Starting Secondary School: The Inside Track

Along with the thousands of other wide-eyed and baby-faced year 7s across the country, at the tender age of 11 my little prince is about to start secondary school.

As a small fish going into a large and boisterous pond, rather than take advice from an aged harridan like me, I've drafted in a trained professional to give my boy Angus some tips on surviving the first term.

"Whatever you do, do not wear a coat," instructs Grace, my gorgeous, eye-linered 13-year-old niece. With two years at the high school coalface under her (plaited, neon pink) belt, she's been there, done it and has the scars to prove it. She will be the perfect Yoda to my little Luke Skywalker.

According to Grace, getting the 'look' right is the most important part of surviving those first weeks at school. While the children don't have much say in the uniform itself, how they wear it is entirely up to them. Skirts are rolled up, ties are shortened and there are seemingly many ways around the no make-up rule.

"Forget the jumper and don't tuck your shirt in," advises Grace. "It's not cool to look too smart."

"Never, ever wear a cardigan," she shudders. "It's fine for girls, but not for a boy."

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The law on the ground states that baggy school trousers are a definite no-no for boys. This season, it's all about the skinny trew. Luckily for Angus, high street school outfitters like M&S and BHS are bang on trend this year and offer slim-leg and even skinny versions of the black school trouser.

The annual shopping for school shoes has been a notorious battle between parent and child since time began. Why my mother couldn't see that a heeled suede winklepicker was far more suitable for a 12-year-old than a chunky lace-up, I do not know.

After a summer of sneakers, Angus pales at the thought of a polished shoe. Thankfully, a well-known teen skater brand has jumped on the school bandwagon and now sell smart, black leather versions of their trendy skater shoes, bridging the gap of acceptable footwear between parents and teens. Grace awards her stamp of approval.

Hair styles are another minefield. In the Eighties, there were only three styles; perm, bowl cut (cringe) and crewcut. Looking at my son's beautiful shaggy blonde locks, Grace shakes her wise head and announces "he looks too young, he needs a quiff, pronto."

Surely, this is a step too far? But Angus looks at his mentor in wonder and I fear she could suggest he has a full face tattoo and he would agree.


In those first few weeks, all he wants is to fit in, be invisible and avoid ridicule at all costs.


So armed with hair gel and a One Direction poster, it's off to the hairdressers we go.

The school bag is another essential item to get right. "Don't take a satchel, ever," says teen Yoda, "and don't go over the top on labels, it's just not cool anymore. And please no swoosh," she sighs.

His new grey-checked skater boy rucksack gets another stamp of approval as does his beloved monkey-in-shades pencil case. Angus breathes a sigh of relief.

"Lunch times are crazy and you need to get in quick or the year 10s will eat everything" says Grace. "The food is okay, just don't eat the pasta, it's gross."

And finally, there's the dreaded school bus. Five years of tackling the school bus has made many a man. And reduced many a bus driver to tears. It's packed, loud and very smelly! There's a fierce hierarchy on the school bus, and as a year 7, my boy is at the bottom of the pile.

"Don't even think about sitting on the top deck before year 9," says Grace. "And please don't sit next to me." she says with an apologetic smile.

And off he goes, armed with his bible of survival, my little boy, with his quiff and skinny trousers, takes the first steps to adulthood. Without a coat, of course.