Posted in Personal life, Writing

Life Lessons Learned from School

Click the cover image to read the whole the magazine online

In my Young By Name column in the March issue of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser, I’m musing about the most valuable and lasting lessons from my schooldays.


As my daughter muscles down to revision on the home straight of her GCSEs, I can’t help wondering which of the many facts and concepts she’s memorising will be of greatest value to her in later life. When I ran an informal survey some years ago, asking the alumni of Westonbirt School the most useful thing they’d learned at school, my favourite answer was “Not to sign anything I hadn’t read – and at my prep school, how to steam open an envelope”. While I can’t promise to better those examples, here are the most lasting takeaways from my own schooldays.

How to Write a Three-Point Essay

Our English teacher, Mr Campbell, spent many lessons hammering home this simple but clear strategy for essay-writing. First, pick three points on your chosen topic, outline each one in a separate paragraph. Top and tail the trio with an interesting introduction and conclusion, and you’re done. Why three? Perhaps because it’s the magic number in rhetoric, or because of the limited staying power of a class of fourteen-year-olds – or because that’s all he could face marking. I must have written hundreds of three-point essays during my working life, and I wish he was still alive so I could thank him.

Never Give More Than One Excuse

I can’t remember which two excuses I gave to Mr Crane, the school’s pantomime director, when I wanted to bunk off an after-school rehearsal, but neither of them was genuine. (The real reason was that I wanted to get to the local bookshop before it closed.) Whatever they were, he saw straight through them, kindly letting me off the hook with the advice that, for future reference, giving more than one excuse is unconvincing. I never missed another rehearsal. He was a wise man.

The Masses Are Asses

This blunt statement was frequently shared by Mr Judis, our A Level history teacher, when trying to explain to a classful of teenage idealists why so many bad decisions had been made in the name of democracy. The topics of our study were the causes and effects of the First and Second World War, twentieth-century East-West relations, and the fall of colonialism, but as I listen to twenty-first-century news stories, his words frequently echo in my head.

So if, Desert Island Discs style, I had to pick just one of these school-life lessons as the most important, which would it be? It would have to be the three point-essay. Just cast your eye back up the page. Do you see what I did there?

If you’d like to read my archive of columns written for the Tetbury Advertiser, you can buy the first collection as an ebook or in paperback – click here for more details




English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

2 thoughts on “Life Lessons Learned from School

  1. A wonderful piece – and where were you at school? My (related to Oxford High, but located in Wimbledon) had no such pithy wisdom to impart as useful, memorable phrases! It was all waffle, and the teachers may’ve had Oxbridge degrees but they were mostly unable to inspire real learning or practical wisdom … just stuff our heads with academic subjects, which is different! I am off to practice 3-point blogging I think …

    1. Thank you, Mari! 3-point blogging – I bet they’re teaching that in classrooms now!

      I went to secondary school in two completely different schools. My first three years, aged 11-14, was in a traditional, classic English girls’ grammar school, which not only my big sister had attended, but also my mum and two aunts. It was called Chislehurst & Sidcup Grammar School for Girls in their day (my dad went to Chis & Sid for Boys, and my parents were childhood sweethearts!) Just before I joined, the name changed to Beaverwood School for Girls, although it was still technically a grammar school and I had to pass my 11+ to get in. The name was chosen because it was in Beaverwood Road. I suppose it could have been worse – it was right next to a cemetery!

      Then when I was 14, my father’s job with an international computer company took him abroad, and we moved to Frankfurt, Germany. I spent the last four years of my secondary education at an international school, run on American lines, where lessons were taught in English and instead of doing O Levels and A Levels we took the International Baccalaureat. I went from one extreme to the other, from a cloistered, middle-class girls’ grammar to a worldly-wise, multi-cultural, mixed education.

      Then more recently I almost went full circle, working for 13 years in the office of a traditional and very posh girls’ boarding school, Westonbirt., near Tetbury. That was another totally different world, and all were fun and memorable in different ways.

      I feel very lucky to have been exposed to those different cultures, and am sure it made me a completely different person than if I’d stayed in one place! (One of our teachers at Beaverwood had been a pupil there herself – we girls couldn’t imagine a worse career than staying on voluntarily to teach after we’d “lefT” – although it was actually a wonderful school and I was very, very happy there.)

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