Back to School: My first day at school

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The Independent Culture
Alison Roberts (half of fashion design duo Antoni & Alison)

Pashley Down Primary School, East Sussex, 1968

From the day I knew I was going to school, I'd known that my teacher's name was Miss Sykes. I had a huge fear of getting her name wrong and called her Miss Skies all that day and all through school. The more nervous I was of getting it wrong, the worse it got. My mum made me this pink cape with a fur hood and I remember walking along with my mum to school on the first day, trying to remember this lady's name.

I started school a bit later than some of the other children. I think some people started in September, but because my birthday was in February, I started in March. My mum took me to the school and I remember being really, really nervous. It seemed that everybody knew what was going on apart from me.

I remember going into the canteen for school dinners. The dinner ladies would give you a piece of meat pie on a plate and you would have to help yourself to potatoes from this pot in the middle of the table when you sat down. I remember the children passing it around and I saw it coming towards me. I was very nervous and didn't want to draw attention to myself at all. I remember balancing a potato on my spoon, and watching it wobble because I was shaking so much with nerves. Then somebody jolted my arm and this potato went flying across the table and landed in a boy's dinner. Gravy splattered all over his nice stripey T-shirt and he was so upset that he screamed his head off. I remember seeing this big cartoon mouth like something out of Charlie Brown. I can still see his tonsils now.

Meg Henderson, novelist

St Philomena's Roman Catholic Primary School, Glasgow, 1954

I taught myself to read before I went to school, so when I arrived, there was this great rumpus. I grew up in the Black Hill district of Glasgow which was a place concocted for the poor Irish Catholics in Glasgow. It was the safest and most moral place I have ever lived, because the police wouldn't go anywhere near there so it was policed by the teddy boy gangs.

When my mother told the teachers that I could read, they produced a book with a smug look on their faces, but were shocked when I started to read. The teachers got stuck into my mother on the very first day, their idea was that learning was theirs to give, and not yours to give yourself. My first day was spent stuck at a desk and given book after book to read while the other children played with plasticine. I didn't realise it was a punishment.

I ran home to my mother at lunchtime to make sure she was still there. When I went back in the afternoon I read books. I was wearing a white frilly blouse, a little Royal Stuart tartan kilt, kiltie shoes with big silver buckles on the front, and a big ribbon which looked like I had a budgie on my head.

I remember I was getting up quite excited because my big brother was already there and school. I remember getting all dressed up in that bloody outfit. My mother took me along to school and I remember that all these kids were crying because it was their first experience of being away from their mothers. My brother was in the other part of the school, so telling him that I'd been to school was very exciting.

The funny thing was the teachers regarded me with some esteem, because everytime a school inspector came, they made me get up and read as an example of their success. I knew all the children who were in my class anyway because we lived in a close-knit community.

I remember running home from school, not only because I was excited, but because the gas works nearby opened up all their pipes at around 3pm and there were no filters in those days. If you were outside you got the full-blast of the sulphur.

When I got home from school, I couldn't believe that I had to go back the next day.

Sarah Carlton, Communications trainer

College House Juniors, Nottingham, 1968

My father was in the forces so I must have moved to a new school in both England and Germany seven times. The longest time I ever spent was in my last school which was for five years. The day I remember the most clearly, was going to the second year of a junior school when I was eight. I was really nervous and I remember walking into the class. The teacher introduced me and everybody was staring at me. It was like taking a deep breath and jumping in to the deep end of the swimming pool.

While the teacher talked about me I had to stand in front of the class and afterwards she found me a desk. She said, "this is Sarah, and she's come to us from Germany. I want you to make her welcome". All it did was have the opposite effect. The kids were sniggering.

I used to tap-dance, sing and tell jokes. I felt I had to perform in order for them to like me. I just felt otherwise I would be ignored. I do remember it did have a counter effect in that they thought I was a terrible show-off. I used to put on this big confidence thing although I was terrified at the time. I always knew I would be moving on. That is why I had to make an impression immediately. I remember humming in the class, and the teacher said 'Do it for everybody' and so I stood up on the desk and started to sing. I remember I was wearing a little pinafore from Marks & Spencer, my hair was done up in a chiffon scarf and my front teeth missing.

Max Clifford, publicist,

All Saints Junior School, South Wimbledon, 1951

I remember my first day at junior school when I was eight. I had a fight. I was quite often involved in physical confrontation when I was in school. It was just one of those playground things. I was playing football, I bumped into someone, they said something, so did I and it ended up in a fight. The trouble was that it turned out to be Andrew Baxter, a well- spoken boy whose father was the headmaster of the school.

Here I was on my first day hauled up for fighting. The other boy had a bleeding nose and he wasn't happy. This all happened at lunch time. My teacher separated us and said that 'you are here so we can make gentlemen of you, not hooligans of you, so change your ways.'

Both of us got it in the neck but it really was my fault. I never got on with him afterwards and the headmaster was a grumpy old so-and-so.

My mum often used to tell the story to my relatives. It was one of those family stories you always tell. I think someone at the school must have told her because I kept it to myself. I found early on in primary school that being good at sport things were far more pleasant. I was good at swimming and football.

I was the youngest of four kids, so I didn't find the first day of school daunting. My sister was an outstanding scholar and finished up in the diplomatic service, but I left school at 15. My mum didn't take me into school on my first day because she was too busy and I didn't want her to anyway. It would have been too embarrassing.

Billie, pop singer, Brookfields Primary School, Swindon, 1987

My school actually opened on my first day, so we were very much aware that everything was new. I didn't want to go. I was really nervous because I knew that I would have to spend so much of my time at school. Both my sister and I did the same thing on our first day, which was to kick the teacher and refuse to let go of my mother's hand. When my mum left I thought she had abandoned me so I started screaming. I hated being left with all these children I didn't know who kept messing around.

I remember I wore grey tights and black Start Right leather shoes. I've got quite wide feet and my mum bought them because they were sensible. I also wore a grey skirt, grey cardigan, white blouse and a red and white chequered ribbon. I was really brown because I had just come back from holiday.

After a while I got used to school. I made friends with this girl called Charlotte on the first day who became my best friend for three years. I just think it was a chemical bond and we wouldn't separate from each other. We used to sleep around each other's houses. I also remember that I met a girl called Sally on my first day at secondary school who became my best friend ever. If it weren't for her I probably wouldn't be doing what I do now. She has always given me so much support. When I had to leave Swindon to go to London we never forgot our friendship.

When I got home after my first day at primary school, my mum asked me how it went. I said I hated it and that I was never going back there. We had to do this early morning task where we wrote four things about the sun and drew things that grow from the sun. I liked that because I was always really good at drawing and I got a gold star for my picture.

I found school very bizarre at first because I never went to pre-school, so I found the learning thing really hard. I found the maths and writing very difficult at first but I got into it. By the end of it I loved doing handwriting.

There as also that thing of going from being oldest in your class to being the youngest. I had so many friends at play school and I knew I would have to start all over again at making new friends.

I got really close to the teachers. I still talk to them now when I go to school to pick up my little brother and sister. Sometimes I really miss those days when I could just play in the sand pit. When I went back there recently I noticed that the toilets were so small, and the mirrors and the water fountains are so low down that you have to bend down to reach them. It's quite scary in a way because I can see how quickly I am growing up.

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