Last day at school

Jul 18th, 2009 | By | Category: Personal Columns

“London is packed”, said the voice on the telephone.

“Is there something special on?”

“No, it’s the first weekend of the school holidays”.

The first weekend of the summer holidays!

The annual remembrance of leaving High Ham Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School had been forgotten.

It must have been Friday, 21st July 1972 – we never finished before Saint Swithin’s Day and finishing on 14th July would have meant returning to school in August, a dreadful thought.

There was no school bell, just the quiet words of the teacher telling the class they could go.

The occasion went unmarked by any ceremony or observance; it went, for the most part, without comment.  Seven of the class of twenty or so would not return in September: a fact that was as unremarkable as the passing of the seasons.  There were no tears; no dramatic goodbyes; no words of reflection on how we would never again walk through the gate of the two teacher school.

Two of us were being dispatched to one school while the other five went to another; a situation decreed by that strange and arbitrary institution called the 11+.  It made little difference to people living in the same isolated, close knit community.  We would be bussed in opposite directions in the morning and bussed back to the tiny village in the afternoon.  Your friends were those who lived in your community; there was no public transport and, even when people were sufficiently affluent to have telephones, calls were too expensive to be made to chat to friends.

There were moments in the intervening 37 years when there was a temptation to set foot back inside the place, though the building now is a new one.  Tempting to step in and say, “I left here in 1972”.

To do so would be to look a complete ass.  It would invite the response, “Yes and what do you want?”

“Nothing really.  I just thought I would look in”.

People left the school every year.  Every summer another little group headed out into the world, bussed off to other places, until they closed the grammar school and bussed everyone in the same direction.  Having left in one year would be no more significant than having left in any other.

Looking at the great commotion now surrounding the end of school years, including ceremonies and church services, perhaps the flat calmness of July 1972 was not such a bad idea. It was a much better preparation for the realities of life than blowing up a bubble of self importance that is cruelly burst by an indifferent world.

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  1. My father visited his old school 40 years after he left and one of the teachers had been a fellow student! I’ve never felt the urge and like you, leaving school at 11 was no big deal. These days there are sixth grade formals for heavens sakes with 11 year olds hiring cars and suits! Crazy.

  2. I have no memory of the last day at either school. No doubt I went home to peel potatoes! 🙁

  3. The concept of ‘childhood’ was very much a Victorian invention, before that you were simply a person of younger years (and did your share of the work!). I think, in some quarters, it has now been carried to an almost ridiculous degree, where children’s every whim must be indulged.

  4. Starting the ‘big’ school in the September was a bit of a shock. I always remember being a bit nervous after being told all the stories about what happens to the new intake……I must sat that all I can remember of the last day of school was 6 whole weeks of fun!!!!

  5. I only really remember it because someone left their coat behind and Mr Britten said it would have to wait until September

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