The offspring of riches: Pride, vanity, ostentation, arrogance, tyranny.

I don’t normally blog so early in the week, but I’m so outraged by something I have just read in the local paper, I cannot help myself. No, it wasn’t the usual poor syntax, misspellings and atrocious metaphors; for once, the content made my blood boil.

Before we start, I feel I should give you all a little bit of context; I have lived in South Bucks all of my life and it was only when I went to university that I realised that our schooling system wasn’t the same as everyone elses. (I was a very sheltered child.) For a start, I was in the first intake of children to move to secondary school when we were eleven and not twelve, so moving to big school was all the more terrifying as we were much younger than they were used to. But for right or wrong, one of the selling points of Buckinghamshire is the educational system. Parents move into the area to go through our schooling; at eleven, we were made to take the eleven plus. Those who passed, went to a grammar school of their choosing. Those who failed were chucked at the nearest secondary modern.

I failed. Of course, the letter didn’t tell me I’d failed, it told me “you have been awarded a place at a secondary modern or upper school.” It doesn’t matter how much you dress up a turd (even with glitter and feathers), it’s still a shit. I knew what it meant. My mum told me that if we’d have taken it at twelve, I would have been ready and would have done better. She said we could appeal and because of my family situation, I would probably get special dispensation. But I really wasn’t bothered. I knew I’d failed, so I didn’t want to go somewhere where I would instantly be one of the worst people there. Besides, all of my mates were going to Wye Valley. So, I went with my friends to get their fancy uniforms with their blazers and a line skirts fitted, whilst my mum popped down to Marks to get me my regulation black trousers and we bought the school tie. This all sounds a bit ludicrous, but that’s how it was. I remember me and a friend showing each other our uniform; she was in a blue shirt made from what could have been my mum’s old j clothes, a grey skirt, grey tights, a blue woolly v neck and a blue blazer. I had normal black trousers, a white shirt, the school tie and a green school sweatshirt. It was very obvious that we were moving worlds apart.

We moved schools and very quickly fell out of touch. But it was not an unhappy falling out, I loved being at Wye Valley. For a start, there were lots of boys there. Non of my grammar school friends got to see boys, except at the bus stop. Although I’ve said that first, it wasn’t the important thing. Everyone was given confidence because they were allowed to do what they were good at. I was always made to feel like the teachers wanted to help and wanted you to do well, with the exception of maths where I would make a positive effort not to work.

Wye Valley was a sports college, but there was no pressure to do sports if you didn’t want to. However, if you showed an interest, they would do everything to help you. About twelve or thirteen of us decided we wanted an after school hockey club, so one of our teachers volunteered to run it, even though he didn’t know much about hockey. As he was no hockey expert, he got a mate in who was; Callum Giles, who played for team GB at the Sydney Olympics. We were very excited that we were getting a Olympiad coming to coach us and for no real reason other than a mate pulling a favour. We were never asked for any money for this – I presume the school paid Callum, but it was nothing to do with us. We got all that expert advice for nothing. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znMjn-CZHsA)

There were other advantages to going to Wye Valley; there weren’t enough teachers to go round, so for the first few years we would have a half day on a Monday. I don’t remember anyone’s parents being bothered in the least by this and we always had fabulous afternoons. I could talk until I’m blue in the face about this, but what I’m trying to say is that I always felt that everyone at Wye Valley tried their hardest for me. I remember Mrs Jarrett stopping the school bus down the road so I didn’t miss it because I was in floods of tears after threats of exclusion from my horrid maths teacher. I was in quite serious trouble, but they still tried their hardest. And they never asked for anything back.

Fast forward a couple of years and my mum convinces me that if I want to do A Levels, I must go somewhere equipped to teach their students to get decent grades. So as a back up plan, I applied to go to Berkshire College of Agriculture to do some kind of equine management course, which I would have done eyes closed, but I didn’t want to assume I’d get enough GCSEs to go to a grammar school. Thankfully after re-jigging my A Level subjects so they didn’t include history (thanks to the D in my GCSE), I was accepted into Beaconsfield High School.

My first day was really strange; I had never joined a school as one of the only new people before. All these people were so confident and had been pumped full of how important and wonderful they were. And there I was, getting a bit tearful because I had to find my form group in the science block, which was miles away and I didn’t know what the room numbers meant. Of course, it was fine. Everyone was lovely and really welcoming; they made me feel as though I’d been there the whole time and I enjoyed my time there. But I’ll never forget being given a letter on my first day for my parents; upon opening it, I discovered that they were asking them to either donate £450 for a new computer or set up a direct debit to fund the school. Now, that letter never got to my parents. I was not going to give them a begging letter. Not after they had just shelled out to pay for the coach to get me to school. We went on public buses to Wye Valley and it was free. Naturally, Beaconsfield High used private coaches, which were paid upfront by the term.

The grammar school seemed convinced that it was a private school; they took part in MUN (Model United Nations doncha know) and the only people who played on the sports teams were county players at least, if not being lined up for England. This was a far cry from Wye Valley where we cobbled enough players together for a hockey team. I didn’t do much during my time at Beaconsfield High; most of my frees were spent riding, having driving lessons or arsing about in the common room. But I sensibly buttered my form tutor up so he could write me a lovely personal statement; he claimed that it gave him a rare chance to do some creative writing, which he didn’t get as a science teacher.

So, I loved my time at Wye Valley. I felt like I looked at my time at Becky High with a cynical eye; I really didn’t like the way they seemed to be emulating private schools. I remember one week we had a series of speakers come in to talk to us. We got to talk to our local MP, who got no questions about politics or the country as a whole, just inundated with questions about how dare Tesco build a shop in Gerrards Cross. We then had a Q & A section with Sandi Toksvig, which excited me because I secretly loved Call my Bluff. If only I knew then, what I knew now, I could’ve asked her so many questions. (Possibly about whether she has ever dressed up as a nun in front of Steve Frost hiding behind a door…)

So imagine my disgust when I saw Beaconsfield High were on the front page of the local rag because they have asked every parent to set up a minimum standing order of £10 a week for the seven years their child will be at school. That’s only £3650 over seven years and nothing compared to a private school. BUT, why should they pay? They go to a state school. This is not meant to be a class based system, it is meant to divide people by intellect levels. (Yeah.) What if people can’t afford to pay that? How dare the school ask them? Oh right, I know why. That’ll be because they decided to build a whole new Sixth Form centre and ran out of money half way through. Bucks County Council bailed them out to the tune of £1.3 million and now they are trying to claw that cash back. Disgusted? Yes, I was. Surprised? Nope, it smacks of Becky High to me.

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