Tag Archives: education

Today Boy the Elder starts at his new school

This morning we will be taking Boy the Elder for his first day at his new school.  This is the culmination of a year and a half of tutoring, swotting, entrance exams, begging, pleading, writing letters and finally getting a place at what I hope will be absolutely the right school.

Boy the Elder is a very natural mixture of excited and anxious; what if no-one likes him, what if they discover in the first week that he’s thick, what if he gets expelled?  None of this will happen but, as any other mother would be, I am anxious myself but naturally I don’t show it.   His uniform is all labeled and hanging up ready to go.  Two and a half thousand items of sports kits are bagged up and waiting to be launched by a skinny boy onto the rugby field.  Pencil cases are filled, his schoolbag is packed and we are ready to rock and roll.

Yesterday I knocked off work early and we went to Pizza Express for lunch and spent a couple of happy hours talking and laughing and eating too much pudding. Afterwards we wandered around the garden centre and chose some flowers for the hanging baskets, and then slid into Argos and bought a bumper pack of Nerf gun cartridges so that he and Boy the Younger could have a battle when we got home.

This is a new and significant phase in the life of the whole family; routines will change, expectations will change as Boy the Younger will go there as well and the goal posts have been well and truly shifted.  Phew.

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Ejukashunal success!

Many of you will have read my various articles regarding the education of Boy the Elder.

The first one explained the problems I was having at his state school

Then the joys of tutoring for the Common Entrance Exam

Followed by a comparison between the two shortlisted schools

And finally the difficulty of how to phrase letters to charities and trust funds and how he will feel if we fail

At some point, when I have gathered all my information together, I will write a post on how to approach the problem of finding funding as, hopefully, I have found out a great deal which may help other parents in the same situation.

But today, I have the wonderful news that Boy the Elder has been accepted into School A and will start in September.  We will have to move house to be a little nearer to the school, which is fine, as my current house is ghastly.  The whole process has taken nearly a year and a half and thankfully it has all been worth it.

I would also like to thank all of you who have shown me so much encouragement and sympathy – you have been a great support.

YIPPPPEEEEEEEEEE!

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Ejukashun Update

Back in May, I told you about the problems Boy the Elder was having at his state secondary school and what I was doing to tackle it.  Then in September, I wrote about the home tutoring schedule upon which we had embarked in preparation for another shot at the entrance exams for the original school and another grammar school that has an equally good reputation.

Since September BTE has been going to a maths tutor every Thursday and I have been tutoring him in English every evening and doing practice papers in Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning.  It has been seriously hard graft for both of us, taking a good two hours out of every evening and sometimes the weekends. 

Again, this has highlighted big gaps in his knowledge and I have found that I have been, effectively, teaching (hopefully effectively).   His maths tutor was really alarmed by how few of the basics he seemed to have been taught, but they have been making steady progress and BTE really enjoys their sessions because it they give him confidence.

What really annoys me is that his current school has been praising his improvement which has only happened because I’ve been teaching him all the things he should have been taught at school. But don’t get me lolloping down that particular alley or I will drip froth into my tea.

The upshot is that today was his first exam at one of the schools, which we will call School A.  The exam for the School B is not until January.  School A insists that, if offered a place, you have to accept within two weeks and then apply for a bursary within one week.  This would mean that if BTE was offered a place at School A, I dare not turn it down in case he fails the exam for School B. 
There are lots of pros and cons:

School A is 25 minute drive away, which is a lot of travelling or there’s a school bus at £6.50 per day
School B is a 10 minute drive
School A would be a completely unknown environment for him
School B contains all his existing friends 
School A has high standards but is a third of the size and is more family orientated
School B is enormous, highly academic and takes no prisoners
School A virtually guarantees to accept a younger sibling in order to keep children together
School B doesn’t

I have been silently crapping myself for the last two days.  BTE, in contrast, has appeared perfectly calm.  But when he came out of the exam, the first thing he said was “I’ve done really, really badly, Mum.  I didn’t even understand some of the maths questions, let alone be able to answer them!”   My heart sank. 

As we drove home, he became rather more positive and felt that he had done perfectly well in all the other areas of the exam, but was let down by his maths again.  Whatever happens, I shall continue with the tutor until I’m satisfied that he has caught up.

BTE is now upstairs playing with his brother and has forgotten all about it.  I am in bits.
He has been granted a week off  from being tutored by me and then we’ll start again.
School A will let us know within the next 2 weeks whether he’s passed.
….. aaaaand breeeeeeathe.  And then give me some cake.

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Adventures in Learning

Illustrated by Tunnicliffe

As my regular readers will have gathered by now, I love my books.  I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read, although I can remember the frustration of not being able to write (and some would argue that I still can’t as my handwriting is a diabolical, loopy, tortured scrawl).  Books meant everything; they taught me things, they took me places, they gave me new words, we travelled in time, they showed me another world.  

I started collecting books deliberately when I was about 16, before then I had read what was in the house or in the school library.  I joined a book club and used some of the money I earned in the holidays – doing bar work or picking strawberries in Norfolk – to explore new authors. In the end I decided that I needed my own bookshelf and, having found the perfect item in the ‘under £10’ section of The Staines Informer, Sister the Second drove me in her two-tone Morris Marina to pick it up.  I still have it and the books I put in it. 

James I and the Gunpowder Plot

 As children, my sisters and I had a large collection of Ladybird books, mainly the ‘Adventures from History (Series 561), but also some of the natural history titles and the children’s stories.  We were not always very careful with our books and I still cringe at the memory of our removing all the dust wrappers from our early editions of The Famous Five books because we thought they looked more grown-up.  (I am collecting them anew out of guilt).  However, the Ladybird books survived in marvellous condition and about 15 years ago I began to collect them in earnest. 

There are a lot of books.  I only collect up to 1975 which was when Penguin took over from Wills & Hepworth in Loughborough and temporarily trashed the brand, but even so, that adds up to well over 350 titles. Up until 1975, the books followed a simple structure – a page of writing opposite a full page picture.  The writing was beautifully and meticulously researched and many of the illustrators were heavyweights of their time, Tunnicliffe, Wingfield, Ayton and Payne are names that immediately spring to mind. 

The Party ill. J H Wingfield

 For me, a child with a very narrow life, the Ladybird books showed me worlds that I dreamed of.  The Party (Series 563 Learning to Read) was about a little girl and her brother getting ready for a party.  She had a pale blue party dress with matching shoes!  I can’t tell you how I longed to go to a party in a dress like that with matching shoes.  The children played Blind Man’s Buff and Hunt the Thimble, Mother had clearly made all the food and they had great jugs of quite strong squash and straws and it all looked utterly wonderful. 

No sexism here

 But these books weren’t just about fantasy, I learned to read with The Party and Helping at Home and my prep. school used Ladybird books to support the curriculum.  I still have my exercise book in which I had copied pictures from The Seashore and Seashore Life and Pond Life and even now, if I want a basic fact about something, for myself or my children, we invariably find what we want in a Ladybird book (assuming that it’s not a subject where technology has advanced beyond Ladybird’s wildest imaginings).  I idly wonder how they would have tackled The Ladybird Book of Chat Rooms ?

Wonk by Muriel Levy

Once I had started collecting, I realised that there were far more titles than I had ever come across at home or at school.  One of my greatest joys has been The Adventures of Wonk (Series 417) which came out during WW2. They were written by ‘Auntie Muriel’ of radio fame and they are about a little Koala Bear in Australia who lives with his friend Peter and with whom he has many gentle adventures and lovely outings. I have four out of a possible six and I crave the other two with a gnawing hunger.

There are many excellent contemporary children’s books around but, with the possible exception of Dorling Kindersley, there is nothing to rival the beauty, simplicity and sheer range of the Ladybird books.  You’ll find no dumbing down on these pages although they are sometimes criticised for being sexist or elitist.  I would call them aspirational.  The five year old Wartime Housewife would have given anything to be in the family featured in Helping at Home.  Still would.

A Robert Ayton illustration of mist

The Seashore and Seashore Life

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This article is not witty and contains no recipes: The Edlington attack

On the radio yesterday morning, I heard a hateful thing.  The newsreader was reporting on the terrible and sickening case involving the vicious attack by two young boys on two other young boys in Edlington, Doncaster.  He said that members of the public thought it was wrong for the boys to be granted anonymity and that they should be “named and shamed” for their wickedness. 

This attack was wicked indeed and the boys upon whom it was vented will carry the experience with them for the rest of their lives, and many of the details of the attack will never be made public as it was too sadistic to be deemed in the public interest.  It has been reported that the boys gave up the attack, not because of remorse or pity at the injuries they inflicted, but because their arms were tired and they were worn out with doing it.

However, there is one fundamental difference between the two pairs of boys.  The children who survived the attack came from loving families in which it is reasonable to assume that they are nurtured, protected, educated and guided in a way which any child in this country has a right to expect.  They will be given help to overcome the physical and psychological damage resulting from their hideous ordeal and, in time, they stand every chance of playing valuable roles in society as they grow up.  I pray that they will mend.

The two little boys who perpetrated this attack were born into an environment of violence, hatred, horror, neglect, abuse, drugs, alcohol and misery.  They were beaten by their parents and witnessed their father beating their mother.  They watched disgusting, pornographic horror films from toddlerhood, including one in which people were forced to mutilate themselves or face death at the hands of their tormentors.  Their mother used to lace their tea with cannabis so that she could have ‘a quiet night’. 

Their home life was described by psychologists are ‘chaotic’.  That’s not chaotic.  Chaotic is when everyone’s late and getting cross.  Chaotic is when the grown-ups are getting stressed because they haven’t done the washing or made the lunch-boxes.  Chaotic is untidy bedrooms and too many after school clubs.  Their home life was terrifying. Sadistic. Hateful. Horrific.  There was no-one to love, nurture, protect, educate or guide them.  Their parents probably came from the same sort of background; abusers have nearly always been abused.

The boys were in foster care (only a mile from their home) at the time the attacks took place and during this time they had been reported to the police on several occasions for threatening children.  Social services had visited many times, as they had been on the At Risk register virtually since birth, and these children were undoubtedly failed by everyone with whom they came into contact. 

But the sad fact is, that Social Services are absolutely overwhelmed with child protection problems and, in Doncaster, they admitted that cases are being overlooked because of the workload.  Social workers also face the same problem as the police in that there are some houses, some streets, some estates where they are afraid to go.

I feel guilty if I feed my children chips too often, or fail to read them a bedtime story or help them with their homework.  I won’t let them watch Tracy Beaker because I feel that the messages in it are chaotic and negative.  I worry that sometimes I raise my voice too much or that I don’t set them a good enough example of what sort of men they will need to be.  I worry that I don’t play with them enough.  And sometimes I put my arms round them and give thanks that we have so much, that we are surrounded by people who love, nurture, protect, educate and guide us.  If  I, or their father, should ever not be there, there is a long line of people who would step up to the mark. 

No-one stepped up to the mark for those boys and now it’s too late.  Their lives were blighted the moment they were born and it is highly unlikely that they can ever be ‘normalised’ sufficiently to be returned to society.  In the past, children were hanged for stealing bread and the ‘namers and shamer’s brigade are exhibiting that same vengeful and neglectful mentality.  Every time a child dies of, or is subjected to, neglect or cruelty, we are the ones who are shamed. And that is all I have to say.

Events described in this article have been gleaned from radio, television and newspaper articles.

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