The play opens with Irwin as a government spin-doctor, in a wheelchair.
We meet the eccentric Hector and his class of ‘History Boys’. They already have their A level results and are now studying for their Oxbridge entrance exams. Hector hits the boys but they regard it as a joke. They interpret it as sign of favouritism – Dakin is happy that he has bruises to prove it.
The Headmaster tells Mrs Linttot that he wants the boys to go to Oxbridge to improve the school’s league table results. Hector and Mrs Linttot, in the Head’s absence, disagree with him.
Scripps, on playground duty, sees the young, new teacher, Irwin arrive. Irwin says he was at Corpus in Oxford. The Headmaster tells Irwin that if he can get one of the boys a scholarship to Oxford or Cambridge, there will be a permanent job for him.