Today Cromer Academy, or Cromer High School as it was known when I went there, celebrated it’s 70th anniversary with an open day, a day in which former pupils and staff members gathered together to share memories of years gone by. Yours truly wasn’t one of those who attended. The reasons why I didn’t go are simple, because to be completely honest and blunt with you Cromer High School failed me.
To know why I feel this way you have to go back to 1983. I began what should have been the greatest of adventure of my life in September of that year as a first year student there, but just three short months later, just a few weeks after my 12th birthday, my world was blown apart when my mother passed away on December 13th.
I returned to school the following January after the Christmas holidays, and what I’m about to tell you may seem quite surprising now in the 21st century, in an age when children of all ages are seemingly molly-cobbled from the moment they enter the school system to the day they leave.
You see, when I returned to school nobody said anything to me about Mum’s death. Nobody. No one. Zilch. None of the teachers or other members of staff took the time to find out how I was, to find out how I was feeling. None of the teachers bothered to check up on me. The only person who did ask me how I was doing was one of the boys who sat on the next table from me in my English class. In effect the headmaster and his crew essentially just let me get on with my life.
None of this really had any effect on me until I entered my second year at the school. The fact is that in the remaining months of my first year I actually did quite well, to the point where I was moved up a grade from the B group to the A group in English at the beginning of the second year. But it was in my second year at the school that the proverbial really hit the fan, because yours truly fell victim to that age old school problem - bullying.
The reason that I was targeted by a select few is quite simple - because my mother had died. Sure, there were many other things that were said to me, but the main reason I was verbally taunted by a select few was because I didn’t have a mother. A lot of them called me a bastard because I only had one parent.
The verbal taunts were extremely hard to take in my new English class. The main ringleader, a boy who I’ll refer to as David B., led a group of four children who sat behind me and tore verbal strips off me day after day after day. The taunts ranged from the aforementioned insults about my parentage to my pale complexion to the clothes and shoes that my father bought for me. It wasn’t just this group of boys who took delight in bullying me though. Others, seeing the apparent success that David B. and his friends had, saw me as fair game.
It wasn’t just verbally bullying that took it’s toll though. I was also beaten up on a couple of occasions, once by a boy, Peter B., who repeatedly punched me in the ribs because he didn’t want to sit next to a girl and wanted to take me seat. Perhaps if I’d moved that day I wouldn’t have got badly bruised ribs.
The constant, daily bullying, as well as my finally succumbing to the grief of my mother’s death, began to take their toll one me. I kept everything to myself. Hardly anyone knew what was happening. Instead I tried to get out of going to school as much as possible, latching on to any small ailment I had, using it as an excuse not to go to school. My continual absence from school led to even more taunting and bullying, and I think what made it worse was that only one teacher, Mr. Chad, my second year form teacher, asked me if there was anything really wrong with me.
Eventually I got to breaking point. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stand to go to school, and one day I wrote a note and made a list of everyone who had been bullying me, leaving it for my family as I left the house and went into Cromer and onto the pier, not knowing what I was going to do, not knowing if I wanted to live or die.
Thankfully my family found me, but that wasn’t the end of my problems. Having been diagnosed with depression the powers that be at the school simply didn’t know what to do with me, and given what had happened there it was decided that it would be in my best interests if I went to another school.
But that was more or less like sweeping the problem under the carpet. I lasted less than a week at North Walsham High School. I just couldn’t stand to be put in a classroom environment. I was eventually referred to a child psychologist at the Bethel Street Hospital in Norwich. This was probably the best treatment I had at the time. My therapist, Dr. Liz Smith, was the first person outside of my family who actually took an interest in what was happening to me, and I made weekly visits to her for well over a year.
During that time I was transferred to the North Walsham Senior Tutorial Centre for my schooling. This was basically a kind of halfway house for problems kids who had been taken out of the school system for various reasons, and although I got on well with some of the other kids there my time there led to even more heartache and trouble.
As with my time in Cromer I would often exaggerate any minor ailment in an attempt to not go to school, and because of this some of the kids there latched onto me and bullied me, some of them even going as far as saying that the reason I didn’t attend much was because I had been diagnosed with AIDS. It got to the point that some of them wouldn’t even sit near me.
Then there was the violence, which was a hell of a lot worse than that I had suffered at Cromer. One little thug from the kid’s home in Overstrand, who I’ll refer to as Danny W., attacked me and sliced me open with a razor blade while another kid held me. A few months later another kid, Michael, more or less drop-kicked me in the back as I was walking down the path after I walked away from his verbal insults.
Then came the final straw. A new kid, Anton R., another resident of the kid’s home in Overstrand, was transferred into the school. He targeted me immediately, turning some of my friends against me and taunting me to the point where I couldn’t face going to the centre any more. It got to the point where Dr. Smith was brought in again and it was decided that the best thing for me was that I should go back to Cromer High School, three years after I left.
I returned to my old stomping ground, but to be completely honest with you it seemed as if they just didn’t want me there. It took them ages to actually put me back in a form. They seemed to lose interest in me, and I completely lost interest in my studies. I just didn’t care about school anymore. I didn’t care about finishing my final year there and working towards going to college in North Walsham so I could try and catch up with all the work that I’d missed and take my GCSE’s.
I left school as soon as I could, without any qualifications or any prospects, still recovering from the depression I’d been diagnosed with years earlier, dealing with the mental and physical scars I’d suffered from my time in the education system. Indeed, it wasn’t until I got my first job in retail some seven years later that I really felt wanted, like I belonged somewhere.
In effect the staff and teachers at Cromer High School had failed me as a person. I was told a few years ago that the education system has changed so much that students even get counselling when a pet dies, let alone a parent or another close family member. They’re seemingly given every comfort possible these days.
But back in the 1980’s it was a completely different story. The staff and the teachers at Cromer High School, and the wider education system in north Norfolk, ultimately failed me. They failed to give me any kind of support after my mother died, they failed to recognise that anything was wrong with me, they failed to deal with any of the bullying I was subjected to. They didn’t have a clue what to do with me, and they didn’t seem to care less about me.
So I’m sorry Cromer High School, or Cromer Academy I should say, but I won’t be celebrating your anniversary, or any future anniversary, because you failed a young boy who was grieving for his mother and who was crying out for help every day of his life for years. What should have been the greatest adventure of my life, setting me up and moulding me for a great future, turned into a nightmare that took me years to recover from.
Shame on you Cromer High School. Shame on you.