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School in the 1970s and 1980s: Hymns, Panini football stickers, the BBC Micro, Sony Walkmans and diving for rubber bricks

Remember when school desks were of the lift-up variety and a misdemeanour could result in a whack with the cane?

It's all very different for today's youngsters.

School days - the best of your life, right?
School days - the best of your life, right?

In the 21st century, classrooms come with interactive white-boards and if a teacher so much as invades a pupil's personal space they risk both a reprimand and reputation.

We take a look back at life at school during the 1970s and 80s when calling your friends stretched to shouting at them, rather than texting, and football stickers were traded in the playground.


Schools often talk about developing a sense of community - and so what better way to do that each morning than by all gathering together for a sing-song?

And there is surely no form of music less likely to appeal to young minds than a good old hymn.

Remember these old overhead projectors?
Remember these old overhead projectors?

As school budgets were slashed, hymn books were instead replaced with overhead projectors and the words written on acetate sheets which were then beamed onto screens often with much focusing required.

All the greats were included - All Things Bright and Beautiful, Onward Christian Soldiers and Give Me Joy in My Heart - for those sat cross-legged on the cold, wooden hall floor.

And there was perhaps nothing as jarring as a school assembly where half the boys singing were in the process of their voice breaking. No longer able to hit the highs they once could, many would, instead, spend the rest of their school days simply miming each morning.

Swimming lessons

When you're being 'sold' your secondary school, the prospect of it having its own swimming pool packed something of a punch. What a perk, your young mind thought to itself. Until, that is, the reality of the situation kicked in. Because unless you went to a particularly swanky school, the only heating the water received was from the sun. And that could be a fickle friend.

An indoor pool would have been the height of luxury...heated water unheard of
An indoor pool would have been the height of luxury...heated water unheard of

In primary school - where swimming lessons were conducted in the luxury of the local leisure centre (a roof and heating!) - you'd often be tasked with wearing pyjamas in order to replicate having to swim in your clothes. Or diving to the bottom of the deep end to retrieve a 'brick'. As the comedian Peter Kay so accurately observed: "I've still yet to save a black rubber brick from drowning while coincidentally walking past the side of a canal wearing a pair of pyjamas."

Ropes apparatus

Now there's every chance plenty of schools still have these things in their main halls. But it is surely a throw-back to days when health and safety was more a concept than a legal requirement.

The ropes apparatus were clever space-saving things - lining the wall before being pulled out and attached by bolts to the floor - and something of a must-have as the 1970s morphed into the 80s.

Comprising of a large climbing frame they had big thick ropes hanging from the top. It allowed those with a penchant for heights and tree climbing to clamber to the top - and everyone else suffer rope burns as they attempted to emulate them.

The VHS video tape - a distant relative of the Blu-ray
The VHS video tape - a distant relative of the Blu-ray


This will seem bizarre to today's tech-savvy youngsters, but once upon a time if teachers wanted to show an educational programme or film to a class it was not simply a case of logging on to iPlayer or YouTube. It required some preparation.

Firstly, the school's one big TV set (normally about three foot wide, by three foot deep) - normally encased in a 'theft-proof' metal box - had to be wheeled along to the room you needed it in, preferably complete with the school VHS recorder.

The chunky old tape would be put into the top-loading machine and voilà, a picture a million miles away from the 4K sumptuousness so many are accustomed to today would appear (for you youngsters, imagine watching something through what looked like a constant light drizzle). The programme in question was normally taped - or indeed watched live - from mid-morning TV when the BBC and ITV tended to screen their educational shows in an era when This Morning or Homes Under the Hammer were not even a glint in a TV producer's eye.


Pupils get to grips with the BBC Micro - cutting edge at the time
Pupils get to grips with the BBC Micro - cutting edge at the time

Today, most schools will be very proud of their computer 'labs' - a room featuring a plethora of flat-screened monitors - complete with clever gizmos so the teacher can keep an eye out on anyone attempting to stray onto a website outside the school's approved list.

Back in the day, and much like the heavily armoured TV set, schools were lucky to have one computer and it was almost certainly a BBC Micro - a bulky thing which was part of the BBC's push into educating us then-young folk in the ways of modern technology.

For many, memories will consist of playing farming simulators or whiling away a 'wet playtime' with the past-time of many - namely entering yards upon yards of very dry code in a mission to 'program' a game. The game in question would be utterly underwhelming, it goes without saying, but we were more easily impressed back then. It was all a rather far cry from the graphical splendour many now take for granted on today's modern PCs, PlayStations or XBoxes. As for the web? Back then, that was simply a spider's home.


Perhaps it was just me, but one of the most terrifying aspects of entering secondary school was the prospect of having to get your kit off and have a shower in front of everyone else. There was perhaps nothing as gut-wrenchingly miserable as your body morphed from child to adult than having to expose your adolescent figure and be mocked for either developing too fast or, as you rose up the year groups, too slow.

The dash through the showers was a pointless lesson in humiliation
The dash through the showers was a pointless lesson in humiliation

The idea, not unreasonably I suppose, was that teenagers - smelly at the very best of times - could do with a decent wash after exerting themselves on gym equipment or the sports field before resuming classes. However, the idea we'd all stand there soaping ourselves to sparkly clean standards was mere fantasy. Kit off, towel at the ready, the aim was to run through the showers, breaking the speed of sound as you did so. The only requirement was splashing sufficient water on your hair in order for the teacher to see you'd done as required before practically diving back into your clothes while avoiding people trying to whip you with a rolled up towel.

Not surprisingly, today the communal shower is a thing of the past. Can you imagine if a teacher today so much as glanced in the direction of naked boys or girls? They were different times.


While we're on the topic of exposing your body, another once familiar site in school gymnasiums was that of having to go 'skins' in various sporting contests. Today, the school budget stretches to bibs. Back then, rather than put something on, you had to take it off.

So, if playing basketball, one side would be able to keep their decency and wear their shirts, while the opposing team would have to strip off and parade around topless. One assumes this was confined to the boys. But, back then, who knows?

Note how the game progresses and no side is having to parade around topless. That's progress
Note how the game progresses and no side is having to parade around topless. That's progress

Certainly, for those of us without well-toned bodies, it was yet another part of the ritual humiliation PE lessons could bring. You didn't get that silly nonsense on the cricket or football pitch.

Corporal punishment

My parents used to tell me how, at an open evening at the local comprehensive they were planning to send me, another parent put their hand up and asked the head teacher if they still used 'capital punishment'. A slip of the tongue, maybe, but you can imagine the hilarity among everyone else.

Not, of course, that corporal punishment was any more amusing for those on the wrong end of it.

The days when teachers could whack a student. What larks
The days when teachers could whack a student. What larks

For those youngsters reading this, it was when the teachers could, literally, beat you for rule-breaking.

It was, in retrospect, a solid deterrent. After all, no-one - either then or today - wants to be sent to a small office and whacked with a cane/slipper or ruler.

Yet it seems like another world when parents allowed teachers to dish out 'six of the best' to keep their children in line. Still, I suppose it was better than being executed as the aforementioned parent suggested.

Fountain pens

Speak to many teachers today and they will bemoan how pupils routinely turn up to class without a pen. You'd think that most kids would assume some form of writing implement was going to be necessary during the school day (although perhaps they are so used simply to swiping the screen of their phone or iPad such a thought doesn't enter their heads).

The fountain pen - does anyone under the age of 50 ever use them today?
The fountain pen - does anyone under the age of 50 ever use them today?

But, perhaps more significantly, do they not appreciate the delights of a pencil case? Or a quality nib?

Not so long ago, the expected pen for use at school – admittedly, more often than not at junior school - was a fountain pen. In fact, being allowed to use such a device was something of a rite of passage; as if it would be all you'd use in adult life. But, honestly, who has ever used one since?

They were very fine things. But they were also messy. For the uninitiated (read: too young) you had to unscrew them and insert a little plastic ink cartridge into them, being careful not to accidentally burst them in the process, and then replace on a regular basis.

Those aforementioned pencil cases would often bear the scars of a leaking cartridge - big blue stains emerging like blossoming algae - while woe betide you if you didn't connect the thing in the right way...many would spend the rest of the day with blue fingers. Blotting paper is probably not something many youngsters today need to be on nodding terms with. And in an era where the biro is king, perhaps that's no bad thing.


Playgrounds were very different back in the day
Playgrounds were very different back in the day

In a world devoid of mobile phones or the wonders of the internet, entertainment was generated by those good old-fashioned methods of playing and eating. You wanted to get your friends attention or ask for a bit of their Wagon Wheel? You shouted at them, rather than use WhatsApp.

And the key commodity being traded in the corners of a playground were Panini football stickers. Ah, the sense of anticipation of opening a pack; the perm-tastic faces which would greet you and the sheer glee of finding a shiny club badge among them.

Then it was the classic – but accurate – case of showing your swaps to a chum and them chanting ‘got, got, got, NEED!’ as you did so.

Just to show my age, when I started collecting them, a packet of five stickers cost 5p. I can remember my slack-jawed sense of stunned shock when they shot up to 10p for six. That was a life lesson right there.

Meanwhile, a glimpse towards the staff room would allow you to spot the teachers through a fug of cigarette smoke (theirs, I should say, not the kids').

School in the 1970s and 80s was a very different animal
School in the 1970s and 80s was a very different animal

School trips

School trips would see the cutting-edge technology you owned emerge.

A coach jaunt allowed the Sony Walkman - or Saisho tape player (Dixon's own, and much cheaper but infinitely less fashionable brand equivalent) - to join you for the journey.

The foam-covered headphones wrapped across the top of your head and perched on your ears spilling out whatever you were listening to to anyone within a 10-metre radius.

As for the size of the music collection in your hand, well, rather than Spotify's full library of music spanning the generations, you got as much as a C90 tape could take (that's 45 minutes on each side for those of you young enough to be wondering).

The cassette - which apparently is making a comeback - was the Spotify of its day
The cassette - which apparently is making a comeback - was the Spotify of its day

But a school trip, as today, would not be the same without a video game. Now, bearing in mind the arcades lured you in with Space Invaders, Asteroids and Pac-Man, expectations were modest. So it was Nintendo's Game and Watch series which were coach regulars. They made the original GameBoy of the early 1990s seem like the most sophisticated machine possible. But if you like the idea of a bit of juggling and jumping with a black and white figure shifting in a couple of pre-set movements, then they were the must have items for those with generous parents. It offered just the one game...but that one game was more than we were used to.

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