Alice Winn's In Memoriam (2023) is partly set in an English public school around the outbreak of World War I. Toward the beginning of the novel, the narrator states:
Preshute was a younger public school, and eagerly used the terminology of older, more prestigious institutions: Shell for first year, Remove for second, Hundreds for third, followed by Lower and Upper Sixth.
Despite having read other books with a similar setting, I have not encountered these terms before. The exception is Remove: I recall that in the Billy Bunter stories, the eponymous, bespectacled protagonist is called "the owl of the Remove". My understanding from reading those, probably mistaken, was that Remove referred to a group of schoolboys who needed to resit some exams and so were "removed" from what would have been their class year had they passed the exams on their prior attempt.
I also can't quite figure out the mapping between the years, the forms, and the students' ages. I thought that public schools admit students into first form at around age 12 (so that most students would turn 13 during their first year), and that students complete sixth form (and their A-levels) at around age 18. But there are apparently "lower" and "upper" forms? Cursory googling confirms that there exists an Enid Blyton novel called Upper Fourth at Malory Towers, but Preshute doesn't appear to have an Upper Fourth, or indeed, any fourth or fifth forms at all.
So here are my questions. They seem like a lot, but they are all about understanding how "Shell", "Remove", and "Hundreds" are used at Winn's fictional school, Preshute:
- Around 1914, how many academic years comprised a public school education, six or seven?
- Has this changed in the intervening century?
- What are the "older, more prestigious" schools that Preshute emulates by using the terms Shell, Remove, and Hundreds?
- Why those particular terms? For example, hundreds of what?
- Were those terms consistently used across those schools? I.e., is "Remove" always the second year?
- Did Remove ever have the sense I thought it did, of students held behind due to unsatisfactory academic performance?
- What are "lower" and "upper" versions of a form? Are they one school year apiece? It cannot be that every form has a "lower" and an "upper", because that would mean one's public school education takes twelve years.
- Does any or all of this vary from school to school? So for example, school A might have a lower and upper fourth, while school B has only one fourth form, but a lower and upper sixth?
- Generally, what age would a student be in any given form?
- What happened to the fourth and fifth forms at Preshute?
Without this information, it's a bit confusing trying to understand what's going on in In Memoriam. For example, some interactions might be read as mildly disturbing or entirely horrifying depending on how close together or far apart in age the two students are. Thanks!