Secondary school: Wymondham College (state boarding school), 7 years, 2009-2016
University destination: University College London (History BA, 1:1),
London School of Economics (History of International Relations MSc, ongoing)
As I think is the norm for any 11-year-old who is suddenly thrown into a dorm of 6 people, a pillow fight. But before that – before I even became a student at Wymondham College – I remember driving around the school in the summer holidays of Y6. It felt like a huge campus, nothing like the primary school that I had attended in London. Surrounded by fields and with a rather eclectic architectural style – from Nissen huts and 1950s boarding houses, to breathtakingly modern buildings like the language centre and sixth-from – I felt a sense of awe and a tickle to nerves.
Ah, this is a very difficult one. My entire experience of Wymondham College was brilliant, I loved the independence, extra-curricular activities and the diversity of students. I will, however, provide another early memory – one of the first that popped into my head for some reason. I don’t think it is my best memory, but it’s quite a fun and silly thing.
When I was in Y7 I was in a dorm with five other boys on the first floor of the boarding house. Back then we were quite a handful and during the school week, probably just after midnight, we had a competition to see who could do the most burpees before failure. [For those unfamiliar with what burpees are, feel free to google. Why we were doing this, God knows]. So, I ask you to picture this: six 11-year-old boys all jumping up and down, up and down, and up and down on a floor which wasn’t particularly solid. We made a racket. But because we were still relatively new to the school, we didn’t quite understand the layout of the boarding house… It turned out that our room was just above the bedroom of the Head of House, who, at the time, was also the assistant principal and had just had his first child… He came rushing upstairs – mouth practically foaming – and found six boys trying their hardest to control their very fatigued breathing while pretending to be asleep. Naturally, our ruse was discovered, and we were punished. Why this memory pops into my head, I don’t know. But Y7 is one of those odd years of transition and I felt like I had to space to be a child, but with the benefit of being in an environment which was gently pushing me towards adolescence.
Again, another difficult one. But I would say that staff in the sixth form sometimes struggled to give the students the independence that we deserved. This issue was largely due to a change in senior staff members in the sixth form in my final year, though, and is probably not particularly reflective of what the school is like now.
Oh, and the school used to have a boarding house just for Y7’s which was amazing – a little oasis for them to feel comfortable. They changed this set-up when I was in Y10 and I think it was a poor decision, probably driven by profit rather than student experience.
As one of the few state boarding schools in the country – and a pretty young one at that – we didn’t really have any of the fancy traditions that other boarding schools usually have. But we had winter formals, which were basically black-tie events where the eldest year group in each boarding house is given a set budget to put on a nice evening. Think fancy three course meals, professional photographers and a DJ. They were kinda a rite of passage for the eldest students and each year always tried to out-do the previous.
Very strong. It was often the case that most teachers would perform various roles in the boarding house in the evenings. This meant that we could often ask a specialist teacher for help or clarification with homework in any given subject and at any time.
Boarding houses also had around 2-3 ‘resident fellows’ who were usually graduates from some of the top universities in the country; mainly Oxbridge. They were young adults who were looking for either a steppingstone into teaching or a bit of a break before getting onto the next adventure in life. I have one friend who is there now and is using it as an opportunity to find funding for his PhD at Oxford.
The res fellows were instrumental in running the boarding house – often arranging fun or thought-provoking events. I remember, for example, attending philosophy club on Wednesday evenings for a number of years which was run by a PPE graduate from Oxford.
The SEN department was also very helpful. As a dyslexic student who was in bottom set for most subjects in primary school, I was really able to thrive. By Y9 I was in top set for all subjects and I think that is, in part, to do with the support I received from them.
We did have chapel once or twice a week, but it was quite relaxed and they didn’t try to force anything onto the students.
Another difficult one. I did quite a lot at school: captain of the swimming team, a stint in the first rugby team, house captain, principal’s council, youth volunteer ambassador for the East of England etc… But of my best achievements was in my role as editor of the school magazine. In this role, which I did when I was in Y12, we produced a 100-page magazine with a print-run of nearly 2,000. This wasn’t some flimsy A4 paper magazine, but a truly professional magazine with all the bells and whistles. We were given around £2,000 and left to our own devices. It was a great experience and I learnt a huge amount, not least having my first foray into the marketing and advertisement industries. At times I really do wonder what I sounded like when I was trying to convince established businesses to pay for advertisements in a school magazine…
My school was fortunate enough to have a great deal of success with Oxbridge applicants and a clear 2-year programme to help aspirational sixth formers with their applications. We would also attend specialist talks and the school would take us on open days to these universities. It was a great help to have plenty of Oxbridge resident fellows to aid in the UCAS process, too.
Not particularly, other than through social media. I have been invited to give a few talks about my experience attending a military high school in America (Culver Academies) during my GAP year but have sadly always been unavailable.
Yes, when I was in Y7 and Y8 I was a little bit of headache for teachers. Detentions worked on a demit system where if you receive three demerits from a teacher you earn a detention.
In the boarding house they have a separate system which is different between each boarding house. Some make you stay in uniform after the school day and report to a member of staff every 15 minutes, others make you work downstairs during prep time rather than in your dorm etc… I am not sure what the system is like today.
Living away from your loved ones will always be a difficult transition for some, but Wymondham College has an excellent pastoral care system to make you feel at home. Your boarding house really does become your family and you fight hard to protect its reputation in inter-house events, such as through sporting events or charity fundraising. There is also a strong student-leadership system which allows students to seek support from their peers.
The matrons in the boarding house practically become second mothers, too, and I am still in contact with one of my matrons today.
In the more formal realm, there is an on-site medical centre with qualified nurses and a therapist that comes in a few times a week.