Andy Cooksley 1981 – 1988

Andy was a student at Wolverhampton Grammar School between 1981 and 1988.


After leaving School, Andy then went on to read physics at Imperial College London before joining the Royal Air Force as an Engineering Officer, a career he is still pursuing today.

Why do you think your parents chose Wolverhampton Grammar School for your education?

My parents had both benefitted from grammar school education, so they always intended that my brother and I would do the same.  Of course, by the time we came to secondary school, state grammars were few and far between (and not available in the West Midlands), but WGS was an obvious alternative.  I now realise that they had been thinking about it for a while, as they had been putting money aside for the fees, but the first I really knew of it was when they told me I would be taking the entrance exam (which they still referred to as the eleven plus).  To be honest, I had no real idea what was on offer – all my friends were heading for the local comprehensive and I’d always assumed I would do the same.  But I loved an academic challenge even at age 10, so the exam was definitely something I was up for.

What was your most memorable time from your WGS experience?

I still have really clear memories of so much of my time at WGS.  The teachers were fantastic: it seems rude to single out any, but Gerry Holden (History), Bernard Trafford (Music during my time), Jean Gardner (Chemistry) and Graham Lewis (Mathematics) were all hugely inspirational.  I genuinely enjoyed my studies (with the possible exception of Latin), but my fondest memories are definitely of all the other activities that WGS gave me the chance to engage with, many of which continued to be part of my life long after I left.  The 1981 intake were the first to play rugby from Year 7, so it was part of my school sporting life from the off, and I carried on playing through university and even represented RAF Gibraltar when I served there in the mid 90s. The choir and choral society were great fun and I still sing on a regular basis – I suspect the bass parts to all the main Christmas Carols are permanently wired into my brain.  And I was lucky enough to be sponsored by the Merchant Taylors Company to sail with the Tall Ships Youth Trust, who then invited me back as a volunteer instructor, something I kept up for over 10 years.

WGS gave me a fantastic academic foundation, as much teaching me ‘how to learn’ as the specific subjects, and that has been a constant benefit in my working life.  The RAF moves me into a new role every couple of years, so being flexible and able to get to the essentials quickly is really important. The school also gave me plenty of confidence in myself and in my ability to lead others – on the rugby pitch, as part of the technical team for school plays – which was absolutely key to getting into the RAF in the first place.

How did WGS help with life after School?

I chose physics for my first degree, and Imperial was (and is) generally recognised as the best scientific university in the UK so they were always my first choice; WGS gave me the academic qualifications and the confidence to go for it.  Simultaneously, I was looking for sponsorship, which is how I came into contact with the RAF.  I went straight in from university and can honestly say I’ve never wanted to leave.  I’ve had some brilliant experiences, serving in Gibraltar and the Falklands as well as the UK.  I’ve deployed on operations to Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, worked on complex new equipment projects as a project manager and commanded a unit of over 900 people.  And I’ve picked up a couple of masters degrees on the way.

What advice would you give to a parent thinking of sending their child to Wolverhampton Grammar School?

I’d have no hesitation in recommending a WGS education.  The quality of teaching is fantastic, but it’s so much more than just a school.  Pupils have a unique opportunity to develop themselves and prepare for life after school, and will pick up skills and interests that will stay with them for a long time.

And what advice would you give to a current student leaving the School?

You might expect me to say ‘work hard, make sure you get the most out of it’, but the beauty of my time at WGS is that all the amazing things that happened did so without it feeling like hard work!  So I’d say, first, just stop and take stock of what you are doing at school. You’ll probably find that you already are making the most of it because you want to, not because you feel you have to.  My second piece of advice is not to worry if you can’t see how it all fits together right now: my academic path was always pretty clear, but the fact that I am still using the musical and theatre skills I picked up at WGS is a real surprise, as was an MA in Defence Studies some 23 years after I closed the books on O-level history with the firm conviction that I had finished with the arts for good!  So do what you enjoy, even if it does seem a bit of mixed bag.

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