Guide for Boys and Girls Starting At Public School
Stand aside Mumsnet; this is the real deal.
You finished at your, old school at the top of the pile. Probably had a great speech day, received plaudits and prizes, tearful goodbyes with friends and teachers as proud parents watched their off spring move on to the next stage in their darling little lives.
Now, the end of summer is closing in, and here it is; Big Boy Time.
The Build Up
You may have been lucky enough to have had a holiday away and hopefully have enjoyed a carefree and fun summer. Now, the dawning realisation that there are only days to go before you start school is beginning to focus minds. Mothers furiously name taping and fretting over shirts, shoes, socks while trying to understand the arcane Victorian terminology that most Public Schools cling to, while fathers look on with a mixture of pride and subdued but growing anxiety over the mounting sports kit bill.
In amongst the controlled mayhem you may start to harbour some doubts and nerves yourself. If you are, don’t worry; they’re about to get a whole lot worse. The last family lunch, the quiet words of encouragement from Dad, the last hug from Mum which feels like a seven foot grizzly has you in its paws and won’t let go, driving to school, through the gates and down the drive, (no turning back), the first time you meet the rest of your cohort, Matron, your form prefect and the House Master, your first Chapel service…………… and so on and so on.
Luckily, I’m here to help and with a view words of guidance from Crumble, (Knowledge Dispels Fear), you’ll breeze through it. Remember, you are just the next new intake. Everyone in the school has been through it and you follow scores of thousands of other boys and girls who have done the same down the years.
The Drop Off
You will of course be feeling that you are the only one who’s insides are turning to jelly and heart is going like a train as you start unpacking the car. Here’s a newsflash; every single kid feels that way. They may not admit it until years later but everyone’s nerves are jangling. It won’t last long. Schools have seen it all before and have a very well prepared welcome and process for the new intake.
The process will vary from school to school but in general, most will be keen to get you unpacked, briefed and as busy as quickly as is possible so that normal routine and orientation can begin. The most important person in your life for the next five years, Matron, will most probably be on hand to oversee the settling in but don’t be surprised if some of the new upper sixth are also around to help and assist. Yes, they really are that big and yes they do look like men and yes, that will be you in four years time.
Keen as the school will be to get you comfortable and settled in they will also be keen to get the parents out of the way. Expect parents to be hoiked off for tea or drinks with the Housemaster, Head of House and perhaps some other prefects. This, believe me, is a good thing for all concerned. Every student lives in fear of being embarrassed by his mother in front of his or her contemporaries while every mother is so on the edge of calling the whole thing off and dragging son/daughter, kit and whimpering husband back to where, in her mind at least, you should never have left, home.
Expect a final goodbye with parents. It’ll probably be slightly awkward but do the hug thing and move on. I promise you, it’ll be much worse for Dad in that car on the way home. I asked Mrs Flashbang what her recollection of the day was and she just welled up with watery eyes confirming any further participation in this exercise by her utterly pointless.
Your Fellow Students
Very probably, you may already know some of your new housemates, either from your previous school, sports matches in the past for school or club or from orientation days the previous term. In all likelihood, they will constitute a right old mixture. Some may have parents who live overseas, some may be boarding for the first time, some may have older siblings in the school, one or two might be the latest in a long line of their family to go to the school while others will be the first in their family to do so.
Being an astute 13 year old you will quickly assess their size and shape in respect of sports, the kit they unpack and the electronics that appear. For goodness sake don’t let any of that nonsense faze you. We’ll come to sports later but here’s a clue; shorts and flip flops are de rigeur for wearing around the House, (for boys!), you don’t have to look like a mini Abercrombie & Fitch model to fit in. Some boys will turn up with enough kit to look as if they’ve come straight from ram raiding PC World, while you look with despair at the mobile phone your Mum bought for you when you did the school trip to France two years ago and which has all the design and weight characteristics of a standard house brick, (that would be the one the Housemaster recommended to parents because it’s exactly the one he is issued with by the school). Live with it, an iPhone 5, Blackberry or Android doesn’t make you a better person.
Most girls will have a bag full of home comforts, (own pillow, soft toys, framed pictures, drawing pins for more pictures), whereas boys will strongly tend to a sort of minimalist, austerity approach and leave the family pictures Mum packed at the bottom of the bag and will need only one drawing pin for the timetable.
Girls actually are in a totally different world of self-doubt and anxiety with a long list of issues, which wouldn’t even occur to boys. Leading the list is the challenging issue of footwear. Mum strongly recommends sensible lace up black shoes. You insist on delicate ballet pump style shoes which, to be fair, look better but will last about five minutes. Compromise is found in sensible black slip on’s but its probably taken fifteen trips to the shopping centre, every last ounce of Dad’s inter family negotiating skills and 370 telephone calls to other mothers to defuse the situation. Never mind, you have that first entry into the dining room or Chapel service when you will be convinced that the whole school will be looking at just you to look forward to.... not.
Getting to know people you will be sharing your life with for five years will take a bit of time. You might find yourself trying a little too hard at first, mostly because of nerves or eagerness to please and fit in. Everyone is in the same boat. Believe it or not, some of these people will be friends for the rest of your life and to get the most out of school, you have to work together and support one another. Your first loyalty then, is to the boys, or girls, in your year in your House.
Note, this is also a time when small kindnesses go a long way. One or two of your fellow students may find the adjustment tough in the early days. A word of encouragement, a helping hand with some kit, a laugh and a joke go a long way to easing tension.
In the first days and weeks you will be so busy you won’t know whether its New York or New Year. Home meanwhile, will be an altogether quieter place and Mother will be somewhat temporarily disorientated and speaking to friends with a mixture of pride, worry and generally feeling like an old bus that’s been withdrawn out of service.
Schools have different rules on contact but most students now have email access and telephones. The trick here is to have enough contact so the worry levels dissipate but not too much that they rise because, “if he/she were happy why are they calling so much?” The odd text then will suffice in the first weeks but don’t over do it. The Housemaster will probably have anyway, called your parents to tell them how you are settling in.
If you want to push the envelope you could ask your mother to post something, pair of socks or the like, so they feel useful and engaged but don’t over do it; the last thing you want is your mother burning rubber down the school drive like a deranged banshee with three suitcases of kit thinking she’s helping.
Whilst there is no need for over enthusiastic Mothers to clear the shelves at Sainsbury’s to provision their off spring, (the food at most schools is of an unbelievably high standard), tuck is very useful. It’s a little bit of home, is useful for trading, for bribing prefects and to fill the gap if for any reason, you miss a meal. Nothing showy though..... that would just attract the locusts from the upper years.
Every school will have its own idiosyncratic routine. The one thing that is common to all in getting on top of the routine is to be super organised. Make sure you get your kit ready for the next day the night before, uniform, shoes, sports kit etc. Be disciplined about prep. Falling behind or handing in poor prep is only going to result in more coming your way and the early days are when you can least afford your workload to be increased.
Alcohol & Tobacco
Don’t even go there; it’s the quickest route to doing a 180 degree turn and heading home. Why would anyone want to lose their name, embarrass their parents, (who have probably made great sacrifice to get you there), through a few moments stupidity. Smoking is prevalent in all schools in the older years, at least outside of school, but do not be tempted, there is zero upside. Some schools employ sniffer dogs to search for contraband which are only marginally more efficient than teachers who can, anyway, smell it from 400 yards.
Email & Social Networking
Gone are the days in many if not most schools when the team sheets were pinned to a noticeboard. Now, schools use email to deliver sports news, homework, timetable rescheduling and so on. Fortunately, most students are conversant with the perils of using email and social networks, more so in most cases than are their parents. Nonetheless, it is worth highlighting that the guaranteed way of losing your name and creating all sorts of fuss is in the indisciplined use of email or social networks.
- Never send an email or post onto a social network in haste or driven by emotion.
- Always, read what you have written and imagine how it would sound being repeated in front of your headmaster and parents.
- Always, check, check and check again before you hit the send button.
- Be wary of emailing home with abbreviated bits of news that might be read out of context and set the Defcon 1 alarms ringing at home in the mother ship. Example might be, "lots of injuries, been to the San, have to go back tomorrow," when all you've done is had a knock in rugby training and have to go back for a check.
- Don't think for a moment that the delete key means anything. Every time you hit send on any device it leaves a digital footprint that lasts forever.
also, and while we're on the subject,
Do not browse away into the deep and dark sinister depths of the internet thinking no one is watching. They are. Every page you view will be recorded on the school servers and can be recalled in any investigation.
Many kids are cautious about having their pictures taken lest they be sprayed around injudiciously on the usual suspects of social networks. Respect that and always ask permission before you snap away, at least until the point when friendships are close enough for people to have established levels of trust.
Don't be the guy then who ends up with his name all around the school because he hit "reply all," or addressed an email about his missing sock to "whole school." Don't worry, you'll see it happen. Finally, getting 3,500,000 hits on the web because a friend posted a stupid thing you wrote on FB or Twitter isn't smart; it will be there in the file on your first job interview in ten years time and yes, they really do check that stuff.
Lending & Borrowing
This is a vexatious topic. Lending and borrowing are best avoided but it is difficult to say no to a fellow student in your year if he has lost some sports socks or similar. One golden rule should be never lend to the sixth form, it is highly unlikely you will ever see the kit again and the new intake are always their first port of call when they have lost something. Just say, “I need it.”
If indeed you are sanctioned for anything, suck it up. Whoever issues the punishment, and indeed your peers, will be watching to see how you react. This is especially true of sixth form prefects. If they are allowed to issue any sort of restriction of privilege in your school; if you take it well it will be noted. The good news of course is that the days that father might have remembered of being sent sailing down three flights of stairs inside a trunk are rightly consigned to history. No longer need you worry about being hung out of a third floor window by your ankles by some laughing and sadistic sixth form prefects; just doesn't happen. The truth is that the sixth form have a lot on their plate and the last thing they want or need is to be distracted by the new third form intake. The best thing that you can do in fact, is to do your work to more than the required standard which will reflect well on them, (good thing), and the House, (better thing).
Schools are pretty hot on pastoral care. It starts in House with your form prefect, Matron, tutors and Housemaster. Beyond that there will be academic heads of year, school prefects, heads of department, every teacher on the staff and of course the San / Medical Centre. Some schools even have confidential help lines. Whatever issue you might have, academic, health, bullying, problems at home, then do talk to someone. There isn’t a problem in the world they haven’t seen and dealt with before and no one will feel less of you for speaking out and you will feel much, much better for doing so. In not putting your hand up you will not be helping yourself or indeed your school.
Sport & Activities
Having settled in, the early sense of foreboding will again overpower you when you trot out for sports trials in your first week. You will look around and you absolutely won’t see the other average sportsmen like you, although they are the majority. No, all your brain will process is the sight of huge fellows, each of whom have captained their prep schools, played county sport and toured with their local clubs and so on.
This is the thing and I know it sounds trite but it is as true today as it was 100 years ago. Get stuck in and do your best. The sports gladiators will be doing their thing in the first teams and if you’re not one of those you will get respect from your friends for the commitment, courage and effort you put in in whatever team you may play.
Nowhere is this more true in inter House matches. Despite what the sports department might like to think, by far the most important matches at school are inter House. There are probably vastly more injuries in inter House sport than in taking on another school on Saturday afternoons. The intensity and ferocity of competition is stunning but then, at school your House is all.
If you are lucky enough to be at a school that offers a variety of sports then, if time allows and when you have settled in, have a crack at something new. Go ahead and have a stab at squash, climbing, shooting or whatever is on offer. This is as true in sport as it is everything at school. To get the most out of the place you need to get out of your comfort zone. There are absolutely no templates for what sports and what extra curricular activities are the right ones to do. You will see 1st team rugby players on the stage dancing and acting, you will see chess players ripping the opposition to shreds in the front row, you will see violinists climbing mountains and you will see artists leading CCF parades. Challenge yourself and make the most of your time, which though difficult to believe, will pass very quickly indeed.
All schools have charitable efforts, some are one off's, others will be on going charitable programmes lasting many years, perhaps supporting a school in Africa and the like. Individual House's will probably also have their own House charity. Overlaid on it all will be a cascade of individual efforts by students around the school, for charities that have some personal resonance for them.
You will get involved at some level but perhaps I might caution against trying to save the world in your first year, laudable though the aspiration might be. A robust approach might be to help out along the year on an "as and when," basis, but use the time to plan a scheme for either the following summer or the Autumn afterward. You don't want to overload yourself in the first year and you can use the time to properly plan and prepare and importantly, recruit some fellow team members for whatever it is you propose. You'll also know the school better by then, be known to the teachers and critically, you can execute before your GCSE year.
One point to note, doing nothing is not an option. You have to be demonstrable in your awareness that you have a duty to give time and effort to others for whom life didn't deal such a good hand.
Life at Public School is a privilege not a right. Do yourself, your family and your House justice by throwing yourself into school life with zest and enthusiasm. Be proud but not arrogant. Do not criticise other Houses in your school or indeed other schools; it is rude, insensitive and ungentlemanly. Conduct yourself with measured confidence and always put your fellow students and House before yourself. It is as true of school as it is of life, the more you put in, the more you will get out.
Here then in conclusion, are a few words of wisdom from one Crumble Kid who has just left school….
- Number one thing to remember when starting off: JDI = Just Do It i.e. don't hesitate when considering something new, just give it a go. Starting it means no commitment to continuing with it.
- With teachers first impression counts immensely. First hand shake, first introduction, first contribution in a lesson, most importantly first prep should be very strong!
- Sport: go for it. First impressions aren't so important because you're only as good as your last performance. Therefore it doesn't matter if you make a twat of yourself trying something new, just go for it and you'll make up for it as you improve.
- Matron is a goddess.
- In a way school life is political. If you build good relationships with staff and develop a trustworthy and dependable reputation it will come back to help you in the later years. But a bad reputation of being dishonest or a bad influence will haunt you.
- You will get out what you put in... You can't just expect it all to be laid out on a plate."