Archive for the ‘School’ Category

56 up – the early effect of parents

The Up series has moved on to look at the 56 year old participants and what’s most interesting is, as always, the enduring influence that the various parents have had on their offspring.

What’s less obvious is how significant that parental support early on had. It was fairly obvious that the upper class kids would end up doing quite well but that’s not necessarily a function of them being upper class but rather that their parents were able to provide a level of support that was more difficult to provide for the less well off parents. Moreover, in the social circles in which they moved, there was the expectation that one would work hard at school, in university and in one’s life thereafter.

The effect of parental support is much more clearly seen in the different lives of Tony and Nick. Although they both started off in very much working class homes (Tony in London, Nick in the country), their lives have turned out quite differently. Where they are now and how they got there seems to reflect the different type of ambitions that their parents supported so many years ago. Nick basically started with what might be termed working-class ambitions (ie he concentrated on getting a particular job) whereas Nick looked beyond that and is now a professor in an American university (ie he concentrated on what might be possible if he worked hard).

The parents aren’t involved in the series but it seems likely that the parents of both Tony and Nick had pressure from friends and family to have their respective children stick to working-class ambitions. Nick’s parents rose above that and so did their son.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Changes in the traffic flow over the summer

In the midst of school terms, you can depend on traffic jams each day at 9am and from before 3pm through to around 4pm followed by a minor lull before the next traffic jam gets going around 5pm.

It’s radically different over the summer. Gone is that 9am traffic jam and, around here anyway, the jam kicks in around 30 minutes earlier and presumably is a bit worse as you’ve got the normal work traffic plus the people who’d have been on the road after dropping off the kids. Thankfully, the 3pm-4pm peak is gone though the latter jam also seems to be that much worse as the school pickup people are also on the road in the latter slot.

The plus point for me is that my earlier start means that the flexi time clocks up quite a bit over the summer which in turn means that I can take an extra couple of days off over that period. That’s if I stick to my normal school-run wake-up time and don’t start lying in, of course.


Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Aren’t school uniforms expensive?

With James leaving primary school, his school uniform has changed from a relatively simple affair to something considerably more complex and expensive.

In its place there’s:

  • a Blazer (badged)
  • Black trousers (OK, no big change there)
  • White Shirt
  • House tie (new addition)
  • Black socks
  • Black shoes (by which they mean “proper” shoes)
  • An overcoat or raincoat of formal style (gone is the anorak)

The PE kit has gone from a really simple t-shirt, shorts and gutties to the somewhat more involved:

  • Canterbury games shirt (badged)*
  • Canterbury games shorts (badged)*
  • Canterbury games socks (badged)*
  • Canterbury tracksuit (badged)*
  • Canterbury PE t-shirt (badged)*
  • Canterbury PE shorts (badged)*
  • Plain white socks
  • Trainers (non marking)
  • Rugby boots

And the price has gone from something like £50 or so to £273 which doesn’t even include the shoes, trainers, rugby boots or overcoat. That said, supposedly many of the items will last him a few years so it’s not an annual expensive, though neither was the £50. We suspect that at least part of that price rise is down to the significant reduction in the number of outlets offering the uniform as compared to the primary school but there is a whole lot more stuff that he needs too.

We’ve decided to leave purchase of the trousers until August as he generally grows out of those every year so we’ll likely end up getting a size larger than we would if we’d bought it now.


Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Publishing on Amazon

I’ve a few things that I’ve been toying with pulling together into book shape so last week I thought I’d see what was involved in putting them on Amazon. As I’d James’ school project sitting on the computer in good shape, that turned out to be the easiest thing as our first attempt in publishing.

So, step 1, get the book into an appropriate format. They accept a whole range of formats including the normal wordprocessing (e.g. DOC) ones, ebook formats and PDF. I list PDF separately as it’s probably the worst format to use if you’re publishing to Kindle since they have to run their OCR software on it to pick out the words which is asking for trouble as they don’t need to do that for any of the other formats. In theory, your best bet is an ebook format as that’ll let you add the appropriate chapter and section headings to be included in the table of contents but I think you can do that via the DOC format too. For our first attempt, I took the lazy approach and used DOC and didn’t bother with a clickable table of contents, though I will add one later.

Step 2, is to register with the Amazon publishing platform for which you can use your existing Amazon account. A related stage to that is to register for tax which you may as well do upfront though you could wait until the payments start rolling in.

Once you’ve registered, you’re set to upload your first book. The first step asks you to create a cover for it and they’ve a rudimentary cover creation application to do that online which was certainly good enough for our first attempt but you’d want to put more effort into it if you were publishing a more serious book. Next, you upload your book and finally you set the price and format. Everything’s priced in dollars by default but you can set prices for individual countries. If the price is above £2.99 you can set a 70% commission rate but otherwise you get 35%. You can even add an optional print on demand option which will let you produce a paperback version when someone orders it but they charge $2.50 for that so obviously your price needs to be more than that; in practice I just ran with the Kindle version as it’s just a trial.

Finally, you click on “save and publish”, wait a few seconds and you’re away. Well, it puts your book in the system but it takes about 12 hours before it appears on the site.

So, if you want to buy James’ book, just click on Une Année en France.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Streaming and Setting – good idea or bad one?

Streaming in schools is the separation of cohorts into two or more classes of broadly equal ability thus you typically get a low, middle and high ability class in each year. The alternative to this is mixed ability classes. Setting applies at the level of individual subjects thus a child might be in the middle ability class for most things, but move to either the high or low ability class for maths or English.

The advantages of streaming are that it lets teachers adjust the level of teaching to the ability of those within each ability range. Thus, the complexity of the topics will typically be higher in the high ability class than in the low ability one. Generally, the low ability class will have additional support requirements and these will be concentrated in that class. In the high ability class, lessons will tend to stretch the pupils. One downside of this structure is that the distribution of ability isn’t even and, in general, the high and low ability classes would ideally have about 1/4 of the pupils with the middle class having half of them so, in practice, there would be two middle classes. Unfortunately, schools don’t always have enough pupils to do that and would more generally run with three classes at most. The other notable downside of it is that those in the bottom class can get labelled as the dummies which isn’t fair as there are lots of reasons that they can be in that class and also because it’s not necessarily a permanent position for them. Setting is much the same and is essentially a fine tuning of the streaming structure.

Mixed ability classes avoid that stigmatism in that low, middle and high ability pupils will be in each class. Where it falls down is that the teaching tends to be towards the middle which is too high for those who’d otherwise be in the low ability class and too low (hence boring) for those who’d normally be in the high ability class. It avoids the motivation issue of having teachers constantly teaching the low ability class and often working very hard with no real progress from their pupils to show for it.

The kids primary school has been doing streaming and setting for P4-7 for around four years now, so the first of the kids who’ve worked right through that are at the point of moving to their next school. It was introduced by the previous principal and vice-principal (she’s leaving this year) and seems to have worked quite well. Unfortunately, the new principal is quite opposed to it and so they’re dropping it as from September which is a particularly bad time for our second little guy, so bad in fact that we are considering changing schools.

Why is it so bad? Well, the lower class has a tendency to be quite disruptive and that’s a major downside for teaching. Teaching in the school seems certain to end up teaching for the needs of those at the lower ability levels to the detriment of those of average or higher levels of ability.

Why are they doing it? It seems that the new principal just doesn’t like streaming and setting and the teachers lumbered with the lower classes have a hard time. What it doesn’t address are the needs of those of middle and higher abilities, many of whom will either be put off by the disruption or simply get bored.

It doesn’t even adequately address the needs of those at the lower ability or rather lower attainment levels. In the school, their problems include English as an additional language and general lack of parental support and encouragement. In families with English as an additional language it is both difficult for the pupil in school and for the parents in terms of homework and general interaction with the school – mixed ability classes will not help either. Lack of parental support and encouragement isn’t exclusive to immigrants, of course, and the school really needs to do all it can about that but mixed ability classes just average down the teaching and, if anything, discourage those at the lower end of the ability range who can easily come to see any progress as impossible when they’re surrounded by people miles ahead of them.

What really gets us is that they announced the new policy following a consultation where the majority of parents and teachers said that mixed ability classes would be best for their child. Except, that’s not what even their, highly misleading, statistics said. Taking the very same results, it can be argued that the parents and teachers want streaming and setting. And that’s even after an incredibly poor and biased analysis of the consequences of streaming and setting was distributed with the initial consultation questionnaire. Subtract the bias, add in some valid statistics and the result would have been quite different.


Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.