City of London School and Me

Getting into the School was probably the biggest single life-altering thing that has happened to me.

I was born and raised in Hackney – Dalston. It was a pretty rough neighbourhood. Maybe it has come up a little bit since the Olympics, but East London can still be a bit hit-or-miss. I went to a normal Church of England primary school just opposite my house.

My mum is a teacher, so she was keen that I got into a good school. We had never heard of City of London School before but a friend of my mum’s who had seen the advert for bursaries at CLS told her about it. The deadline was the next day so my mum spent 24 hours researching and putting the application together. I vaguely remember the exams and the interview: I remember saying that the person I would most like to meet was Nelson Mandela.

From my first days at CLS I remember how big the blazers were on us and being amazed by all the stuff going on in the School – all the technology. I remember going to Grove Park for my first time, seeing the great facilities there. I couldn’t believe it. I told all my friends about it.

I enjoyed all the extra- curricular activities on at the school, I was captain and centre-forward in the football team, I played basketball and water polo, although not very well. I did judo and won some regional championships and was heavily involved in the Debating Society and the Politics Society. I wanted to do everything. I knew I had more opportunities than I might have had at a school in Hackney.

In the Politics Society, we had incredible speakers come in. George Galloway was an interesting one as was David Davis and Vince Cable. We even went to see Boris Johnson speak just as he was starting his campaign to run for Mayor of London. We travelled to competitions all over the country with the Debating Society and ended up going to South Africa to compete in an international Model UN competition. South Africa was an amazing experience. We had the chance to spend time on Freedom Island. As an exercise, they locked us up for an hour and a half with no phones! It felt like we had been there 24 hours, but it was a very brief glimpse into what Nelson Mandela had been through. We had a talk from a political prisoner who had spent a similar time to Mandela in jail – it was fascinating, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

All the CLS boys and teachers were very welcoming. People’s different backgrounds were never really mentioned. Early on, I was probably closest to other boys I knew who were on bursaries – our parents were closer, and we all came from the same areas: me and my friends Ronnie and Jacob all travelled in from East London. But as we got older, like any school, my friends became based around my interests. I’m still friends with a lot of them.

The donor that supported by bursary was an alumnus of the School who had received a scholarship himself. By sponsoring someone else to go through the School, he was repaying a favour, as he saw it. I would meet up with him regularly to talk about my progress and I benefited from that. For instance, he had studied at Cambridge after leaving CLS – for the 11-year-old me to hear someone like that talk about his own experiences broadened my horizons; it helped me see what might be possible. Knowing the kind of opportunities that are out there can be half the battle, I think, when you come from a background like mine.

One of the boys who joined CLS when I was in the Sixth Form was American. He told me there were real opportunities for scholarships and bursaries at US universities, even for an English applicant. I was drawn to the breadth of education there: in American universities, you take a range of subjects before deciding on your ‘major’– it was a wider approach than the system we have here, with lots of extra-curricular stuff too. I had to do exams in my year out, write essays and applications. I went back into School all the time, asking my teachers for their help with references and reports to get me in. At the end of it all, I had the opportunity to go to Dartmouth on another bursary.

I honestly believe that City of London School changed my life. It broadened my horizons and helped me realise that whatever your background, it’s a very egalitarian place where you learn to take people as they come, for who they are. There’s a good mix of people that maybe some other private schools don’t have – so it prepares City boys to deal with the world out there. I’ve been all over the world and all these opportunities I’ve had, I think, have been the result of going to City of London School. It’s an incredible place and their dedication to providing bursaries and scholarships is one of its greatest assets. The people who support bursaries are changing kids’ lives.

To make a gift towards supporting transformational bursaries at City of London School, click here.