My son has just started school and I was pretty sure I knew what to expect – he’d be solving mysteries and sneaking out of the dormitories for midnight feasts. But so far, it just seems to be learning about shapes and things. Doubtless the fact that he’s not at a boarding school will also impede his ability to have midnight feasts as well, but the whole thing is disappointing for someone brought up on traditional school stories. Of course, he could go to the new kind of school, where everyone breaks into song spontaneously in the corridor all the time but those don’t seem to exist either. So, let’s just leave reality aside for a moment and celebrate the Top 10 Fictional Schools.
10. St Trinian’s
If it’s mad escapades that you’re looking for, look no further than the naughty schoolgirls of St Trinian’s. Starting life as a series of cartoons, the antics of the smoking, drinking schoolgirls became first books and then a series of films. We’ll ignore the recent remakes, on the grounds that they were rubbish. Typically, a St Trinian’s girl would know how to use a hockey stick (as a weapon) and how to roll up a school skirt to reveal the maximum amount of leg. As a cross-dressing Alistair Sim said in the films: “In other schools girls are sent out quite unprepared into a merciless world, but when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world which has to be prepared” Not a school for the faint hearted.
9. East High School
Unlike the other schools on the list, East High is not strictly fictional. But the version of the school that is familiar to millions through the “High School Musical” movies is very different to the real version. The actual East High is located in Salt Lake City, Utah (the movie is also filmed at other schools in the area) but the film is set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Also, the real school doesn’t have ridiculously good-looking teenagers doing spontaneous dance routines in the hallways and only communicating with each other through the medium of song. Still, the real school has quite a busy tourist trade now, as fanatical pre-teens flock to see the spot where Troy and Gabriella sang together. Not quite a fictional school but it might as well be!
We’re back in the world of English girls’ boarding schools now, with a series of books set at the Trebizon School. Written in the 80s and early 90s as a kind of modern update of the Enid Blyton tales, it still seems dated now, with stereotyped characters (Tomboy Tish, Sensible Sue) and stilted dialogue. But it seems fun enough, with the focus on tennis and hockey as well as surfing on the Cornish beaches. And, in the school story tradition, there was a mystery to solve every term. What was remarkable about the Trebizon series is that occasionally the endings were actually surprising, unlike most children’s books where the “twist” can be seen a mile off. They may not be bang up-to-date but they’re entertaining reads.
7. William McKinley High
But don’t invest in that hockey kit yet – here’s another tempting fictional school you might want to consider. Based on the HSM model of spontaneous showtunes, the school in “Glee” sees more than its fair share of drama…and music. Where else would the school assemblies feature a fully-choreographed Britney Spears number? The teachers are unusual too -from sarcastic coach Sue Sylvester to overly sincere Spanish teacher Will Schuester, who spends approximately 1% of his time teaching Spanish, 90% of his time coaching the Glee club and the remaining 9% chasing and then rejecting various womenfolk. Don’t send your child there if you want them to get a good education, but do consider it if you want them to have a lively romantic life and awesome high-kicks.
6. The Chalet School
The Chalet School is an English boarding school in everything but location. Set in Austria because one of the main characters was ill and needed the fresher air, the school moved around a lot during the Second World War and only briefly stopped in the UK. The 60 books were written by Elinor Brent-Dyer and followed the story of the school’s founding members as they grew up and had their own children (who were, of course, educated at the Chalet School too). A children’s classic of the “jolly hockey sticks” genre, it does read as slightly sexist and unrealistic by today’s standards but it has its own charm. Nearly 90 years after the publication of the first novel, the fan club “Friends of the Chalet School” are still extolling the virtues of climbing mountains and having fun with your chums.