Are school days really that different to 30 years ago?

Believe it or not, I can remember moments from my first day at school.
Only brief flashes, of course. Well it was 33 years ago…
Amazingly, I can actually recall the fear as I walked down the corridor at what was Holden Lane First and Middle School for the first time.
I vividly remember being shown my coat peg denoted by a tiny picture of a boat which cheered me up somewhat.
I also have a recollection of watching in fascination as a lad (who I later came to know as Ian Holmes) picked his nose, showed me his dirty finger and then ate what he’d found up his right nostril.
I can even tell you where we were when he did it. We were kneeling at the goldfish pond which was set into the floor of the classroom – the very thought of which is doubtless enough to give modern Health and Safety types a coronary.
I entered this daunting new environment as a shy, fat, four-year-old who couldn’t tie his own shoelaces.
I can now tie my shoelaces.
When I entered school for the first time, I had mastered the art of visiting the little boys’ room alone (so I’m reliably informed), could write my own name and loved having stories read to me.
I was, in every way, an unremarkable child.
And, according to one teaching union, I was very lucky to attend school when I did back in the good old days of the mid-Seventies.
Lesley Ward, the new president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), paints a grim picture of UK primary schools in September 2009.
The ATL chief says children from some of the poorest communities are coming to school for the first time unable to dress themselves, use a knife and fork, or without being toilet trained.
I don’t doubt for a second the veracity of these claims, but I wonder just how widespread these problems are. Does she have any empirical data, or are we relying on the anecdotes of a number of disgruntled ATL members?
Whatever the basis of these claims, I’m getting rather sick and tired of the growing trend for parent and child-bashing and this assumption that everything was rosy way back when.
Like many mums and dads, last week was very special for me because my eldest started school.
She skipped in full of confidence kitted out in a lovely new uniform which made her look two years older than she actually is and left dad outside – a gibbering wreck.
Her school is lovely. It’s clean, safe, modern – and without a goldfish pond to be seen.
The school and its staff are regularly inspected to within an inch of their lives.
Healthy eating and exercise are key ingredients of the school’s philosophy and the curriculum is broad and stimulating.
Lois can write her own name, knows all the letters of the alphabet, can count up to forty-odd (by which time she gets a bit bored), can dress herself and isn’t half bad with paints, pencils and crayons. Through weekly gym sessions and constant encouragement from mum and dad she’s also become fit and physically confident.
But, at this age, the truth is my pride and joy is probably indistinguishable from most other new starters at her primary school.
She has stories read to her every night before bed by mum, dad, grandparents and assorted family friends and every day we try to improve her reading, writing and general knowledge.
And guess what? We are in no way unique.
Countless thousands of parents the length and breadth of this country do the same.
I’ve no doubt there are some unfortunate children who arrive at school on their first day less prepared than their peers. Sadly, their parents either don’t care or haven’t the time or the skills to devote to developing their offspring.
As a result, they will go through life at a distinct disadvantage.
But this is nothing new. T’was ever thus.
I’m sure we can all name a child from our own school days who fits this description.
But rather than labelling the current crop of school children as somehow inferior or unskilled in comparison to previous generations, why don’t we look at the glass half full for a change?
After all, how many four-year-olds back in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties – for example – were capable of using a mouse and PC keyboard to navigate a website?
None. We didn’t have any.
That’s just one positive example of the differences between the majority of youngsters today and the nursery class at a Sneyd Green primary school in 1976.
I bet they still pick their noses, though.


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