Virginal - but not for long

1st October 2004 at 01:00
It is that time of year again. The new Year 7s have arrived and over this first few weeks are bedding down. As always, our senior management team has been obsessed with the need to keep them in a state of virginal bliss, unsullied by the boisterous and sometimes loutish behaviour of their elders.

As always, it starts well with the little people standing up nervously as their new subject teacher enters the room. There is deep silence when one of the deputies or their head of year addresses them in the first couple of assemblies. And they even seem to be lapping up homework.

Every year we make the resolution to devise systems that will keep our fresh new entrants in this "pure" state. This year we made some big plans to build habits to last a school lifetime.

The innocents are escorted to the library by their form tutors for a compulsory session of homework club at the end of the normal day. This has the spin-off of getting parents, who always complain about lack of homework, to eat their words. It also encourages teachers to set more homework, as they know that they have half-an-hour to fill every week and they do not want their pupils shaming them by having nothing to do.

Keeping Y7 away from Years 8 to 13 at breaktime and lunchtimes has been a major part of the game plan. They take their leisure at different times and are kept away in the back playground, while the older pupils boisterously change lessons. This stops them being physically cuffed around by older brothers, sisters and other extended parts of the community, though obviously contamination is possible at other times of day.

But one thing that is often forgotten in all carefully constructed plans for Y7 in these first few weeks is that they may be new to your school - but they are not new to schooling.

They have had many years to become good students or poorly-motivated ones.

The first few weeks may keep the most cockily obnoxious ones a little anxious in the new vast institution, but when they get used to it "normal service" resumes.

It is the end of week three. I have just been out in the playground, lining up Y7 for afternoon lessons. The spell of innocence has suddenly evaporated. A new and alarming game was being enacted. Many of the boys had removed their school ties and were tearing around, whipping each other with them, while two fights broke out. Yet there was not an older pupil in sight at the end of this Y7-only lunchtime. Our plan to keep them pure is having its first big test.

Susan Potts is a senior manager in an inner-city school. Feeling aggrieved? Write us a 400-word Sounding Off and get paid as you grumble. Please send it to


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