All the right moves

Why going from a private to a state school was one of the best things I ever did

Moving to a new school is a daunting experience for any student. When I describe the sickness in your stomach that you somehow know is not going to go away for weeks, I speak from personal experience.

It gnaws away at your insides until you either give in or just accept that you are going to have to ride it out.

Some are lucky enough never to experience that feeling, but for me it was made worse by the fact that I was moving from a private school to a state school. This was not helped by the corridor cry from The Inbetweeners ("briefcase mong") echoing around my head.

And yet, unlike the programme's central character, Will, I had cogent reasons for moving. While I have always told my parents that my main motivation for leaving private school was a hatred of the system and how it was run, I had other, more practical reasons too.

At the time of the move, I was 13 (I am now 17) and had set my sights on a life in a professional kitchen, something that was unlikely if I remained at my existing school. The place had a simple philosophy: that its students should thrive on academic subjects, sport and music - catering or food technology was right out. So I was left with the choice of dropping my childhood dream or moving to a school that offered the course I wanted. I chose the latter.

No one could have prepared me for the different culture and attitudes; in eight years at my previous school, I had never experienced a fight between students, an argument with teachers or students smoking a cigarette. I was treated to all that on my first day at my new school.

But what was more surprising was the change in my academic outlook. The constant pressure I had felt to achieve the highest grades had always frustrated me, not least because I was made to feel that I was failing if I got a C.

In my new school, I found that the regime and system were different; if you wanted to learn, you had the support and teachers would work their hardest for you. This was different from the pressure cooker I was used to because the expectation was that it was up to you to choose to work.

And it helped that I was suddenly one of the students who did so. From averaging Bs and Cs at my private school I was taken aback to see my grades shooting upwards to As and A*s. Put simply, just about everything at this new school made sense.

I don't, however, want to be one-sided. My private school background had its benefits. But four years have passed since I made the switch and whenever someone asks me about it, I always give the same answer: "Private school just wasn't for me." Even if I do get massacred for being "posh" or Will from The Inbetweeners.

Matt Rontree-Carey attends Birchwood High School in Bishop's Stortford, Herfordshire.

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