To access the returns of Esther Addley to Foyle and Londonderry College in Northern Ireland, click here. For Hannah Pool’s return to Parrs Wood High School in south Manchester, click here. To see Gareth McLean’s return to Linlithgow Academy in West Lothian, click here. And to view Stephen Moss’s return to Hartridge High School in Newport, click here.

When I had to choose between the local girls’ school and the comprehensive school, my dad was initially inclined towards the former, fearing distractions from boys. However, I convinced him that all my friends were going to the comprehensive, and that boys were repulsive anyway. Thus, in 1986, I enrolled as one of 1,800 students at Parrs Wood High School in Didsbury, south Manchester. The school was a run-down monster, reminiscent of something from the eastern bloc. During rainy days, black buckets would line the corridors, and reaching the school involved traversing a large metal bridge above a busy dual carriageway. Upon descending, one would land on a concrete field known pretentiously as the "hard concourse."

Initially, it took weeks to learn one’s way around the school, and it was easy to get lost or delayed. Despite all the disarray and gloom, Parrs Wood had a lot of playing fields, although they were marshy and far from ideal. Today, the school has undergone significant changes, with an entertainment complex occupying the former site and a new state-of-the-art school erected nearby.

Although my brother attends the new sixth form and my sister is in year nine, it remains odd to me that they attend a completely different school from the one I went to. Before returning to my alma mater, my dad gives me a file with my old reports, some of which had a dismissive tone, particularly with regards to my spelling and concentration issues. Nevertheless, I embrace the chance to return to school, scrambling to get ready while adhering to the school’s new uniform regulations.

In the past, the school uniform was merely a black jumper, black trousers or skirt, and a blue or white shirt. Now, students wear a jade green sweatshirt for younger years and a black sweatshirt with green trimming for year 10 and 11 students, to be paired with black trousers or skirts. Although I try my best to comply, I am forced to improvise with a black top with polka dots, skinny black pants, and makeup, which is prohibited.

To access the full story, follow the links above for each respective individual’s return to their former high school.

After a brief interval, I find myself in the midst of Miss Jan’s food technology class hearing about the value of carbohydrates. On today’s menu is a pasta bake with white sauce. After a quick 10-minute demo, the entire class huddles up in their mini-kitchens with about 30 pupils cooking their personal pasta bakes. With all the bustling noise, I finally complete preparing a modest yet well-made pasta bake whilst also getting a headache.

During the break, we head over to the outdoors to get some fresh air, and I’m amazed to know that the tuck shop has ceased to exist due to Jamie Oliver’s initiatives. However, the cafeteria serves healthy food like muffins, toast and fruits. I gobble up a banana and later, we attend geography with Ms Lister.

The whiteboard has the objective written: "To comprehend the events of Mount St Helens." Before me lies a green table with "Haven 4 Tash" inscribed in Tipp-Ex. While the majority of the class watches a video on a volcano’s eruption, a few students throw rubber pieces around, bang the tables and swing their chairs. The teacher intermittently tells them to remain silent, but it doesn’t last long. If their conduct reaches C3, they receive a half-hour detention. The children are funny, quick-witted and cheeky. By lunchtime, I’m famished and slightly excited to visit the school cafeteria.

Due to the healthy food initiatives introduced by Jamie Oliver, I don’t find pizzas, chips or Twizzlers. Instead, I opt for baked potatoes with cheese and salad, which is my regular lunch when I eat at the office canteen. The only difference is that I can’t walk to the stores after my meal. Instead, I spend my break idling around and worrying about my math class in the afternoon.

The feeling of dread looms over me as we enter the classroom for math. What if the teacher decides to ask me a question? Math was never my forté, and I peaked at the age of ten. I wonder if it’s more embarrassing to crack a lame joke than to answer a question incorrectly. Mr Overland initiates rollcall, and I notice that each pupil picks up a swipe card in the morning to check-in. We indulge in a round of Countdown, but playing with teenagers is not the best idea as it only highlights a person’s inadequacies. Then we watch the second video for the day. The lesson is exhaustive, but the tricks and techniques used to make it engaging inspire me. With the videos, interactive classes and worksheets, no segment lasts more than a few minutes. Teaching for the PlayStation generation, indeed.

Finally, we end the day with French class, discussing imaginary ailments and pointing to different body parts. By the end of the day, I am worn out, craving for some chocolate, wine, and a probable need for Valium. Going to school isn’t as terrible as one thinks, but it is exhausting. J’ai mal à la tête (I have a headache).

In conclusion, I realize that school wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. Has anything changed since I was there? It felt smoother, brighter, swifter and more student-focused. I don’t understand how this complies with all the stories about the deteriorating state of education, but it is evident that school is better.


  • declanryan

    Declan Ryan is a 25-year-old blogger who specializes in education. He has a degree in education from a top university and has been blogging about education for the past four years. He is a regular contributor to several popular education blogs and has a large following on social media. He is passionate about helping students and educators alike and is always looking for new ways to improve education.