The Prompt Week 4


‘Lengthen school days and cut holidays, says former Tory Advisor’ The Guardian (online) 29 Jan 2014

OK so for those of you who don’t know the above suggestion was made by someone who no longer works in government and who aired his thoughts on his own blog.

The main thrust of his argument seems to be the desire to woo Tory voters by giving mums who currently stay at home or work part time the opportunity to banish their childcare money worries and launch themselves back into full time work whilst their kids receive free childcare sorry, ‘better education’.

He’s looked at the education system in South Korea where academic outcomes excel, and children spend up to 12 hours a day at school on any given day.

He suggests that teachers will like his proposal because it should make for a less pressured environment. (Apparently teachers wouldn’t lose out on holiday because there would be some sort of holiday staggering scheme in place).

He argues that more time at school would lead to an extended curriculum and give children a greater breadth of educational experiences.

Personally I find this to be incredibly cynical and I do not believe that children, particularly infant schoolers, would be able to cope with that amount of time in an institutional setting.

And what of precious time together as a family? I thought the Tories were supposed to believe in family values but surely this suggestion flies in the face of that notion?

I cannot speak for the opinion of teachers on this matter, but as a part-time, flexi-worker and mother I have to wonder whether Paul Kirby ( the former Tory advisor in question) may secretly err on the side of the resentment that can sometimes be a by-product in the workplace. After all its not uncommon for some full time workers (often men) to see ‘flexible working’ as some sort of reward to those who they may feel don’t deserve it. The idea seems to be that you clock off early and jaunt off to put your feet up while they are left to do your work for you. In the back of their minds they’re thinking “how is this fair? I could be off fishing now!”.

The plain fact of the matter is that looking after small children and running a household is damn hard work. But that’s not to say that it isn’t rewarding and enjoyable – there would be hardly any point in having children if you just counted down the days til you could pack them off to the nearest comprehensive and rush joyously back into a full time office job. Not everyone has the great fortune to love their job with a passion and not everyone would put financial gain above the love, interaction with, and enjoyment of their family. One can only imagine what they would witness if they were a fly on the wall of the average South Korean home. Land of Smiles? Oh no, sorry, that’s Thailand.

As others have suggested perhaps more flexible working schemes and more affordable, and crucially, optional, before and after school clubs are what’s needed. As a nation I feel we need to re-evaluate what really matters – because surely it isn’t high academic achievement and maximum earnings at the cost of happiness, leisure, rest and family life?

Choosing your child’s first school

school pic

I expect that if your child is reaching school age and you happen to live in a nice little village somewhere with a lovely little village school then you are probably not too worried about this application process that we are all expected to go through sooner or later. However, if, like me, you live in a relatively large town in the South East of England with at least 7 or 8 different schools to choose between then its a bit more complicated.

JJ just missed the admissions round this year, being an early-September baby, so some of his (slightly) older friends have started school recently and therefore I already have some insight into several of the local offerings. There is no substitute for doing your own research and getting your own feel for the likely candidates though, so I’ve thrown myself into the round of open days currently available. I had three specific candidates with one being the likely favourite in my mind (being as it is, our catchment school), however I now find myself in a bit of a dilemma. Each school has its pros and cons but is there really any substitute for that instinctive feeling you get when you first walk into a building? Its a bit like house-hunting and knowing instantly that you love or hate a place when you walk in through the door – I could live here – I want to live here! I wanted to love our catchment school – I certainly haven’t heard any bad reports – but it seems almost too big somehow. Its true that it has one of the largest intakes of pupils of any school in the area – 90 pupils for Reception year – and so it seems to lack that intimate feel of a smaller school.

Another factor that comes into play is the fact that the town I live in is considered to be ‘an area of deprivation’ (I got this on good authority from one of the staff at the local library who refused all forms of identification I tried to thrust at them when I joined – apparently they need no such proof – its obviously only those snobby middle class townsfolk who should be treated with suspicion when it comes to the safety of desirable library stock). We border two quite well to do Surrey towns where anyone like ourselves, may have been born and raised. However working in the public sector and struggling with the cost of living, lots of like-minded people are also moving into places like this in their droves, changing the town dynamic year on year. There are definitely benefits to living somewhere ‘up and coming’ – investment in the improvement of facilities and services, restaurants and businesses keen to get in ahead of the rush. This phenomena also seems to be true when it comes to schools – the more deprived the area and the more struggles the school has to meet any kind of targets, the greater the investment, funding and the higher the motivation of staff to continue through to the point where they are exceeding expectations and excelling above and beyond their more middle class neighbours. I certainly noticed this about one of my three top choices – a school I really warmed to.

But where do the pupils go from here? And how important is this first stepping stone anyway? Does all this waking up at 4am buzzing with thoughts around this decision have any merit whatsover or are we destined for (at the very least) ‘good’ schooling which may or may not lead to our children excelling either academically through further education or vocationally later in life?

Answers on a postcard…Or – go ahead and comment if you think I should be taking it more or less seriously.