WRIGHT THINKING: Leaving school was different when I was a lad

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As you will know, many Hartlepool youngsters are leaving school about now, and how things have changed on that front.

We are currently seeing it at close quarters with our younger grandson about to leave primary school and the elder one already planning for ending his time at secondary school in a year from now.

You will have seen lots of lovely pictures in your Hartlepool Mail of prom nights and the rest and this largely American import has mushroomed in recent years.

When I left Henry Smith School on the Headland in 1965 it was all much more low-key.

Having only just turned 18, we finished our last A-Level examination and then bravely ventured into the then Kirkham pub, on the seafront and a couple of minutes walk from the back gates of the school. It ages me a bit when I realise that A-Levels are no more, the Kirkham is now a private house, and my school is long demolished!

Being on licensed premises was, honestly, a pretty new experience – in those far-off and much more innocent days, pubs were pretty much off limits to us – and it would be largely unknown for young people to start their boozing lives at the ages they do now.

From memory, of the group of five of us, only one had an alcoholic drink (a half shandy!) and the rest of us had a coke.

We chatted about our release from the “prison gates”, the end of exams, and the joys of freedom to come.

We vowed to meet on the same date at the Kirkham every year – forever.

I haven’t seen any of the other four lads since. Sad but true.

How different it is today – even for 11-year-olds like our younger one.

His school leaving plans – from primary school remember – include sharing a stretch limousine of some description, dressing up in finery, and a leavers’ disco at some exotic venue.

Part of the ritual includes cards and gifts for teacher, and you may have seen card shops full of them in recent weeks.

When I left we calmly approached brilliant teachers who had coached us for seven long years and took the brave step of actually shaking hands and saying “thank you very much sir.” Or “miss”, in a few cases.

Nothing repressed about us – pressing the flesh was no problem.

I suspect that some local parents will have been selling the family silver to pay for the limousines, parties, evening dresses, dinner suits and the rest.

Having missed all of that, it may well be a step forward to mark big life steps in a grand way – and genuinely look forward to the coming years.

As it’s an American import, though, perhaps Hartlepool mums and dads would like to remind their youngsters of a little thing well in advance of prom nights to come.

In many parts of the States, it’s traditional for sons and daughters to take on extra work, at home or in formal part time jobs, to help pay for the goodies.

I wonder if that will become a British tradition too.