The day that’s loomed for 11 years is finally here – it’s time for Senior School. It seems like only yesterday he was asking about going to “skell”, and now he’s trotting off in a large gaggle of friends to embark on the (I believe) scariest and toughest stage of education. But things have changed a bit at secondary school since I frequented it in the 1990s…

Biometric tuck shop

I remember queuing – or rather, crushing – to get hold of a bit of shortbread at breaktime, or a slice of lunchtime pizza, and handing over a selection of coppers and silvers in exchange. But here and now, he goes to something that resembles a cafe, and he pays for his sustenance using only a fingerprint. Then there’s the price – it was about £1.50 for a decent two course meal and a drink in 1990, so I was interested to discover that a sausage roll, juice and a biscuit cost rather more than that!

Lockers up and down the corridors

The individual wooden desks in our classrooms performed the function of storing all my academic paraphernalia, and you were lucky if you didn’t get someone’s pencil shavings dumped down the old inkwell hole. Cloakrooms were the repository for the rest, and always had a peculiar smell of their own as a result. Lockers were something that I thought was reserved for cool American high school students, but it appears they are now the norm for our kids too – and I can’t imagine the loss of that odour from scores of PE kits in one windowless room is a great tragedy.

Parent Homework Portal

OK, if you happen to be one of my parents (or know one of my parents) you might want to skip this part!

My school didn’t seem to bother about parental involvement with homework until I was in Third Form (which I believe is now called Year 9). At this point they introduced a little diary in which homework was noted, and which had to be signed by a parent and checked by the form tutor. Not a problem if you got everything done like a good pupil, but occasionally I didn’t. It was probably Physics homework or something else that failed to capture my imagination…anyway, the school hadn’t considered this: with a little concentration, the dedicated student could use the imprint of the previous week’s signature to copy it to next week’s, thus making it appear fully signed off by a parent who didn’t seem to mind if the odd science assignment had gone undone.

But there’s no getting round it for the pupils at this school. It’s all posted online, and with my very own login I can see what’s been set, the deadline and when it’s been handed in. I also get notified of when he’s been rewarded for good behaviour, and any misdemeanours. And remember “losing” your school report on the last day’s journey home? Not an option now – it wings its way direct to the parent’s inbox.

Best Years?

Did anyone actually love this time of their life? In my memory, these years were crammed with uncertainty, self-doubt, crippling embarrassment, and feeling torn between the warm safety of childhood and the exciting but dangerous freedoms of imminent maturity. And that’s before you start on the academic expectations, and raft of new personal responsibilities. In that sense, secondary school in the 1990s was exactly what it is today.

The transition from junior to senior seems to have happened overnight, and the changes are quite huge. And as I look at our boy who’s just stepped into his new black brogues this month, he seems far too young and unspoilt for all that heartache and uncertainty; but I also know that these years and their challenges are his doorway to adulthood, and that they will help to shape the social and personal skills he needs to engage with the world and be happy.

But hopefully the technological advances we’ve made with homework diariets mean he’ll never become a successful forger.

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