Best days of our lives not quite as I remembered
I went back to school at 57 and this is what I learned – Janet Hughes spent the day as a Year 7 pupil at Barnwood Park Arts College to see how education has changed
ONCE upon a time, in what is now officially the olden days, there was an oft-quoted saying: ‘Education is what you learn after you leave school.’
It rang true for us children of the 1970s who spent their days copying copious notes from the board while wondering if Slade would still be number one when the charts came out on Tuesday.
Most of us were destined for the University of Life and would have thought The Russell Group was a gang of boys who shared the same silly name.
Education just didn’t seem as important as it is today.
All I can really remember from my school days is a feeling of low level fear combined with a kind of terminal boredom that led to elastic bands being flicked across the classroom and wastepaper bins set alight on a regular basis.
So when my editor suggested heading back to school for the day, I can’t say I was exactly overjoyed at the prospect.
Granted, this time I knew from experience no sixth former was going to put my head down the toilet and flush the chain on day one, but so do all the Year 7s arriving at Barnwood Park Arts School in Gloucester.
By the time they put on that smart blazer and headed to big school, they had spent eight days at Barnwood Park and bonded with new classmates during a trip to Cattle Country.
Headteachers like Sarah Tufnell, who turned the school from inadequate in February 2013 to good in May 2014, know the move from primary to secondary is absolutely key to any pupil’s success.
Integration has been a particularly important exercise this year at Barnwood Park because it is the first time boys have been admitted.
It is clearly not a big deal to the pupils.
One of the biggest differences between my schooldays and theirs is some girls and boys are best friends and actually choose to sit next to each, rather than it being a humiliating punishment. Back in those pre-ofsted days when if you got 13 per cent in your chemistry exam it was 100 per cent all your own fault, the thought of being made to sit next to boys with nicknames like Woodbine was the stuff of nightmares. School corridors could feel a bit like an early version of The Hunger Games, and it wasn’t just the boys and girls hunting each other down.
I didn’t actually see Big Ron hold an unruly kid by his ankles out of the first floor window with my own eyes, but the fact everybody still believes the story to this day says a lot about the atmosphere in 1970s schools. Back then teachers could legally rap seven year olds across the knuckles with a ruler for not being quick enough to remember seven nines are 63 and secondary pupils feared “the crack”. But times have changed and Barnwood Park has a very, very different feel to the small town comprehensive school I joined in September 1972. And as I find out, it’s not just because I don’t recognise some of the lessons on the timetable.
So what did I learn from my day at Barnwood Park?
One of the biggest differences is that all that ingrained 1970s sexism has finally disappeared.
Boys today would be just as shocked as girls to be told they could not sit subjects deemed feminine or masculine or be friends with the opposite sex.
Although they have mystery subjects like Futures rather than Latin on the timetable, teachers seem to be more, in 21st Century lingo, on it.
They appear able to maintain discipline without the need to shout or pull pupils out of a chair by their ears and boldly enter the classroom with a clear plan about what they want children to learn and how they will teach it.
Modern education appears to be more about questioning than copying and schools seem kinder and more inclusive places.
I’m so out of date that I’m impressed the school actually has studios for drama, music and dance but then I learn all are to revamped and the school is getting a brand new sports hall.
I also learned Commedia dell’arte is not a milky coffee, I still can’t sing or dance and there’s no way I could be a TV presenter because I keep saying David Baddiel instead of David Walliams on video.
Some people may have a nostalgic view of yesteryear but spend a day in a modern secondary and you’ll find that education is finally something you learn in school.
Janet Hughes in uniform and, top, in English with Riley. Above left, Miss Godding teaches a science lesson and, right, headteacher Sarah Tufnell