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

Gloucestershire Echo - - REMEMBRANCE 2018 -

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@reach­plc.com

Janet Hughes in uni­form and, top, in English with Ri­ley. Above left, Miss God­ding teaches a science les­son and, right, head­teacher Sarah Tufnell

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