littlemavis

Little_Mavis' rants and musings


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My excuses

I’ve been musing (nothing new there) about why I find the “no excuses” approach in schools so … unpleasant.

If you follow me on Twitter (@little_mavis) you will see that my bio says “Passionate about fairness” and I am. I like everyone to be treated fairly and I will even sometimes, speak up on behalf of people I do not agree with if I think they are being unfairly castigated. (Though having said that I think some people are so far beyond the pale that I cannot bring myself to say anything in support)

I think I may have found a logical and practical reason for my not being happy with overly strict ways of dealing with school children.

For now I am leaving aside the moral consideration of whether it is right to ignore personal circumstances or special needs when imposing and judging misbehaviour or that of the fairness/morality/effectiveness of the form that the punishment seems to take. I’m just going to make a point on the practical consequences on ordinary, average, non-troubled/troublesome kids.

You see, many of us think our kids behave & it’s others who cause all the problems. But, even with uniform lists & sets of rules, you can’t always be certain you won’t fall foul of uniform requirements you interpreted in a different way, or another child maliciously blaming yours for something they didn’t do, or of a teacher having an off day. These excessively strict systems are not renowned for giving the benefit of the doubt. And if there is anything which will make a well behaved child lose confidence in the system, it’s being punished for something when they didn’t do anything wrong.

I was punished in infant school for something I didn’t do. I still resent that now. Remember that Twitter meme where it asked for your longest standing grudge? That’s mine. The girl who lied about me to a teacher more than 50 years ago.

I get that life isn’t fair. I’ve told my own children and students that. But the whole point of the “no excuses” system is meant to be to teach children that good behaviour is right/desirable/rewarded, and I’m not convinced it will do that.

I am by nature a rule follower. I suspect that’s why I rail so much against rules that I see as unreasonable or unfair. And I’m just not convinced that the supposed beneficiaries of the “no excuses” culture, those quiet, well-behaved children that we are trying to protect from hooligans and malicious troublemakers, will be as well served as we imagine. (As an aside, I’m not as convinced as some that there really is an army of malicious troublemakers as some but that’s another discussion)

Maybe it’s not the “bad” who will learn new ways.

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A Cautious Return of Optimism

smallSince Thursday night (starting with the exit polls when a glimmer of hope first appeared) I’ve been trying to work out how I feel. Labour didn’t win, the Tories are still in power (mostly) Brexit may well go ahead but my optimism is cautiously reasserting itself. I wrote this a few weeks ago. I was looking for the light at the end of the tunnel and not seeing it. This election has renewed a cautious hope. It may well be that young people voted the way they did because they were promised the abolition of tuition fees, but I think it’s a bit more than that. They are asserting themselves. They see another way forward. They see an alternative to the ever harder punishment of those who lack the drive and, well, to some extent, greed that is supposed to drive us on towards some kind of nebulous future promise.

I think the glimmers actually started a bit earlier after the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London with the refusal of people to succumb to hatred and division. Yes, they are horrible, my heart goes out to those who died, were hurt or had loved ones who were, but it would have been so easy to respond with hatred or despair. That hasn’t happened. The emergency services responded magnificently despite their problems and the media refrained, somehow, from saying this showed that the cuts were fine and they’d obviously been overstaffed before. The community reached out to comfort and help each other in a way we knew, in our hearts, that people could and would do. Race and religion became a lesser consideration than feeling fellow human beings.

There are those who use such things as an opportunity to entrench their hatred for “the other” but they are being sidelined and shouted down.whats next

There may be a way forward after all that isn’t harsh and bleak. My optimism has reasserted itself. Maybe we’ll be all right after all.

Now. What’s next?


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Joyless

On the whole, I’m an optimistic sort of person. Or, at least, I thought I was. I have tried not to be, because I always reckoned that if you expected the worst, you were unlikely to be disappointed. But I never quite convinced myself that the worst would ever really happen.

My optimism is being tested to breaking point right now. I’ve been trying, and failing, as I suspect many of you have, to get inside the heads of those who look at the current government, Brexit and Donald Trump as President as positive things that offer a bright future. I just can’t see it. The best I can envisage is that they expect either some personal improvement at the expense of others, or bringing everyone else down to your level which will just serve them right.

The idea seems to be of a life that comprises working hard (apparently starting at 3, 4 at the very latest) and indulging in competitive education where you strive to learn more than the next child in order to succeed at the norm referenced exams. This will be a ticket to more striving at higher education then competing for jobs where you compete with fellow employees to impress your boss in order to be promoted and watch your minions compete.

You do this so you can earn money to buy various things that you buy based on targeted adverts on your social media platforms which are based on your likes, comments and what items you searched for last week. “You bought a bed! Here are some other beds you may like!”. Whether or not you need these items seems to be irrelevant. You are supposed to want them because others want them because they were targeted last month (they are innovators).

If you have a partner, they too will need to work to fuel this aspirational lifestyle. What do you mean, you want time off to look after your children. There are others to do that. In these new nurseries. They’re brilliant. The children there aren’t allowed to slack off like they did in those old-fashioned nurseries, playing with plastic cows and dinosaurs and the like. None of this finger painting rubbish. They will be taught to hold their paintbrushes properly in week 2 and will need to paint a butterfly that meets our precise specifications. (and no, you cannot paint a ladybird instead)

When your parents are old and frail we expect you to take time off to deal with that. No carers paid for by the state to help. We cannot afford such luxuries. Money? What do you mean money? Have you not been saving for this eventuality since you were 16? What do you mean you spent it on iPhones and fashion and games and holidays? Yes, I know we told you to so our friends could make a profit but you should have saved too. You should have known. What do you mean you couldn’t even afford those things? You must be a skiver then. You don’t deserve money paid by hard-working families.

It’s all so bloody joyless isn’t it? I know life often has been but when I was small we were told. Promised almost, that with technology, if would be easier and we’d have more leisure time. What happened? Where did that ambition for life to be easier go? When did we start to fetishise “striving” and “hard work” and why? Is it all just so that a lucky, ambitious & often ruthless few could live in obscene luxury while the rest of us struggle? At least in relative terms.

I suspect this post wouldn’t pass muster at Key Stage 2. I’ve got rhetorical questions, fronted adverbials and subordinate clauses but I suspect my tenses are all over the place, I have sentences that are not truly sentences and the overall structure leaves a lot to be desired but I’m writing quickly and crossly.

Is this all there is? Working, growing up, having children, giving them to others to bring up so we can work more, buying things we may not need to fill the coffers of those who exploit us, fuelled by fear and insecurity without even a quiet retirement to look forward to?

What’s the point? Really? If we aren’t even going to try to make the world a better place?

Where do we go from here?

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Conformity or Variety?

A very quick two penn’orth on the issue of criticising/praising schools.

For what it’s worth, and feel free to ignore me but, in my personal (& humble) opinion, it’s good to have schools with different ethos(es?). I doubt there is a single way that works for every child (assuming we could define what we mean by “working” for every child). And even if it did there will be teachers and parents who would find it morally uncomfortable to follow some practices whether they be strict discipline or too much freedom. Maybe we could just accept that different provision should exist for different requirements.

Some fortunate children will thrive in any circumstances because they are adaptable and have an enriching and knowledgeable home environment. These are the children that teachers describe as “a joy to teach”. Some will also thrive in any circumstances through sheer grit and force of will. On the whole, these are less well liked by teachers because they can make life uncomfortable but they are valuable because they can teach us something about ourselves and how we relate to those who do not fit our image of what a good student should be like.

Sadly there are others who need something different. Yes, the quiet children who might suffer because the classroom is too rowdy (by the way, if we are being really keen on developing “grit” shouldn’t we apply it to this group? – Not advocating this, just pointing out an odd inconsistency in some current ideas) but also the misfits who struggle to conform or to concentrate. They may need something different.

What I find worrying is the idea that if something works in a specific setting it should be applied everywhere and, if ever this then doesn’t succeed, it’s because people just aren’t doing it right. That may be the case, but it also may be that the idea isn’t universally transferable to elsewhere.

I’ve seen arguments/discussions recently about whether it’s OK to praise or criticise specific settings or people. I’ve seen concerns about obedience and conformity.

Personally, I’m not keen on obedience as a concept, I’d rather instil a knowledge of what is desirable or acceptable in varying circumstances and have children understand why certain behaviour is required and then do that because they want to. I’m also not keen on enforced conformity, which is odd, because I tend to conform. Maybe that’s why I dislike petty rules so much, because I can’t just do the sensible thing and ignore them when they get in the way of common sense. I need to fight them.

BUT

I don’t especially want to stop other people running their schools in a way I dislike. I just don’t want people trying to make all schools work the same way and I would be most unhappy if I had no choice but to send my child to one.

Just stop telling other people they have got it all wrong and you are right regardless.


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Grammar School

My next instalment of school life in olden days.

If you would like to see the earlier posts, they are Infants, Juniors and some background.


Before I start, I want to make it crystal clear that I do not support the reintroduction of grammar schools. This is simply a description of what it was like as a South Yorkshire working class girl attending such a school in the 1960s, It was a good experience. I probably didn’t take quite as much advantage of it as I should have. It may also give some insight as to why some people in power, who would have attended somewhere similar and who gained from it might be nostalgic about them and support them. I also suspect that the intake of this school was more working class than those in leafy suburbs. It was a mining area, solidly Labour then & pretty much so now, apart from UKIP inroads. “Posh” kids were the exception, not the rule so I don’t think I felt the alienation that some in similar positions felt. My brother went to the local secondary modern and did just fine. He got Grade 1 CSEs & a couple of O levels. He did practical subjects that the grammar didn’t offer and got an electrical apprenticeship straight from school.

I came out with 9 O levels and 5 A levels and was the first in my (extended) family to go to university. I can’t say I made the best of a good education, but many of my classmates did. For us, it was a success. I completely understand that it wasn’t the same for everyone, but you can’t ignore the fact that for people like me, it worked.

So. 1965. I passed my 11+, along with a good proportion of my classmates and was sent to the local grammar school. The school I went to was an old fashioned grammar school with a twist. I think I’m going to make this in two parts. First, describing the school itself and then my personal experience of it. I’m not sure how it compares to other schools today. I only attended the one and the school my children went to was a comprehensive that had been built in 1950s as a grammar school but was becoming rather dilapidated.

I haven’t worked in a High School except for short times on supply so have very little idea of what is standard, either for normal high schools or grammar schools.

Our very first visit was on the day we started after the summer holidays. No visits to get to know the place, just “Turn up at 8:30 on Monday”. We were all sent into the hall and were allocated into 6 classes, 30 per class. There were proper cloakrooms to hang your bags and leave your outdoor shoes and we had a classroom with proper desks with lift up lids that we kept our books in. The teachers came to us, except for things like science, art, domestic science & PE.

We did exams twice a year and our report books included our mark & our position in class for each subject.

The school building was very new. It had its first intake in 1964 when we were in year 6 so had, what was then considered to

mgs

Typical 60s built school. Since demolished and replaced.

be state-of-the-art facilities.

For PE we had a boys’ and a girls’ gym with a sports hall between, tennis/netball courts, huge playing fields with multiple pitches for hockey, rugby and football, a rounders pitch, a full size running track and long jump and high jump pits. We also had a swimming pool. Well, to be honest, it was more like an oversized water tank in a greenhouse.

We had dedicated labs for Physics, chemistry and biology, art rooms, domestic science, both cookery and sewing music and woodwork and metalwork rooms.

We also had a kind of tiny farm with rabbits and guinea pigs. I’m honestly not sure what that was for.

After the first year, we were streamed. The top third (no idea how this was done) were put into two classes which comprised the Latin stream and, were taught Latin alongside other subjects. I imagine we were considered those most likely to go to university. Within those two classes we were further set for science only. We did have to choose between (I think) art & domestic science for girls and art & woodwork for boys. There was no thought of girls doing woodwork or boys taking DS.

The teaching was pretty formal, they told us stuff, we wrote stuff down, we learned things and discipline was, well, not especially strict actually. Some teachers expected you to stand when they came into the room but not all. Some wore gowns, most didn’t. Boys were caned for some misdemeanours, girls weren’t.

Every year we had an “Arts Festival” which was an inter-house arts competition which included creating & performing a small play (multi-year) reciting poetry, playing instruments etc.

great hall

The College hall from a more recent photo found on FB

The school had an annual Gilbert & Sullivan production with both (sixth form) students and teachers performing roles and a school play, again sixth formers. The two I was involved in were The Beaux Stratagem and The Petrified Forest, so it covered a decent range.

Girls played hockey, rounders, netball, boys did rugby, football, cricket. Boys also did cross country. We girls lobbied to be allowed to also, but the head was against it, he didn’t want girls “running round the countryside with bare legs”. He was eventually persuaded that we could run a circuit of the school fields, which is what the junior (years 7 &*) boys did. We soon discovered it wasn’t all that much fun, especially in the mud. We had inter-house sports and played against other schools. Often first and second teams.

The head was rather eccentric. He built an aeroplane in the woodwork block as a school project – I believe it is still flying today and help “High table” on the stage in the college hall where about half a class would have lunch with him while we chatted politely. I remember him as always having food stains on his tie.

The sixth form was in a separate block, though it shared science labs and was not a standard school sixth form. It was, as far as I know, the first sixth form college.

I found this extract in a book which explains it quite well. There was no uniform in the sixth form and although we did not call teachers by their first name we did have a more informal relationship with them. We had a sixth form common room and free periods, at least, you did unless you had foolishly decided to take four full A levels.

mgs sixth form from Education 16-19 In Transition by Eric MacFarlane

From Education 16-19: In Transition Eric McFarlane

I’m sure there are things I have forgotten here but since I’m planning a further post on actual experience this is just meant to be a brief outline. I’m not sure it’s substantially different from many comprehensive schools today. I’ll write again about my personal experiences.

 

 


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Girls’ Juniors

So. Junior school?

This is my post about infant school. And here, some background

Since my first school was infants only I moved at 7 to a school which had a mixed infants half and a Girls’ Junior half. (The boys went to a different school about half a mile away)

Garden-Street-School-Uploaded-by-Matthew-Spencer

 

This was uploaded to FB by Matthew Spencer

 

The building was much older, Old enough for my mum and aunt to have gone to the school as children and my aunt is now 89.

(I found this photo on FB) Stone built and the stones blackened by many, many years of

the residue of the coal fires used all over town. In fact, for many years I thought this was the natural colour of stone as it was so ubiquitous.

 

 

The playground was concrete or tarmac and we had no playing field or grass of any kind.

garden-street-playground

Uploaded to FB by Dean Cheetham

There was an outdoor toilet block to use at playtimes. I cannot remember if we had indoor toilets. The classrooms in the junior block were arranged around a large hall which could be divided into 2 or possibly 3 by folding partitions. There was one class per year. Also, no maypole!

I have a vague recollection that the classes were arranged in an odd way. We did a term in the first class then moved up at the same time every year, finally coming back to the teacher we started with.

Desks were arranged in rows and were wooden with lift up lids and inkwells. These were wooden holes in the desk into which small (ceramic?) inkpots made were inserted. I don’t remember when we started to use ink, but we had blue painted wooden pens which we dipped in the ink to write and we inevitably ended up with blue ink-stained fingers. We were taught italic rather than cursive which means I now have an odd style of writing that is neither one thing nor the other.

What did we learn? Well English and maths, obviously. Though Maths may well have been called Arithmetic. In Geography, I learned that tea came from India and Beef from Argentina. I may have learned other things but nothing else has stuck. I assume History, though I remember nothing at all of that. We did knitting. I started with a dishcloth in yr3/4, than a hot water bottle cover and finally a stripy cardigan. I was very slow and took so long over my hot water bottle cover that I was last to choose the wool for my cardigan so it was turquoise and orange stripes. We also did needlework, or basically, embroidery so I could/can do chain stitch, daisy stitch., blanket stitch, stem stitch. Odd that I remember that but not the history. I expect I did more embroidery at home.

We did Singing Together from the radio so I still am able to sing some very odd tunes such as “Twankydillo”  and I imagine we did PE, though I can only remember country dancing and learning to waltz.

The headmistress was Miss Varney who became ill and was replaced by Mrs Swift. I remember it was though vaguely odd that a headmistress could be married.

Mrs O’Donaghue (Yr 3) Was quiet & pleasant and had the joy of dealing with me being sick all over my desk. That’s all I can remember.

Miss Hayes (Yr 3/4) had permed blonde hair and those strange upswept glasses that were popular in the 60s. She seemed stern and got very cross with me once when she told us we would finish off our arithmetic before doing needlework and I pulled a face. She threatened me with extra maths instead of needlework which would have suited me just fine as it was actually the needlework I was pulling a face at. Never assume you know what is going through a child’s mind.

Mrs James (Yr 4/5) was a motherly figure, who read us Just So stories and Puck of Pook’s Hill and was disappointed in me for getting a couple of maths questions wrong.

The year 5/6 teacher was Miss Davidson. Tall, stout, stern and wonderful. She also taught music and I remember her being very, very insistent that we should be singing “O Lord” and not “Oh Lard” in hymns. To this day I cannot stand poor enunciation. Looking back, I can see that the school was her life. We were her last class as she retired the Christmas when we were due to move into the top class and into another school as our buildings were going to be demolished. She cried, we cried. We knew where she lived and carried on visiting for a few years to chat and drink orange squash. We used to do weekly tests in the class and sit according to our results, top at the back, bottom at the front. The very idea makes me shudder now.

At Christmas we used to learn the parts from the gospels used in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College and I can still recite them from memory. (Also poems).

We still had the 11 plus back then and did regular practices, though I can’t remember there being the type of pressure there is now with either the current 11+ or SATs. The school actually did very well.

The Christmas of year 6 the juniors moved to another school.

The town had a Grammar School and two secondary moderns. Comprehensive education was in its infancy and there was a comprehensive in the next town. The Grammar school was moving to a brand new building and as a knock on effect, the secondary moderns were amalgamated and moved into the grammar school buildings. One of them from an old stone building, which was also to be demolished, and the other from a newer building that we were moving into along with the local boys’ junior school. So, after three and a bit years in a girls only junior school at 10 and 11 were moved into a school with BOYS!!! It was all a bit of a shock to the system. We got over it quite quickly though and developed small, unrequited crushes then got on with our work.

adwick road school2The school was newer and different. Our class was housed in a separate classroom with its own cloakroom and toilets. We still had only a tarmac playground, though bigger and not on a slope and still no playing field. This was my first encounter with a stationery cupboard. A few of us were allowed the immense privilege of organising it, sorting all the books, paper, art supplies, pencils, pens, rubbers, rulers. It was bliss.

Our new teacher was Mrs Thompson who had lived in South Africa for a while.

Finally a couple of school reports to show how short they were back then. report-7report-8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were only there for two terms before we moved on to big school. I, most of my friends and a few of the boys passed the 11+ and went to the (new, shiny) Grammar School, some who did well, but not enough to pass went to the comprehensive and the remainder to the secondary modern, the old grammar school)  just around the corner. I have to say, I never gave the kids who failed another thought.

Please feel free to add any memories of your own in the comments.


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When I were a lass

After my Infant School post I was going to move straight on to Junior School but I thought some background context might be useful.

This isn’t going to be a carefully structured, well-thought-out post, more random musings as I remember things.

I grew up in a small market town in South Yorkshire that was surrounded by pits. Back

cadeby

This is the pit where both my grandfathers worked

then, it was reasonably prosperous as such places go. (When I went back last year it was dingy and run down. I already knew that all the places I played as a child had been built on but there wasn’t really anything left. Every school I had attended had been demolished. But that’s all beside the point)

The vast majority (of men) were employed and it was normal for women to leave work after they had children. The jobs were mainly in mining, both my grandfathers and one of my uncles were miners, and there was a large locomotive loco (railway locomotive maintenance and stabling depot), though this closed in the mid sixties. My dad was a railway fireman. He started as a cleaner at 17 or so after leaving the local technical college and ended up, before he retired in the early 90s driving InterCity 125s. My mum went back to work in some kind of factory after I was born and I was looked after by my grandma. She gave up work after my brother was born four years later. For the first three or four years we lived with my grandma (My granddad died when I was 2 or so) in a council house but then bought a small terraced house.

The house we moved into was a terrace with three bedrooms a front room and a living kitchen. No bathroom (It had been built in 1924) and no heating apart from coal fires. I’m not sure if there were fireplaces in the bedrooms. For cooking, we had a built in coal oven in an enamelled range (rather than the cast iron ones that were still in some houses) ovenThe nearest I can find to what it looked like was this. We also had a 2 ring gas burner and a geyser for hot water. There was only a cold tap. Over time (don’t ask me when) we had a bath installed in the kitchen in the alcove next to the chimney. And a back boiler installed to heat water. My dad boxed it in with a lid to cover it when it wasn’t in use and when we had a bath we used a clothes horse covered in a blackout curtain to screen us off from the rest of the family.

There was an outside toilet, not too far from the back door rather than across a yard. We kept a paraffin lamp in there to heat the pipes in winter.

Again, over time a bathroom was added, with some sort of government grant, and eventually central heating, though that may not have been until after I left home. We had no phone (hardly anyone did. If we needed to we used the phone box at the bottom of the street), no fridge and the TV had 2 channels.

We played out a lot. You had to be careful where you played and often be careful how much noise you made as there were always people on night shift. As well as in the street, where it was reasonably safe to play because there were very few people in the street with cars, there was plenty of waste ground to play on. Having looked at old maps these tended to be places that had previously been used as quarries or clay pits though there was a big park nearby with hawthorn bushes along the side to make dens.

Kids tended to play out together in mixed age groups. The older ones looked after the smaller ones. Any adults around kept half an eye on everybody. Disagreements sometimes ended in physical fights without any serious harm done.

We walked to school from quite an early age, but there was far less traffic then. Lots of corner shops, in fact they were on pretty much every corner. Within easy walking distance of our house I can remember a couple of grocers, a post office, an off-licence (beer-off), a butchers, a newsagents a chip shop, 2 cobblers, a Co-op which was a big grocers where you could buy sugar or “best” butter by the pound.

We also had a “potato man” come round every Friday delivering vegetables with one side of his van open & laid out like a market stall. The milk was delivered by a woman pulling a sort of electric handcart.

I spent a lot of time at the library in town and had pretty much read my way through the children’s library by about 11, not difficult if you’re getting through a book a day. You encyclopediaweren’t allowed to have an adult ticket until you were 14 so my dad let me use one of his tickets. You weren’t allowed to join until 5 (I think?) but although I was too young I proved I could read so they let me. I did have books of my own and I got a lot of information from Arthur Mees’s Children’s’ Encyclopaedia which was in 10 large volumes (most of Volume 10 was the Index) which I think had been published in 1920 something. At first I was only allowed Volume 1 but that got so tatty from my reading it my parents eventually relented and let me have the rest.

buntyI also was given comics by the boy who lived next door to my Grandma so I was well versed in boys’ comics such as Hotspur, Valiant and (possibly) Rover which was mostly text stories. At home I got Bunty (best bit was Bunty’s Cut Out wardrobe on the back page)

I went to Brownies at St George’s Church Hall. After the meeting we used to go to the nearby shop & buy a bag of crisps. When you bought them they had a small screw of blue paper with salt. I remember getting excited when you could first but cheese & onion crisps as well as plain. Other sweets Spangles, Penny Arrows (I liked the banana split ones), Kayli (sp?) A summer treat was frozen Jubbly.

Anyway. To finish, because I don’t really know how to finish. Things change. You don’t notice them all that much while it’s happening. I grew up,  went to university (family first), discovered a whole other world. Looking back I realised this way of growing up was similar for many, many years. The war may have speeded up development of some things but may have slowed down others. Going back now, I can hardly recognise the place. It has changed, both in the way places change over time and in a wholly different way because I think the heart has been ripped out of towns like that. It’s changed from a busy bustling town with a purpose to a collection of houses and run down shops with no direction. Apparently the HS2 line is scheduled to go right through a new housing estate there. That’s pretty awful for the people living there but I think the real damage was done years ago.