Lesson 10 on The Particular Challenges of Friday Afternoons
In primary schools before the national curriculum Friday afternoons were given over to Books and Games. This practice went hand in hand with that of the staff going to the pub on Friday lunchtimes.
Books and Games functioned as a disciplinary aid throughout the week, a bit like Santa Claus before Christmas.
“If you’re not good, there won’t be Books and Games on Friday. We might have a test instead!”
Tests were useful for keeping people occupied. This was important because on Friday afternoon teachers had to fill in the Weekly Return. This was a kind of pre-computer spreadsheet listing all the pupils in your form together with columns in which you had to tick the causes of any absences. The education office must have had stacks of these things hanging around since the 1930s. All imaginable communicable diseases were listed, including diptheria, TB and scarlet fever. The print was miniscule. It took some filling in after a couple of lager and limes.
Friday afternoons posed a particular challenge in secondary schools, where teachers had to invent some sort of faux educational activity to take the place of Books and Games. Many, like my housemate Ann and myself, relied heavily on stories.
Ann worked in one of the last Sec. Mods. in the town. It was an old Board School due for demolition and redevelopment. She started teaching at the same time as me. On her first day the headteacher presented her with a cane, her class register and a key for the stock cupboard, then left her to get on with it. The educational standard was not high.
On Friday afternoon she used to take Religious Education. There were no books available except bibles (King James version) and these were manifestly above the general reading standard. This didn’t bother her too much because she knew lots of bible stories off the top of her head. She used to walk around the classroom telling one or other of these while the pupils drew pictures.
One Friday afternoon, for a bit of variety, she decided to tell them the story of St Francis, because there were lots of animals and birds in it, offering plenty of things to draw. She walked up and down between the rows of desks, while studying her reflection in the mirror of the old Victorian wardrobe which served as storage at the back of her classroom.
While so doing, she suddenly realised she didn’t know the end of the story, but, not afraid of improvisation, she simply made it up.
At this point her attention was drawn to a hand waving above the rows of heads bent over their artwork. It was a new boy she hadn’t previously noticed.
“Please Miss,” politely chirped a bright, confident little voice. “I did this story at my last school, but it had another ending!”
“There are a number of different versions!” Ann replied airily, as the bell went.
She never saw him again. It was quickly discovered he had been wrongly allocated to the school by the same education office that sent out the dreaded Weekly Return.