The joys of the last day of school term

Guess Who - game in progress
Photograph by Ben Sutherland (Creative Commons Some Rights Reserved License)

Gone but not forgotten among most thirty-somethings and part of many schools was the joy of a lesson free last day at school. Before the National Curriculum, SATs and flash gadgets reared their ugly heads, the last day of school would see assorted class mates bring board games or action figures.

Prior to the mid-1980s, it was commonplace for most schools to break up for the summer holidays. Some local authorities elected to – as of now – reduce the long summer holidays by redeploying two or three surplus weeks elsewhere in the academic year. Today, schools are more likely to break up for the summer holidays on the third week in July.

Toy Day gave pupils the sense of elation from accomplishing/spending/surviving some nine months with the same form tutor. At the end of being in junior school or secondary school, this would often mean high spirits, defaced shirts signed by fellow classmates and promises to keep in close contact at their next school or college. With the latter, supposing he/she may not attend the same schools. Today, Facebook and mobile communication devices enable us to do that without the joys of losing addresses or telephone numbers.

Future generations will be deprived of such joys illustrated below.

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Board Games Pupils Play

The unwritten rule for Toy Day Board Games was ‘the noisier the better’. Ludo and Snakes and Ladders were out. As a child of the 1980s, Hungry Hippos ruled because it took so little time to set up. Mouse Trap and Ker Plunk were all right if you had patient classmates. Quieter pupils would often go for the Lego set.

Bringing the Subbuteo or Scalextric set would guarantee greater popularity with competitive classmates. I speak from experience having brought in my World Cup Italia ’90 set in to class in 1992. The joys of setting up the pitch and perimeter fence was long forgotten.

Electronic Pleasures

When I entered my last few years of compulsory education, games consoles and handhelds starting to make their mark. Some of the more affluent classmates would bring in their Sega Megadrives and cartridges. More popular at the time was the Nintendo Gameboy.

‘No Eating in Class’ rules postponed

Another norm on Toy Day is also the joys of bringing pop, crisps and sweets into class. At odds with convention, one table would be festooned with toffees, crisps and maize snacks in various flavours, and assorted brands of pop. Kudos would be granted to the child who brought in Coca Cola or Pepsi instead of a superstore imitation. The last vestiges of the Pepsi or Coca Cola would be devoured by 1130 with the superstore brands still half full up to 1430 or 1535.

Dinnertime Deviations

If you were lucky, school dinners may have been that teensy weeny bit special. The custard on the chocolate pudding may be far from the usual yellow, in Strawberry or Mint flavour. They might have gone overboard with the chips a bit more than usual.


Eeeeeeek! If you spent your last five years or more of compulsory education at a Catholic school (like the author of this post), there was every chance that the euphoria of your final day at school would be put on hold for a hour or so. My last school insisted on having a final Mass prior to dinnertime to mark the end of term. Besides going through the usual litanies, blessings, the hymns chosen may be slightly less heavier than normal, often on a par with assemblies.

“…In the last film I ever saw…”

More so at primary school level, another end of term treat would involve the school’s television, often used for showing programmes like Middle English, Stop, Look and Listen or Thinkabout. In the pre-video age, children would be bound by ITV or BBC Two schedules for schools programming. Then came affordable video recorders, and the rest was timeshifted.

Besides being able to watch the same slowly deteriorating VHS copy of Sue Robbie’s Scientific Eye, this also meant… on the last day of term… films! The film would often be a Walt Disney feature or a tie-in with a popular book (often Mel Stuart’s seminal film adaptation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory featuring Gene Wilder).

Watching the same film on the school’s telly was often more interesting than at home. First, the size of the receiver: it was on legs and castors, and big enough to give Giant Haystacks a hernia. Secondly, the supposed mystique of the set itself: wood effect doors which opened out to unveil a hood. Thirdly, the joy of watching a VHS copy of Bedknobs and Broomsticks with 245 other pupils and the assembly hall curtains being drawn. It was just like – or the nearest to for some pupils – being at the cinema.

Besides watching the film, the most amusing yet irritating part of the time was when the teacher stopped the tape, because it was nearly time to go home. Whether there was five or twenty-five minutes to spare, children en masse would sigh a massive ‘aw’.

“…No more pencils…”

By 1535 or 1430, most pupils would have forgotten about school. Summer would start proper, families would start to prepare for their holiday and children would relish the prospect of a five to eight week holiday.

Then by the second and third week:

Mum, I’m bored…

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Suggested End of Term Playlist:

To round off today’s trip through the classrooms on Toy Day, enjoy this playlist. I make few apologies for the slight 1980s bias.

Remembering Toy Day: The Official Soundtrack Album:

  1. School’s Out, Alice Cooper (1972);
  2. Cum On Feel The Noize, Slade (1973);
  3. Here Comes the Summer, The Undertones (1979);
  4. Summer Fun, The Barracudas (1980);
  5. Ace of Spades, Motorhead (1980);
  6. The Birdie Song, The Tweets (1981);
  7. Breakaway, Tracey Ullman (1983);
  8. Agadoo, Black Lace (1984).
  9. Tarzan Boy, Baltimora (1985);
  10. Holiday Rap, MC Miker G and DJ Sven (1986);
  11. La Bamba, Los Lobos (1987);
  12. The Only Way Is Up, Yazz and the Plastic Population (1988);
  13. Baby I Don’t Care, Transvision Vamp (1989);
  14. Alright (Time), Supergrass (1995);
  15. Free, Ultra Nate (1997);
  16. Grease Is The Word, Frankie Valli (1978).

S.V., 06 July 2012.

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