STARTING "big school" will always be daunting whether it means P1, S1 or queuing up to matriculate at university. But the rites of passage are less traumatic nowadays. Most five-year-olds have attended some form of nursery and are used to being with other children and without mum. The new three-to-five curriculum melds gently into the first stages of 5-14. First-day secondary pupils strive to fit together the geography of the buildings they visited on taster days before the holidays. Their fears are of being lost or bullied but these days schools make strenuous efforts to avoid either fate.
Every new session brings fresh faces and challenges but soon there are familiar routines and old problems. Occasionally, the system lurches, hopefully forward. This is one such moment with the start of teaching for Higher Still. The direst predictions and calls for boycott have faded, but any major problems with the new courses or the exams next spring are bound to stir the continuing critics. Teachers' legendary ability to cope on behalf of their pupils will be put to yet another test.
Shortly the outcome should be known of the pay negotiations, linked to whatever bits of the millennial review of conditions are finally deemed palatable. More teachers would like to influence the management-union discussions, from which they are excluded, than will take up the Scottish Executive's invitation to contribute to the Education Bill, the first real test of the Parliament.
Close-to-home changes affecting the working week (and monthly salary) are always more significant than Government aims and aspirations. But for the time being, the most crucial discovery is how the new pupils are settling in and how teacher and class are forging a relationship.