I have a head cold.
I feel like that man in the old advert for the Tunes throat sweets who orders a; ‘First class return to Dottingham.’
I think it’s return to school itis if I’m honest.
I couldn’t keep going when I got in from school yesterday. Jason took over the tea time duties and I went to bed at six o’clock and slept until eight thirty this morning, still feeling like crap, but much less exhausted.
I have dosed myself up with an interesting variety of drugs and have proceeded to follow the ‘feed a cold, starve a fever’ routine all day.
I am the great basking shark of Leicester. Anything that has sailed past my mouth that looks vaguely edible, has been eaten.
I have abandoned all pretence at doing anything that isn’t easy, and am reading thrillers (Mark Billingham’s Sleepy Head – v. good), and eating digestive biscuits as if they were suddenly going to be on ration.
I have however, cleaned the house (visitors come tomorrow – I do not wish them to cry. Nor do I wish to have to put up hazmat warnings), and made a daunting stack of paperwork that must be dealt with in reasonably short order OR ELSE.
Tilly’s school and I may have to fall out soon as a result of this pile.
Before you panic, given what you know of our Herculean efforts to get her into the school – she is absolutely enjoying herself there, has made loads of new friends and has fallen foul of no one.
It is me that is still struggling, nay wrestling with them.
Here’s the thing.
Their administrative voice is, how shall I put this? rather to the right of Genghis Khan – in terms of tone and charm.
I thought this might be a one off, having experienced a taster of this last term when I was required to jump through a frankly ludicrous number of hoops to get her into school their way or the high way, despite the council having allocated her a place there which she was absolutely allowed to take up no matter what.
I thought that this might be the school’s way of administering a sharp slap on the wrist to people like me, who don’t always follow the rules.
I didn’t make a fuss about it, even though I wanted to. I figured I was at least being as much of a pain in the arse to them as they were to me.
Quid pro quo Clarisse and all that.
Then the letters started this term, and I realised that the Mein Kampf school of letter writing is their house style.
There are lots of imperatives. There are lots of dire warnings. There are lots of things that must be done. There are lots of penalties if things are not done exactly as proscribed and immediately.
It is all couched in terms which tell you it is for the benefit of your daughter, when any half wit, reading between the lines, can see that it has very little to do with my daughter’s welfare, and everything to do with government tables and keeping the school run like a branch of the Hitler Youth, but with more leg warmers and close harmony singing.
This might not be quite so bad were it not that they are also copious letter writers.
I get letters nearly every day, and almost always more than one.
They then send me stern texts and e-mails to enforce these letters.
I am feeling rather harassed, it has to be said.
Last week was the icing on the cake however, when after days of letters and texts I also had to attend a meeting at school with Tilly on Thursday night where they told us what to expect in the coming school year and how to apply for work experience next May.
Tilly has been sorting out work experience since school broke up in July. We have agreed that she will go and stay with my lovely friend Gina, who is a top notch entrepreneur and self made woman, and Tilly will learn a great deal, as well as having a great time. It is all organised.
We asked if we still had to go, even if it was already all organised – which they should applaud, as they encourage their girls to be independent thinkers and do things for themselves. We have ticked that box. Oh yes.
We still had to go.
Here was the format of the evening:
There are groups of teachers at various points around the school to welcome you in.
This does not feel very welcoming. It feels, to me, as if we are quite naughty and liable to escape at any moment, and must be shepherded into line. I am 41. I think I can manage to walk into a school hall without being ‘encouraged’ by half a dozen teachers thanks. I realise I am being sensitive here, and that the idea is that it is welcoming, but I do not feel welcomed.
I feel like a naughty child.
More welcoming would be having this event over a couple of evenings where there would be enough chairs for people to sit on and enough room to see properly. Tea and biscuits might also be quite welcoming.
Instead of that, we then have to sign in. I may be being unreasonable, but I also find this extremely irritating. It may be for a fire drill for all I know, except that nobody has to sign out, so I suspect it is more so they can keep tabs on you, in the big black book, where you get a skull and crossbones against your name if you don’t attend.
We stand there (there are not enough chairs for everyone) at the back of the hall while a lady shows us a power point presentation of key dates for the next year, all the while hammering home the importance of constant vigilance and application to both the students and their parents.
It is relentless. They make it sound relentless. They make it sound hard work and horrible and no fun at all. They emphasise that parents must be involved in helping them keep up this relentless pressure. Students must not be allowed to slack off, or fall behind at any point. They stress that even the slightest lapse could end in disaster.
After all, they only have two years to prepare for these exams.
They explain how they have already started teaching the girls to revise, and how they have already had revision workshops which have been completely beneficial to them.
I wonder how they know this, given that the girls haven’t had anything to revise for yet.
I wonder how much of that knowledge will stick for the next two years. I think I shouldn’t worry about this, because they’re going to flog this to death and it will be permanently tattooed on Tilly’s brain for the rest of her life.
We have already had a letter home with a time table of how our children should do their homework. It shows what subjects should be done and for how long and on what days.
I am informed that I must sign Tilly’s homework log every week to show that I have made her do this work and I know that she has. If I do not sign it,there will be repercussions.
In the meeting I am told that I cannot let her homework slip. I am given a list of questions I must ask my child in order to make sure she is doing her homework, and various strategies I can employ to ensure co-operation before the school gets involved.
It is basically, relentless nagging. I wonder if I am the only parent who notices the irony in the statement that follows this list of nagging questions we must ask, as the teacher seamlessly flows into: ‘We do like the children to be self motivated, which is why you are so important here. We don’t like to get involved in these matters, but we will if thing are not satisfactory.’
I wonder what she means about before the school gets involved. It seems to me that the school is already far too involved in how my family will support my daughter with her learning.
To round off that part of the meeting we are told that the school will be enforcing the powers the government have given them to keep any child who gets below a grade ‘c’ in English and Maths G.C.S.E. until they attain the correct grades.
I think – just try and make me.
Thus ends the first half of the upbeat presentation.
We then move on to the work experience part of the evening in which we are told how to apply. Apparently the school employs a third party company to monitor all the work experience, and if the employer of mine and my daughter’s choosing does not come up to scratch with this company, then my child will not be allowed to go on the work experience of her choosing, ‘for legal reasons’.
Our applications have to be in by 7th October. If they are late, or have to be redone through error, we get charged £55 per application – ‘for legal reasons’.
We are told how to make our children enjoy work experience. We are told how to chivvy our child through work experience. We are told that even if it is two weeks making tea and photocopying that she must do it, because this is an important part of learning about the world of work, and it will be important in showing her how the real world works.
I think, if they don’t let me put my child in the placement we have chosen, would I be happy knowing that they have sent her somewhere where she may well end up making tea and photocopying for a fortnight, and possibly having to pay £55 for the privilege.
The answer to this is no.
I think that I will add this list of things I must do to the list outlined in the four page letter I got earlier in the week telling me how I must make my child dress for school or else, and how I must not apply for holidays or else (a fine – quelle surprise), and how I must ensure she is in school at the appropriate times, and how I must do this and that and the other.
I think I will add this to the four page form I had to fill in last week just so that she could attend one performance of Hamlet in Stratford upon Avon next week. I compare this to the one page permission slip I had to sign for the entirety of her school career before this, for every trip she went on, even though she was much younger and more vulnerable and more at risk than she is now. I think about the fact that those forms never told me exactly how she was supposed to behave and walk and think and that if she didn’t do these things there would be hell to pay.
I think about how we’ve managed just fine up to now.
I think about the fact that it seems like instead of enrolling my child into a school where she is going to learn to be an independent, thinking young woman who can motivate herself and start learning how to manage her own time and study, I seem to have inadvertently enrolled her into a nursery school where any spark of independence is going to be stamped upon.
I think it is a good job that we are already making sure that she is an independent, thinking young woman, and that any attempt by the school to squash that out of her is going to end in tears, and they won’t be mine or Tilly’s.
I think about the fact that I left school many years ago and I really do not appreciate being roundly patronised and treated like a half wit who cannot string two thoughts together without written guidelines and the threat of punishment looming over me.
I wonder how long I can keep a lid on this for Tilly’s sake.