I joined a Sixth Form in Hertfordshire after secondary school when I was 16.
I had been at an inner-city all-girls state school in Islington for five years prior.
This new school had an entry exam and its own driveway.
All the normal routes to popularity at my previous school (getting kicked out of lessons, starting fights, failing exams, stealing someone’s bag, pretending to be an eighth Ethiopian…) weren’t the same there. There was only one other girl from a council estate in my year and I clung to her. Everyone else seemed to live in a big house with a garden and a pet and multiple siblings…
But the school was great, the education I received was great, choir was great, editing the school magazine was great, it was all great. Until the pressure of applying for university rolled around.
At my old school it had always been, do your personal best, whatever that may be. Here it was, do the best, period. It was A* or bust. Girls were having anxiety attacks and hurling themselves on to the floor with hysterical tears for getting 3 marks off an A* or only 1 mark into an A. Meanwhile I looked at my C in Mechanics with pride, I never liked physics so this was a success to me. Obviously no one congratulated me, just despondent pats on the shoulder and mutters of ‘there’s always re-sits’.
My most definitive and lasting memory of my time at this Sixth Form was during one particular history lesson.
Hatti walked in and dropped her Cath Kidston weekend bag, that she used as her school bag, down on the table with such force everyone turned around.
“I had such an awful nightmare last night.” Anguish crumpled her face like a napkin. She had missed out on being elected Head Girl by just a few votes so her popularity and our collective guilt for robbing her of her deserving title commanded the room.
“What happened?” The teacher, Ms Grove, asked; even she was concerned.
“I had a nightmare that I…. that I went to Fortismere!”
A brief silence and then Hatti was consoled by close friends and the teacher; ‘it was just a bad dream’ they told her.
But I stayed in my seat, confused.
Fortismere was a school and Sixth Form in her native Muswell Hill, North London. I knew girls from my previous school who had applied to the Fortismere Sixth Form, as it was renowned for its arts offering, and failed to get in.
I knew the girls to whom Fortismere was their goal, perhaps an unachievable goal. An aspiration. A dream.
At my previous school on results day I hid all my A*s, embarrassed and ashamed I might make one of the other girls feel bad about her grades in comparison. I didn’t publicly complain about my C in ethics as I knew not many of the others girls even passed. At my Sixth Form girls weren’t satisfied when they didn’t get 100% and went wailing through corridors about 97%.
The point of this story is not that Hatti is a bad person, or which school is better, but that, for all the faults (of which there are many) of my previous school, I did gain one thing no one at my new school seemed to have – perspective.
Perspective allows for sensitivity. It allows for understanding of what someone else might be feeling that’s different to you because of their upbringing, background, race, gender and beliefs. It allows for the opportunity to be considerate in light of that perspective.
I went to a play last week called Swifties that Tanya Cubric was one of just two phenomenal actors in. It was a high-energy, trash talking, deeply moving piece about two die-hard Taylor Swift fans. It showed the dichotomy o