Holland Park: what's school got to do with it?: No one pushed you: Student - Eighties

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The Independent Online
Esther Barry, 20, a part-time legal secretary, left the school in 1991. Her parents, who live on a council estate in north Kensington, were educated in the West Indies.

YOU HAD to get tough because a lot of people were willing to bully or intimidate you. Once, in my first year, I got very upset because I was being picked on, so I walked out of school in the middle of a lesson. My mum was amazed that nobody came after me; the teacher didn't notice. I think a lot of kids bunked off because they knew no one was going to miss them.

When I was in the sixth form there was maybe one fight a week. It would start outside the school gates and Campden Hill Road would become a roadblock of children. The teachers couldn't do anything; sometimes the police had to be called. Cars used to get wrecked and once a girl was knocked unconscious.

I can't think of any discipline that really worked. I got detentions for being late, but I was still late. The teachers weren't figures of authority; they were very friendly. There was no dress code, so they looked the same as pupils in jeans. I think that was a problem when it came to discipline.

Drugs weren't a big problem; cigarettes were the big thing. By the end of the first year nearly everybody smoked. Sometimes the toilets used to reek.

The teachers' strike action was a low point. We didn't know what they were fighting for, apart from money. People in my year weren't interested in politics. We didn't think it was necessary to strike; we felt our education was more important.

I think some streaming would have been good, because those who didn't do too well were left behind. People could get help if they wanted it, but if they weren't really interested in school they were left to their own devices. It was up to you if you wanted to do well. I didn't feel the teachers played a big part in that. The school was about individuals doing the best they could.

No one would force you to work hard for exams. That's hard, especially if your parents aren't very interested in education. There were two sides to Holland Park: those who got everything out of it and those who got nothing. I got a lot out of being there and was pleased with my GCSE results.

I don't think any other school would have been as much fun. Rap and hip-hop were just coming in when I started there, and there were still a few punks. People would set up their tape recorders and there'd be dancing competitions. And we had some celebrity kids in our school - Una Stubbs's children, Amanda de Cadenet, and Peter Greenaway's children. They didn't turn up in stretch limos - they took the bus like everyone else.