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Julie Bindel: I left a year early and no one noticed
The comprehensive school I attended between 1973 and 1978 was built in 1964 to serve the sprawling Branksome council estate in Darlington. It was a flat-roofed, sprawling monstrosity. We had moved to the estate from a crumbling, condemned terraced house with no indoor toilet and coal fires, so were pleased to move to postwar modernity, with central heating and a proper bathroom. But the school, less than 10 minutes’ walk from our house, looked, on reflection, like a young offender institution or immigration detention centre.
In effect it served a similar purpose to such institutions, in that it contained unruly members of society. Many of us, including me, had gone to the school with every intention of working hard and achieving a good education. But, unless you were one of the very few upper-working- or lower-middle-class kids that ended up there due to the lack of places in the better institutions, the students quickly came to realise that we were being groomed for factory or shop work, and any other aspirations were beyond our capability.
Branksome could have been built from grey and brown Lego. The sports hall was an outbuilding, painted the same off-white colour used throughout the school. It smelt of sweat and rubber. I only ever went in there to give a note to the teacher (a forgery, of course) explaining why I could not do PE. Ditto for swimming, as the pool was cracked, dirty and housed in a building that could double up as a punishment dungeon in a gangster’s gaff. […]