Thank God it's Friday

Fred Sedgwick

Monday Until I left my last headship, I'd never set foot in a private school. Now I get lots of work in them. My friend John, a primary head, explains over a pint. "It's because, when you leave at the end of the day, the teachers say to the children, 'You'd better work hard, or you'll end up like him'." One private school teacher says, "On the quiet Fred, we like a bit of rough."

Tuesday My contact at the school is a Labour-voting Christian. "I can't believe I'm working in the private sector. I ask myself whether Jesus would have sent his kids to a private school." As I leave, one six-year-old says, "Thank you for reading us your lovely poems, Fred." "Who was that?" I ask a nearby teacher. "Her mum's - ," he says, and names a columnist I've read in one of the Sundays.

Wednesday What are the main differences between this school and the ones I'm used to? For a start, I am the only male in the place, of any age, not wearing a jacket and tie. The coffee in the staffroom is filtered, not instant. And the children, all of them, look healthy. No obesity, no drawn looks signifying little sleep and no breakfast.

Thursday It's a different private school today, three houses knocked together. The blackboards are so worn, you can only chalk round the edges.

But the girls wear boaters, so I suppose that supplies a certain cachet.

One teacher tells his class, "We have a poet in today and, my goodness, what a bright red shirt he's wearing!" He, in contrast, is wearing a tweed jacket with - yes! - leather patches on the elbows. We work together, warily.

Friday I am back on home turf, a local primary. I suggest that the children compose sentences with the formula "I used to... but now I..." One pale five-year-old, his brows knotted underneath a haircut so severe you can see incipient male pattern baldness, looks as though I've written E=mc2 on the board. Then he brightens and says, "I used to be in my mum's belly, now I in't."

There's a fight on the yard, which I help the headteacher sort out: a bit of rough meets a bit of rough.

Fred Sedgwick is a travelling poet. His new book is How to Teach with a Hangover (Continuum), reviewed in TES Friday, November 4. If you have a diary to share (no more than 450 words), write to TES Friday, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX or email We pay for every article we publish

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Fred Sedgwick

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