A second school year is drawing to a close without sports days, prize-givings and summer fetes in their usual form, and without parents in attendance. If Covid rates in schools in my neck of the woods are any indication, half the kids will be self-isolating, anyway, but it’s sad to see the year fizzle out without a proper acknowledgment of how stoically staff and students have faced a grim succession of challenges. The thought of all the exhausted teachers finding creative, celebratory ways to mark the end of the school year makes me wish I could give each one a present of a month wrapped in cashmere blankets in a Swiss sanatorium.
I don’t feel nostalgic for these events myself. In their brief time in British education, my sons have tried their utmost to keep me away – too embarrassing – but the equivalents we experienced while living in Belgium have had a lasting psychological impact.
At the “Fancy Fair”, a themed school fete, we watched a group of tinies perform a dance routine in bikinis made of CDs, and my son’s class of eight-year-olds sing a medley of “classic” Belgian pop standards, including a drinking song called Chef, une Petite Bière, On A Soif (bring us a beer, chief, we’re thirsty). A “wild west” themed event featured lashings of cultural appropriation and a lifesize papier-mache saloon bar with a heaving-bosomed serving girl and real giant bottle of whisky.
Prize day meant hours in a sweltering gym as the headteacher delivered long diatribes about the lack of rigour in education as infants whimpered and grandparents boiled, followed by a ceremony in which he read out children’s names in the order of their marks as they trooped across the stage, already ranked as winners and losers.
Even without this surreal and unforgiving Belgian gloss, if you or your offspring don’t excel at or enjoy running, jumping or exams, some of these events can feel uncomfortable. Maybe Covid has given us an opportunity to create some more inclusive traditions. I think roasting marshmallows on a giant bonfire of Department for Education guidance may prove popular.