Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

Posts Tagged ‘school

School shoes: the agony (and no ecstasy)

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I am trying very hard to be patient and to be understanding.

I remember the pain and the sorrow.

I remember all too well the stand-up rows I had with my mother about them: both sides adamant that the other was wrong; neither would back down. It was like the OK Corral, but in a shoe shop.

The reason for this grief?  School shoes. I recall the shelves heaving with dreadful footwear that *no one* would be seen dead in: the “sensible” lace-ups with delightful crepe soles; the t-bars that no one over the age of eight would wear.  No – what every secondary school girl wanted to wear was the patent pumps with big Minnie Mouse bows (am I showing my age?).

Unfortunately, my mother with one eye on her purse and the other on the perceived longevity of this fashion attire refused to say yes. What I needed, she assured me, was sensible leather shoes that would keep my feet dry when it rained, warm when it snowed and were still appropriate when the sun was shining.

But – I was a near teen, going into what is now Year 7 and I didn’t want little girl shoes. It was an argument we endured at least once a year (depending on how long the shoes lasted). I can’t remember who won. I imagine it was 50/50. Maybe.

Fast forward *cough* a few years and I am having the same issues with my daughter. She is about to go into secondary school and does not want sensible Clarks. Fine – I don’t rate them anyway. But we are definitely at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to deciding what’s appropriate.

Do you think these Alexander McQueen shoes will go with my uniform?

Thin soled ballet pumps – as far as I am concerned – aren’t going to last when you are walking a two and a bit-mile round trip five days a week in all weathers. She won’t touch the Hush Puppies and I do sympathise: most are hideous or just too young (adorned with butterflies or silver hearts).

History is repeating itself. The stand-offs are probably hysterical to an outsider. I’m having palpitations each time we enter a shop; her body language speaks volumes. She can’t even look the shop assistants in the eye. I just apologise continuously.

Oh, that I could fashion a pair of school shoes that were right for a girl on the edge of teendom!

A plea to shoe designers: please save me from the embarrassment of another ding-dong of a battle in the middle of a shop. Is it so hard to come up with leather shoes that can satisfy mums and their fashion-conscious daughters?

Excuse me for a moment. I’m just going for a lie down …


Written by CommonPeople

August 7, 2010 at 7:59 pm

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It’s the end of an era

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It’s not every week I find myself feeling a bit wobbly when doing the ironing.

I mean, I hate ironing and could cry each time I see the pile of clothing that needs doing.

But this week was different.

This week I ironed my daughter’s primary school uniform for the last time. And, look, I even took a photograph of it (except one shirt, skirt and cardigan, which she was already wearing by the time I got round to doing this).

Five small-ish shirts, two cardigans, a skirt, pair of trousers and a pair of culottes (you never know what the weather is going to be like). All done.

As I (kind of) ironed out the creases of each item, I thought back to how I first proudly ironed the aged 2-3 grey school skirt, crisp white polo shirts and bright red cardigan she wore when she first went to the school in nursery. Always desperate to grow up, she couldn’t wait to put on her uniform for “big” school.

Now we’re buying a proper blazer, garish tartan skirt, trousers from only one shop, a tie (five stripes showing, please, or she’ll be sent home), a PE kit to be worn for every sport known to man – including gum shield, and a “performing arts” kit.

I get a lump in my throat even thinking of her leaving the cosy environs of a primary school, a place where everyone knows each other and everyone is made to feel special.

I’m dreading the leavers’ service on Friday and know that I and my friends will be blubbering idiots at the end of it, while our partners laugh at our emotional outbursts.

But it’s the end of an era – and it’s all about to get very serious.

It’s all about to get very scary.

And she can’t wait.

Written by CommonPeople

July 19, 2010 at 2:26 pm

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Should lone parents go back to work when their child is 5?

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Here is a question that I doubt George Osborne can answer: what jobs are you expecting lone parents to get when their oldest child reaches the age of five and is at school?

In his emergency 2010 Budget, Osborne has declared that from October 2011, single parents will be expected to go out and find work when their little one enters Reception class.

Presumably, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to guarantee thousands of part-time, flexible jobs, 9.30-2.30 probably– perhaps term-time only.

Perhaps the remuneration will be sufficient to merit paying up to £10 a day for before-school or after-school care.
The salary will need to be good enough to make up for the fact that child benefit is to be frozen for three years from 2011.

The Government believes the new initiative to get lone parents back into work will save £380million by 2015 and will help 15,000 people into employment.


I’d love to believe that both the private and public sector will be falling over themselves to offer such ultra-flexible terms to those who need them. But it isn’t going to happen.

David Cameron visits a school

Is it?

Written by CommonPeople

June 22, 2010 at 10:37 pm

“So, what is your Britain’s Got Talent talent?”

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Should pupils be involved in the recruitment of staff at their schools?

Some teachers think not.

A survey by the NASUWT has decried the practice, claiming that panels of empowered youngsters have asked them frivolous questions as part of the interviewing process.

According to reports yesterday, teachers have been humiliated by the questions, which are in the vein of “if you could be on Britain’s Got Talent, what would your talent be?”

They claim they have been robbed of their dignity. They also claim the process is “dangerous”.

The union, which held its annual conference this weekend, claimed schools are guilty of democratising the relationship between teachers and children.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=teacher&iid=8076429″ src=”8/1/f/b/General_Election_b9d3.jpg?adImageId=12099130&imageId=8076429″ width=”500″ height=”319″ /]

There are inherent dangers with it, of course. But as a parent governor at a primary school, I hold my hand up and say we’ve done the same and it has worked exceedingly well, thank you.

The first time – as far as I am aware – that the governing body incorporated children in the recruitment process was a few years ago when we were appointing a headteacher. It was encouraged by the local authority and the diocese.

After the candidates had undergone a gruelling test, presentation and interview, they were unleashed onto the school council. All the candidates knew this was part of the process beforehand and children were given no more instruction than to offer insights into each candidate.

I cannot remember the questions they asked, but I am certain some may have been what NASUWT members have called “frivolous”. This is because children want to know if these adults who want to be in charge of their school are in tune with what they are thinking. They are keen to see if the adult is interested in them – or if they just want to run a business that happens to have children in it.

I am not sure youngsters would really understand answers to question of policy. Although if my memory serves me correctly, candidates were asked how they would deal with a child who is upset because of bullying.

It was an interesting insight into the personalities of these apparently child-centred adults.

The one thing that struck us on the interview panel was that the children drew very similar conclusions to us.

They had a good idea which of the candidates would fit in well with the school and those who would not; they liked the people who valued the children’s opinions and who interacted positively with them.

No one is suggesting that the successful candidate got the job because of the children’s interview, but their opinion helped.

The NASUWT complain that pupil panels can be demeaning, embarrassing and humiliating.

Like everything else in life, there need to be checks and balances and there are potential pitfalls – particularly when internal candidates are in the fray. But if they are used in a sensible way, they are a valuable asset to the recruitment process.

(I might also add that I happen to think the “Britain’s Got Talent” question is an excellent one. It tests an adult’s creativity and illustrates whether or not they are on the same wave length of their charges. I wish I could ask those kinds of questions on interview panels.)

Written by CommonPeople

April 4, 2010 at 4:32 pm

How my son’s fundraiser was boosted by Twitter

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The power of Twitter, eh?

Those of us who subscribe to the 140-character-a-time micro blogging site know how useful and how much fun the site can be.

And we know it doesn’t matter how much we might bang on about it, those who have no interest are not going to sign up.

But I am not going to apologise for this short blog post, which sings the praises of Twitter. Again.

I’ve already written about how Twitter got me involved with a fundraising project for the victims of the Haiti earthquake.

But kind-hearted tweeters also helped my son last week when his efforts to help a school fundraiser were – ahem – less than successful.

Youngsters at his school made bookmarks, crafted Scoobies and other arty items. My eight-year-old wanted to do his bit. He drew 23 pictures – stick men scoring goals; stick men reading and walking into bookcases; stick men telling jokes – and said he’d sell them for 5p or 10p.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=children+drawing&iid=3119792″ src=”6/e/5/f/Drawing_Children_8292.jpg?adImageId=10169355&imageId=3119792″ width=”234″ height=”230″ /]

He sold one. And one, older, pupil who should know better, told him his pictures were stupid. He was devastated.

I posted a message on Twitter, saying he’d sold a single, solitary picture. Why? Because I follow – and am followed by – quite a few “mummy bloggers”. I thought they’d understand.

There were reactions, naturally, but three tweeters: @DanSlee, @Dovefarm (who retweeted the message to her followers) and @MillfieldLammie were so touched by the mini tale that they PLEDGED MONEY FOR ONE OF HIS PICTURES.

Isn’t that just wonderful?

Of course, they sent the money, too. I won’t embarrass them by divulging how much they posted to us for the school’s Haiti fundraiser, but needless to say that my son would have needed to sell significantly more than the 23 he originally drew.

He thought they were kind and was pleased that grown-ups had recognised that children’s efforts – however small – were worthy of attention.

After a few hours of being down about his little pictures being rejected by his contemporaries, he was buoyant again.

For him, the power of Twitter was real.

Thank you for helping Haiti.

Written by CommonPeople

February 11, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Please, sir, I don’t want anymore…return of the junk in school dinners

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Today is Christmas lunch day at schools in Walsall. Tuck into turkey and trimmings (including sprout purée, although I’m fairly certain it isn’t meant to be puréed) and Christmas pud.

Unless you happen to be veggie (and not really vegetarian, either). For today, your Christmas meal will be the delightfully unfestive breaded small fry.

Merry bloomin’ Christmas to you, too.

A bit of effort would have been nice. Even a Quorn fillet as “pretend” turkey would have been good. After all, the authority uses the mycoprotein in other dishes for non-meat eaters throughout the year.

What would Jamie Oliver think?[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=school+dinner&iid=3407920″ src=”b/3/8/c/Awards_Room_At_d08a.jpg?adImageId=8340050&imageId=3407920″ width=”234″ height=”343″ /]

He spent months campaigning to get local authorities to ditch the junk – the turkey twizzlers, the smiley faces, the processed rubbish that required heating up and no skills.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=school+dinner&iid=1333634″ src=”9/7/4/4/Pupils_Make_The_e5b2.jpg?adImageId=8339988&imageId=1333634″ width=”234″ height=”162″ /]

Instead, he called for wholesome dishes: more meat and two veg; more pasta with homemade sauces; risotto; homemade burgers with salad. It was as cheap to produce as the junk, but better for the children – and for the cooks who could use their aptitude in the kitchen once more.

Out with junk

Walsall embraced this in September 2008. Out went the pressed-into-shapes cheap meats, the chips, the waffles and smileys. It blazed a trail. Approximately 15 per cent of youngsters in the borough are overweight, of whom four per cent are obese.

Something had to be done – and schools were in a good position to contributing towards a healthier borough.

Salad bars started to appear in schools, menus were devised that were not only healthier, but looked good and tasted good (nutritious vegetable curries; spag bol with hidden veg; pizza with homemade tomato sauce and more hidden veg).

In with junk?

But, a few weeks ago I spotted something: what was this? Waffles? Smiley faces? Sausage rolls? Back on the menu? Why would this happen?

The number of free school meals is rising in the town – there are now 4,620 children receiving free meals.

According to the report, Walsall Council Leader, Councillor Mike Bird said: “As a borough we have been particularly hard hit by the recession. A good nutritious meal at school is sometimes the only warm meal some children will have.”

That’s right, Mike. The only warm meal some children will have.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=gruel&iid=2544682″ src=”4/a/3/d/Gruel_Rations_95f3.jpg?adImageId=8340112&imageId=2544682″ width=”234″ height=”165″ /]

The authority serves about 7,000-8,000 meals a day. Isn’t it important, therefore, that the authority ensures the maximum nutrients per school meal? Wholewheat pasta bake? Good quality meat and well cooked vegetables? Filling rice dishes? Warming baked potatoes and a filling?

I was given a list of stats that showed the analysis of a three-week menu cycle, showing the proportion of key nutrients. It appeared to show that iron, vitamin A, fibre, protein, folic acid levels exceeded recommended guidelines over the three-week cycle.

I’m not a nutritionist,  but I did wonder why the analysis was not per meal, rather than an overarching view over three weeks. And does the nutritional value depend on what a child has chosen from that day’s particular menu?

But why processed smileys? Why processed waffles? Aren’t we reversing the good work of the past 18 months?

Apparently it is because pupils from ten schools were invited to suggest which food they would like to see on the menu. And – guess what? Smileys and waffles were requested.

The man who says “yes”

Guess what? The council said yes.

Chris Holliday, head of leisure and culture for Walsall Council said: “We’re always looking at ways of making school menus more appealing and nutritious. The menus for schools in Walsall meet all of the 14 nutrient standards for an average school lunch.

“We approached the manufacturers who were able to produce a waffle which is not flash-fried and can be served in compliance with the nutritional based standards. The smiley faces are flash-fried but we’re allowed within the standards to serve two flash fried items per week.

“Both items are oven baked with no additional fat. Waffles appear once and smiley faces twice in a three week cycle but children are offered a potato and bread option.

“We have at least two choices of vegetables that are provided each day and children can eat as many portions of vegetables and salad as they wish.”

Headteachers and cabinet members, however, were not consulted. I was told this was because the authority used a recognised nutritional programme and is guided by the School Food Trust.

One school cook I spoke to was concerned about the number of pastry dishes on the menus and the odd combinations of foods that are considered “balanced” by the authority.

Carb-busting cheese and potato pie and smiley faces anyone? Pizza and roast potatoes? Where’s the balance in that? (And why, while we are at it, are spaghetti hoops and beans – both carbs – considered to be be vegetables?)

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=gruel&iid=2544608″ src=”9/a/3/f/fe.jpg?adImageId=8340193&imageId=2544608″ width=”234″ height=”158″ /]

Can I have more? No thanks.

We have a duty to offer the best food we can afford to our children in the borough. If it is the only hot meal they are having a day, then for goodness sake make it wholesome tasting and looking. And get rid of the junk once and for all.

Written by CommonPeople

December 16, 2009 at 12:41 am

‘But I wanted to be Mary’: the politics of the school nativity

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"I wish mum hadn't complained about me not getting the main role"

It’s that time of year when parents run around like loons, finding last-minute costumes for the school nativity, Christmas production or festive service.

(I dread the letters that emerge out of the school bag a week after they were sent from a stressed teacher, asking for nigh-on impossible costumes. Especially when you realise you have two days’ notice to find a Major General uniform from 1844 or a Tudor-style dress, complete with ruff. And what have they got to do with Christmas, anyway?)

But, for some parents, it isn’t the costume that fills them with dread: it’s looking at the cast list.

Over the past few weeks, you might well have heard the complaints: “I see Tabitha is Mary AGAIN. She was Mary in Reception and took the lead singing role in Oliver last year.” Or: “I see it is the Smith/Jones/Peters [insert appropriate family name here] show again. Why do teachers always pick the same children?”

I certainly have.

I have had conversations with parents whose children are at different primary schools complaining that it was usually the same girls and boys who took the starring roles.

They were not bemoaning the fact their own son or daughter hadn’t been given the main part, but cast doubt on whether the schools offered the same opportunities to all.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=nativity+play&iid=3013096″ src=”9/8/a/d/Pennywell_Farm_Hosts_4ed8.jpg?adImageId=7846866&imageId=3013096″ width=”500″ height=”303″ /]

It was an interesting point: so, armed with neither evidence to support assertions nor an agenda, I asked the question on Twitter: do you think your school always chooses the same children for the lead roles in plays/team captains etc?

I posted the same query on Mummy Bloggers. It was also picked up by Jim Hawkins on Radio Shropshire and he had parents contact him in droves.

The responses were interesting, to say the least.

One caller to Jim claimed that when she was an active member of the PTA, her children were given main roles; when she left, they were no longer considered for major parts. Coincidence? Who knows.

Others were insistent it didn’t happen. A few callers suspected it did.

Here are some responses I received:

Yep, the same girl at my sisters grammar got picked every year. It’s always the kids with the starry names too! At my school it was Antoinette. She got to play Eliza Dolittle-she’d actually left our secondary school, but they brought her back to play it! (Claire)

At our school it’s always the same kids who get the lead roles and while we all moan and groan about it, they are the kids who have charisma on stage and are capable of remembering all those lines! (muummmeee)

I don’t think this goes on at Amy’s school, but I do believe it goes on at another school I know of. It also seemed to be the same kids with the better roles – the ones that have all the best lines and all the best scenes etc. I remember mentioning it once and was hit with excuse after excuse about the fact that some kids are just shy and others really want to be in the limelight. But you could guarantee whatever the play, the “shy” kids were never given a chance. Shame. (Crystal Jigsaw)

I think at my daughter’s school they definitely choose the same children over and over for the big speaking parts. I think that’s because they are the loudest, but that does mean other kids don’t get a crack. Until you know that you can stand up in front of the lower school and say a handful of lines…you don’t know it. (Jennifer Howze)

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=school+nativity&iid=4586952″ src=”d/7/d/a/Nativity_Play_9ce6.jpg?adImageId=7847112&imageId=4586952″ width=”380″ height=”290″ /]

There are some children who shine on stage. Should we turn it around and say they shouldn’t have the opportunity to do that so a child who doesn’t gets to have the main part? I’ve sat through countless school productions and I’ve noticed the ones who are good in shows are the ones who are most comfortable on stage. Not all children want to be in the spotlight.Our school is excellent at ensuring there are five or six decent parts for the oldest children. They also give solos to the ones who are good at singing. It’s lovely to see someone you perhaps thought of as quite shy singing like an angel. (Deb)

Other comments via Twitter included:

So far, they’ve been really fair at my kids’ school, with kids who don’t have parts in one play getting them in next one … Last year someone was really put out their daughter wasn’t Mary & told us all. Pathetic. (@VWallop)

If they think that is a big ‘problem’ then they need a reality check (@LindaSJones)

It’s a snapshot; it’s not scientific; for me, it is an interesting topic for discussion.

I hate unfairness and hate to think that a school teacher would favour one child over another, although I know/strongly suspect it goes on in SOME schools.

I know that there are a goodly number of children who aren’t interested in the starring role; some prefer to be the giraffe (I know, in a nativity, too. How does that work?) or the third tree on the left, but there are many who want to be given a chance, if only their teachers would offer them encouragement.

Let’s give those shy children – who deep down would love to be given  a chance to shine on stage as Mary, Joseph or the inn keeper – a chance. It might just give them the boost they need.

What do you think?

(two photos of nativity courtesy of PicApp)

Written by CommonPeople

November 26, 2009 at 4:33 am