The Worst School in the Country? How negative perceptions helped shape the futures of the ‘Class of 2004’
In 2003, The Ramsgate School gained infamy when it was placed in ‘Special Measures’ after successive poor exam results led to it being labelled ‘The worst school in the country’. The press, both local and national, were quick to respond and the school suffered months of negative headlines and opinions. Speculation over the future of the school was rife as changes to the school’s leadership were swiftly implemented. But there was one group of people for whom this label was going to have a massive, and long-lasting impact … the students.
I began working at The Ramsgate School in 2001 and within a year found myself as part of the School’s Pastoral and Behaviour Support Team, working with Key Stage 4 students. By the time the school was placed in Special Measures, I had just started working with a new cohort … the ‘Class of 2004’.
As the negative headlines began appearing, it became apparent to me that these young students were really going to be ‘up against it’ as they made their way into the adult world. I lost count of the number of conversations I had early on with youngsters who genuinely believed they were being written off. I was really concerned as to the long-term effects of this on these students, but my concerns were quickly allayed as something quite special began to happen.
Whether you want to call it a ‘siege mentality’ or just put it down to a positive resilience, these young people really started to pull together. The sense of community within the year group was fantastic and, as changes occurred throughout the school, the support they were able to give to each other was fantastic.
So, how does this all effect these young people? How did these negative headlines and perceptions shape their lives? And where are they now? I recently caught up with some of the ‘Class of 2004’ and asked those exact questions.
In 2003, I joined a number of staff in taking a group of students to Barcelona for a residential trip. It is a group of these students that I wish to focus upon, although I could have equally chosen any number of students from this year group.
“Where am I now….? I’m not quite sure how to start this.
Well, I didn’t grow up with much, I lived on a council estate and I ended up “in the worst secondary school in the country” after missing out on grammar school by a hair’s width! You could say there wasn’t much going for me.
I can tell you what I did have: An incredible mother. Amazing friends. An inner drive to be something “When I grow up”.
A few teachers that genuinely cared and really wanted me to succeed.
School was hard for me, I struggled academically even though I kept being told “You could do so well if you applied yourself”, I always found it hard to concentrate and control inner anger issues, and I also carried a “reputation” I was actually uncomfortable with to be completely honest.
Outside of school… You could say I was choosing the wrong path with certain things and could have ended up in a very different place than where I am today.
There are a few things that got me through the “worst school in the country”
Some incredibly dedicated, hard-working teachers with patience of saints that genuinely gave a damn about us.
And the best thing – my friends at school. What an incredible bunch of amazing people that made me who I am today. The only thing I left school with was a promise to myself that I would make something of myself and that I would achieve what an 11yr old me said I would.
In between cleaning toilets down Ramsgate seafront, Christmas temping at Asda, being a postman, bin man, fork lift driver and quitting my job, selling my car and getting a one way ticket out of this country one thing I did was have a belief in myself, not give up or shy from hard work and I chased my dream!
By the time I am 30yrs old I will:
Have a family, earn £30,000 A year and own my own home. I have that and I am living proof hard work, dedication and a little self-belief will get you where you want to be.
I am in the process of planning our wedding with my beautiful fiancé (from the same school), I have an amazing little girl that makes me proud every day and I have my own business and I’m currently earning more than I ever thought I would working with the biggest Wind Farm company in the world and I own my own house. Dream achieved.
I’m proud of the man I’ve become and what I have achieved. Life is what you make it so make it count.”
“My final years at The Ramsgate School were a whirlwind of feelings and emotions, having a great group of friends and fantastic relationships with many teachers, life was great! On the other hand there were constant reminders that we were in “the worst school in country!” and if we were to put this on a CV, many employers would screw it up and throw it! Whether this was some sort of way to encourage us to push us harder and prove others wrong, it also put doubt in my mind that we weren’t destined for much!
Already knowing that I wanted to do something in hospitality I put my head down and concentrated on getting the grades I needed for college. Lo and behold I achieved my four C grades earning me a place on a BTEC hospitality course. Only then to be reminded and looked down on by other students on the course because of the school I went to…. saying that, I had to point out that regardless of the fact I went to ‘the worst school in the country’ I was however on the same course they were!
Full of ambition and an urge to prove myself, I landed my first managerial role at 18. I continued to work in hospitality in between having a family. To help make life more manageable I started my own cleaning business to fit around my family. It didn’t take long before all my days were full.
In between working and looking after my family, I also coach boxing at Hornet Boxing Academy.
Although my business is booming it’s not quiet me. I need to be mind busy and organising etc and have recently accepted a Catering Manager’s role at Haddon Dene School, starting in September.”
“After missing out on Grammar school by a couple of marks in my English. My mum started an appeal which failed and, due to the appeal taking its time, places in the other schools were all taken up. The only places left were at The Ramsgate School. At the time the stigma associated with The Ramsgate School was of failure and poor-quality teaching. My mum decided that home teaching was the only way forward. I went on to be home taught for what must have been two terms whilst my mum fought unsuccessfully to getting me into another school. Eventually we bit the bullet and I enrolled in The Ramsgate School. I was quite surprised at the standard of teaching at the school and how much the teachers cared. I think the jibes and criticism of the school came from unreliable and unfounded facts. The standard of teaching was exceptional… if anything it was us, the students, who hindered our own education.
There were many teachers who I feel played a part in the man I’ve become today. Mr Russell who was head teacher when I started filled me with confidence that I could do well. Mr Simpson took an interest in my own personal development and had regular meetings with me to make sure I was progressing well.
Dave Stevens, who acted like a liaison between us students and the teachers and held numerous after school activities for us. Mr Hillier who took the ‘most unruly’ children to Spain with no hiccups. Everyone wanted us all to achieve and I think we all achieved above and beyond what anyone expected us to. Upon leaving school I had various jobs and then finally decided to enroll into college and do a public service diploma because at the time I though being a fire fighter was a good idea.
I successfully passed the course after 2 years. Then decided that’s not what I wanted. I then got into Construction, learning the varying trades for a small company and realised I enjoyed it and was quite good at it. Since then I’ve become a supervisor/manager for a civil engineering company, earning £40,000+ a year.
Not bad when we were all told that we were going to fail from outside sources. I’m still climbing the career ladder and hope to one day run my own company in my chosen line of work.
One thing I will say is I don’t think school prepares you for what careers are actually out there and what you personally should pursue. I think the focus on coursework and tests is wrong and doesn’t set you up for the real world. If I knew how much enjoyment I get out of my career now I would have gone straight into an apprenticeship in the appropriate field. My advice to school leavers is to seriously look into apprenticeship scheme as all the big construction companies and utility companies have them and they are subsidised by government funding. It will give a massive kick start to your career
Good luck to any school leavers reading this.”
“It all started in ’99 when I was rejected by Charles Dickens School. My last option was The Ramsgate School and was dreading it. With the reputation it had and not knowing a single soul, I’m not going to lie … I was just a tad nervous. I can honestly tell you now from the first day in ’99 until the last in ’04 I loved every single minute and never wanted to leave. I met the best, most down to earth, honest friends I have ever met throughout my life.
We all had our own problems and come across a bit crazy but we become a solid family instantly and still, fourteen years later, we are as close as we were. When we get together it’s like we’ve never spent a day apart! There was no bullying, no one left out in the slightest and was just pure respect. The teachers also become a part of our family and we all felt welcome. Life at the Ramsgate school was amazing.
We have moved on to be successful with our own businesses, homes and families. The Ramsgate School was named “the worst school in the country”. In our eyes it was the best school in the country and we haven’t turned out too bad.
I left school, went to college and was working from the age of 15. Straight into carpentry, four years employed and then went self-employed and now run my own carpentry firm “Ashworth Carpentry”. By the age of 22 I I bought my first house and had my first child. Now I’m nearly thirty and have five years’ work booked in. I have a five bedroom house filled with a beautiful fiancé, 3kids, 3 cats and a dog… oh and family rabbit.
So here it is … we proved that having the worst reputation was all just a myth, we are living proof that the education we received at The Ramsgate School was everything we needed and wouldn’t change my past for the world.”
“So class of 2004 … where are they now? A lot further than most people expected!
So being an ‘estate kid’ I knew I was destined for the newly named The Ramsgate School, having known it as Conyngham from when my sister went to school there. The school always had the reputation of being one of the worst schools around and no one seemed to want their child to go there. Being from what at the time was classed as a troubled, deprived housing estate, I was already accustomed to being tarred with this stereotypical brush.
I was one of the fortunate ones that was starting secondary school with my closest friend. Now we all know that some childhood friendships never make it, but this one did and it was strengthened by this school and the people in it.
Throughout my years at this school our teaching was inconsistent – supply teachers in and out on a weekly basis. It seemed to us that hardly anybody outside the school cared. We rebelled, we lived up to the reputation we had been given and thought well if they’re saying it, it must be true … we are the ‘worst’ so what is the point in even trying?
Here’s the funny part … there were people that cared, there was that solid core of consistent teachers. It is in those that we probably had some of the best teachers that have ever held that title! That, along with the friendships we had managed to build – friendships built on respect and trust – is what made school great for me. We became a family, and in those adults that did care we had somebody to make proud, somebody to work hard for to repay them for their time and effort.
These friendships still exist today 15 years later and no matter how much time has passed since we last met, we go straight back to being 14 and the trust and the respect is there still as strong as ever. I ask myself all the time would we have had that at a ‘good’ school?
I struggled in school and had a few hard times personally, I masked that with bad behaviour. The support I received from those teachers that cared was what allowed me to heal and grow stronger emotionally. I wasn’t an academic but it only took one person to recognise and encourage the creative in me, giving me a focus in life. I received my 3 A-C’s and attended college studying Performing Arts, receiving a National Diploma with Triple Distinction. I worked in various jobs for a while, sometimes three at a time, as my school experience in having to fight for recognition and work hard for what I achieved had left me with a strong work ethic. I returned to education completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Drama and Comparative Literature with a high 2.1.
Due to the respect and guidance I received from those teachers I mentioned earlier, I now want to become teacher. As far as I’m concerned, they saved me from going down the wrong path, and if I can do that for just one child then I will have done them proud.
My beautiful surprise of a daughter put those plans on hold, so for the time being I am supporting my fiancé in running his Football Development Centre, Academy and Club.
I am the Company and Club Secretary for the Centre which we have built up to having over a thousand children registered.
People say we had the ‘worst’ education, but I know we are all respectful, caring, honest, hard-working, successful people … I don’t count that as a bad education. We were quite often told that we ‘would never amount to anything’ but because of the moral and ethical education we received, it didn’t matter what the statistics said. We were going to be happy and successful in whatever we chose to do.
So I guess that’s where we are now, and from here the view is pretty good!!”
“Very easy to say… best childhood I could have asked for. The friends, oh the friends were incredible. STILL to this day they all influence my life. The school was given negativity from the outside and turned on its head inside, this was the school’s unique marking on the kids. We were written off and judged from the start, without the friends we had, the core teachers and parent support and bonded relationships we may have proved people right. The unity stuck throughout and gave me the views I have today. Don’t give up, and keep getting up.
That school, the teachers, or adult influences and the friends gave me that ‘get up’ attitude. After leaving school, I jumped from job to job finding my way – different roles, a few countries, a few trades. I had my fair share of knock-backs but I never forgot that ‘get up’ attitude. If it gets you down or something fails, learn and recover. Come back stronger.
Now I own and run Enviro Consultants, a group of three companies. One handles Website Building, Branding, Business Management Platforms and Document Design/Writing Tasks. The second delivers specialist consultancy to design protection of structures at design stage for the construction sector and the other and Enviro Card Scheme runs a card scheme that develops and bridges the gap between construction and non-construction trades.
That’s the work but ‘the happy’ that made that work possible is having my two children full time and, whilst I remain busy with work and life as a dad, I still take time to adventure to feel the simplicity that used to be in a field with a group of friends or laid out on my back in a park looking up at the stars from my school days.
It takes a special group of people and school to give that trait to someone, mine was from The Ramsgate School. ‘The worst school in the country’ they said, ‘bring it on’ was our response and we delivered in school and life so much more than anyone thought. I am truly in awe of all my friends from school seeing where they are today and how they got there.”
“My time started at The Ramsgate School when I struggled at a grammar school and that no school would take me except the “worst school in the country”. After a year and a half of no schooling my only option was to go there. As it turned out it was the best few years I could have asked for as schooling went.
I formed some great friendships, teachers knew how to deal with kids that struggled or were a bit troubled and got the best out of them. They knew how to deal with us on a level that they never understood when I was in grammar school and I never felt any different or bullied.
You never know where life will lead you. No matter what job I ended up with I don’t feel I’ve done bad for it. I got good grades and I’m marrying a man in the RAF which will lead me to wherever he gets posted,
I work full time and am a mother of a beautiful little girl so in my eyes I have done well for myself regardless of what people thought of the school I went to.
I may not have the friends from school still to hang out with but I made good memories to last a lifetime.”
As you can see, these remarkable young people have managed to overcome the adversity and stigma that a label had given them at such a young age. They have all developed a strong work ethic and ‘never give up‘ attitude that has served them well in their adult lives. I, for one, am really proud of all of them.
“Worst School In The Country”?
Not from where I’m standing.
Dave Stevens ….. former Key Stage Support Assistant, The Ramsgate School