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The New School Year

Focusing on the year ahead

by Helen Gwynne-Kinsey

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider the opportunities for a fresh start that a new school year presents.

Preparation and materials

  • None required.


  1. Welcome the students to the assembly and remark that you are glad to see them all back together after the long summer break. Remind them that now is the time to think about making a new start; now is the time to make some new year’s resolutions.

    Pause to allow time for thought.

    But that’s something that we usually do in January, isn’t it? January is the start of the new year, so why does the school year begin in September rather than January?

    To discover the answer to this question, we need to look back through history.

  2. Just under 150 years ago, attendance at school in the UK was not compulsory. That doesn’t mean that children didn’t go to school, it was just that their attendance was voluntary. In any case, millions of children didn’t have a local school to attend.

  3. However, in 1880, the government passed a law that made it compulsory for all children between the ages of five and ten to attend school. It may seem strange to us now, but at the time, this law made some parents very uneasy. This was partly because they needed their children to be able to do paid work to bring in money so that the family could survive. In addition, parents were expected to pay fees for this schooling, although this requirement had been removed just over ten years later.

  4. We all know how important it is to attend school regularly. However, in the 1890s, truancy became a major problem, especially in agricultural areas. This was because children were needed to work in the fields, particularly at haymaking and harvest time. A compromise of sorts was reached by the creation of a long holiday from school in the summer months when the children would be able to work in the fields. Then, they would return to school in September when there was less to do on the land.

  5. For many Victorian children, the return to school in September came as a relief from the hard work that they had endured during the summer months. More importantly, it also provided them with the opportunity to gain important skills such as literacy and numeracy, which opened doors to better prospects in life.

Time for reflection

Hopefully, you will have returned to school this September feeling refreshed after the long summer holiday. Perhaps you’ve even been looking forward to coming back so that you can be reunited with friends, or because you’re ready to get back into some kind of routine.

Whatever you’re feeling at the start of this new school year, let’s aim to focus on the positive things that school can offer and make a fresh start. Let’s be committed to achieving the highest possible standards in our work, and to treating all other members of the school community with respect and kindness.

In a moment of quiet now, let’s think about something that we want to achieve during the coming academic year.

Pause to allow time for thought.

Let’s decide to do the best that we can to achieve our personal goals.

Dear Lord,
Please help us to recognize, and be thankful for, our skills and abilities.
We pray for the determination needed for us to reach our full potential.
Let us be thankful for the opportunities that education provides.
At the start of the new school year, we ask that you will be close to all members of our school community
So that we can work together in a spirit of harmony and peace.


‘One more step’, available at: (2.53 minutes long)

Publication date: September 2021   (Vol.23 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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