How bully Billy marred my first day

3rd September 2010 at 01:00

This week children all over the country have been returning to school, and for many five-year-olds it has been the beginning of their school careers. I wonder how they've fared.

I imagine everybody remembers their first day at school. I certainly do. My mother had already done most of the things mothers should do. She had read stories daily, encouraged my speech, filled my mind with interesting information, and helped me recognise simple words. My father, skilful with wood and a basic set of tools, had built me a blackboard and easel, which probably had some influence over my choice of career.

One Sunday evening, my mother announced that tomorrow would be a bit special because I would be going to school. Would Clive be going as well? I asked. And Brian, and Neville? Yes, they would, she said: all the children in our street who were the same age as me would be going.

And what about Billy Barton? Yes, he would be starting too. Well I don't want him to, I said. He beats us up. My mother smiled briefly and turned back to her ironing. I wasn't particularly concerned about school, though, because my friends would be there. And I assumed my mother would be there too, protecting me from Billy.

The reality was rather different. The two Reception class teachers stood with lists at the school door and my friends were ushered into Class 2. I had to join Class 1. Since the teacher was trying to organise all the new children at once, I was hurried to the boys' play corner, where they were building with wooden bricks. I didn't know any of them - apart from Billy Barton, who poked his tongue out at me. As soon as I had built a pile of bricks, he pushed it over.

I turned to seek my mother's support and found she had disappeared. Distraught, I ran out of the classroom and into the yard, but she wasn't there either. I knew she couldn't have gone far . and then I spotted her brown shoes peeping under a cubicle door of the shabby toilets. She had obviously dashed there hoping I wouldn't spot her, but I wasn't having any of that. I hammered on the door, demanding she stayed with me until the class teacher ran out, grabbed me forcibly, and hauled me back inside.

For the next hour, I sat moodily on a chair, refusing to co-operate. When my mother fetched me for lunch, there were whispers with the class teacher, and as we walked home I told her I didn't see much point in school. I already had building bricks I could play with, so I might as well just stay at home. My mother informed me firmly there was no chance of that whatsoever. I was heading straight back as soon as I'd had my meat and two veg.

How different things are now. Before a child joins my school, the teacher will have visited the home and discussed the child's interests. The child will have had a taster session in the classroom. The intake is staggered so that everyone can receive individual attention. Friendship groups are sensitively created, and the child will be carefully introduced to a range of exciting activities that couldn't be catered for at home.

I often ask Year 6 children, as they are about to leave our school, how they felt about their very first day. And so far, I haven't found one who hadn't wanted to hurry back for day two. If we can sustain that enthusiasm throughout the primary years, we are well on the way to creating learners for life.

As a new school year begins, it's certainly something to think about.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email:

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