Showing posts with label school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label school. Show all posts

Monday, October 27, 2014

Another wretched half-term

How wonderful – yet another hour of the wretched half term holiday to fill. 

After Time went backwards yesterday morning, Jo and I desperately tried to think of ways to keep our household asleep. Short of giving everyone a dose of Valium, we couldn’t come up with a solution, and as a result Izzy and the three dogs bounced into our room at 6.30am, ready for exercise and entertainment. 

We tried reasoning with them all: It’s not getting-up-time for another hour, we said, indicating the newly-turned-back alarm clock, but they wouldn’t be told. Izzy pointed at the dawn streaming through the window, while the dogs turned threatening little circles by the front door. Time waits for neither dog nor Rice Krispies. So much for the “lie in” the BBC weatherman promised us the night before.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Questions from a five-year-old

So where does earth come from? That was yesterday’s big question. 

Izzy and I were on our daily walk with the dogs on Hampstead Heath. It’s a great place for celebrity spotting – in the last few days we’ve waved at Ricky Gervais and Doctor Who, and Boots chased Kate Moss’s dog into a nettle bush, though Izzy didn’t recognize any of them. 

Look, there’s Nanny McPhee! I enthused. But the real Emma Thompson looks nothing like her warty on-screen persona and, besides, Izzy was too busy examining the ground to notice her.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Jeremy Clarkson and the 'N'-word

Joanna was confused. 

“So why did Jeremy Clarkson use the ‘N’-word in ‘Eeny Meeny Miny Moe’?” she asked innocently. 

Being American, my wife was brought up in a world where the only creatures ever caught by the toe were tigers. 

Jo is a modern woman, born in 1970. At school in Los Angeles, they always used tigers in this playground rhyme. My own children used tigers too, and my eldest is 32. They would no more consider using the ‘N’-word in a sentence than they would use the “C”-word in front of their parents. 

The ‘N’-word was part of an earlier generation. Mine, and Clarkson’s.

Monday, March 3, 2014

What do you do at the office, Daddy?

When the teacher at Izzy’s new school invited me to give a talk to the children about my work, Izzy was very excited. 

“I love it when Daddy comes to talk about his work,” she said. 

“Really?” I replied with surprise, trying to remember when I’d been to her previous school to talk about television. I didn’t think I’d even discussed my profession with Izzy. Maybe she had overheard Mummy and Daddy talking about our pitches to the network executives in America. But why would that make her so excited? 

“Daddy, when you come to talk at the school about your work, please can we make cookies as well.” 

That was a bit random. 

“Izzy, what do you think Daddy actually does at work?” 

“You make bread, of course”.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The first day of school

On Wednesday my daughter aged by about two years. 

It happened right in front of us, in an extraordinary transformation at exactly 8am. One moment Izzy was a fairy princess, dressed in pink and purple pyjamas whose only concern in life was Eric, her handsome prince; the next, she had become a schoolgirl.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Some days it's good to be a father - or a 4-year-old

It was exactly 8am, and I was fast asleep in bed on a silent Sunday, when the body of a small child landed directly on my head. 

“Happy Father’s Day,” Izzy screamed in my ear, and started bouncing on my tummy. 

She was wearing a bright blue and green princess dress, bedecked with pink daffodils and sequins. Behind her, Jo carried a tray. 

“Uh-oh,” I thought.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Boots Goes To School

“Here, Poppy!” called out a female voice, more in hope than anticipation. 

Instantly three little dogs dashed across the room, wagging their tails in excitement. 

“Good girl,” said three owners simultaneously. 

Poppy is clearly the in-vogue name for dogs – there appeared to be several of them in Central Bark, our local dog training school (or maybe “Puppy” sounds like “Poppy” in a Geordie accent?). I guess the teachers in Izzy’s school have the same problem with the multiple Olivers and Charlies. 

“Boots!” I called out, confident in the knowledge that only one dog would react. My puppy, who was pretending to eat a small spaniel, immediately turned and looked at me and I felt a flush of pride. That’s my boy. 

“Here Boots!” I called, and he replied by bounding off in the opposite direction.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

After The Riots: Time For An Educational Rethink

Izzy is already proficient in Maths and English. Actually, that’s a slight exaggeration. To be precise, she can count to 16 (when climbing the stairs to bed) and, when asked her age, replies “I’m two…” before pausing and adding “and a half”.

Although that’s about the only evidence of her prodigy, Jo and I are, as you can imagine, typical proud parents, glowing happily when others say how bright she is.

Long may it last. In just four weeks, she will enter Britain’s educational system via the nursery class at our local state school. From then, we’ll be trusting teachers to help deliver her into adulthood both literate and numerate. If Carol Vorderman has her way, she will be learning numbers until she is 18. And, if I have my way, she will be writing her first novel at 12. And a half.

The events of the past week have turned the political spotlight onto how we bring up our children. 11-year-olds running amok on our streets, arms full of stolen trainers and iPhones; gangs of teenagers throwing missiles at unarmed policemen: where have we gone wrong?

It’s easy to blame parents and schools. I bet you a pair of Nike Air Prestos that most of the parents of the delinquents in the news wouldn’t understand the first concept of responsible parenting, because they themselves were denied it. What boiled over onto the streets of Hackney and Croydon is the product of mistakes by successive generations: not just politicians, educationalists but ourselves, for voting in governments that have done nothing to change the way our society rears its children.

Sadly, for the young people in the courts last week, it’s probably too late: we can beat sticks and apply sticking plasters to cover the mistakes of the past, but it’ll be a tough haul to transform the entire Big Brother/X-Factor/National Lottery generation, where fame and fortune come to the lucky and the loud (or to the dishonest), rather than to those who work hard and respect others.

But where to begin? I think we should start with Izzy’s age group and pressurize the government to add a new requirement to the National Curriculum for primary schools. In addition to numeracy, literacy and science, let’s ensure that our children are taught crucial life skills, like social responsibility, caring and sharing, strength of character, the importance of honesty and respect for other people’s culture and possessions. These are essential moral values that ultimately will underpin a new order in our society, values which can be passed down the generations. Of course, like most middle-class parents, these are things we already teach our kids, but not all children are so fortunate.

When I was 10, about a month before taking my 11+ exam, I was pretty confident. My parents had encouraged me, my primary school delivered, I was a high flyer. In my class there was an overweight boy with ginger hair and freckles called Paul. He was soft, kind and laughed a lot. He also cried when the bullies hit him. One day I found him in tears at the back of the classroom. When I asked what was wrong, he said that he knew that he was “thick” because everyone said so. He would fail his 11+, and he was scared of the big boys at the secondary modern school.

For a month I worked with him after school, trying to teach him things I had mastered at the age of 5. Despite my feeble efforts, he failed the exam, another piece of rejected flotsam on the outer edges of our educational process.

I always wondered what had happened to him. Many years later I found out he had served two years in prison after being wrongly convicted for the manslaughter of a six year old. “Mentally unstable”, they called him in the press. Another inevitable victim of the current system, I’d say.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Old Boys' Dinner

The old boys, some in their eighties, nearly choked on their chocolate cake. 17-year-old school prefects, invited by their headmaster to last week’s annual reunion of old and ancient pupils, gasped in disbelief. Meanwhile the rest of us stroked our black ties and stared down at our wineglasses in embarrassment. Could this man get any worse?

The former pupil turned entrepreneur, who had built an empire out of repairing the nation’s drains and plumbing, was crowning an after-dinner speech of relentless arrogance with a story of such breathtaking vulgarity, I couldn’t begin to hint at its substance, other than it involved an act of intimacy and a girl in a wheelchair. It was so horrendously inappropriate that one group of distinguished north east professionals, all hardened men of the world, stormed out in disgust. It was all quite scandalous and unprecedented, but at least it gave us plenty to gossip about over coffee. There’s an art to giving after dinner speeches and clearly a knowledge of emergency plumbing, even if it buys you your own helicopter, isn’t a much of a qualification.

School reunions generate mixed emotions. I went to my first a full 30 years after I’d left the institution and still found it daunting to push open the big oak doors of the main entrance – a gateway that had always been strictly reserved for teachers and governors. Inside, the massive pillared school hall, with its towering organ pipes and creaking pews where we’d crushed together during morning assembly, the smell of the wooden floors and the tall lockers around the walls, had stimulated feelings of both nostalgia and fear. The lockers from where the plumbing entrepreneur boasted he’d started his career by converting one into a sweet shop and sold overpriced Mars bars to fellow pupils bored with school meals, stood beneath an engraved roll of honour that ran the length of the hall. This was a list of boys who had achieved the only goal the school deemed worthy of honouring: a scholarship to Oxford or Cambridge. They were the elite prizewinners in a nearsighted educational system that believed that only Oxbridge mattered, and anywhere else was merely second-class.

Neither the entrepreneur nor I were on that list - we both went to York. But nowadays the function and status of universities have changed beyond recognition, and so too must the focus of our secondary schools. At last week’s dinner, there was a senior prefect at my table who told me he was hoping to go to Oxford to read English Literature. Very commendable: and after that? He wanted a job in television.

I felt bad about putting him straight, but felt obliged to tell him that, despite the prospect of joining the elite band of heroes around the school hall (if indeed they are still carving names in the wood), and possibly learning the art of after-dinner speaking, if he really wanted a career in media, he should instead head off to Bournemouth, which has a first rate media school. Even an Oxford degree would be poor competition against the smart showreels of graduates who will have already have acquired the skills of editing, shooting and scriptwriting that our demanding industry requires. We like people who arrive ready equipped to offer cheap, trained labour. The days of extended training courses on the job are long gone.

In our day a university degree was merely the next rung above A Levels before we were thrown out into the real world to choose a career. Sure, there's a lot to be said for the contacts and bonhomie to be derived from a few years at our finest academic institutions, but nowadays there's a more important consideration: employment. And now, thanks to student loans, the choice of university course is something all our children must consider much earlier, particularly as they, not us, are being asked to pay for it. As the customer, not pupil, they’ll demand value for money in the form of a guaranteed job, not a piece of paper with a grade or a fond memory of the student bar. This week’s cuts in subsidy signal a turning point not just for universities but for our entire education system. The old school will never be the same again.