Culture Trips

Springfield Elementary to St Trinian’s: the best fictional high schools | Culture

Springfield Elementary School
The Simpsons

No matter how much changes in an individual episode of Matt Groening’s animated juggernaut, everything remains the same at Springfield Elementary. This educational Neverland forever acts as a satire on the state of American public schooling, all funding crises and underhand testing tactics. Cool glass of Malk, anyone?

Tree Hill High School
One Tree Hill

A sunny corner of North Carolina is where the euphoria of team sport takes place: for the tumultuous teens who play for the Ravens basketball team and the cheerleaders. Nowhere in the show is the thrill and promise of high school better expressed than on the court itself, a gladiatorial ring that defines the prestige of its students.

Plastics fantastic ... Mean Girls.
Plastics fantastic … Mean Girls. Photograph: Pictorial Press/Alamy

North Shore High School
Mean Girls

The definitive codification of the modern American high school experience, North Shore delineates and crystallises the cliques that have become a staple of fictional schools. The Plastics, attempts to make “fetch” happen, and the nutritional content of butter have all become pop culture touchstones since Mean Girls’ release in 2004.

Waterloo Road
Waterloo Road

Notwithstanding a confusing move from Rochdale to Greenock, the drama’s ordinary exterior belies the neverending drama that plays out inside. Plotlines burst with pregnancies, alcohol addiction and extreme violence – and that’s just the staff. That said, the school is also full of students striving through adversity.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Harry Potter films

There was always something special about the cosy communal spaces and sweeping grounds, but the day-to-day normalcy of Hogwarts is what’s spellbinding: arithmancy instead of maths; muggle studies in place of sociology. Teenage angst housed in a magical setting.

Padua High School
10 Things I Hate About You

Built in 1898 as a grand hotel, the real-life Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington sets the stage for this high school reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. And yes, its sports stadium is where Heath Ledger serenades Julia Stiles.

Asa Butterfield in Sex Education.
Growing pains … Asa Butterfield in Sex Education. Photograph: Netflix

Moordale High
Sex Education

In a short space of time, Netflix’s high school drama has developed cult status. Filmed mostly in idyllic Welsh countryside, its school is a quirky balance of rundown English state schooling and glossy Americana. With a former university building providing a striking backdrop, the show evokes John Hughes movies spliced with The Inbetweeners’ most embarrassing moments.

St Trinian’s
St Trinian’s

Brought back to life in 2007, St Trinian’s cannily contrasts the boarding school’s austere facade with its boisterous life behind closed doors. Yes, there’s the occasional member of Girls Aloud and two versions of Rupert Everett, but also a science lab doubling as a vodka distillery and ample space to plan an intricate bank heist.

Slaughterhouse
Slaughterhouse Rulez

Slaughterhouse takes the ugliest aspects of English public schools and ramps them up to demonic proportions in Crispian Mills’s 2018 comedy horror. With an imposing example of upper-class largesse as a canvas, the film gamely caricatures the traditions and rituals that underpin private schools, including an eccentrically unhinged turn from Michael Sheen as the school’s headmaster, the Bat.

Academy of Unseen Arts
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Set by an eerie, abandoned stretch of railway, the gothic Academy is built on the principle of sacred geometry, providing an interlaced collection of perfectly proportioned pentagonal rooms. The school’s satanic history is etched into every one of those spaces; so, not an especially carefree schooling experience.

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