I have quite mixed memories of school. I did always enjoy it, but it was the extracurricular stuff that I really loved, like gym, netball and choir. Those were my passions; when it came to lessons, I just got my head down and did what I was supposed to do.
I swapped schools a few times when I was very young – just moving around with the family – and that was difficult. It’s hard being the new kid and having to start again. I particularly remember when we went from Widnes, over the Mersey to Runcorn. It’s only a couple of miles – but in terms of accent, you’re talking about a shift from Liverpudlian to Mancunian, so I definitely stood out as being different from my new classmates! Children can be cruel, and I was bullied a little at first. But I was already quite headstrong back then, which helped me through. I made some pretty good friends there in the end.
Moving from Y6 to Y7 was a big change. I was shy, especially around boys – up to that point, of course, they had just been annoying and smelly anyway, but it’s round about that age when hormones start shifting, which can be confusing, especially if you are quite a reserved child to start with. It got better quickly, though, and apart from growing in confidence, I pretty much stayed the same as a student throughout my whole school career. I was mostly conscientious, I suppose, but it did depend on the subject. I was never good at maths and didn’t enjoy it, so I was less attentive in those lessons than in, say, English or French, where I was a bit of a swot. I was never a troublemaker, or disruptive… but let’s say, I was more easily led astray in certain classrooms than in others!
Luckily, most of my teachers were great. And, crucially for me, the school I went to had really good PE and arts departments. Those things are really important, perhaps now more than ever – we live such sedentary lives, and participating in drama, music and sports can benefit young people so much. Taking part in fundraising events at school, such as Sport Relief, can be the perfect way to make sure young people are getting the most out of school, both in terms of their health and their self-esteem. I certainly knew from a very early age that those were the things I wanted to pursue in my life and in fact, I left home at 16 to go and study for a diploma in the performing arts. My dad had his doubts, but I was totally driven, and it was definitely the right choice for me.
Mind you, now I have a daughter of my own, I can see things more from his perspective. No way is she moving out at 16! She’s just in Y2 at the moment, and loves it. We live in NW London, and there seems to be a lot of very competitive parents, whose children are tutored from when they are tiny to get them into the ‘right’ schools and ultimately, the ‘right’ jobs. That’s not what I want for her. It’s obvious as soon as you enter the building, I think, what kind of a place any school is. You get a feel; a vibe. So when you are choosing one, you go by that, as well as your own experience and what you know of your child. I suspect mine will not be over studious; she’s very spirited, very creative – a bit of a drama queen – and I wanted her to have the opportunity to try lots of things. So we went for a school that gets great results, yes, but will also help her discover what she wants to do, and move on to a secondary school that is just right for her.
As a mum, you do have fears. The culture is so different now from when I was little; social media has changed things. I know that bullying and so on happened when I was at school, but I don’t think it was as widespread, as constant. I worry about my daughter’s self-esteem, her body image – so I want her experience of school to be a good one, and I want her to end up doing something she loves. I’ve been so fortunate in my life, and I hope she is, too.
About the author
Melanie is a singer and actor, who has been an avid supporter of Sport Relief for many years. Sport Relief is taking place in schools on Friday 18th March 2016. Make sure your school doesn‘t miss out and order your free Secondary School Fundraising Event Pack at www.sportrelief.com/schoolspack now.