Good luck to children everywhere who today await their A level results. It’s not an experience I ever went through on the simple grounds that my single O level did not qualify me to even study for A levels, let along take any. It is not something I am particularly proud of.
I don’t consider myself to be ‘thick’, although the evidence does suggest I wasn’t an educational genius. Every single subject, with the exception of English Language, made no sense to me. In researching a separate writing project, I did a lot of thinking as to why this was.
My parents splitting up plainly didn’t help. I was brought up by my Dutch mother who, it must be said, had little to no idea how the British education system worked. In any event, she had her hands full putting bread on the table after a monstrously long day getting to work, working and then getting home from work, to do much else. I don’t think this helped very much.
My father, by now in Canada, offered to pay for me to attend the private school, the Bristol Cathedral School, which he attended. My mother was keen I took him upon it, too, as were my paternal grandparents. The 11 year old Richard, as everyone wanted to call me back then, wanted no part of it. I had no idea where or what the Cathedral school was, no idea why people wanted me to go there and I remember, probably for the first time in my life, feeling crippling anxiety at the prospect. So I went to Brislington School, my local comprehensive. It didn’t go well.
Early in my scholastic ‘career’, I suffered from panic attacks and night terrors, which morphed into depression and anxiety as the years went by. Every Tuesday afternoon, my mum took time off work to take me to a child psychiatrist, not that I knew for a few years I was actually seeing a psychiatrist. By the third year at senior school, I was lost.
I didn’t understand anything. Not a single subject. I don’t recall a single teacher, except my legendary English teacher, taking the time out to guide me a little. They must have concluded quite early on that I was a hopeless case and beyond saving. Being a young boy with no confidence and, seemingly, no ability in anything, left me crippled inside.
There was never any additional or remedial teaching, no obvious efforts to understand why I was doing so badly. I was left to it. In later years, I discovered I was far from alone. Brislington, in those days, was a very poor school with many poor teachers.
School was where my lifetime of failure began. I left school badly educated, with few skills acquired from school or by parenting. I was left to my own devices and all the bad choices that followed were mine and mine alone. 45 years ago, I should get over myself, but I can’t.
When I had children, I was absolutely determined that they would have better opportunities than I did. If I did not have the necessary knowledge in school subjects, I would always be there for them, support them in any way I could and stand up for them.. They would have every chance to succeed in life. So, when they both returned glittering A level grades and then went to a Russell Group university, I knew I got something right.
I had one education and, with minimum assistance, I blew it. There’s no getting away from this simple fact and today it still fills me with grief. Failing at school left me with an ingrained sense of failure in everything I did and it’s still there today.
It’s why I don’t look at my school days with any degree of fond nostalgia and why I never attend school reunions. They were some of the worst days of my life. For my children and children everywhere, I hope for them it’s their best days.