Our school Parent Forums used to the place where parents brought their grumbles in confidence to the school governors, who duly passed them on to the teaching staff. Nowadays, they are an opportunity for senior staff to communicate anything pressing to parents first hand. The headmaster himself appeared at this week’s Forum, to tell us about the school’s improved results since our unsatisfactory OFSTED report this time last year, making it the Most Improved School in the borough. Most of us present were, as usual, parents of children who were doing just fine anyway academically, unsatisfactory OFSTED or not, so just in case we were wondering if this improvement came at the expense of the “non-core” subjects we probably care about most, he finished with a defence of the school’s on-going commitment to music sport art and so on.
Over half-term my son attended a club at a neighbouring state primary; a few days later I circulated a photo of that school’s impressive weekly after-school schedule to the PSA, thinking it spoke for itself. In producing a similar table for our school that evening, I kind of suspected that the head was responding to me.
If so, he was missing the point; his list was just the extra activities our kids do, mostly during the school day. Now, I’m the last parent in the world to insist on organised after-school activities just for the sake of them. If a primary-school child is happy quietly reading, drawing or making stuff at home; hanging out with friends or otherwise engaged in social or creative activity, then that’s what he/she should be free to do from 3.30 to whenever they fall asleep at night as far as I am concerned.
But if a child has a tendency, as most KS2 children do given the chance, to spend those 5-6 after-school hours glued speechless and immobile to a screen, then they must be accompanied away from it, for an hour or two every night if possible. What better way than to a fun after-school club doing something they find they enjoy, perhaps almost as much!?
And of course, that’s what those children are doing (those academically-able ones, again) whose parents ferry them around to local tennis, ballet, art and music clubs after school – or get their nannies/au pairs to do it for them. So here’s my second point; the children who miss out when these (alternative-to-screen) activities don’t happen on the school’s site are the children who need them most. Schools are being short-sighted, believing this provision secondary to their core objectives. One of the clubs at the school we were visiting – the one which first caught my son’s eye – was the Lego club. Cor! I saw his think-bubble. My best mate and I would have been in there like a shot every night.
Lego is great, isn’t it? a 3 D puzzle you can play with afterwards. My son has been an enthusiast since he was four, and I am sure it has played its part in his general maths-and-science competence so far; not least his pre-literate ability to follow complex instructions. But it’s expensive. And the better they get at it, the more expensive it is, right? His first school friend, equally if not even more addicted, has not had access to a fraction of the Lego models that my son has, over the years. He’s also a rather shy boy; with far less experience of clubs generally, not as easy a mixer as mine. For him, an Early-Years and KS1 Lego club could have been transformative in more ways than one, in a way that would show up, too, eventually, in school SATS results.
One PSA Y4 mother asked the head what the school does to prepare children in the upper years for entry tests to selective state or private secondary schools. Nothing, he replied, politely firm. They just practice for their SATS in Y6. When he’d gone the parent governor advised the same mum to start preparing for that sort of thing privately from Y5 “because SATS results come out after you’ve got your secondary school place.” A fine state of affairs, I thought, if our inner-city state primary gradually becomes a feeder for posh-selectives, and under pressure from mums like this one, even prepares selected kids accordingly; marketing itself, like the prep schools do, on its success rate. Little by little, that is what is happening round here, to all the state primaries, I suspect.