Ever since I was very young, I’ve grown up around strangers. Living in a cafe has actually made it easy for me to socialise with adults, because of them constantly walking in and out of my home. I got on well with the customers and had close relationships with the regulars. I think that’s why I got such a shock moving to secondary mainstream school. It’s safe to say that I was kind of seen as the most “academic” in my family. The bar has always been set quite high regarding people’s expectations of me and because of that I always disregarded my feelings about the power problem in mainstream schools. I passed the Kent Test with ‘flying colours’ and was accepted into a local grammar school. Both my older sisters went there and it was (and still is) considered a successful and academic place of learning. I went through year 7 with no problems except with my friendship group. Although I wasn’t happy with the way I was treated by staff, I understood that I was new to the school and I thought it might get better over time. My problem started in year 8 when I realised that nothing would change. There would never be any mutual respect between me and my teachers. My patience got so low that I felt obliged to rebel.
I couldn’t understand why I struggled so much to get along with these people and it was driving me mad being there all the time. These teachers, these humans, who were supposed to be helping me figure out my passions, were successfully making me feel like I had no place in the future. The longer I spent there the less enthusiastic I got and that was evident just from looking at the different year groups. I hated the fact that my education had to be so dull. Everything that I was working towards, seemed like a waste of time and energy. My brain was being shaped by an army of adults who didn’t take the time or effort to get to know me. They cared about timing and dates, numbers and grades. And they had no interest in learning anything different.
My favourite movie to this day is ‘Matilda’ because Mrs. Trunchbull was the perfect depiction of the mindset of most of my teachers. “I’M RIGHT YOU’RE WRONG, I’M BIG YOU’RE SMALL AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT!!”. The attitude that my teachers portrayed, in reaction to what I had to say, silenced my voice and the only thing left to do was rebel. My rebellious behaviour continued for nearly two years before I decided to move and it was 100% the most miserable two years of my life. I thought secondary school would be a place where I would create amazing and meaningful relationships with the people who were holding my fragile future in the palm of their hand. But instead it was a painful, constant battle between me and the teachers. I couldn’t figure out why my relationship with these people was so toxic. I’m a very chilled out person and until I’d joined secondary school, the only people I’d ever argued with were my family. I had amazing friends in there, people that I will never forget, but I never really opened up about this. I felt like the only one feeling this way and the more I isolated my thoughts the more alone I felt. Because I felt so alone I thought I must be stupid. Why was everyone but me just going through school like it was all fine?
I really really struggled keeping it together in there and I would try and sit in the support room at lunch and break. The ‘support room’ was a quiet room next to the library with a few teachers who would help out kids in there. I would sit there and sometimes cry and the teachers would often do nothing. That’s why I turned to skiving. What was meant to be the safest place in my school, ended up making me feel more insecure than ever. I often left school after an hour or so, or I would hide in the toilets for most of my lessons. People didn’t understand the reasons I wasn’t going to my lessons. They didn’t get that I would rather be sat in a smelly cubicle for an hour than have lifeless information going in one ear and out the other. It baffled me because I enjoyed the company of adults. The good conversation and mutual, meaningful debates. These adults were nothing like that. They were unfair and arrogant and rude as hell. At this point both my siblings had come out of mainstream school and were happily finding their passions. But for me it was more difficult. People that were meant to care about me were telling me I was making a stupid decision even thinking about moving. How could they not see the pain I was enduring?! So I continued my miserable life at what felt like prison. There was no in-between for me, and I had given up on the idea of a happy education. My mum was the real saviour for me. I stopped going to school all together and would get ready in the morning just to go and wander around town until I saw someone. My mum was the only person who really recognised my struggle. She understood my reasoning for not going in and empathised with me.
The pressure from my friends and family is what stopped me from moving but being in school was unbearable. Me, my brother and sisters and my mum were the only ones who understood at this point. I gave up on voicing my opinion at school and lived a painful silence. So it was my mum who was behind me pushing me forward and assuring me that my opinion mattered. She started by helping me write an email to my head teacher all about how I felt at the school. I covered point after point and kept my cool. I voiced all my opinions in a perfectly respectful way and before I knew it they took me straight off the register and my mum only found out when she received a letter that I was now being home-schooled. I put all my passion and heart into that letter and I didn’t even get a reply. That was what finally pushed me to never go back there and it was a lesson well learnt.
Coming to EKS is the best decision I have ever made. I was welcomed into the community with open arms and it felt far too good to be true. I knew instantly that I wanted to be here, and I was so amazed that there was a whole community of people who understood. People who cared about their precious education just as much as I did. People who had been fighting the same battle as me. And I’m not saying that I’m the only one going through this. Most of us go through it without even realising, because our minds have been so cleverly manipulated to cross these steppingstones of life, just the same way everybody else does. But nobody is the same. Nobody should have to compromise the way their brain works just because society wants them to.
I’ve been at EKS since June of 2019 and I feel more alive than ever. Hundreds of children don’t get the opportunity to be in charge of their future and I feel bad for them. And I know that not everybody is the same and I respect other people’s opinions. But coming here has been like a massive weight off my shoulders, and I hope and pray that more children get the same opportunity as me and as everyone at EKS. My hatred for school definitely stemmed from the fact that my life wasn’t in my hands. I wasn’t even trusted with MY own future. It was MY life that was being taken away from me, and for some reason I thought that was acceptable. I chose my GCSE options just before I left my secondary school and if I were to choose them right now everything would be different.
You quite literally, can’t fully understand your situation until you’ve stepped away from it and can see the bigger picture. I was scared to make that final move but once I was free from that awful place my mind opened up a million other doors. People say “EKS is for people with learning difficulties” , “EKS is for rich people” , “you won’t learn anything there” , “it’s just an easy way out”. The people saying these things have never experienced it. Because I can say with complete confidence that none of these things are true. Being at EKS takes bravery and guts. You grow and flourish into the person that YOU want to be without being bossed around. You are given the time and the space to step back and discover what you like, with the support of the staff members. Since being here no staff member has ever dwelled on my faults. Or discouraged me in anything that I do. You step into a place where all of your decisions and movements are appreciated. I never would have had the confidence to speak out like this, unless I had come here and I know that when I leave I’ll be properly prepared for life as an adult. I’m overjoyed that my mind is no longer trained to work in ways it doesn’t like to. I feel like myself again and it’s as if I’d been holding my breath this whole time and now I can finally breathe again. I think the democratic learning system is the best thing since sliced bread and I hope people can get a better understanding of it from reading this.