The stars of yesterday don't burn so brightly

19th December 1997 at 00:00
I used to wish that I could be more like Katy, Alison or Maureen. They won matches, earned house points, were voted on to clubs and belonged in school. They were surrounded by groupies, as others wanted to be with - and seen to be with them. They enjoyed an elite status.

Katy was a plain looking girl who was academically brilliant. She was the type who expected As for everything and promptly achieved just that. Katy never spoke to anyone of C standard or below (that is apart from the teachers). She is now a hospital consultant, married to a doctor. Twenty-one years on at a class reunion, she performed to type. She arrived 90 minutes late. Full of her own importance, she explained the demands of the Health Service. She was armed with photos of her young family in a variety of holiday locations and, smiling from ear to ear, she brazenly walked up to a former C student and asked her what she was doing now. When C said she was a housewife who looked after her two young kids, Katy winced, turned and briskly walked off. An A grade in social decency she will never achieve.

Alison was a high achiever who had time for everyone. Even her most envious peer would not say a word against her. She was a girl of principle, compassion and integrity. She was a good all-rounder, modest of her abilities and understanding of others' limitations. Unfortunately she had not been traced and the last heard of her was that she too had studied medicine. I prefer to think of her working in a Third World country for UNICEF, or undergoing research for the good of mankind, rather than struggling in a general practice.

Maureen was the most famous of the three. She was not an academic spark and treated the Katies of this world with the contempt they deserve. Maureen was the talented athlete. Staff would regularly cite her as an example of individual commitment and dedication. She was the "hero" of the year, who won national awards. She appeared at the reunion looking petite and fit. She admitted that it been difficult to adjust to a life without the adulation she had received at school. Her schooldays were the best days of her life. She had continued with athletics until she was 22. At that point she realised she wasn't going to make it and now works in catering management.

None appeared to lead supersonic lives or knew of any former student who did. Few didn't work and those who did were only taking a break to bring up their family. Amid the banter of "You pinned me to the wall with a compass" and "I remember that you sold me your Sgt Pepper album because you didn't like it", there were some lessons to be learnt.

Many who had been "stars" at primary school had failed in the secondary school environment. Today they feel that their secondary school let them down. Classes were consistently streamed with the talented teachers teaching the talented pupils. This may have assured the school a big bag of Higher grades but also created a bag of frustration and failure among the less able. Many of these returned to study as mature students and have since achieved, or are still striving to achieve their potential.

School-leavers who went into employment from school, fared as well as, if not better than those who went to university and then pursued the same type of job. This was true of computer programmers, hospital technicians and research assistants. Employers had paid for their further education.

There appeared to be little difference in lifestyles between the high achievers and the C grade students. All had achieved relatively comfortable positions. The bright sparks (BS) had become doctors, lawyers, accountants or architects. The remainder were predominately teachers but included computer programmers, therapists and hospital technicians. One BS broke the mould and was a social worker. On the whole, the C students had done as well in their professions as the A students had done in theirs.

Shortly to enter our 40th year, we were more interested in what everyone looked like than in their job situation. After all, curiosity, was one reason for attending this event. If a prize was to be awarded for general improvement in appearance, it would unanimously have been given to Donna. At school, Donna had been a fat girl in tight clothes, with long straggly hair. Now with a dramatic loss of weight, a trendy haircut, and a chic trouser suit, she was transformed into a stunning young woman. This was far more impressive than any scholarly achievement. It puts the entire education system into utter insignificance.

H 11 laura peters TES DECEMBER 19 1997 "Shortly to enter our40th year, we were more interested in what everyone looked like than in their job situation"

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