What a privilege

Hx College in the ’80s and ’90s… a world of possibilities… so long as you were a rugby player or a talented musician. I was neither.

The sports teachers decided in the first week of senior school that the best way to boost my self-confidence was to consign me to a group known as The Extra Zs for four years. The school’s running joke, presumably going back generations, that there was the A-team, B-team, C-team, D-team and then the detritus. After cross-country running, we still had to play rugby though. They apparently could not comprehend any alternative.

I did play a musical instrument, but for reasons unknown I took up one of the most difficult woodwind instruments there is, the oboe, as a result of which I was not very good. At times I was coopted into singing in a whole-year choir for special occasions, but as I was an extremely quiet boy this just became another opportunity for the head of music to yell at me in front of all of my peers for not opening my mouth.

Academically, I wasn’t well-suited to that school. I didn’t flourish. There was no encouragement at all, and I struggled with learning. I think most teachers just thought of me as the dunce-child of rich parents. It wasn’t until I went to sixth-form college that I encountered educators capable of inspiring me. Still, I left with nine GCSES, one A, three Bs and five Cs, so I can’t have been as stupid as they made out.

For me, that glorious institution excelled at only one thing: robbing me of all self-confidence. Senior school was five years of pure misery. And yes, I know how spoilt and selfish I sound: I had all those opportunities not afforded to the majority in our town, and I squandered my privilege entirely.

That’s one way of looking at it. Another way to look at it is the school squandered the exorbitant fees my parents paid to educate three boys (my sister went to a different private school) in failing to inculcate in me even a minuscule speck of self-respect. By the forth year of senior school I already knew I was going to leave when I completed my GCSEs.

There were many teachers who believed I should never have been there. Some of them were patently clear about that and openly hostile towards me. That was fine, because I agreed with them.

My genius best friend from primary school should have been there instead of me, but he didn’t have that opportunity because his father was head of education at the city council. It would have been politically impossible for the steward of such a role to send his children to private school. It didn’t do him any harm though, for he is now director of supply chain and logistics for one of the UK’s leading retailers.

A number of teachers at the school used to say, “There’s no such thing as dyslexia; it’s just an excuse rich parents make for their lazy kids.” Of course, a decade later I would learn that I have a chromosome disorder with neurological manifestations frequently misdiagnosed as laziness. No matter: I had rich parents, so I suppose they were justified in repeating this truth over and over, ad nauseam.

Most Old Hxians, as they are known, went on to achieve great things. Most of my peers would have ended up as doctors, surgeons, solicitors, directors or management consultants. I’m not sure that I ever qualified to join the exclusive club of alumni, having left at sixteen to study for my A-Levels elsewhere. Many of my peers from sixth-form college likewise went on to achieve great things though, rising through the ranks of career development.

I’m told that Hx College is a very different school today. Friends I met on hajj sent all their children there — all of them second-generation migrants — and had nothing but praise for the place. It’s a much more diverse school than it was then, when teachers used to boast of their racism. I’m glad. That today’s students leave oozing with confidence to pursue noble careers: of course I’m happy. So they should given the fees their parents pay to send them there.

As for me: perhaps I did squander those opportunities afforded to me. Perhaps I did screw everything up, amounting to nothing in the eyes of my peers. Or perhaps I am just still repeating the mantra drilled into me by that school, still singing to myself that tired refrain: “You’re a loser, who’ll never amount to anything.” What an effective education that was.

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