Insecurity lurks behind the fake tan

1st August 2003 at 01:00
YOU may ignore the date on this page but it doesn't change anything. August begins today. The "Back to school" signs have lost their power to shock now that they appear before the end of the old term. Instead, it is the arrival of August that causes the catch in the breath or the quickening pulse.

August brings subtle changes to behaviour and thought. You consider taking the suit to the dry-cleaner and wonder what happened to your collection of ties. You remember that timing is everything for the visit to the barber.

Leave it too late and you suffer the embarrassment of being the lone adult in a shop full of schoolboys negotiating their new term hairstyles. Along with gleaming white shirts, full pencil-cases and tanned faces, the haircuts put a stamp of freshness and optimism on the first days of the school year. It rubs off on teachers too, who can be caught smiling, perhaps even confident that the year will be satisfying, full of achievement and good behaviour and free from new initiatives.

But August is a fraud, concealing a morass of problems with sunshine and smiles. Its real watchword is insecurity and it is found in the most unexpected of places - the relationship between class teachers and their pupils. This is one of the acknowledged strengths of primary schools, to be criticised at your peril. All is well when it is working but in August many teachers know little about their new pupils. Relationships do not appear fully formed so primary teachers are on a steep learning curve during the first six weeks of the term. This bonding period is fertile ground for misunderstandings in all areas, from changes in a reading group to rules about going to the toilet or a joke perceived in the wrong way. So it's no surprise that this is the peak time for parental complaints. Parents can be insecure too, and where there is a teacher who is unknown to them, they only hear a story filtered through the child's mind.

Normally it will be October before a teacher and class have developed the shorthand of looks and gestures which indicate close relationships and parents' insecurity can last until meeting the teacher at the first parents' night. Soon, we shall have non-contact time in primary schools.

From next August, the class teacher will not be responsible for the delivery of the whole curriculum and will be handing her class over to others for part of the week. It remains to be seen if it will make the "August effect" on relationships last longer.

For the teacher, insecurity strikes elsewhere too. Despite what attainment records, statements of next steps and the previous teacher tell her, she may find that her new class is not as knowledgeable as she expects. That's because they've forgotten. Six weeks is a long time and many children will not have composed and redrafted a piece of imaginative writing or even used their nine-times table during their break. Revision is the place to start and soon everything will be back on course. Ignore revision and you keep on struggling.

In August, even primary one names are not what they seem as far as spelling is concerned. Girls are considerate and only present me with LynseyLindsayLindsey. Not so with boys. StephenSteven used to be the only one worth bothering about and EuanEwan is a long runner (see opposite) but currently we have a glut of CallumCalum, including five in one class, and our new primary one classes include RuaridhRuariRory.

My best time is 10 minutes into the term. Through open classroom doors I glimpse children settled and working. "It's going to be a good year," I say.

Then I remember. August is a fraud.

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