my father did likewise and became a delivery boy for Messrs Potts of Dartford.
I was in the top stream, though between 1958 and 1961 my class position deteriorated as things got worse at home. After my parents separated in 1960 and my mother and I went to live with her brother and sister in law, it began to improve. Top stream boys sat four 'O' levels (English, Latin, French, Maths) in the fourth form and, if they passed all of them, could skip the fifth year (and Science 'O' levels!) and go straight into the Sixth Form as I did in Autumn of 1962, just after my 15th birthday.
By this time, I was a member of the Awkward Squad of difficult pupils, argumentative and out of line - school uniform and such like. I wanted to take 'A' levels in Economics, French and Maths. "Sticky" Richardson who had taught me Maths declined to have me in his sixth form group, so did Mr May, the French teacher. The Economics master, the charismatic Alan Charnley, had not encountered me so I got into his group. "Jack" Addison took me for History and I was also accepted for Geography by another master who hadn't previously taught me (Mr Moffatt, who was very good).
You had to sign up for General Studies (Mr Atkins), and a further 'O' level - I chose Italian. In my own time, I did a voluntary 'O' level in Art - Awkward Squad members found the atmosphere in the Art room therapeutic.
Early on in my sixth form studies, the Deputy Head took me aside and told me that I would not be made a Prefect. Too rebellious. Curiously, the same man ("Polly" Parrott) also got me to deputise for him when he could not teach our Italian class - I had a good accent and could give Dictation.
More importantly, I was also told I had been selected for the Oxbridge Scholarship group. At Bromley GS, you did not put yourself forward for Oxbridge; they selected you for the group which would stay on for an extra term after taking 'A' levels and prepare for the Scholarship exams. Not only that, they told you which University, which college and which degree. In my case, Oxford, St Peter's and PPE - exactly the same combination as for my friend John Edward King who was accelerated even faster and went to Oxford at 16 or 17 and had an Oxford extra-mural lectureship at 20.
In the meantime, you would also be pushed in various ways.
In the mornings, as we entered school, the Headmaster "Henry" Anderson would stand outside his study and observe us. Boys were called over for various reasons.
On one occasion, he spotted my Chelsea boots and dressed me down. On another, he called me in to tell me that my Father (who I had refused to see any more when I reached the age of 16) had been to the school and had left some papers for me to sign: my Father had bought National Savings Bonds in my name and now required me to sign them over to him.
On several occasions, the Head called me over to say he had something on his desk that he thought I should read. They were actually Government reports. As a sixth former I read the Beeching report on the future of the railways and the Robbins report on the future of higher education. And I read them cover to cover.
This is how you were informally prepared for the Oxbridge scholarship examinations.
My Economics teacher, Alan Charnley, also took an interest in me and wanted the school to put me up for Christ Church or some such - but he was over-ruled. The school's strategy was to maximise the number of names on the Oxbridge Scholarship board by targetting second-rate colleges like St Peter's. When I got my A level results, Charnley also suggested that I write and ask to be interviewed at St Peter's before the Scholarship exam, which I did. They gave me a place but told me to sit the exam anyway - and, indeed, out of it I got an Open Scholarship which in those days was worth £60 on top of whatever grant you were going to get (in my case a full grant of £370).
Without my school's sponsorship, I would not have applied to Oxford. There were a couple of boys whose middle-class parents intervened when they were not put into the Oxbridge group but mine would never have done so. And despite being a member of the Awkard Squad, I don't think I would have pushed myself forward. I did want to go to University and I had fall-back choices - the new universities - if I did not get into Oxford.
Of course, this little story of Sponsored Mobility also reveals one of its weaknesses. If my teachers had been just a little bit spiteful, they could have punished me for all the trouble I caused them by keeping my name off that Oxbridge list. Fortunately, for me, they were above such meanness.