In one of my first ever classes in Year 7, at 11 years old, I watched as another kid got told that they “shouldn’t be here,” because they struggled with a worksheet. This was not told to them by a peer, or even a resident bully. This was said by our teacher.
It was dressed up as a beacon of opportunity, a chance for any child, regardless of their upbringing and social class to receive an excellent education if they deserve it. This merit is earned by our mastery of verbal and non-verbal. That’s the grand idea, the methodology that feeds into this is wholly good, fair and honourable. However, when the cost of the school uniform alone reaches £300 then you start to question the integrity of this claim. When the actual proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds is clearly low, then this claim is even more disputable.
It is a place where you are measured purely by the smattering of A*s on your piece of paper. This notion motivated us to achieve, overachieve and quake at the thought of failure. Otherwise I would not get my stars, and then I might as well just be blunt rocks. Passion for the subjects I once adored became fear of my inadequacies. I was more scared to be wrong because being wrong would make me undeserving, then maybe other people would also say that I too, “shouldn’t be here”. Pastoral care became a mere afterthought, so much so that the environment became a notorious petri dish for mental illnesses and eating disorders. I entered those marble arches with excitement and enthusiasm, and left with scars worn on my sleeves.
We criticised our teachers, disrespected them. Blamed our own shortcomings on the education that was offered to us. We rescinded any blame placed onto ourselves as we deemed ourselves blameless, after all, we were grammar school girls. But to us, learning was only important if it amounted to UCAS points. Learning was just a side effect of the Oxbridge dream.
We were bright and hopeful children, the future of this country, but most of all, deeply ignorant and arrogant. So, we swallowed CGP books, reciting them to oath and gulped down factsheets fed to us on silver spoons. We became doctors, lawyers and dentists, and now we look back with contempt.