Category Archives: School

Lemons and Lemonade

Or maybe that should be School and Schooling. And my various prides and prejudices about the whole subject.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

When we moved to our terraced town house in a densely populated area a short distance from the centre of our lovely county town 6 years ago, we thought that catchment areas were worth knowing about but not stressing over. On checking I found there were 9 primary schools within a mile of our address and others just a short distance beyond. Since then another school has started up close by too, but more of that in due course.

Our next door neighbours had a son in the nearest primary at the time: let’s call it St Lemon’s. They indicated they were very happy with it and not to be put off by the tiny site, 400+ pupils, popular headteacher who was about to leave or multitude of languages (now over 20). Indeed, we shrugged this off at the time. Not a problem. St Lemon’s has a fair reputation. We both went to state primaries and didn’t do too badly.

But apparently the twin curses of being a parent are guilt and choice. Guilt that you have a choice when many do not. Guilt that you might have, on any given day made at least one bad choice regarding your child’s intake of food, amusement, learning, fresh air or morality. Guilt that you cannot know the full consequences of all your parenting choices until It Is Too Late. Leading inevitably to More Guilt.

It seems Choosing the Right School is even more of an issue than the daily non-reckoning of fruit and veg, or the minutes (cough) of television or the one-upmanship (or one-downmanship, depending on company) of your child’s development in the presence of other parents. I have recently noticed that everyone else’s child is a genius. This is truly marvellous. My fortunate children are blessed with the company of dozens of truly inspirational peers. Perhaps we should homeschool and just hope a little of what is so good locally rubs off on them too.

No. Homeschooling is not the answer. And this is the one thing I am certain of regarding choosing Lily’s school for next year.

I have found the relevant county document online which lists all sorts of useful data about applying to schools for September 2012. And I know people who have already applied, hoping an early application will help them get the place they want. Not true. But the document makes great reading. You can see which schools are undersubscribed (sadly, generally geographically placed near deprived social areas) and which are oversubscribed (higher Ofsted ratings, densely populated areas and more affluent parts of town). The most important column is actually the one telling you the criteria under which the final applicant successfully got a place for oversubscribed schools. Sometimes it is down to distance (in miles, to 3 d.p., or less than 2 metres). Sometimes in age difference between siblings at the school (in days). In the case of faith schools the number of points accrued matter, and then the other details come into play. Each faith school counts differently.

I learnt that Lily would have got into a nearby very popular Catholic primary school, let’s call it St Olive’s, which I had up until now assumed she could not have. St Olive’s is a walkable distance and impressed me when I visited as a trainee (and met some of my future form group, who are now in upper sixth). It is largely (previously exclusively) Catholic and feeds into the school I used to teach in. It is a smaller town school, but it has a larger playground area and some lovely classrooms and facilities, as well as great staff. I had not appreciated that St Olive’s would be on the table.

Also within close walking distance is a Church of England school, let’s call it St Bramley’s, which neighbours the park. We are out of parish, but very close geographically and would have got in this year, despite the one class intake. There are good things happening at St Bramley’s, which is well regarded locally and takes a lot of families who live near the park. Some of them gain extra points for attending St Bramley’s church frequently enough to guarantee a place. Most of them are white British. The uniform is rather nice and it is the kind of school a lot of people might expect us to send Lily to. Except I cannot condone walking past a multi-cultural normal school with people who didn’t have to score points specially to go to a CofE school which caters for rather nice families thankyou very much it saves on sending to The Cucumber School across the park and so much easier for the nanny too. Or even The Cucumber School for Girls, should we wish to remortgage.

There is another nice CofE school, St Runner Bean’s, where a number of our friends from church go and two of Lily’s NCT friends will be heading, but it is a much longer walk and we probably would not get in. They do a good fireworks night apparently.

Our nearest non-church school other than St Lemon’s (yes, it is a Saint school, no it is not VC) is Plum Lane Primary. But with a very large intake indeed and no chance of getting a place we will not be applying, despite the huge field and great special needs resources.

There are also the outliers, in both senses. There are small rural primary schools which do not receive enough applicants to fill all the spaces they can offer, and one we have been recommended by friends is St Blackberry’s, on the river Deben. Very small. Very local. Very is it time to go and get the kids again already? Not quite close enough to my husband’s work for him to do a drop-off.

It must be harvest. All this food on my brain. Making me hungry too. [Aside: just consumed a quarter of an apple we grew ourselves and very nice too. Of the 24 on the tree earlier in the year, a sixth survived The Big Prune, a quarter of what was left got Picked By an Undiscerning Toddler and a third of what was left has been Attacked By Something. So I don’t expect I’ll get any more, but what I had was good].

So sometimes I just want to take a lateral view of all these schooling options and see what I would do if I weren’t counting fruit.

Someone I know sends their child to the new Dinossori school. She recommended it to me. So I went to take a look with Lily last Tuesday. Ok, it was partly out of sheer curiosity as a teacher and undecided parent with extra helpings of Guilt and Choice. It does cost money to send a child to a Dinossori school, but much less than private. In fact, you only get two classrooms in the whole school too (Raptors and Sauropods, or something like it). So you’d hope that what was on offer was amazing, to convince parents to part with cash for the privilege. It was. The Raptors classroom, where Lily would start, was full of children all occupying themselves with wooden learning things, cooking, hammering or reading, as the spirit moved them. They were getting on with individual learning programmes in their own ways and loving it. They were owning their learning and had already spent time out of doors in the vast area alloted to them and were playing and enjoying what they were doing. Lily lit up. She spent the rest of the visit beaming, making new friends and getting stuck in to everything she could. The room was simply decorated and uncluttered. It was not noisy. It was happy. It was everything she loves. Lily was adamant that this was going to be her school. In fact, they could even have started her the next day and had it been up to her she would have. In case you don’t know, she’s not even 4 until November. It was a good thing that my husband had not got on board, as I was able to use him as a reason for needing some time to think it over. School at 3? But it was wonderful.

Except it is also self-selecting. And it is not walkable. All parents pay fees and although Lily might be well-suited to the learning styles employed (at least at first), Joseph may not.

High up our list is the practical item of location. And I think we are going to have to work through all the other variables we can think of to decide what else truly matters. Area of playground? Teaching style? Resources? Friendship groups? Ethical values? Acceleration or enrichment of able children? Lunches? Timings? Uniform?

And we are back to one of my prejudices. I like a proper uniform on a child. Something to be proud of. Unfortunately, at St Lemon’s, there just isn’t a unifying element to the uniform – it is quite varied and other clothes are also allowed (for good reason). Lily’s first day at the school nursery on Tuesday this week will not be in uniform, unlike many of her other friends. And it doesn’t matter, but it could be the first day of 8 years at this school. I want her to be proud of the school and feel part of a community. Of our community. I want her to start making lifelong friends and invite them round to play. Thankfully, we have lined up a visit to the School Proper straight after Lily’s induction, and I am hoping it will impress her as much as the Dinossori school. It may not be everything I want in a school. Architecturally it does nothing for me. I have felt let down already by the professionalism in their dealings with us. But it may be where we are meant to send our children. We do not take our children to church to get them into church schools with many others who have (perhaps hypocritically) done the same. Because we take our faith seriously we need to look seriously at sending them to the nearest school instead, and not be hypocrites about what we believe.

And who knows, maybe get a few more recipes for lemons.

No more Noughties

Is it already 2010? I’m not sure I even know how to pronounce 2010, let alone behave in it.

Last week I began musing the events of the decade just finished from a purely self-centred perspective and realised that it is far and away the most eventful decade of my life to date, and could well remain so.

In the 3653 days since I sat in my home-made Millenium Dome Tent at mum and dad’s and saw in the New Year (long story, involving being prevented from attending any party my brother or sister had plans to go to, and not getting around to going to London as I had promised myself a dozen years before), I have:

1. Kept a video-diary, a diary-diary and a blog.

2. Graduated. (Twice.)

3. Worked in one shop, two prisons, three schools, a college and a university.

4. Met and married an amazing man.

5. Moved into a family home and started a family.

6. Trained as a proper teacher.

7. Taken turns drumming, preaching, as a deacon, in the creche and volunteering with countless young people through church.

8. Travelled to Israel, the United States and Sri Lanka, thus extending my continent-count significantly.

9. Averted a mid-life crisis by taking up the saxophone in my early thirties.

10. Failed to get to London (or any other place of note) for the New Year celebrations every single year.

I have also watched my dad recover from his heart attack and my little brother become a dad (twice). Good friends and family members have died. Others have moved away, but most have kept in touch by means most appropriate to their circumstances. I have struggled enormously with some of life’s challenges, but found God to be faithful and loving throughout. I have been blessed with so much, and want to be a blessing to so many others.

Perhaps in the coming 10 years or so, I can try and do that. I will not make resolutions this year. But I am grateful for all that this century has brought so far, good or bad, and look to do my best with whatever God has given me going forward, whatever the future may bring.

God bless, and a happy and healthy 2010 to you.

Nouns head blog titles

That one’s for dad’s growing collection. I would find a headline made up of gerunds more exciting, if I could remember what one was. Let me check.


I was on the hunt for gerunds just now and in the process remembered Molesworth, which is well worth a read at least once a year. I must get it out again soon. WIZZ SUPER! Pythagoras as a mater of fact is at the root of all geom.

There is nothing new under the sun. Especially in education, as I see it. Or politics.


I was rather hoping the government might tell me how to avoid dying from swine flu today, just in case it nearly happened. However, there was no post. Let’s just hope I can make it through.


In any case, I am discovering some of the pleasures of nursing, as Lily has contracted chicken pox. She has spots on her limbs and chin and nose and is off her food.  She was not even eating porridge yesterday. Thankfully having me around to see to her every need has brought out the gerund in her and has forced me to cancel several things I might otherwise have found myself doing.


Playing with Lily has increased. The playing of my saxophone has decreased. I would have had a lesson today, but Lily could not leave me, so that didn’t happen. I am actually quite pleased with my recent musical developments. I bought a saxophone 3 years ago (in a bid to stave off a mid-life crisis by seeing it coming), but didn’t get past Book 1 and then went off the teacher a bit and gave up for ages. Since then I decided it may be worth actually paying someone to teach me, and after chatting with a guy at church I found a tutor who took me on in February. In half a term he had got me to Grade 1 standard, and this is the first lesson I have missed. I must do some practice this evening!


Of the planning of many lessons, there is no end. Tomorrow: Inequalities, Solving Equations and Further Graphs.


Unfortunately, tomorrow’s baby clothing exchange at the toddler group is off. Most attempts at clothing Lily are off too. She is too itchy to take on layers without a fight. I would like to order her some more clothing from a catalogue, but she just wants to turn the pages. I don’t blame her.


At least she hasn’t got swine flu. Dad has pointed out to me how hard it must be to learn what is meant by the word ‘pig’ when a toddler hears the word in the context of pigs (real, fictional, anthropomorphic and cartoonised), guinea pigs, piggies (this little…) and as a verb.

Why can’t words just do one thing and keep life simple?

Chip and Pink

Somewhere between learning to walk about two weeks ago and having her lunch today, my little girl has chipped one of her teeth, so that her two front teeth look like step one and step two of ‘learning how to make interesting napkins’. This is apparently less life-threatening (according to some hasty online research) than most mothers of first-time-chippers would immediately suspect. And it may also come in handy when pondering origami during the milk teeth years. It is embarrassing enough to mention here, at any rate. Recently I have been wondering what kinds of things to discuss on this blog.

It’s not as if nothing ever happens in Threescoreland. Lots happens. Some of it trivial, difficult, confusing, expensive or irrelevant. But, as you may have suspected from my last post, I really do feel unqualified to talk about many topics with any credentials. The kinds of things I have credentials in are ancient Near Eastern literature, essay writing, languages with little use in 21st century East Anglia and the funny things that happen in classes which I still teach. In each of these areas I also feel that my expertise slips the less I do, and that I was never anyone special in the first place. I see the funny side when I shouldn’t. I question myself frequently and want to learn what things it would be best for me to pursue. I am learning the art of being satisfied with being me. Learning to be truly content. I cannot change many things I would like to change.

Ok, enough self-pity. This seems to hit me at transition points in my life, which I don’t always handle too well; I like to know what is coming and be well-prepared (and I fear Lily is just the same).

What transitions are happening now?

I have decided to leave work at the end of my current contract. It is getting harder and harder to justify work I don’t need to be doing, where I am not achieving much that wouldn’t be achieved without me and which is taking three times the amount of time I am paid for. The satisfying element of the work is a tiny fraction of it. One day, after children have reached an age where it is wise for me to go back to the classroom, I will find a job in a school again. For now, there are projects to occupy me and a daughter to raise.

The house we live in is of a certain age – not quite over the hill, but close to the top of it. (I would say a 5 minute walk from the top in fact). Bits of it are going south, getting hairy and needing a bit more TLC. This involves a bit of £££ and lots of quotes and doing real maths. I have great expectations that when it is all trimmed up and looking less bleak and more like a respectable Victorian town house I can look back at the harder times and smile. But all this development and deliberating is time-consuming and energy-sapping. I am not naturally good at choosing style, although I know it when I see it. Working out how to design a new front door with glazing has been a labour of love, for example. I still change my mind regularly about the details of the front garden, but would love a cherry tree or something similar with pink blossom and an elegant shape. Oh, and railings, standards, box, tiles and edgings. You can get edgings reclaimed on the edge of town, but you can’t get railings reclaimed at the railway station.

With me leaving work, my husband has started thinking about his own position and whether we need to assess his long-term career moves soon (or at least before the options get removed from us). This involves a deal of thinking, calculating, praying and discussing. Nothing seems too clear at the moment. There are routes he would like to consider, but there are also many unknowns.

Maybe it is also time soon to buy a pet. Don’t laugh. I spent time last night thinking through the implications of a dog, because Lily just adores them and wriggles and screams with excitement at small animals. Yesterday I fear she traumatised one, which probably went home scared of children. I am not sure a dog would be wise, but maybe we could look into fish more seriously, or something fluffy and manageable for the garden. It would help with my transition from part-time teacher to stay at home mum a little more.

Give and Take

I have noticed that most caretakers are male, and most caregivers are female. How odd.

We say “take care!”, but not “give care!”

Does this say more about the irrationality of English language than about roles of men and women in society?

Some of the most caring people I know are men. They express it in different ways to women, but they still care.

My dad is a case in point. He is well-versed in finding the positive in a situation and seeing humour, the big picture and a good way forward. He is careful with cooking, writing and diplomacy. I would not employ him to fix a new fan in a computer, but I don’t need to. I have a husband who can do that.

Overall, I believe that we care for one another best when we care in community. Some are better at doing some of the more humble or repetitive jobs. Some are better at just giving a hug when it is needed. Some are better at listening. Some are better at mending things. Some are better at taking care in details.

We are all part of the care machine that is Society. Each of us is necessary. None of us can say ‘I’m not important because what I do is not valuable’.

Just as importantly, the care we receive from others comes at cost, and none of us can take it for granted. At school we always used to joke that the real heirarchy was:  Caretaker at the top, Secretaries, Cleaners, Dinner Ladies, Teachers… Headmaster at the bottom! You do well to keep in with the caretaker in a school. It makes life so much easier. Why shouldn’t they be made to feel valuable too?

We all need to receive all kinds of care. I have recently finished studying a book with some others about the five languages of love. The ideas put forward by the authors are that of the following five ‘languages’, we each have our favourite, which speaks louder to us and which we need to hear to feel most loved:

Words of affirmation

Quality time

Receiving gifts

Acts of service

Physical touch

It’s an interesting idea, even if you don’t buy into it fully. Until I understand how my friends and family feel most appreciated, I am going to have to try and care for them in various ways, some of which hadn’t occurred to me before.

Misrule, Madness and Magi

Happy Epiphany to you. (That doesn’t quite read right to me, but I am merely a theologian).

So it is Twelfth Night already. 364 gifts later, if you do the sums right on the song. A date I can never quite spell right, but also a play I very much enjoyed studying at school. Dad knows all I need to know about Shakespeare, so I file most Bardic wonderings in my mental ‘must ask dad sometime’ file. My own memory is almost full already, and I am doing a bit of spring cleaning therein. (Words like ‘therein’, for example, which are of no ordinary use, are hereafter banished. Forthwith.) I am wondering about compressing some of the data I have accumulated cerebrally which serves no good purpose after a cost-benefit analysis (likelihood of taking part in pub quiz, etc), but if brain-data compression feels anything like the below-freezing ice-cream headaches I got this morning when I went out of the house, I think it will get filed in the ‘action later’ pile.

Back to the madness. Today for the first time in many years I took my decorations down on the Actual Day. I heard of a friend of a former colleague who was so superstitious that she forgot to take her tree down one 6th January and had to leave it up (decorations and all) until the following year. I never found out whether she got a second tree the next Christmas, or if there wasn’t enough room. Superstition is very powerful, and when people fear consequences of doing normal things, I ache for them. They lack freedom, because of fear. My faith gives me freedom: I can act in any way I want. Reason, tradition and culture provide some healthy boundaries, but I do not act through fear, but love. I often get it wrong, but I am slowly improving, and that is evidence of God working in me. I am not trapped by fear. I am very happy to take down decorations on the Wrong Day if it suits better. But this year it helped that Lily was out of the house and I needed to get the tree ready for the bin men (it still hasn’t died, despite putting the heating up).

Yesterday the boy went back to work after a lovely two week break with the family. We all missed each other as well, which was good. He is an engineer and he works on computers all the time, but he had forgotten his password and got locked out of his PC. When I suggested that many other computer boffins at the same establishment might have done the same, he thought perhaps they had, as the ICT chaps were ages getting it fixed. Misrule? Or maybe he should have filed his password in ‘check in the diary if you forget it after a break’? It could still be in code.

Talking of madness, I am concerned this evening for my sister and her landlady, my cousin, who have no water at all, as an outside pipe has frozen. This is Not Good, when you stop and consider how hard it will be to (a) make a cup of tea, (b) make a hot water bottle, and (c) clean the microwave. For example. I am especially annoyed for them that the snow has happened in work time, and not over the holiday, when at least it would have served the function of being pretty and seasonal. Perhaps they can thaw some snow and ice and make a cup of tea?

More madness. Paris Hilton, who has no children, has revealed that were she to have children, she would name a daughter London.

London Hilton?

And then she would like to move to the UK so that her three or four children would learn ‘British accents and manners’.

Right. I can just imagine little London, Rome, Tokyo and Prague Hilton running amok in the aisles of Netto, Acton High Street, mum panting after them, ‘oi, jusyouwaittilyougethome, i’vehadituptoHere!’ raising pitch and decibel in equal measure, and wishing it were some other measure she were raising, and the darlings seeing if they could make money on the shopping trolleys. I know I would. Maybe I should file this under ‘things I expect to see by 2011’.

I’m a bit full of beans. There’s a tradition we should bring back. Except I’m also quite tired now. I had a rush of activity today and yesterday, having recovered from woman-flu. I really don’t want to be in charge and I am wondering if Obama might be thinking the same thing too. And Brown. And the person in charge of gas supplies out of Ukraine. And Andrew Lloyd Webber. Maybe we should all pass the bean. Ms Rule is off the case.

What of Magi? Let’s not get the Trades Description Act people wound up, now. Well, in all honesty, I think it is time I put on the record that I believe they were about two years late, and wouldn’t have posed for a photo with the shepherds, even if they had had cameras then. But I bet they had outstanding accents and manners.

Thinking outside the chimney

I had another epiphany last night. One of those moments where reality and common sense collide and produce an Idea. Here are three statements. See if you understand where I’m going with this.

There is a need for more people to be working in this country, to bolster the economy as more and more people live longer.

Students at school are increasingly being encouraged to pursue work-related learning routes of study, from an earlier age. These experience-rich qualifications will enable students to get jobs and employers to find staff who actually are able to do them. A lot of the work may have to be done in vocational settings.

Some industries which need growth include such tasks as reaching behind sinks, up chimneys and in other small spaces.

I am a teacher, so I know what I’m talking about. What if everyone left school at age six?

I’m just saying.


I got to sleep before 1:00 when I distinctly heard a voice telling me that ‘she’s with me now.’ I stopped worrying.

It turned out my friend died this morning.

More Late Night Thinkings

We have Ofsted coming to see us at college next week, and it turns out that the same chap who saw me at my previous place of work (graded ‘outstanding’) will be in to see if the sixth form academy I now work for can justify a grade higher than ‘unsatisfactory’. It is quite a change to be working in a place which is not yet satisfactory, and in some ways I can’t lose: I’m so new. However, hoops need jumping through and lessons need screening before they get observed, so I have been preparing something today for next week, thinking that tomorrow’s double lesson with the Nice but Dim group would sort itself out after tea tonight.

All well and good, until I got a phone call through from an ex-colleague about our mutual friend who has advanced cancer. Our friend’s liver has failed and she is now in the local hospice. She is 40.

Suddenly it is impossible to concentrate on anything. Have I said everything I need to have said to her? Can I visit while there is still time? Can I take Lily? What if this happened to us? How could I communicate to everyone I love and appreciate how much they have all meant to me? What words of encouragement would I write for opening after I had died? Could I be as brave as my friend? What is she going through? Is she in pain? Are her children able to see her? Is everything in place for after her death? Is it too late to pray for a miracle? Will she have too many visitors? Will she have time to rest? Will she slip away quietly? Will the pain go away quickly?

My former colleagues all share this together at school tomorrow, but I have to teach a class of students who never heard of my friend, and work with colleagues who never met her. I want to do the lesson tomorrow and get out. It is not my style, but I cannot linger when there is so little time.

Foregone conclusion

Dad has an uncanny knack of knowing where it is all heading sometimes. Once, when I was little, he predicted that I would become a lecturer one day.

This morning I had an interview and was offered a job as a lecturer at my local FE college. Or at least, the Sixth Form Academy part of it. It is only for one evening a week. And it is teaching people who have opted to be there. But it gets me back into teaching and it will build my confidence again. I got really excited preparing the paperwork yesterday. I knew it was almost certainly a job offer, as they had head-hunted me and already taken a reference, but I wanted to do the thing properly. As usual, dad came up with advice and ideas, and this time I felt it just confirmed a lot of the things I had already been thinking. Maybe I am destined to educate. I do love doing it.

I always thought FE lecturers were a bit geeky and wore necklaces or elbow patches (or both). I feel that in honour of my new status I should change my name to Willow, buy some Peruvian woolenwear and start a blog.


Maybe I’ll just go out and buy some more necklaces and get the boy a birthday present.