Inside St. Olave’s: The grammar school kicking out pupils for not getting Bs
Shrines are displayed to honour fallen pupils
St. Olave’s is the sixth best state school in the UK. Nestled in Orpington, Kent, the selective grammar institution has been going for over 400 years. 73 per cent of its students receive all A* and A grades at A-level. But behind the stellar results at Olave’s is a pressurised and ruthless environment.
This summer alone, Olave’s were threatened with lawsuits from 16 parents of students they attempted to kick out. The reason? They failed to achieve 3 Bs at AS level.
Results day for Olave’s pupils goes one of two ways. Turn up on results day and grab an envelope containing your results, or take one that encloses a small yellow note. The yellow note is vague, telling you to go and see the Head of Sixth Form.
Your next stop is the Head of Sixth Form’s office, where you’re bluntly told you don’t deserve your place at the school anymore.
“Underperforming” pupils simply won’t return that September, and are instead shipped off to another school in the area. Potentially one of the London colleges set up to boost poor grades that specialise in retakes. In other words, a school where everyone is an “underachiever” like you.
As a gesture of goodwill, they’re offered a good reference to help them get into another school, and after a quick handshake they’re sent on their way. According to some former pupils that’s pretty much that.
Five students who were kicked out in the 2013 culling, spoke to us about their ordeal.
Ben, who aced his GCSEs, did well in his AS mocks, represented Olave’s at sport and participated in school plays.
He was kicked out of St. Olave’s in 2013 after achieving AS results that weren’t up to scratch. Ben’s grandad died during exam season and he was doing his best to balance revision with grieving.
When his classmates returned in September, they made a shrine in remembrance of Ben and the other boys who hadn’t returned that year. This is the way pupils dealt with their friends leaving. Everyone just laughed it off.
Ben tried to block out his family issues, but his situation took its toll and his exams didn’t go well. He didn’t tell anyone though, “I was always too embarrassed to shift the blame to family bereavement.”
Just like the others, Ben found his yellow note. It wasn’t until this moment he finally mentioned the death of his grandfather to his teachers, and the emotional strain it had put him under.
He begged them to resit the year, just as he remembered another student had been allowed to, but nothing worked. Coldly, he was told he would be given a positive reference to take to his next school, but that was all they could do.
Olave’s created an atmosphere where results came first and students second. One former pupil explains that three demerits resulted in a detention, and some teachers would hand them out for simply glancing out of the window or leaning on a table. You could also get one for having your shirt untucked if a teacher ran into you outside of school hours, even if you were miles away from the grounds.
Three regular detentions meant a Friday detention, an hour and fifteen minutes of sitting in complete silence, and Saturday’s detention consisted of two hours of cutting stamps.
Nowadays, their ‘pass mark’ at AS level is three Bs, back in 2013 it was three Cs. David, a former classmate of Ben’s, managed two As and two Ds, and they still didn’t let him back. After all, rules are rules.
David remembers only one pupil who was allowed to retake an A-level at Olave’s. He was applying for Oxbridge. Olave’s wanted to keep its Oxbridge statistics high.
The exiled pupils I spoke to don’t regret getting kicked out of the school; they maintained their friendships and excelled at their new ones. Ben now studies dentistry at university, and is puzzled that the school didn’t take into account his previous academic record or the time he invested in the school, through sport and taking part in school plays. Again, rules are rules.
Ben says it took a while to pick himself up and he had very low self esteem. Another pupil says Olave’s, an all boys school, was an unnatural environment where everyone was trying to be masculine. Showing any emotion was seen as a sign of weakness. There was no empathy between students and people bottled up their feelings.
The pupils who Olave’s initially kicked out this year, have now been allowed to come back this September to complete their A-levels. But it would be naive to think Olave’s is in any way a special case. Thousands of pupils across the country will be deemed not good enough for the schools they attend.
Olave’s headmaster, Aydin Onac, tells pupils they should be five times better than everyone else. They should aim for all As because “Bs aren’t on our radar”. This is the catchphrase that allows St Olave’s to climb the league tables, at the expense of the pupils it is supposed to be teaching.
When we reached out to St Olave’s they declined to comment.
Names have been changed at the request of contributors.