“I can’t wait to start high school, I can finally wear trousers!”
- Ebony Montague, 11 years old.
My mother was adamant I attended “the best high school in Manchester”. She wanted me to be in an environment where my intelligence would be nurtured, and would excel in the presence of degree-educated adults; who would do everything in their power to give the best opportunities to their students.
I am 14, and I’m being heckled to “pull down that skirt!” by yet another member of female staff.
Looking back, I’m glad I continued in protest to the sexist nature of the school. With a Christian religion at it’s forefront, it was clear how the institution wanted to indoctrinate it’s young people.
“Skirts should be at a modest length to prevent unwanted attention from the male gaze”
Unfortunately I wasn’t nearly as politically interested back then, otherwise I would’ve asked in the name of feminism why the “male gaze” wasn’t being challenged, burned the skirt in front of her face and walked away in just my underwear.
Instead I boomed the rehearsed phrase “WILL YOU JUST LEAVE ME ALONE, I’M TIRED OF BEING VICTIMISED”, and stormed away defiantly to my next class.
Following her cue to retaliate, the teacher followed me into the classroom and tried to reason with me.
“If you have a problem, go and talk to my Mum” *insert big teen-agey sigh, folded arms and making no eye-contact*
“Ebony I didn’t mean to upset you, I just wanted to talk”.
My face burns with all the over-thinking. “These people are actually paid to give a damn about young people, yet I’m being attacked on what I wear? They must talk, and I must listen. What a joke.”
The class was Geography, so naturally my mind just implodes and I stupidly grind my back teeth instead until the teacher releases us.
I am 15, I’m in a hour long detention after being late more than 3 times that week.
“Ebony, why were you late this today?”
“Well there has to be a reason. Were you *insert generic reasons which clearly do not apply to me*?”
Being asked by someone employed to know every known symptom to things that affect the young people in their custody, i.e. mental illnesses, this degree-holding individual was blind to notice that I was suffering from depression.
And fine, maybe because mental health wasn’t part of the PSHE curriculum, teachers also disregarded it. But any fool asking why I looked so tired every time we met, despite not arriving into school well into the afternoon, would conjure up some sort of analysis that something wasn’t right, and then acted upon it.
Instead the teachers were lazy, and shoved me in a room to do meaningless lines of promises to attend school on time, despite now having to leave an hour later, travel on bus for an hour to go home, in the dark, as it was winter.
I am 16, I am speaking with a Muslim friend who has been notified that despite the schools welcoming approach to all religions, a school rule was to be enforced that all Muslim girls were to wear the new head scarves (yep, they couldn’t even be bothered to say hijab), provided by the school, costing around an overpriced £12 for some shoddy material.
“What? Are you serious? They can’t do that!”
“Yeah, we have to wear them because coloured head scarves, even though only a few girls wear red rather than black, aren’t “school uniform friendly”
“Fucking evil bast- right, I’m setting up a Facebook page as a petition”
Why would you call yourself a C.of.E school and force every student to endure Christian services each morning if you were then prepared to bring in this? Why try to enforce your views on the beliefs of others, after accepting them as equals under your care?
But I guess that’s acceptable you see, the “all students must comply with the Christian ethos of the school” is probably somewhere in the small print of the school prospectus, makes them look good to Ofsted so they don’t appear discriminatory.
My face burned again, the ridiculous injustice against young people was so rife yet secluded that the school was no more than a hierarchy, both of adults and Christianity on top. This example of the sheer destruction of individuality for someone’s particular preference was an abomination of everything the school stood and still stands for. Young people are only at the forefront when it suited them – to be shined and presented to Ofsted and potential funders, and then quickly stood in front of to peer through the legs of the teachers that proclaim to put them first.
There is so much more I could say on how my old high school was so warped in it’s own beliefs that it’s young people didn’t stand a chance of being heard. Like how those with physical disabilities were assured the school could adhere to their needs, yet were isolated from fellow students and subject to bullying due to the archaic preservation of the original school building, which included stairs. Only was the issue later resolved with elevators – in 2012 when these students are long gone and were no use to them now.
Like the method of dealing with “troublesome students” resulted them in prison-like refuge for a full day, only to be entertained by the copying of school rules for the umpteen time, and an essay detailing why you were such a terrible student, why this didn’t agree with the rigid school rules and why Jesus wouldn’t approve of this.
This was then finished with the standard guilt-shaming of missing important work which you would have to catch up upon in your own time – to which no regard is taken on the mental effect this has on a young person, plus no investigation why this young person is in this situation in the first place.
And also, the lack of awareness for mental health, yet the championing abomination of students having under age sex – because getting pregnant is a lot worse than being suicidal.
I could literally recite every ridiculous sex-ed class, and the deep set embarrassment endured knowing that I had better things to be worried about than catching an STD with some imaginary boy. The shame inflicted for not completing homework on the human sexual organs as you instead cried in your desolate room proclaiming how badly you wanted to kill yourself was unbearable and unjustified.
“If you believed in God Ebony, maybe you’d be less depressed”
My Art therapist with a face like Rodney Copperbottom from that children’s film Robots, had his eyes bore into mine. I wanted to wipe that awful look from his face and smear it onto my paper. “There. That’s how I feel today. Like shit.”
I still can’t believe it took them that long to realise that I needed help. I was in the midst of revising for my final GCSE exams and they wanted to break up my routine with hour long silences with occasionally dialogue of:
“How do you feel?”
“Can I get you a tissue and glass of water?”
This was supposedly the best school in Manchester. Ofsted proclaim it’s outstanding. Yet, with more than enough notice to persuade the students to behave and delegate the ‘good classrooms’ to inspect, they were none the wiser. My high school was manipulative to the core – I doubt it’d be something Jesus would do but, they most definitely used it as justification.
- Ebony Montage, 19 years old.