Saturday, 23 July 2011

End of a primary era: But can everyone get a grip please?

Yesterday my daughter finished primary school. Not a big deal you would think, but for me it marks the end of ten years of taking three kids to the leafy school at the top of our road, and for Katie it means lots and lots of questions. So I do not underplay the importance of this moment, but I do question the hysteria that has surrounded her departure.

Katie and her friends
As any parent of a year 6 child will know that primary schools, with the finest of intentions, make a very, very big deal out of their pupils' end of year. The last few weeks have been heaving with activity, designed to whip everyone into an absolute frenzy in stark contrast to the very laid-back approach taken to studies in year 6, once the SATs have been sat.

Firstly there is the end-of-year play, beautifully executed and then recorded for posterity on a DVD. Then the class T-shirt with signatures of all classmates; the stunningly professional year book with photos of the children accompanied by a DVD compilation of their favourite songs (11 year olds have favourite songs?). This is followed by the year 6 school trip to the seaside, then the year 6 graduation evening where certificates for remaining upright in primary school are awarded to all by a key note speaker Sam had Jemma Redgrave. I didn't recognise this last one though his journey around the world was interesting. Then comes the year 6 leavers' presentation ceremony and yet another T-shirt, recently tattooed by their classmates signatures with a quick rendition of "One Moment inTime". Then we had the school picnic and finally the year 6 leavers' disco where each child gets to take home a star emblazoned with a photo of themselves as consolation for spending the latter part of the evening slumped arm in arm with classmates in a furore of tears.

Picking Katie up from the disco last night, the final event in this marathon of well done and goodbye, I arrived just as "One Moment in Time" got another dusting off and the children emerged beside themselves, as if from an act of terrorism, observed by parents, some of them also dewy-eyed.

It is possible I am the grumpiest person in the world, and I did not like school, but can someone tell me how this level of reward for non-achievement and institutionalised encouragement of separation anxiety helps anyone? My daughter, normally a level-headed girl spent last night in tears. Today she is sad and asking questions about her future.

I have graduated lots of times, from school, university thrice, labour relations school etc., and I never got a T-shirt let alone two, let alone a DVD, CD, book, folder etc.

It all seems wrong, and somehow oddly, not about the child, but the environment. I have never understood the American obsession with high-school graduation, but to transpose that hysteria to 11-year-olds leaving British primary school is perplexing to say the least.

Poor Kate. Yesterday should have been fun, but somehow it all felt like a much bigger deal than it really was. She is left wondering what she has lost rather than curious and hopeful about what is to come. Therefore can I appeal to primary heads: please get a grip and tone it down. Leaving primary school should be like leaving nursery, you should get a fairy cake and a card with best wishes on it and told to stay in touch on Facebook.

As I have been telling Katie, primary school was fun, state-sponsored childcare really, and yes from here on out the world will require you to make a bit more of an effort, but in so doing you will find out what you are capable of and make a real difference, which is a lot more rewarding than a T-shirt, even two T-shirts.

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