When I was about 8, I moved from a brand new school to one built in 1859, which apparently cost £1400 to build! I moved from a school that didn’t require a uniform, didn’t make a big deal of religion, and was shiny and new. The school I moved to still had a WWII bomb shelter.
I hated changing schools. This won’t be a rant about how much I hated going to school after the age of 8, but just keep that in mind as you read. I’ll take you through a day at my school.
I was in my second year of primary school when I moved, which meant I was a fourth-year (fourth-grader in the USA). After arriving at school at around 8am and meeting my friends in the playground, we’d wait for the school bell to ring. It was a hand bell, rung in the same dull pattern every day by a teacher (clang-clang, clang-clang). We’d line up into our different years behind our teachers in alphabetical order by last name, so I was at the end. There were only four years in my school, and about 25-30 people per year. It was a small school. Starting with the fourth-years, the teachers would read off each name from the register and we’d say “yes” to indicate our presence. We would file inside and sit down in the main hall, which was the biggest room in the school. Fourth-years at the back, first-years at the front.
Then the headmaster would come in. I hated him. I wasn’t alone in this.
This was called assembly. The headmaster would give announcements and he would always make us say the Lord’s Prayer out loud. He’d usually read some kind of passage from the Bible. It was a religious school. A couple of days a week we would have to sing hymns – I think for around an hour.
In addition to being separated into years, each of us would also be assigned to one of four houses when we started at the school. My house was hawks, and the other houses were eagles, kestrels and falcons. Hawks and eagles were the best houses for some inexplicable reason; they would win the house cup every year. Kestrels and falcons were the shitty houses, just like they are shitty birds. We’d collect house points throughout the year for doing good work, and the house with the most points at the end of the year would win the house cup. I still can’t play RPGs without reading HP as house points. If this sounds a lot like Harry Potter, it’s because a lot of UK schools do this. JK Rowling didn’t invent this.
One day a week we’d meet up with the others in our house, though I honestly can’t remember what we did there. Probably talk smack about the other houses.
We would get two 20 minute breaks per day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We’d get almost an hour for lunch. Everyone including the teachers would eat in the dinner hall (dinner is the original word for lunch in England) and then the kids would play in the playground when done. Dinner ladies are lunchtime supervisors who watch over kids in the playground and serve food if the school has a full-blown kitchen.
The classes I hated the most were RE and PE. Religious Education quite often involved copying long passages from the Bible into our workbooks. It was a massive waste of time and we learned absolutely nothing of value. I would have much preferred to be learning maths (yes, with an “s” on the end) or science. Physical Education wasn’t much better. As I recall, our school had a total of four rounders bats (rounders is similar to softball) and the largest boy in our year would get the only decent one. The tennis racquets were in a similar sorry state. The first time I went swimming with my school, the headmaster pushed me into the deep end and I felt like I almost drowned. I’ve been afraid of being out of my depth since. He was an evil man but he’s probably dead now.
School finishes at 3:30pm in England and evenings are usually spent doing homework, which is like having to crack rocks in prison after you’ve been released.
One other interesting thing to mention is that in the Harry Potter books, mention is made of OWLs and NEWTs that the students work towards. These are equivalent to the GCSE and A-Level qualifications that real students in England obtain.