Saturday 19 August 2023

The end is in sight


The end is in sight

                                Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons 
For some, in Scotland, it has already arrived but the rest of the United Kingdom must wait until the beginning of September for the end of the looooonnnnng summer holidays and the start of the new academic year. Quite why Scotland has to be out of step with everyone else is anyone’s guess. Maybe it has something to do with being much further north, with shorter daylight hours in winter, though that seems illogical on a warm day in the middle of August before the clocks have gone back.

     Regardless of start of term dates, small children about to begin the 14-year journey called ‘school’ will have been hauled or are still being dragged from shoe shop to hair dresser to uniform suppliers to stationers to set them up with everything they could possibly ever need and may not necessarily ever use. Hereafter, thrift shops or PTA organisations do a roaring trade in good quality, second-hand uniform.

Thus, tiny girls and boys are thrust into unfamiliar clothes which are too long and too broad, but which leave plenty of room ‘for growth’. This is particularly noticeable if the child is about to enter an ‘independent’ school – that is, not a state school.

 Independent schools often require garments that are not easily available online or in the chain stores. Indeed, some schools insist that all uniform must be bought from the official uniform suppliers, at official uniform prices, of course. The colours are sometimes startling, and the cut can be unique. I have seen small girls drowning in ankle-length plaid kilts, which will last them until they are 16. Uniform manufacturers don’t realise that most small humans don’t have much in the way of hips and waists, so skirts and trousers are constantly slipping down and shirts and blouses are always untucked.

I remember one very small, very young boy appearing at school, an independent one, on his first day, in the entirety of his winter uniform. This comprised knee-length socks, long trousers, long-sleeved shirt, tie, jumper, blazer and duffel coat. I don’t think he was wearing his school scarf, but cannot be sure. He could hardly move and was extremely warm. Older, wiser children with greater experience, were wearing summer uniform. The duffel coat was cut in such a way and made of material so stiff that a child could move around inside it independently, like a hamster in its skin.

I don’t know which committee of people decides what a school uniform should be, but there is not much thought given to practicality. The youngest children in school are at different stages of development.  In the Reception class, to which children are admitted in the September following their 4th birthday, there will be a range of ages, abilities and experience. The oldest child in the class may be 5 soon after the beginning of term in September, while the youngest may only just have had their 4th birthday at the end of August or even the beginning of September. Some may even still be wanting an afternoon nap and will find a full school day very tiring, notwithstanding a new routine, new children, big adults with scary voices.  They are still very tender.

Changing for P.E. can take an entire lesson, even with a teaching assistant to help. Stiff button-holes defeat little fingers, some may be reluctant to remove their socks, others may get completely carried away and strip off as if ready for a bath. Getting changed back is challenging. Arms can’t find armholes, jumpers go on back to front, shoes, often someone else’s, are forced onto the wrong feet, and all this alongside sometimes uncertain bladder control or worse in the very youngest and least mature.

Somehow, the children survive unsettling activities – lining up for lunch is very different to sitting down quietly at home with mummy, the toilets are often less than appealing, choice of partner is limited and sometimes non-existent and the child may have to hold hands with another who made faces earlier. Going to the hall for assembly is worrying – it’s a large, echoing room with lots of big children! The playground is noisy and everyone has to go outside, even if they don’t want to, especially if they don’t want to.

Eventually, ‘home time’ arrives and the children rush to their relieved parents (relieved because the child survived the day without mishap) and who bombard them with questions. ‘What did you do today? Who did you play with? Did you eat all your lunch? What’s your teacher like? Did you have a nice day?’

A school day is a work day and, just like adults, children often do not wish to discuss their day. They have had no choice in their activities or their companions. They have had to sit when told, stand when told, go to the toilet, wash their hands, queue up for lunch, go out to play, line up to come in again, join one group for one activity, go to another for something different.

Children will speak about their day when they are ready, but it may not be anything to do with what they may or may not have learnt. It will be something random, like ‘I want to wear glasses’.


  1. Bless their little hearts! Our little boy fell asleep every day on the drive home. Every teacher needs a copy of this exceptional post. Hilltop Post

  2. I was born on the 3rd of September so I was always the eldest in my year. My middle school uniform was purple! Who ever came up with that idea?

    1. Purple is not the easiest colour for children - and I bet it was a vibrant purple!

  3. It's something we have all done, 1st day at school, and your post sums it up to perfection. Watching grand children start school is far nicer than sorting our own daughters for the school journey. Some children are very lucky and are ready for school, others have it thrust upon them, as Jo said, some are very young, I loved it when there were intakes on each start of term.

    1. I liked having new children each term but those days are long over.
      I agree with you - it's much easier seeing grandchildren starting school.

  4. This sounds all Greek to me ! When I started school in 1946 or 47, there were no uniforms at all, we got jeans and pullovers from the American occupation. I never ever wore an uniform in my life. In Germany they are very few schools with uniforms and not well seen (the past is still there) In Holland they don't have uniforms because children shouldn't look the same. Imagine my 12 year old grandson who is taller than me (1.71) but only the body, the brain is still 12
    years old. What uniform should he wear ?? My whole school career I wore Jeans or a skirt and later in business school there were no uniforms in Belgium anymore. But there were in my generation. Now I see less and less.

    1. Uniforms are the rule rather than the exception in UK. It avoids competition between the haves and the have-nots.

  5. HaHa! Goodness! Lovely post...takes me back
    to my days at school..but..finally l did get parole..! :)
    And the questions..Who did you play with?
    Did you have a nice day? Jeeeese! I dare'nt answer,
    l'll get thrown off this Blog...! :O).
    I hated school from start to 16, l thought
    Willie..time to get edecated...HeHe! So l took and
    entrance exam to Poole Tech. For two years, took
    and passed four O's and three A levels..Job done...!
    I can sign a cheque now...! :).

    I even told the first school, that my daughter will start
    at the age of five..'NOT' four...they did'nt like it..Tough..!
    I finished up Secretary of the then PTA for four years,
    things certainly changed with me in charge, at least
    things were done, at my say so...The headmistress,
    Mrs Darke, did'nt like it, but, l always got my way...!

    So, yes, l suppose school days were days to be remember,
    good or bad, we're talking 20+yrs of our lives, and very
    eventful years to...! :). Mind you, l'd hate to go back to them..!
    🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊 🦊

  6. I think they were NOT the 'best days of your life' for many. School doesn't suit everyone.

  7. I really enjoyed this post. I have good and bad memories, but that is probably the norm. Tough Nuns taught me, but I was tough back, lol.

    1. Ha ha! Why are nuns and monks such harsh teachers? Not all of them are, I'm sure, but they're the ones that get the attention.

  8. Two more weeks of school holidays here in Belgium ... and two more weeks to my next holiday ...
    I always loved going back to school on the 1st of September, and the date still signifies new beginnings for me all those years later.
    There are less and less schools here who require uniforms ... I never went to one for which I needed to wear one. It'll probably have its advantages but it wouldn't have "suited" rebellious me at all :-) xxx

    1. Uniforms at secondary school are always 'adapted' to test the boundaries.

  9. I love how your compassion for the little ones comes through so well in this post. We never had uniforms, and when my kids went to school, they were briefly considered and then rejected. But as you said in a reply to a comment, they can help to lessen the comparisons between the children of well off families and those of families with less to spend. I worried equally about families who might find it difficult to purchase the list of supplies given to kids at the end of the previous grade for the new term in September. The cost really added up, and included things like one or two boxes of tissues which were put in the classroom for the use of all!

  10. Kitting out children for school can be very expensive, but school supplies, like stationery, are provided by state schools in UK. It seems quite harsh to expect parents to supply things like tissues and where does it stop? Loo rolls, paper towels, cutlery, plates?


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