Admit it, you did it, at least once this week. Yes that’s right – took a cute photo of your child in their (too big) school kit ready for the new term and then shared it far and wide with your FB friends. “The trend for showcasing our child on social media on their first day at school, whether they are entering reception or embarking on A Levels, now appears as compulsory as the curriculum itself.” Antonia Hoyle, The Daily Telegraph
Celebrities from Madonna, to Elton John and the Rooneys – never seemingly shy of making a media (or marketing) moment of their lives – all got in on the act. Their snaps made the Daily Mail, of course. Feels all a bit money showy-offy too, doesn’t it? So easy to spot the Prep school uniforms (proper woollen jumpers, ties, jackets, and satchels, subtle tones) – over the State primary (shapeless jersey tops and book bags, usually in a bright primary color).
But cynicism aside, this trend of sharing our kids school pics is rather new and, perhaps, says a lot about how views of education have changed in a generation. The value of a good education and the importance placed on attainment and achievement permeates the lives of kids (and their parents) everywhere. And as every soon parent finds out, our choice of school, seems to define us more than just financially but morally and politically too. Theresa May’s speech today on the likely expansion of grammar schools will likely highlight our class and wealth and aspiration divisions more sharply than many other welfare directives.
Modern educational policy is for the now political order. Culturally our interest has much been more focussed on the character of the teacher and in particular the unique relationship they have with their pupils. Miss Jean Brodie, in her prime, knew it and so did Hector, the history teacher (forever the brilliant Richard Griffiths), in The History Boys – teachers are likely to be the most influential force in a child’s life outside of the home. And they can be good and bad…
Think back on your years in education and no doubt at least one teacher will stand out. Good or bad your experience of school is likely to have made a lasting impression on you. And this is why children on their own school journey, from infant to teen, make for such good stories. There’s scope for all types of happenings – from the breaking of myriad rules to mishaps and misunderstandings – put these together with the many variables relationships; teacher/pupil, pupil/pupil, teacher/headteacher – and you have all the necessary spice (and teenage hormones) for of a variety of literary exploits. And of course schools breed some very strange and/or vivid characters – can you spot the Miss Trunchball in your playground?
I’d argue stories from the view of pupil or teacher, really are worth a look – whatever your stage of life. Like soaps, they can reflect the day-to-day; Grange Hill showed us 80s kids – and Teachers, the Millennials. Or they take us back to different times – from the innocent; Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St Clare’s to the austere, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Or as the award-winning Channel series, Educating Yorkshire proved, they can give us a real insight into the lives being lived in our secondary schools today.
For perhaps, most importantly of all and on an altruistic level, school stories simply remind us that growing up really is hard to do.
Further recommendations, all classics these:
The History Boys (2006) An unruly class of gifted and charming teenage boys are taught by two eccentric and innovative teachers, as their headmaster pushes for them all to get accepted into Oxford or Cambridge. Based on the book by Alan Bennett , there’s often a stage version touring.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower (2012). Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is attempting to navigate through the uncharted territory of high school. Based on the novel by Stephen Chbosky
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. Muriel Spark’s most celebrated novel . . . This ruthlessly and destructively romantic school ma’am is one of the giants of post-war fiction’ (Independent)
South Riding by Winifred Holtby. This depiction of a headmistress living through a time of social change in 1930s Yorkshire was published posthumously and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Holtby died only a few months after finishing it and never saw it in print. It was adapted in 2011 as a BBC TV series with Anna Maxwell Martin.
And from the child’s point of view:
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. A stunning novel in the great tradition of American coming-of-age novels documenting a teenage girl’s experience of trying to fit in to a snobby school.
Wonder by R J Palacio. Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life. Now, for the first time, he’s being sent to a real school – and he’s dreading it. WONDER is a funny, frank, astonishingly moving debut that’s sure to be remembered.