Everything you didn't want to know about British Schools
There are days I think I need to invest in some hats or buzz my head so I can navigate the school grounds incognito. Or at least somewhat inconspicuously. I'm home from another school engagement, filled with the defeat of awkward conversations and a desperation to just meet someone that I can talk to without my social filter. And let's be honest, my social filter isn't that good to begin with, and I often find most people far too serious and not nearly interested enough in food.
This morning was open classroom for the school, so the parents show up, mingle over coffee and tea, and then have a look at their kid's classroom and work. Unfortunately, we couldn't go straight into their classrooms until everything was all settled, so there was the forced 20 minutes of mingling. UGH. I hate being that person that uses her phone as her +1, but I also hate trying to decide who won't be bothered to talk to you, who won't be annoying to talk to, or who might actually be interested in talking with you. I also hate looking like I'm constantly looking for someone to talk to or wandering aimlessly. Do you see how there's just no winning in this situation? Anyway, I managed several polite conversations about how we are "settling in" but these are also boring as hell because I could have this conversation in my sleep. I keep waiting to get past these conversations, but either I don't know how, or they don't know how. I don't know who to blame. Towards the end of our wait, I was talking with 2 other women. One was quite chatty, friendly - the other I cannot for the life of me get a read on. Well, the Miss Friendly suddenly needs to check out the uniform sale, and I'm left with Miss Britishly Indifferent. We both try to start a conversation. We both fail. There is a minute of silence, and then she too has something she needs to attend. I wander outside and resort to instagram for comfort. The next moment I look up and find Miss Britishly Indifferent has actually returned to her place right where we had been chatting, only this time with more desirable peers. I tried not to laugh as I realize she had just wandered in a circle until I'd left and then went back to her place.
Now is probably a good time to say I have this fear that at some point, a parent from the school will discover this blog, so it's probably best that I keep my snark in check and identifying information to a minimum. I've been keeping my voxer chat groups up to date with my unedited versions of school life, so I forget that I haven't said much about it here. (Probably because I need auto-diplomat instead of auto-correct.) But let's face it, most of what I'm doing right now revolves around school. Something that probably needs to change, but that's another discussion.
Let's start with the obvious observation - drop off and pick up are much more social than any school my kids have previously attended. I'm sure this is a result of no bus transportation. We all gotta show up and make sure they arrive alive. And then we've all got to get them home again. And you don't just send them in the door, there is a procedure for each class and a meeting place where the teachers collect them. There are a fair amount of au pairs and grandparents in the mix, but overall, there's a mix of mums and dads always making this happen. I'm still sorting it out, but basically I think the UK has the US beat when it comes to making schedules more flexible for families. There are a lot of women that work 3-4 days a week, and coordinate that with their partner's schedule. There are quite a few after school clubs, etc, for kids to stay longer, so I'm sure that happens for people with less flexible work schedules. But anyway, there's A LOT of face time happening.
Another result of the drop off/pick up is that I see their teachers far more. I talk with them a few times a week - if I have a question, or they want to let me know something about my kids. And what's weird is, you can't get the teacher's email address. General questions have to go through the class reps (there are 2-3 of them and they are like room moms from the PTA, but here it's the PSA) and then you can request a time to meet with the teacher if you have individual questions. Class rep seems like a part time job - I see them doing a lot of stuff to keep the class running - emailing newsletters, sending out reminders, volunteering for the events, planning the teacher gifts, etc. I get a daily update from them regarding talking points for the Year 1 class! So, I feel like I really know what's going on daily in the school and in their classes. But this is just for the primary school.
Eli can walk himself to school (in fact I'm pretty sure there aren't any parents dropping kids off at the secondary school and a majority of them travel by public transport to get there) and honestly I don't even know the names of all of his teachers. The secondary school is much bigger, and I know the main office number and that's about it. I think the school is a good fit for Eli. They offer a huge range of classes - art, music, textiles, woodworking, metal working, archery, golf.....the list goes on. This is in addition to the standard core classes of English, Science, Maths, Geography, etc. And Latin, he has to take Latin and one other foreign language. His schedule is quite varied, and the school was just renovated, so the facility is modern and up-to-date, with the lovely charm of the original school building. He has a tutor each day - this is like homeroom, and she is my first point of contact. Each year then has a Leader, in Eli's case, Miss Marshall, and she's my second point of contact. After that would be the Headteacher, what I would call a Principal. Within each year, the students are grouped together by Levels, which I haven't figured out entirely, but I think it's basically about ability level. Honestly, there is a ton of lingo at the secondary school that I don't understand, and there's really a big emphasis on exams and going to the "right" school. In our area, most of the kids are in private schools - it's considered kind of lower class (or common) that he's going to a state funded school. Classicism may not be popular, but it's definitely a thing - I'm still working on that post.
Okay I want to wrap this up, but there a few more general school things that I want to mention. One is that it's like Jamie Oliver cleaned up everyone's cafeteria here. In both schools, all of the food is prepared on site, from scratch. And most of the schools have a garden that the kids cultivate and that is used in their meals. Eli's school has a biometric scanner so all he needs is his finger to buy lunch. In fact, both of the schools have payments set up for uniforms, school meals, and school trips all in one place online. It's actually like living in the 21st century! And that's the other thing - they have school field trips all the time. (Eli just went to see a production of Lord of the Flies.) Often they are traveling into central London - huge groups of them. (Can you even imagine having to keep track of the little kids???) And they do big trips - Finley will be going away to the Isle of Wight at the end of the school year for 5 days. Next year, they do a week long trip to France. (Good thing it's next year, because right now her French is at Fancy Nancy level.)
Lastly, even though I feel they are advanced in every subject as compared to the US (which makes sense since they start a year earlier at age 4) there is far less homework. Hallelujah! And the homework philosophy actually makes sense - they are reinforcing concepts and not trying to teach them new things or make up for class time. All school supplies are provided by the school. They have about 4 notebooks that they keep in tidy tray. They don't send paperwork home, praise the lord! Holland is learning to write and read cursive (handwriting) instead of printing. High expectations just seem to be the norm, but it is coupled with an environment of support and sensibility. I've also noticed they incorporate subjects more holistically - combining writing with math or science, and finding application in daily life. Finley's English homework this week is memorizing harvest songs (although we have no field for her to reap what she sows). This sounds kind of hippie, but trust me, it's not. It's very proper and academic. Please don't tell the Brits I called them hippies.
Perhaps this is more than you wanted to know, but there it is. I will save the intricacies of playdate protocol for another time. Right now, I've got to march my ass back to school and pretend that I want to talk about the weather.