Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

Archive for October 2009

Dear tooth fairy, I know you’re busy but…

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tooth fairy

Can I ask you a couple of questions, please?

Children. You’ve got to love them. I love how they exude innocence and how they take matters such as losing a tooth VERY SERIOUSLY.

It is a matter of celebration when a tooth, after weeks of wobbliness and to-ing and fro-ing in the mouth, eventually plops onto their little hand.

Celebration because not only does it mean the delivery of 50p or £1 (or whatever the going rate is in your area) in exchange for the discarded tooth, but it means a VIP will be arriving that evening: the tooth fairy.

For both of my children that has meant great excitement. They love the magic of it all (how does she get in? Where does she take the teeth?), but their curiosity gets the better of them.

They – like many children – want to get to know their visitor. So, each time a tooth has been lost, a questionnaire is left for the tooth fairy to fill in – if she’s not too busy, of course.

We’ve had Tiffany visit a couple of times – and last night it was her friend Pepper, aged 7, from Beech Tree. Her favourite food is a peach and she has brown eyes and hair. Her favourite colour is red.

A new fairy to our house! The excitement was so strong you could taste it.

But there is one final question: what do they do with all those teeth?


Written by CommonPeople

October 30, 2009 at 10:27 am

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Shame on Serco and the Schools’ Adjudicator

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This time last week, everything was clear in my mind.

As the parent of a Year 6 pupil, I had weighed up the pros and cons of each available secondary school; done the research; deconstructed the “lies, damn lies and statistics” over GCSE results etc; spent a total of ten hours walking around the establishments.

As a family, we’d discussed what would be good for our daughter. Our daughter said what her preferred options were. There were negotiations, UN-style.

But, with a week to go before the secondary preference forms (note the word “preference”. There is no parental “choice”), Serco, the organisation that runs education services in Walsall dropped a bombshell.

Thousands of us – all parents of Year 6 children in Walsall  – received a letter last Saturday to tell us that a rather important change had been made to one school’s admission policy.

One week before our forms have to be handed in.

Thanks to the Schools Adjudicator, the admission criteria for one secondary school – Shire Oak School – had been changed with immediate effect.

The adjudicator, Dr Elizabeth Passmore, agreed with objectors from a nearby primary school in neighbouring Staffordshire that the Shire Oak’s primary partner status did not pass muster.

Under the partnership, Shire Oak works with ten primary schools in the borough, helping with maths and science projects, getting youngsters from year 5 and up engaged in the subjects.

It is a partnership – not a feeder arrangement. While there were never any guarantees that those children from the partner schools would gain a place there, they did have an advantage because primary partner school was part of the admissions criteria.  It was criterion four – above the distance criterion that most schools impose.

But Dr Passmore – for a myriad reasons – made a determination that the criterion must not stand and must be removed this year. The decision advantages approximately 20 children at the school that appealed against the decision to the detriment of the 400+ children in the partnership.

It means for those of us who were including the school as one of the five preferences, we are now significantly disadvantaged. I – and many of my friends – do live outside of the catchment area (children on average live 2.132 miles from the school, as the crow flies).

The removal of this criterion now means we have much less chance of getting our children to this school.

Serco disagrees.

“No allocations have been made and no pupils will be disadvantaged by the decision taken by the Schools Adjudicator. The adjudicator’s decision is final and relates to the admission arrangements for Shire Oak College only, the admission arrangements for other Walsall schools are unaffected and remain unchanged,” said a spokesman.

Everyone disagrees with the fact that pupils will not be disadvantaged – the headteacher of Shire Oak, the headteachers of the primary schools affected, the parents and the local councillors all believe that there are significant numbers of children whose chances have been depleted because of the determination.

If the decision were not bad enough, parents have had to deal with Serco about this. At no point did the organisation, which won a 12-year contract to run education services in Walsall, think it a good idea to tell parents about the appeal that was lodged in July.

This was done, said Avril Walton, assistant managing director, because they did not want to “confuse” and “upset” parents unnecessarily.

Most of the time, the Schools Adjudicator determines no change when an appeal is lodged, she said. If we had been concerned about this, we might not have handed in our preference forms in on time.

This attitude has been cricitised severely by parents – including me – who have accused Serco of having treated them with contempt over the issue.

Even the adjudicator seems to have assumed that those affected by the outcome would have been informed.

Serco stands accused of distancing itself from this decision, which can only be overturned by judicial review or going to the Ombudsman, and failing to understand how parents might feel.

Its cavalier attitude towards the parents has deeply concerned many of us and has compounded the decision made by the adjudicator.

While the adjudicator has wrecked the chances of our children getting places at this school, the company running the education in the borough of Walsall has stood by without thinking of the consequences.

Shame on both of them.

Written by CommonPeople

October 24, 2009 at 8:45 am

“Mum, what’s less than nothing?”

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I asked on Twitter what were the most bizarre/profound and  – frankly – gobsmacking questions your children have asked you.

This was after my seven-year-old son asked me at 6.15am today: Can there be anything less than nothing? Because if there is, nothing must be something.

Here is the list so far:

“If a wizard was reading a book of spells would it be fiction or non-fiction?” (@PeterLisney)

“Mum, what’s genitalia?” (my son)

“Mum…Who invented the magnet?” @LibaLibaLikeIt (check out all the tweets – they are adorable! They include such great questions as: Mum…Why do ninjas wear masks?)

Three-year-old: “What is my voice?” @nickynackynoo

My 6yr old to @tobybarnes “Dad, what if my superpower was Blu-Tac ??”. (via @mrsemilybarnes) courtesy of @katehughes

Luka: What’s in my ears? Mummy: Earwax. Luka: [30 seconds later] Daddy, have you got earwigs in your ears? (@simonapps)

Three-year -old nephew asked where the latest baby in the family had come from and why can’t you just take him back? (@katesull)

Mine didn’t ask where babies came from, they asked where parents came from. As in, “Don’t know where you’re coming from Dad!” (@HarryJA)

Daughter woke me up once with the question: so how *do* they decide what makes a continent anyway? At half five I don’t know. (@soba_girl)

I was once asked “If the planets are magnetic, why don’t they all stick together?” (@genzaichi)

Why does the alphabet ALWAYS have to be in alphabetical order? It’s so boring. (@FionaJoseph).

5-yr-old on loo: “Can I live here forever?” “Darling, you’ll grow up,have your own house.” “Can’t I stay till I’m old, die and go to Jesus?” (@amyrb)

Driving along last week, 11-year-old son asked me what a sex shop was (@tapdiva)

Is it true that you can land on a cloud? (@tapdiva)

Who made God? (@Schoolgate)

6 yr old to their mum: “If I die, will you kill yourself?!” (via @Schoolgate)

“After you’re dead, if you are really sorry (not just the kind of sorry you say to get out of your room), would God forgive you?” (@Bonnygirl)

my hubb’ys fav q fromdaughter is GUESS WHAT HAPPENED TODAY? eeerrrmmm (@mumumumumum)

From son in bath, ‘Why does my willy float?’. Does anyone actually know the answer? (@simonapps)

“Mum, what would happen if the cat saw a monkey?” (@tracey_q)

“If I threw some milk into space, would it turn into cheese?” (@JayneHowarth)

When my parents told me I was having a brother or sister I demanded a twin sister (@FBrotherston)

A friend has reminded me of a question/remark my daughter made when she was very young (about six) because of my repeated refusal to take her to McDonald’s: “Mum, how old do you have to be to drive?” Me: “17. Why?” Her: “Because I’m going to pass my test at 17 and drive to McDonald’s…”

My four-year-old dort asks the best Guess Who? questions – ‘Has your person got happy eyebrows?’ (@jvictor7)

“Does milk come out of cow’s bottoms?” (four-year-old to @LauraAWNTYM) … I said, “There are these things called udders” … “Are they like willies?” he said.

The funny things they say

Not a question, but what the heck – great responses!:

4yo: Why can’t you drive your car when you’ve had beer?” Me: ” Cos beer means u can’t drive well.” 4yo: “Well then u just need to practise more!” @knightys

Child #2: ‘Dad, have you seen Mum’s new glasses? They say ‘fercuck’ on the side’. (They are French Connection. It says FCUK). @EnglishMum

Lilian watching me shave: “this’ll mean it’ll not be spicy (sic) when you kiss me”. Me: “And mummy”. Lil: “Does mummy shave?” (@Hardyduncan)

Me: Oscar, do you know why Daddy shut you in your room? Oscar: Yes, ’cause I swiped Daddy. Me: And have you anything to say for yourself? Oscar: Yes, I… I’ve seen the error of my ways. Sorry! Sorrysorry sorry! (Andrew Davies via Facebook)

Son “I like grapes and I like fruit so I will like grapefruits” sadly this theory did not come true. (@childrensjewell)

Me to husb: I’ll be OK to have 1 glass of wine if I’m driving? 4yo said: “No, it’ll spill. Put it in an empty Fruit Shoot bottle.” (@LesleyS_S)

Brother: We’re going on holiday to wales. 3 yr old: But don’t wales live in the sea? (@petehitchman)

Mum – “uncle Pete & his girlfriend have fallen out” Girl – “fallen out of the door or the window?” (@petehitchman)

Please, keep ’em coming!

Written by CommonPeople

October 23, 2009 at 7:41 am

Posted in Jayne's posts

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Picture Perfect Meme

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by Nby P The children have risen to the challenge set by Tara Cain to draw a pic of mum.

I’m rather delighted that I am smiling on both, seeing as I’m a sour old so and so most of the time!

The drawing on the left is by my soon-to-be 8-year-old; the one on the right by my 10-year-old.by N aged 5 I couldn’t resist adding the one below, which was done by my son when he was 4 or 5 – far more realistic!

Written by CommonPeople

October 16, 2009 at 10:00 am

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A steep learning curve

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There have been two very interesting stories this week about young children in education. And although not related, have raised some questions about how five-year-olds in England should be schooled.

The first, seemingly depressing article, described how disruptive infant pupils were being “labelled” as “naughty” and installed into a vocational centre.

The other was a call from Cambridge Primary Review, which called for a move from formal education for those under six to play-centred curriculum.

So – in the first article, we learn that children as young as five (perhaps unfairly labelled in the piece as “drop-outs”) are being taken to specialist centres so that they can address their challenging behaviour.

The danger, as far I can see, is that taking a child away from its peers and separating them already labels them as different. Children know this, of course, and their being labelled as “naughty” might well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Off_To_School_6172In the second, Dame Gillian Pugh warns that four- and five-year-olds are switching off from the learning process because the curriculum because it is too formal, particularly for those less able youngsters.

So, do you see the connection here?

Of course, the answer is not cut and dried. Education is never simple and there are wildly differing opinions as to the value of play in the curriculum.

There are educators who are passionate about allowing children the freedom to play – getting them to learn by stealth – while many are diametrically opposed to this approach, claiming it lacks a constructive element that youngsters need and is “uneducational”.

Parents are equally bemused by the options: while there is an understanding that play is central to a young child’s life – and that they can learn to count by using bricks and form letters by drawing in sand – they are equally demanding academic success.

It is important that our five-year-olds know the alphabet, can count to 20 and can have a good stab at writing their own name. Or is it?

We have become a target-driven society – there are prescribed academic standards for the smallest of children. The National Curriculum has imposed early learning goals that should be attained by the time they finish Foundation Stage (aged six).

There are six areas of development: PSE (personal, social and emotional) development; communication, language and literacy; problem solving, reasoning and numeracy; knowledge and understanding of the world; physical development and creative development.

Many of these goals are achieved through play-based learning. You can read all about the curriculum here.

In many European countries – including Wales – formal education isn’t introduced until a child is six or seven, yet their academic attainment is higher.

And therein lies the rub – for me at least: a balance of child-initiated play and adult-initiated play must be a good thing if it raises standards and youngsters are able to achieve basic academic skills that form the foundation stone of their learning.

Surely one doesn’t cancel out the other? I don’t want to see youngsters being taken out of schools, away from their friends, labelled as “different” at five. I want to see them supported – which means resources must be appropriate and available – and I want to see them achieve.

If that means offering them more play-based learning, so they can become more engaged and settled, so be it.

(I am not an educationalist; I am a mother of two primary school children and parent governor. Just so you know).

Written by CommonPeople

October 16, 2009 at 3:31 am

Are eco cleaning products worth the money?

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ecover Wow! Look what I’m going to review for you all. Thanks to those people at Ecover, I’ve been sent powerful degreaser (how did they know?), multi-surface cleaner, window and glass cleaner and all-purpose cleaner.

They have even sent some Flash, Mr Muscle and Cillit Bang to test it against.

It’ll take a little while to use them enough to test, but at least you know now that I’ll be a busy bee for a while cleaning and testing.

Do expect a fair and honest appraisal, though. I’m not in the game of giving praise where none is due!

In the meantime, if any of you have used these products (there are a couple I have used before) and would like to comment, please do so.

Happy cleaning.

Written by CommonPeople

October 15, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Reviews

Best banana cake EVER

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Best Banana Cake EVER


3 ripe bananas (about 400g)

150g softened butter

80g sultanas (optional)

300g plain flour

2tsp  baking powder

½tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 eggs, lightly beaten

80ml sunflower oil


Preheat oven to 180C (350F, gas mark 4).

Butter a 900g loaf tin.

Peel and mash the bananas.

Mix butter and sugar together until fluffy, then stir in the bananas and sultanas.

Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and add it to the banana mix, along with the beaten eggs, beating well as you go along.

Add the oil and mix well.

Pour into loaf tin and cook for 45 minutes (mine sometimes takes up to one hour).

Recipe: Cooking For Kids (The Guardian)

Written by CommonPeople

October 6, 2009 at 6:47 am

Posted in cake

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