Youth Review: 15-16

Life is starting to get serious now. It’s hard to understand, but the seems to be a massive difference between 14 and 16, yet it’s only two years. Of course there are many legal barriers lifted at the age of 16, and it’s the first recognition by society that adult thought processes may somehow be set in motion, but there is still no overnight transition.

But I wasn’t 16 yet. I had only just turned 15. The school year was out, and I was anxious to get the result for my maths GCSE. It would feel good to have one qualification under my belt already, and in fact have two less exams to do the year later. In the end, August came around, and I got an A, which I was very pleased with.

Sadly, there was still plenty more school to go. Yet I was starting to feel rather unhappy at being treated as a child. My school was not particularly good at recognising that many of us deserved just a little bit more respect as adults capable of making our own rational choices. I was already feeling annoyed by the fact that the rules of society are such that I could not be treated as an adult for many more years yet. Yet I felt like one.

In school, I was given some extra responsibility… something that was probably a little beyond me. I had hung around the library so often that I was “rewarded” with the post of Official Book Scanner, which was easy, but then also Official Stationery Shop Manager, which was not. The librarian was a very trusting person, and entrusted me and a friend to run the school’s new shop. We had so much control that we got to decide the stock, set our own prices and even select the staff, although they were unpaid. This meant I spent even more of my lunchtimes in the library than was healthy for a person of my age.

Meanwhile, in the rest of school, things went up a gear. Suddenly there were demands for coursework from teachers left, right and centre. The work became harder as teachers left the hardest parts of the course right to the very end so it would be fresher in our minds. The threat of final exams was issued on so many occasions by teachers that it ultimately only served to provoke an apathetic reaction. I also saw my Business Studies teacher replaced with a much better one, Miss Moore, who let us call her by her first name and taught in a much more engaging style.

However, her style was not appreciated by the troublesome half of the class. See, Business Studies was also picked by those who wanted to ditch as many subject as possible and replace them with new ones. So there were several who picked it because they thought it would be easy. Miss Moore had some difficulty keeping these people in check, but it was no problem to us in the self-titled “Dictionary Corner” – me and three other friends, including the one from the previous Review (“Tory Boy” – or “G”) whose shining personality I was trying to emulate. We just got on with it. Yet we enjoyed the spectacle, and would often take careful notes as to what happened in the lessons. These lesson reviews would include all the daft things said to the teacher and all the witty between the class and her. Miss Moore always appreciated getting her copy of events from the last lesson, normally finding it highly amusing.

Through the wonders of modern computing, and by the fact that I am such a careful archiver of computer material, I still have all of these lesson reviews to do this day. It’s still very amusing to look back and read that the teacher allowed us to hold a minute’s silence on “Beverage Rememberance Day” in the middle of a lesson. We were supposed to be working, but Miss Moore allowed us to stand and pay our respects to the fact that we would no longer be allowed to bring drinks into class – something which she used to allow and was banned because one of the said drinks were thrown at another student, missing, but smashing a window, in the previous lesson. After the silence, a number of the class gave speeches to note their thanks to the Beverage Machine, which would no longer produce its fine hot chocolates for this lesson. It was all very daft, but we all knew it and that was part of the fun. Business Studies quickly became my favourite lesson. I was already enjoying the subject anyway, but the change of teacher made things even better.

Meanwhile, in English, the spectre of speeches came back. I had originally thought that the speech from last year was it as far as my spoken coursework was concerned, but it then emerged that there was a debate and then a discussion with presentation of conclusions to have. Yet this time, after the panic I got myself into last time, I knew things had to be different. I had been able to spend a year with my friend “G” in Business Studies, and I was picking up things both consciously and subconsciously from him in terms of public speaking. This time, I looked upon it as a challenge, something I would rise up to and defeat. In the end, that’s exactly what I did, and I also learned, when my debate speech was received with applause and then a victory in the vote afterward, that public speaking might actually be more fun that it would seem. Either way, I was just pleased to have made some progress from the terrible situation of last year.

In other subjects, I had to start thinking about my future plans. A-Levels were the obvious move… but I would have to make a decision what to narrow my studies down to. I was already looking forward to ditching English, Spanish, RE and others… but in the end I was wanting to get rid of so many that there would be hardly any left. I thought about keeping one of the sciences, but I was starting to get fed up with them. I didn’t want to take up IT, because it would mean going back to the teacher I hated yet again. The options were very low indeed.

It was something I needed to think about, but there was little time. Christmas was soon upon me, and so were my GCSE mock exams. They were tricky, and involved much more revision than I’d ever done in my life. They were also a severe distraction from thinking about my future. I just couldn’t wait to get them over with and into another year.

2001. Already one year of the nice new looking 2000s had gone. And none of the expected visions in my head of the future had come to pass. It was just like any other year. Nothing special about it at all. I really thought I was going to see some changes in the world, and new technology to mark the change… but I guess that was just youthful stupidity. Instead, the world ticked along like it always did, and another year was consigned to history.

“G” then delivered some bad news. He told me he was leaving this school to go to a Sixth Form college in a different town. Well, it was in fact much closer to him. I had now made really good friends with him and so it was not nice to hear that he would be going away. I wanted to keep learning off him, following his example. But that was going to end. Unless…

So my brain began to formulate solutions to the problem. I had heard that a few other people were also planning on leaving. I asked a few of my other friends if they would also consider leaving. They either were going to anyway or were going to consider it. Then I discovered that the new place would allow me to do Government & Politics as an A-Level. I would also be able to do Media Studies, which I really wanted to do as I thought it would be a useful complement to the fact that I had developed a keen interest in television/film production. Both of these options wouldn’t be available to me in my existing school. Plus, I’d finally get the chance to see the back of all the toffs and bigheaded middle-class kids that I had grown up with in this school. Add to that the fact that the new college had genuine free periods and no compulsory Games lessons, something which my old school was still insisting on. I didn’t want that. I wanted to be able to make my own decisions.

There were too many pluses going for it. I made the choice. I simply had to go to this college. It didn’t matter to me that it was 12 miles away. I just had to go. It would be a freedom from the lack of respect given to me by my teachers. Emancipation. I would be able to see myself as an adult. Even better was the fact that I would be able to go to a state school again, getting out of the private sector, something which was beginning to grate against my now solidifying political persuasion…

This decision provoked deep shock from my teachers. So much so that during one particularly boring Spanish lesson, I was summoned from the class by a messenger from the Headmaster, asking me to come to see him at once.

If there was one event that summed up why I wanted to leave it was this. In the middle of the class, I was being asked to go see the Head for an unspecified reason. That normally means you’re in big trouble. The class agreed. Shocked gasps were heard as the messenger announced that the Head wanted to see me. I thought there must be some mistake. How could I be in trouble when I hardly do anything remotely rebellious? Maybe they had caught me after I stole a pencil from the stationery shop. Everyone thought I was in line for a serious punishment as it would be bad for me to brought out of the class. I dawdled out of the lesson, white as a sheet…

In the end the Headmaster only wanted to know why I was leaving. And he created all that fuss just for that. It was weird to sit face to face with him and talk frankly about the fact that I didn’t want to be in the school any more because I didn’t feel they looked upon me as an emerging adult with my own free will. The Head tried some last ditch efforts, one of which included getting me a day’s work experience at the local BBC radio station… which I accepted gratefully, but then still decided to leave the school anyway.

I had no real idea what storm I was letting loose. But by March the decision had been finalised, and I had been accepted pending getting good GCSE grades. I had no idea how I would adapt to travelling 15 miles every day. But I trusted myself and knew I had made the right choice. The choice to get my life on my terms. It was hard enough to convince my parents to let me take it, especially as I would be turning my back on two further years of government money being used to give me a scholarship in what was a good school academically. That was something which I could not reclaim if all went wrong and I decided to come back. But I asked them to trust me, and in the end they did.

With that decision taken and now behind me, I could concentrate on getting the best out of my remaining time at the school. Many of my teachers were disappointed that I was going to leave, as they all wanted me to do their subjects at A-Level. But many of them were going to be let down by me anyway, as I could only do four of them. In the end, I decided in my new school to do Business Studies – because I was enjoying it and Maths – because I thought it would be good to have a “real” A-Level, alongside Media Studies and Politics. I thought it would be a good balance of subjects that would give me a more applicable insight into modern world than a course in, say, English Language might.

The final few months in school went by extremely quickly. Once I’d taken the decision to leave, I saw the school in a different light. I was liberated by the fact that I would not see almost all of these people ever again. In fact, it gave me an advantage… since it would give me a chance to expand and develop as an individual and not have to fear about the consequences. That was exactly what I did… I am pretty sure that it was around about now that I really started to feel more comfortable about who I was from this point onwards.

I started to mould myself in a different way. I became more outgoing. I managed to find confidence from somewhere. I started to throw away the fears of “what would they think of me?” that are at the heart of peer pressure. I was, at last, properly able to start being myself. To be honest, I’ve no idea if this was a good idea. It felt good to me, but it is possible that it did in fact alienate some of the people around me who had known me for a long time because I would no longer be the person they originally made friends with. One of the teachers did say during this period that she was shocked that I had become rather arrogant of late. Maybe it’s true. But it was something I felt I had to do.

It produced some rather strange reactions. I no longer had any real enemies in the school. There used to be several who I had long held grudges against – as you can see from previous Reviews. Then there were other who I just thought were idiots because they were not exactly glowing about me either. But these turned into half decent acquaintances. Not people who I wanted to hang around with, but I could now actually talk to them without feeling that I was being given enough rope to hang myself with.

During this time, The Weakest Link came to prominence. I thought it was a great show, and so naturally I took the opportunity to copy the format for a revision Geography session. Sanctioned by the teacher, who played an excellent Anne Robinson, it was probably the highlight of my whole school career. Me and two friends spent ages writing hundreds of questions related to the stuff we’re revising. This in itself helped us revise, but the aim was also to help others in the class by answering the questions. In line with my media ambitions, I decided to film it, and to this day there is still a videotape with it on. It didn’t go that well, as some people in it took the piss too much, but it was a lot of fun to do. It even got me a distinction, to which the Headmaster couldn’t resist further expressing his disappointment that I was leaving.

As the final school days drew to a close, and I found myself volunteering to help out backstage at the school production of Bugsy Malone, I started to reflect on my time there. It was an interesting experience. It started badly, and then improved as I “found myself”. It was a journey of sorts. I entered that school a kid with rather uncertain expectations of life, and came out of it with the idea that I could do absolutely anything I wanted to. Except sport. But that was obvious. And yet, for some reason, I had my mind set on going into the media. That didn’t seem to be tallying with what my family expected of me. Yet I didn’t share their ideas. I was considering careers like there was no tomorrow… but nothing ever came of it. I always came back to wanting to be a TV/film producer. Not even a director. No ambition. Those thoughts would occupy my mind for at least the next year…

I started to realise just how many friends I was leaving behind. In fact, the number who claimed they were going to leave to go to the same college as me dropped away fast, to be cut back to just a handful, and only three or four of those people were something resembling friends with me. It had suddenly become a giant step into the unknown… a completely new start.

And it wasn’t a good time to start discovering those fears as the GCSE exams were just around the corner. 15 – probably more – exams of utter tediousness, preceded by weeks of revision of the same concepts. Endlessly. It would be the biggest test of my life, and one that would go on for many, many weeks. I hated every minute of it, but who doesn’t? Exam after exam fell by, but they just seemed to keep on coming. It reminds me of the tunnel metaphor I used a few weeks ago when I discussed the normal end of term crescendo that seems to be a normal part of school life. It still seems weird that everything has to be crammed into the end and is still “do or die” when it could be based on a more balanced look at your performance across the whole two years.

I was one of the last to finish my exams. Sadly for me and a handful of others, Business Studies decided to be the latest exam possible, going out to the end of June. But it was an extremely satisfying feeling to put the final fullstop on my last exam answer in Business Studies Paper 3. The exams, to my mind, had went as well as could be expected. They got me down, but they were now finally at an end. The hardest part of my life to date had been safely concluded, and I now had an extra long summer holiday to look forward to. What I was planning to do in all that time is anyone’s guess, as I was still wasting far too much of my time on computers, especially now I had successfully nagged enough to get broadband internet installed.

“School” was now behind me. And I was going to turn 16 imminently. I actually felt like an adult. I had the whole world ahead of me, but my views on life were beginning to be shaded a bit by cynicism. I’d just watched Labour win the 2001 General Election with ease, and politics was still calling me, still exciting me. But I was starting to get highly suspicious of politicians. I started to realise the injustices of society, and that some things never change because it is beneficial for some other people for things to stay that way. It’s an unhealthy attitude that I find it difficult to see past even today.

16. At last. But what difference would it make? I would still see myself as an adult while others would disagree and continue to tell me what to do and what to think. I was hoping that college, and a different mindset with new people, would help me change that. I’d decided who I was and what my personality was going to be. It had barely changed over the years, with just simple increases in levels of confidence, and a cutting, dry sense of humour appearing from nowhere being the only real changes. Now I just had to find the best atmosphere in which to express it. But somewhere I could keep growing.

Life was neither good nor bad. It was an adolescent shrug of the shoulders. It was a question of perspective. I had become that kind of person: one who’ll delicately weigh up the pros and cons while coming to no decision at all. That’s why the decision to leave my school was such a major one. It was so against my character… I was a person who kept my head down and went with the flow.

Now I wanted to change the flow. The question remained: is that possible?

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