I left Kendrick, my all girls grammar school, 23 years ago when I was 18 and I hadn’t been back since. I left with rubbish A levels results and broken confidence. This started a trajectory of just not doing very well in life in my late teens and throughout my twenties (although things are good now), a lot of which I can trace back to the belief I developed at school that I was stupid and not good enough. And let’s not even go into how going to an all girls school impacted me with men. I can laugh about it now, but it brutally affected my ability to even talk to the opposite sex as an adult, let alone have relationships.
So why on earth would I go to Kendrick’s 140th birthday party when I had such unpleasant associations with my experience? Because I wanted to make peace with it all and find out if my perspective would be different after seeing the school and some of the teachers in the flesh. A couple of my best friends from Kendrick wanted to go along too – they hadn’t had the best time there either, but we thought we needed to do it and that we would have fun.
We arrived at the school on Sunday at 1.30pm and discovered ourselves to be nervous wrecks. I hadn’t realised it would affect me this much. I was shaking. We walked into register and I could barely write my name on my name badge because my hands were shaking so much. Very quickly the memories came flooding back, looking at the shabby buildings and the tennis courts that hadn’t changed much at all. But what really struck me, was that the memories popping into my head were good and funny. I always had a lot of friends at Kendrick, most of whom I’m in touch with and still really like. Yes, the school was suffocatingly dull and old fashioned, the teachers weren’t particularly inspiring, but we were kids with energy and imagination (and a lot of hormones) and we had fun.
Walking through the dreary classrooms, I remembered how bored I was in classes. I’ve no idea how I got through 7 years of them. At primary school I had been a confident kid, specialising in writing wacky stories and making crazy artwork and doing bits of drama. I wasn’t a brilliant high achiever, but I knew I was clever and that I was really good at my creative things. Suddenly at this new school, from the age of eleven you needed to be a self disciplined exam machine, ready to nerdily crack on with hours of homework every night. And there was no patience, no curiousity and no warmth from the teachers if you couldn’t deliver. Your sense of worth came from scoring the highest test results, not from writing the coolest story about super hero pigs.
I am still bitter that I was a nice, bright child and that I was cast aside for being lazy because I wasn’t a nerd. It just seems a terrible shame that in my teen years when I should have absorbed learning like a sponge, I was camatosed with boredom and labelled a trouble maker for being disengaged rather than disobedient.
However, I took my chip on my shoulder back to the school on Sunday and discovered that despite everything, I am grateful for my time at school. I had been in a protective environment full of high achieving girls – it wasn’t the right place for me, but it planted the seed of ambition in me to strive for the best and push myself. I didn’t excel, but school was a safe, consistent home to me for all those years, and I may not have fitted in academically, but socially I was confident and had lots of laughs. And even though my A level results were crap, I made it to university. And when I compare all those happy outcomes of my school years to a lot of other people’s teenage experiences, well actually, I know I’m lucky.
The opening photo is of myself and my friends from school, posing in our old biology lab at Kendrick’s 140th birthday celebration.