As Muck-up Day arrives in Scotland's schools, hey, teacher, leave those kids alone! – Aidan Smith

My four-year-old son is not yet at school but already I’m worrying about his leaver’s day and the prospect of mayhem on an unprecedented scale.

It's graduation day in the high-school comedy Booksmart and the kids go wild (Picture: F Duhamel/Annapurna/MGM/Kobal/Shutterstock)
It's graduation day in the high-school comedy Booksmart and the kids go wild (Picture: F Duhamel/Annapurna/MGM/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Quite feral on account of him being the last of our four, his favourite song is Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”. He loves the thrashing guitars – a prerequisite of what he calls “boys’ music” – and snorts at the old Top of the Pops footage where Cooper seems to be attempting to maintain classroom order by wielding a fencing sword in a camp manner.

“We don’t need no… principals!” is the lyric of choice, chanted endlessly around the house and, in a new and alarming development, at nursery.

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Coincidentally, last Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the old glam-rock stomper hitting record-shop shelves and, at schools around the land, there seems to be something in the air.

Typically, it’s been flour, eggs, foam, maybe the odd stink bomb. A blizzard of chopped-up bits of blazer and the old school tie. But the class of ’22 walking out of the gates forever are really going for it.

The tradition of whooping it up when the bell has rung for the last time is well-established. But this year, if you believe the head teachers, the high jinks have been cranked up. And so therefore have the punishments.

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The day after the “School’s Out” anniversary, it emerged that Westhill Academy in Aberdeenshire had warned pupils that extreme behaviour on their final day would result in a call to the police and maybe future employers as well.

This was followed by Glasgow’s Jordanhill School cancelling their prom after 50 sixth-year pupils were accused of acting in what the rector called a “deeply inappropriate and upsetting manner”.

Flares were set off and condoms found littering the grass. There was drinking and, as a result, some smashed bottles. Rude songs were sung, at one point through a megaphone. Pornographic photos were pinned to a fence and a “large obscene inflatable” was waved around. We’re borrowed a term from Australia for all of this: muck-up day.

I might have used this line before but: it wasn’t like that in my day. There were no proms, just, in primary school, the “qually”: a genteel evening of Scottish country dancing, gym classes for the final term having been devoted to learning the St Bernard’s Waltz (“One, two, three, up-down”). Then, last of the true romantics, the boys bought the girls bags of chips for the walk home.

At my secondary school, there was even less fuss: everyone packed into church for a last-ever rendition of the alma mater’s hymn (“Broughton our hearts are thine…”) and some stilted goodbyes on the pavement, then off into the great, big unknown.

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We were less demonstrative. Adolescence wasn’t one long, continuous autobiographical movie, shot on phones. And we lived, and learned, in the fear of “The Beak” and his staff and their arsenal of corrective leather straps. No one dared disobey.

The only pupil protest I remember from years under the beady eye of the Edinburgh Corporation Education Department was the mass banging of cutlery when the lunch delivery was held up in a frostquake – silenced in an instant.

So now, according to our older three, schooling is softer, kinder, more inclusive, less confrontational. Teachers will submit to the medieval stocks and be pelted with wet sponges at the annual fair. They’re more relatable.

My kids will assess some as “cool”, which could never have been said about the tobacco-breathed tyrants and dragons in hairnets who taught their father.

It would be easy to label this as indulgence and to assert that if you give pupils an inch, or whatever unit of measurement is used in schools these days, then they’ll take a mile.

And of course any criticism of kids having fewer boundaries or none at all must extend to their parents. But isn’t this new level of over-exuberance almost entirely down to Covid?

The class of ’22 are young people who’ve more or less lost two of the best years of their lives. They’ve missed out on playing for the school team and young romance. My eldest daughter never got to say goodbye to primary school chums when she moved up to secondary.

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My eldest son had his class trip to France cancelled. So this generation were denied the fun years and also valuable years of learning, and for many there won’t be the opportunity to catch up. University aspirations will have been dashed, prospects dimmed. A decade from now, “I was a Covid kid” will be a mark on them and a familiar lament.

So, really, is it any wonder that they’re all going a bit crazy? The frustrations of lockdown and what it’s stolen are exploding. We saw this when everything opened up again the first time and public parks were swamped with teenagers, hormones raging, cider overflowing.

Those leaving school last summer were merely heading into a gruesomely uncertain future. For the current lot, alongside the after-effects of the pandemic we must add war and the worst inflation for 40 years.

So let’s cut them some slack when school’s out. Obviously criminal damage and serious incidents cannot not be condoned. But drinking? Raucous songs? Even that “large obscene inflatable”? They don’t sound so terrible to me.

In fact, they sound like key components of the lads’ weekend or hen party recounted by a teacher in the staff-room for colleagues’ amusement.

At Westhill, parents have been dismayed by the school’s hardline stance, and alerting a pupil’s potential employers about some tomfooley which has gotten out of hand seems like a low blow and borderline cruelty. Hey, teacher, leave those kids (who’re leaving) alone!



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