Sweet and sour stories..

Interesting property story with a sweet tooth….
Developer loses out on affordable housing contributionProperty developer Christian Candy has been forced to pay out an extra £3.8m after losing an appeal to The City of London Council to cut an affordable housing payment on a new luxury flats scheme. Sugar Quay Holdings wants to build 165 prime homes on the site of the former Tate & Lyle offices.
Not good future for meals wheels service..

Meals on Wheels cut by 47% The Malnutrition Task Force says official figures show the number of elderly people receiving the meals on wheels service plunged from 75,885 in 2010/2011 to 29,605 in 2013/14. Overall, spending on meals on wheels for people aged 65 and over slumped 47% in the period, from £42.1m to £22.3m.

Why we need migrants for a crippled education system:

Teacher trainers look abroad for recruits. Suffolk and Norfolk Initial Teacher Training has started seeking recruits from southern Europe because of a “shortage” of top graduates in certain subjects. Nikos Savvas, principal at West Suffolk College, said: “The need for inspiring and engaging teachers in these subjects has never been greater.”

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Every Child Matters – and the award goes to…

I think the best award ever given at my daughters school was the one for attendance. When the Headmaster asked for the person who had won the award to receive it…..they weren’t there. Was it an act of rebellion taken on the wrong day, or to prove a point, or just bad luck?

There are lots of other awards, student of the week, woodland cup, most improved student etc etc. whenever I have seen these award ceremonies, I always feel bad for the 99% who don’t receive the award. Does it inspire them to do better or make them feel worse that their own achievements haven’t been recognised? I agree life is hard and we have to learn how to lose gracefully, but does this lesson really have to start so young and is an awards programme really the best form of encouragement for children?

I have been on both sides of the fence, seeing my daughter’s excitement and pride as she receives an award and the disappointment when she doesn’t. I said to her she doesn’t need an award to know how well she has done at something but she thinks she has done something wrong when many of her friends are recognised and she isn’t. I think it may just be the case that the teacher is newly qualified and she has lost track of who has and hasn’t had awards. Which is why the system, in my view, is so flawed and I feel does more harm than good.

One of the phrases fundamental to the national curriculum is Every Child Matters – is there an award for that?

This blog is for UNICEF.

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Ignorance is catchy – a school trip that divides opinion

Tomorrow, I am assisting with crowd control of 60 plus country primary school kids on a visit to a school in East London. The schools have established an informal partnership to benefit from an exchanging and sharing of norms and values amongst the children. A kind of educational town mouse country mouse. I completely get it.

But some parents from our rural school don’t…

One girl has been withdrawn from the school because her mother believes London is ‘dangerous’.

Another mother has asked that her daughter does not take part in the element of the trip where the children visit a Sikh Temple, because she believes that ‘white children going to a ‘mosque’ will be the targets for terrorists’. This is what she said to me assuming that I would share her views. I chewed off half my face and managed to say in response ‘I think you are over-reacting’.

Judging by the School Managers’ response to this mother, her email of complaint was not the only one received.

Even though these views are in the minority, they still exist, which is shocking. Is it the result of UKIP? The Daily Mail? Too much time spent in a predominantly white society? A lack of education? The ignorance that discriminatory views publicised in the mass media breeds? Whatever the reason it is inexcusable and represents an issue in our society that can only begin to be solved by the next generation.

Which is why school visits like these are vitally important.

This blog is for UNICEF. Thanks for reading.

Wooden spoon therapy

First I must apologise for recent posts with typos littered throughout. All blame is pinned, not to me, but to this useless piece of shit keyboard connected to my tablet Surface PC. I have to hammer at the letters to get it to make sense and as for the spacebar….either I have unusually small and light thumbs or it was built for men with hands like shovels.

Nethertheless I will attempt to do a btter stop-check of my work – oh dear.

After having left the toilet yesterday and overcome the worst of the bug, I jumped back on the treadmill an attempted a last minute Christmas shop with my 2 year old boy. After an hour of apologising for daring to bring my child and buggy along for the Christmas retail ride, “oh sorry was that your foot?”, I regretted the number of layers I had dressed in that morning as I was slowly being boiled alive by the combined elements of ridiculously high shop heating, too much body heat and a growing feeling that things were working against me that morning, “I’m sorry that toy is out of stock”. If someone had recommended to me at that point, that the only way to de-stress is to rip all your clothes off and dance up the high street using buggy and baby boy as a performance prop I would have taken them up on their suggestion.

At school pick up time, I help my daughter search for her football boots. I am surprised that they are not lurking in the depths of the lost property bin (it literally is a bin). Rather they are directly outside the PE changing area – that is what a 7 year old considers to be a thorough search. I then felt I was on a winning streak and would find yet more items that have been lost along the way (hairbrushes, cardigans, a bit of my sanity) but no.

However my daughter’s teacher did put me one step closer to madness, by adding to the task list of the last week of term and Christmas prep the requirement to ‘make roman food’. So earlier I prevented baby boy from tripping up the elderly in the supermarket by keeping him entertained collecting the ingredients off the shelves for a recipe, thought to be roman, that my daughter discovered on the internet. Unfortunately she saved the web page on my husbands laptop. He is crap at sharing – pictures of him and his friend’s when he was a boy display him in mid-tantrum over sharing anything – from a toy to the attention of his pet dog. So when he came in from work and saw me frantically trying to rustle a shepherds pie together with a packet of quorn and a ridiculously spicy Lloyd Grossman sauce (because that was all that was in the cupboard) he threw a wobbly when he saw my daughter studying his laptop for the recipe surrounded by flour eggs and lots of honey. I meanwhile was desperately trying to make the bizarre spicy shepie work by being even more clever and adding a ton of mashed potato (owing to an internet food order that went disastrously wrong we are surrounded with bags of potatoes).

As hubby started to have a go about his laptop, I did what any sane women who is a little on the edge after a crap couple of days and awaiting time of the month – I threw a wooden spoon into the air – it did the trick. I instantly felt better because I channelled my anger into a spoon and not a loved one and for once my hubby got the message that he needed to back the hell off. The only person who didn’t quite get it was my daughter, “Mummy, that was a perfectly old spoon you just broke”.

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A little resolve

I am going to see the Doctor tomorrow, partly because my Mum has been nagging me for ages about getting  a mammogram and secondly because it has now been a year since I had the mirena coil installed and my periods are worse not better, my moods are uncontrollable and I break out in spots and mouth ulcers as I near the coming f ‘Aunt Irma’s visit’.

My moods are my biggest problem. It only lasts for a week but a week of being the wicked witch of the north is long enough for my family who feel like running for the hills whenever I lunch into a rage.

Men are so uncomplicated – they always feel the same. I wish I could feel the same all the time. Sure you get pissed off every now and again but illogical rage is another thing entirely. Add to the mix supporting daughter with a relentless barrage of tricky maths homework while simultaneously cooking dinner and you can very quickly get the gist of my healthy temper.

Before I was about to behead my daughter’s teacher for sabotaging our psychological happiness, my husband (thankfully) attended the parent/ teacher meeting to discover that far from trying to catch us out and make us feel rubbish parents for being crap at maths and even worse at providing suitable material for a roman shield, he is actually pushing our daughter and struggling to keep up with her himself because “she has the mental age of a 10 year old”. I now feel crap about what I had said previous because he is clearly a teacher who doesn’t take the easy route – he wants to get as much as possible out of his pupils – more power to him for having the guts to try.

I had some good news at the end of the working week in that everyone has clubbed together to organise a container of supplies to be sent to the Philippines. With everyone behind the aid effort the people of the Philippines will not be defeated by the typhoon. My colleague t work ha friends out there – some who have updated their facebook profile since the typhoon struck and some who haven’t.

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Teaching responsibility

I read an article in TES about the role of teaching staff and school management staff in safeguarding children. The recent tragic case of Daniel Pelka sparked fresh debate on this issue. What Daniel’s case will hopefully do is up the ante on the connection between the school and the social care system. Criticism was aimed at the staff of Daniel’s school for not doing more to raise the alarm. The court reports give the impression that the teachers reported concerns to the authorities and then waited for action to be taken. The argument is why did they wait, when the boy was clearly disappearing before their eyes.

Government cuts to the care system mean that resources can only look into so many reported cases, not all of them, so children like Daniel can very easily fall through the cracks. The TES report also looked at recent OECD child abuse and child death data listing other European countries in a similar ranking in terms of number of cases. America has the worse statistics because of its lack of state support for welfare. When reading the stats you feel glad not to be an American.

But regardless of what position we are on the leader-board of case numbers, both central and local Government need to be creating an environment where people do not operate in silos and to the limit of the jurisdictions. It shouldn’t be assumed that a report is sufficient in ticking the safeguarding box. Look how well a report served Daniel.

A head-teacher of a prep school said to me once, “if you don’t love children, you shouldn’t be in teaching”. Teaching is one of the hardest, most challenging and rewarding jobs in existence, It is also one of the most responsible. Why? Because in cases such as Daniel’s, a child’s only hope of care and love lies with their teacher.

Roald Dahl captures this truth in the humorous and heart-warming story of Matilda.

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The problem with tall teachers

My daughter had a meltdown last night on the eve of returning to school after the summer break. I hadn’t appreciated how much the end of Year 2 tests had affected her and she was panicking about the prospect of more tests now she was moving up to juniors. She was convinced that she would be tested again on everything she had learnt in Year 2 within a week of returning back to school “and I have forgotten all that I learnt Mummy” she cried in despair.

I was despairing at a 7 year old stressing about tests. She was frustrated that they didn’t let her know in advance about the tests. I explained to her that they did that so as not to cause any concern and that the reason for the tests is to identify areas where each pupil may need more support. I couldn’t fool her though, she was frustrated and ashamed that she had been asked to do more challenging tests, yet when she did them her friends seemed to find the questions easier and were quick to get through the questions whereas she didn’t manage to answer all of them because it took longer for her to work them out. I am embracing the concept of the challenge mindset and explained to her that it is not a bad thing if you are thinking hard about a question because it means you are exercising your brain and working things out. I don’t want her to fall into the trap of becoming an ‘approval junkie’ working things out with the pressure of getting them right and fast just to meet the approval of a teacher or parent. I would rather she fully understood her workings out and enjoyed the process of thinking. 

I also despaired at the prospect of the exams ahead of her. If she reacts this way about Year 2 tests what is she going to be like at secondary school? It feels harsh to test a child at 7, but I can see the rationale for doing so as it is the easiest way to measure progress and understanding. Its just hard for children to interpret tests as a positive experience and it is hard, as teachers and as adults, to convey it as a positive experience.

On a lighter note, my daughter was quite stressed about her new teacher. “What are you worried about?” I asked her, “I am worried that he is very tall and I don’t like tall people”. “Why don’t you like tall people?” “Because I get a pain in  my  neck looking up at them”…………”stop laughing Mummy its not funny”………”Teachers should be shorter”……Mummy STOP LAUGHING!!!!

I did eventually calm down and reassure her, seriously, that he will probably sit down occasionally to give her neck a rest.

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The difference between a good teacher and a leader?

At my daughter’s school we have a ‘hero’ headmaster. He came in when the school wasn’t favoured by OFSTED and had a so-so rep locally and turned it around. We don’t live in the middle of a city so it wasn’t the kind of life-changing experience you read about occurring in the East End of London, but it was significant. As a result we are proud of our school. So it was really upsetting to read an email today announcing that the Headmaster is leaving to progress his career at another school in the county. This was bound to happen, as he is a Headmaster that likes a challenge and he had achieved all that he had set-out to achieve at our school. As the Chair of Governors rightly pointed out in her letter, as he embarks on a new era so does the school. As a parent of a child in Year 2 (Year 3 once he has left) these are nerve-jangling times. 

There are plenty of good teachers at the school but the role of headship requires good leadership as well as an excellent approach to teaching. Our current Headmaster is progressive and willing to embrace new ideas – a rare approach. It would be awful if the new Head stopped the relaxed rules in the playground on ball games, monkey bars and skipping and didn’t allow teachers freedom to devise their own unique methods to enhance  literacy and numeracy skills. Aside from teaching, our Headmaster is excellent when posing as the Polar Express conductor at the Christmas fundraiser – he has a booming voice perfect for announcing “all aboard”.

A Headmaster is as critical to the school as a teacher is to inspiring young minds. Looking back on my experience as a student, it was the teachers who had an alternative approach that made learning both enjoyable and effective. For example, before we would start the study of a new Shakespeare play, my teacher would ask us to imagine a soap-opera type scenario and use it to explain the plot and the main characters in the play. She would start this by saying “Imagine your father had died and your mother re-married your uncle” (already we were captivated) she continued to explain the plot as if it was an episode of Eastenders and ended it with “and that is the story of Hamlet”. I don’t think there was one kid in the room who wasn’t inspired to read the play – she had a group of grumpy disengaged teenagers hooked on Hamlet. However, I’m not sure she would have been as good at running a sixth-form college.

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Private education is better?

Us Brits are very good at social engineering. Our education system is good, on the whole, at keeping people in their place (with a few notable exceptions of course). It cannot be contested that the private schooling system upholds the class system in Britain, making it difficult for talented children to progress onto further education when they have to compete against the cream of the crop from private schools, who will always take preference in universities.

Pupils at private secondary schools are coached rigorously to achieve grades. Private schools court the Principals of top universities. Profiteering companies charge private schools a fortune to train their pupils to secure places at Oxbridge and Russell Group universities. When people come into money they pay for private schooling, mixing old money with new money so that children from poorer backgrounds have the confidence in later life to converse with people from rich backgrounds.

In addition to grades, independent schools encourage confidence bordering on arrogance amongst their pupils. It takes a strong person from a state school background with a localised accent to talk on equal terms with someone with Received Pronunciation from a private education. This is simply down to confidence. The better classes expect subservience and the lower classes do not have the confidence to override this.

The one benefit, to those who cannot afford private education, is that schools are not burdened with educating the privileged. But, if private schooling did not exist, surely there would just be more schools to cater for increased demand? Private schools cream some of the best teachers from the state system. Many of these teachers turn their back on the state system because they are feidup with the restrictive national curriculum, targets, poor funding and big class sizes. I admire good teachers who have remained in the state sector. Are teachers ‘chickening out’ by working in private schools, tempted by the smaller class sizes, facilities and other benefits such as discounted school fees and housing?

I dont think this system is right but who am I to argue? When no-one, as yet, has come up with the answer? Anything that de-segregates society is a good thing but there will always be the haves and the have-nots – its a shame but that is what our society classes as important.

However there are schools that exist that take the best of both worlds providing, at best, a level playing field for talented children regardless of background – The Royal Alexandra and Albert School in Surrey and Christ’s Hospital in Sussex. If more of these schools were in existence across the UK I think we would be stepping in the right direction.

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