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Louise Minchin’s schooldays – “I wanted to prove the school wrong”

Louise Minchin loved school, but believes the most long-lasting lessons were learnt outside the classroom…

  • Louise Minchin’s schooldays – “I wanted to prove the school wrong”

I went to a Catholic girls’ boarding school from the age of 10, and it was a complete joy. I loved sport, enjoyed the academic work and have wonderful memories of spending time outside with my friends.

From the very first term, I embraced every sport on offer and looked forward to the turnaround of activities each season. With the exception of hockey – which I avoided after an unfortunate encounter with a stick to the head – I was in the school team for everything. I was obsessive about swimming, and the hours I spent ploughing up and down the school’s freezing outdoor pool laid the foundations for my later love of triathlon.

Sport underpinned classroom lessons for me. One advantage of going to a single-sex school was that there were no ‘male’ or ‘female’ subjects, but as a voracious reader I always preferred English and languages to science and maths. One of my regrets is not taking Biology O Level, which left a gaping hole in my knowledge that going to a convent school did nothing to fill!

Unconventional career path

I ended up taking an unconventional academic path, largely thanks to my brilliant, charismatic Spanish teacher.

At the time, there was a feeling that university was either Oxbridge or nothing, but having taken Spanish O level as an extra in the sixth form, I fell in love with the subject and applied to do a Spanish degree at St. Andrew’s University. Looking back, it was a brave decision to start a degree without an A level – the school was good at making us believe there were no limitations.

Having said that, one of my most important learning experiences came about because I wanted to prove the school wrong. Told that we were heading for D grades in our economics A Levels, my friend and I got up early every morning to work our way through the syllabus and exam questions.

We both ended up with As – an important lesson in the power of knowing what you want and working hard. The early starts also prepared me for 3am wake-up calls as a BBC Breakfast presenter!

Looking back, much of the most significant learning I did at school was outside the classroom. I helped to look after a little girl with disabilities for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and spending time with her and her family made a real impact on me.

Grief, sadness and mental health

Even more influential was the death of one of my friends when we were just 14. She was taken ill playing tennis – she had a brain haemorrhage – and I was with her before she went to hospital. People were far less open at the time, and I wish I’d been able to talk more about how I felt and understand better what happened.

I still think about her most weeks, and it’s been a lifelong sadness – although remembering her also makes me intensely grateful for all the things I have had the opportunity to do.

It’s because of experiences like these that I’ve supported Red Nose Day from the start. Comic Relief does amazing work for people who are struggling with issues that are particularly important to me, including education, nutrition and mental health.

There’s no doubt that as the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt around the world, help is needed more than ever.

As a parent of a secondary student, I have enormous respect for what teachers have achieved over the past year. My daughter is lucky; we have the resources at home to support her learning, and she’s developed resilience and determination that will stand her in good stead.

However, I really worry about the digital divide and the long-term impact on many children.

Against this backdrop, I see Red Nose Day as an opportunity for us all to have a bit of fun while making a real difference. I’m certainly looking forward to a bit of silliness come 19 March. Whether students are in school or still learning from home, Red Nose Day is just a great thing to be part of.

Louise Minchin is a journalist, broadcaster, TV presenter and GB Team triathlete for her age group; follow her at @louiseminchin

A long-time supporter of Comic Relief’s work, Louise is looking forward to raising money for Red Nose Day on Friday 19th March – readers can download some free resources for secondary schools by visiting comicrelief.com/secondary

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