I went to a rough school. When moving to the UK, we had no idea how divided the English school system was: private, grammar, state run. All we saw were different coloured ties and varying degrees of castle-like buildings. In hindsight, the ‘better’ the school, the more outlandish they seemed. Which is how I came to choose what I thought was the most normal – and with that, apparently ‘the worst’ – a heaving, run-down comprehensive.

While attending this school, I had a limited notion of just how ‘the worst’ it was. Sure, lessons often ended with furniture being tossed out of windows, or ambulances being called. Yes, I was aware our uniform was a bit tatty and that (some) teachers had extremely limited expectations of us. But I still had no idea that the division was so large. A few years ago, I ran into a man with a familiar accent at a dinner party. Sure enough, it turned out he’d attended a school just down the road from mine, one that was of a considerably higher calibre. When I pointed out his luck, he shook his head. “No, no, it wasn’t a posh school,” he insisted. “In fact, it was quite a common one.”

When I mentioned the name of my school, I had to repeat it twice, as if he didn’t quite believe me. Then he shrunk from me in fear, whispering “we NEVER dared walk past your school in our blazers. You lot would have done us in.” And that pretty much sums up the one thing that I gained from being at the bottom of a very broad spectrum. Over two decades later, I still have street cred.

Maria Smedstad bio Scan Magazine Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine.

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