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Daily reminders of being 15, 16, 17, 18

The school year here in the UK runs from 1 September to 31 August. If you have a child born on the first of these dates they will be the oldest in their class. Any child born on the last of these dates will be the youngest in their class. There might still be some flexibility about this, but certainly not as much as when I was a child. Back then it was fairly common for people born in September or October to “skip a year”, to be in a classroom with children who were more than a year older than them.

I was one of those children, from the equivalent of Year 5 onwards. There was one boy who was even younger than me, three days younger to be exact (born on 24 September), but otherwise everyone else was older than me. This meant that I sat my major exams (O Levels and A Levels at the time) at the ages of 15 and 17 rather than 16 and 18. It didn’t matter much. I got the grades I wanted and went to the university of my choice. By the time I got there, aged 19, 15 months after my A Levels ended, I was no longer one of the youngest students. Some of my contemporaries, who had been in the same school year as me, had already turned 20, but you can see kids as young as 16 (Maths geniuses, as you’d expect) in my Matriculation photo.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, my children were also born in the autumn. They turned 16 and 18 last year but have not skipped a school year. They are in Year 11 and Year 13 respectively and have always been among the oldest in their years. They are now at stages in their lives where I can clearly remember most of what I was doing at the equivalent times in my life. My daughter is about to take her major Year 11 exams (GCSEs, as they have been called for some time). I have already published pieces on this Blog about that time in my school life, most recently this one, about the clocks going forward. I was 15. The following month (the equivalent of this weekend in my school life) we marched from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park Hackney in support of Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League and were rewarded with an outdoor concert that featured The Clash. The events of that day are covered in this piece from 2016.

I can clearly remember what was going on a year later when I was 16, my daughter’s age: the books I was reading, the pubs I was going to, the bands I went to see. I haven’t posted very much about those months.

Similarly, with my son now in Year 13, I am constantly reminded of things that happened at that stage of my school life: travelling around the country for open days and interviews at universities (which I have never written about here), getting run over on Good Friday (which I have written about), getting drunk for 8 shillings.

And finally, when I was my son’s age (18) I had already left school, was doing some part-time work, spending afternoons at repertory cinemas all over London and preparing to travel to Spain, where my brother was working as part of his degree course. Thanks to my children I get daily reminders of what I was doing at 15, 16, 17, 18. I begin many sentences with, “When I was your age …” or “When I was in your school year …” and tell them what I remember. Seeing The Clash, getting drunk, getting run over on the High Road, afternoons spent in long-gone repertory cinemas: these are all things that I have done, and they haven’t. I remember them well.


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