Look who's leaving in a limousine

7th January 2011 at 00:00
The end-of-year bash for 11 and 12-year-olds is sweeping the High School Musical generation off its feet, as a BBC documentary revealed this week

They arrive in horse-drawn carriages, fire engines and even a Maserati - emerging elegantly in glamorous evening dresses and diminutive tuxedos.

It could be a red carpet do for a film premiere, with so much bling on show, but this is how some Scottish primary pupils scrub up for their leaving dance - or, as it's more commonly known among 11 and 12-year-olds, the Prom.

However much some teachers and parents may yearn for the traditional option of a Gay Gordons and a run up the road in dad's car, the High School Musical generation is having none of it.

An hour-long BBC documentary, Pre-teen Proms, followed a group of Primary 7 pupils at two Scottish schools in the months leading up to their "leaving do".

At Riverside Primary in Livingston, they're holding their third annual prom, organised by a committee of pupils and included in their classwork as an interdisciplinary enterprise project.

Children here dream of being crowned Prom King or Queen, or that their peers will vote for them in a contest to find "The Couple Most Likely to Get Married".

While the West Lothian mums appear as excited as their children when the big day approaches, some of the dads are more sceptical about the spiralling costs of this night to remember.

"It's her prom dress, but it could as well be her wedding dress, the amount of hassle that's been involved," says one father.

Meanwhile, at Mearns Primary in affluent Newton Mearns, the school takes charge of the event with parents' help and tries to maintain a more traditional Scottish night out. It's a leaving dance rather than an American-style prom, and the P7s shuffle round the floor for a St Bernard's Waltz, much the same as their mums and dads did in the 1980s.

But when it comes to their outfits, the transport and the beauty treatments, the East Renfrewshire pupils are as aspirational as their West Lothian counterparts. An hour before the dance gets under way, we're told that "the streets are jammed with limos, Ferraris and fire engines".

Natalie and her friends opt for a horse-drawn carriage rather than a limo, waving regally to open-mouthed onlookers as black horses with nodding, white head plumes sweep them off to meet their beaux. As one smiling woman comments: "It's just bonkers - exciting, but bonkers."

Amid the slathering of fake tan, the painting and waxing of still baby- soft skin, there are children who like to do their own thing. Caitlin from Riverside Primary plays football and has a muddy den in the bushes. She's rarely been seen in a dress and chooses a blue one because it's Rangers colours - her dad chuckles in the background.

Wajeeh from Mearns Primary is a perceptive 11-year-old from an Asian family, who collects stamps and shows his big dictionary of general knowledge in his bedroom. He seems to have this whole social scene sussed: "I just wonder sometimes, maybe, are they going a bit over the top?" he says with a gentle smile. But he takes part enthusiastically and wears his new kilt with pride: "It just makes us know we are Scottish."

We see the children fix themselves up with dates for their big night out and there's a comical scene when a gang of boys tries to advise their friend Ross on tactics, as he prepares to ask one of the girls to partner him to the Mearns dance.

It's all negotiated in front of their friends and poor Ross gets an unceremonious knock-back. Afterwards, he says he's gutted, but he looks more like someone's nicked his football than broken his heart.



It's a lot to handle when you're just 11. Not only do you have to get dolled up to look like Cheryl Cole for the Prom; you also have to win popularity contests.

Depute head at Riverside Primary, Stuart Learmonth, sits with the children on the prom organising committee, and viewers see him announce the results of the competitions on the big night.

He says it's the children who decide the format of this event and it's their choice to include the contests for Prom King and Queen and Couple Most Likely to Get Married.

"As far as things like clothing and limos and all this kind of thing goes, we had nothing to do with that as a school. We left that to parental choice," says Mr Learmonth, a few weeks before the programme is aired.

He says great emphasis is placed on the literacy, numeracy and enterprise learning opportunities that organising the event presents for classwork. Several local schools stage events like this, although they may not all be called a prom. "Some of them are very `full on', some are very understated. We feel we are just in the middle."

Mearns Primary's depute head, Siobhan McColgan, defends the school's decision to retain its 40-year-old tradition of a leavers' dance with a ceilidh, rather than a prom.

"I suppose with the ethos and values within our school, it would be looking to include every child. So for the leavers' dance we want everybody to have a good time and to feel special that night, rather than focusing on one particular boy or girl to be Prom King or Prom Queen," she says.

`Pre-teen Proms' was shown on BBC1 Scotland on January 5 and can be seen on BBC iPlayer.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today