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  • Writer's pictureJulie Kavanagh

I Banned The Word 'CAN'T': My Journey Through the Education System

39 years ago, aged 12, I made a decision that would shape my life forever—I banned the word CAN'T. Little did I know that this simple act of defiance would lead me down a slippery slope during my education years.

At the age of 12, things began to unravel. I found myself facing detentions, being humiliated and made an example of for questioning the norms. The restrictions imposed on me were suffocating—I was told I couldn't do woodwork because it was for boys (So I insisted I become the first girl to take GCSE woodwork in the Northwest.) I couldn't participate in sports because it was also reserved for boys. So I took part in county championships. I was expected to be demure, ladylike and never show any confidence or boldness. But I couldn't accept such limitations.

Despite the challenges, I excelled in school sports and drama. However, in the mid-80s, school strikes disrupted my passion for these activities. The situation worsened as I faced weekly exclusions and eventually had to switch schools after a ridiculous incident where I was told to wash off my electric blue eyeliner in a French class. I couldn't understand why I was studying French when I'd never been on a holiday, struggled academically and felt bored to death. My blue eyeliner was irrelevant to learning. My rebellious nature grew, and I longed to break free into the big world outside.

My real passion was music, especially Soul and Hip-Hop. I would head to Soul Alldayers at just 13 years old to dance for 6hrs straight, my eyes wide open to the possibilities. I loved it. I dreamt big, and my ambitions shone brightly. However, the school system seemed determined to dim that light. They wanted me to conform, but I knew I could never fit into their restrictive mould.

At 14, I was given an ultimatum—leave immediately or be sent to a place where troubled boys ended up. Pushed out of the school I wrongly thought a Catholic school could work. My Mum is Irish, and wine was given out at Mass—quite a simple choice in my eyes. But I faced hatred from day one. I wasn’t Catholic and no bugger had ever heard of an 'Alldayer'…..Bon Jovi fans were the level of coolness in this place…..I felt my soul leave my body on day one. So I refused to be pushed around by adults and challenged the teachers' attempts to discipline me. This, of course, only led to more hatred from peers and school exclusions.

The education system failed to see my potential, only labelling me as trouble. They couldn't comprehend my dreams and ambitions. They actively ridiculed me for my GCSE option choices. Fast forward 39 years, I question how much has changed. The education system often neglects the needs of children with mental health concerns and neurodivergent individuals. I certainly see it in abundance with Care Experienced and Adopted Children and young people. Our Kids who have experienced childhood trauma are often punished rather than supported. Ridiculous rules and shaming tactics are still applied to vulnerable children, showing that the education system is woefully not evolving much.

So what was it all for?

Any kids struggling in school know this: you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Aim high, show the world what you're capable of.

Crack On! You got this!


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