What I Remember Doing in (Private) Primary School

Current discussion of learning through play/sitting down at a desk in Reception/Year 1 made me realise I have absolutely no idea what a normal primary school/EYFS experience is like. I only ever went to private schools. What I’m going to do is write down what I can remember from each year of my education, in the hope that people tell me which bits are atypical and what they had instead. At best, this might be informative from both ends. At worst, it will be a boring take on Adrian Mole.

Playgroup: I remember learning how a hovercraft works and clambering around on a climbing frame.

Reception: I remember sitting in rows. Now and then we’d go through to the next room for a practical. Once, the teacher dropped a ball and asked us to shout out what made it fall (I was the only one who shouted out “gravity” #proud). We also each got a bottle of milk quite regularly. As this must have been around 1995, I suspect this was a ‘turn the clock back on Margaret Thatcher the milk-snatcher’ selling point.

Y1-2: I remember distinctly not being allowed to go out to play until I’d finished my disgustingly overcooked “veggies”. Despite my pitiable efforts to conceal them beneath my knife and fork, the teachers would almost always spot them and make me sit there miserably in self-imposed haricot-vert lunchtime detention.

The same lunch hall was used for school-wide handwriting drills. The woman who ran these was terrifying. I believe her name was Mrs Bamforth and she could have given any of Bertie Wooster’s aunts a run for their money. Utter a squeak and you’d be standing up and blushing bright red in front of the whole school before you knew it. She used to literally drop a pin before we started to check it was suitably silent.

I don’t remember much from lessons, other than acting out a scene from prehistory. I was cast as a sabre-tooth tiger and interrupted the teacher’s explanation of tool use by jumping across the river and making the early humans scream, which was funny, apparently.

Other memories include being told off for staring out of the window during French, being chosen to go and fetch the junior hacksaws (#proud) and incessant fire-drills.

I think our tables were DT tables, arranged in groups, obviously. I think we were streamed.

Y3-5: I moved to a stricter school, in Cambridge. Line-ups in the yard before lessons. Big classes. Old wooden desks that slam when you open them to get your pen out. Scary teacher who slams his metre-rule on the desk when it’s not silent. Being made to stand outside the head’s office if you were silly (#terrifying).

I believe, in Year 3, we read “Danny the Champion of the World” and “The Hobbit”. We got told off for writing stories that were too action-packed. I remember one egregious example of mine being about a theatre which put on a production of Macbeth but someone called it “Macbeth” instead of “The Scottish Play” which led to a massive cigarette-and-gas-canister-related explosion.

The maths teacher must have been training because there was an observer at the back of the room all the time. All I remember from maths was writing the date out long-form and hating maths. I enjoyed science, though. We also had “creative writing” lessons in the IT room which was, I think, an attempt to teach us touch-typing.

There was CCTV, which I attempted to use as protection against being duffed up by the school bully, before it came apparent that the man watching the CCTV couldn’t care less. I remember making an impassioned complaint about the ethos of the school after someone went into the changing room and disembowelled my sports bag. The reply from my teacher was a dismissive “you don’t have a problem with the ethos of the school”.

I think the school must have realised its main accountability measure was the school play. There were endless rehearsals, overseen by an increasingly stressed headmaster. Honestly, we must have spent more time on the bloody play than any academic subject.

I remember quite a lot of colouring in Jesus in RS. I also remember studying St Lucia in geography. The teacher had taken it upon herself to make card passports branded “Pelican Airways” (our school emblem was a pelican drawing blood from itself). I found this use of her time so hilariously pointless that I got sent out for uncontrollably laughing.

Y6: New school! I got sent out from French for making annoying comments. In my defence, the teacher had arranged the desks in groups. We did Macbeth in English and the teacher was very nice about my alternative witches’ chant (#proud). The RS teacher taught us a lot about every religion and after impartially assessing the central tenets of each, I decided I wanted to be Jewish. The teacher was very pleased and invited me to her office to try some matzah bread.

DT and IT were great. I soldered and painted a spitfire with lights and noises controlled by a script I wrote on Microsoft Visual Basic (#proud). I also spent way too much time on projects on two-stroke engines and the development of ironclad battleships during the American Civil War.

There was a very charismatic drama teacher whose lessons on Great Expectations I remember vividly. We caused scandal during the school play by leaving our microphones on while backstage and talking about who fancied who.

Y7-8: New school! The Latin teacher was simultaneously the most insane and the most effective teacher ever. He regularly took a misbehaving child outside and bellowed. He had a different Blackadder-inspired innuendo for every facet of Latin grammar.

I was actually shocked by the poor behaviour. The boys were arrogant and disrespectful, especially in French. I got into a fight with one of the main culprits, which resulted in my suspension and his expulsion.

In English, we read The Cruel Sea and possibly Lord of the Flies. I was referred for extra handwriting lessons. In geography, we learnt loads. The teachers would put notes up on the OHP and annotate them while we annotated our copies. By the end of the year we’d have an absolutely enormous lever-arch file on everything from longshore drift to flood defences in Bangladesh. If we complained, he’d threaten to take us down to the cricket nets and bowl 80 mph at us.

We did end up doing a project (probably to kill time after the May exams). Mine was a survey of every shop on the high street and its wheelchair-accessibility.

Summary: As far as I remember, there was no learning through play. Teachers explained things, told us off, and made us learn. Was that basically the same everywhere?

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