Category Archives: School

The End of the School Dinner

It’s been a pretty stress free year here since the government brought in school dinners for all Reception to Year 2 children in primary schools in the UK.

We had nothing to lose to sign Pickle up at her new school (who were providing school dinners for the first time because of the new rules, having them brought in by a catering company).  We thought that if it didn’t work out, we’d just switch back after term 1.  However, although we had a few meals that were in hit and miss, on the whole she loved it.

We loved it.

No more rushing to put together a packed lunch in the morning.

Unfortunately she has now decided school dinners aren’t for her.  She says she’s always hungry because there are parts of the dinner she just doesn’t like.  She also rarely eats the pudding.

So, sadly, come September, we will be back putting the sandwich fillings on a rota, creating little containers of cut veggies and fruit and bunging in a frozen block to keep it all fresh.

We are going to attempt to get TM on the school dinners though (he starts in reception) but as he is the pickiest child known to man, I’m not holding my breath and will include a packed lunch on most days just in case anyway.

Whilst lamenting the loss of those extra 10 minutes in the morning I did have the foresight to calculate how much we would be saving (excluding the cost of the packed lunch – I haven’t figured it out yet).

£45 a month.

I guess every silver lining….


Biff, Chip and Kipper – Where are they now?

This was the question posed to me  a week or so ago by an enquiring follower.

She got a few sensible responses (they are still about; my daughter still reads them) and a few not so sensible.  I think I suggested Biff had become a scientist (know it all), Chip is a drug addict and Kipper was dead…..

It’s ok…nothing of the sort has happened. They are still the same and haven’t aged a bit!  I was being mischievous.

However I did get the opportunity to try out the new apps for Biff, Chip and Kipper which was perfect timing as I had just had a little panic attack about the fact The Monster still can’t say his name properly and he’s starting school in September.

First of all we tried out Level 3, 4 & 6 for my (not quite) 7-year-old.  She read her little brother one of the books and seemed to enjoy it.  She especially liked that some pages were different and zoomed in and out whilst the text stayed the same.  She then complained they were too easy, but I think she’s now used to more words on the page, I have no doubt she’ll be back reading them again.

Next we tried Level 1-3 for The Monster (TM).  We started on the Level 1: Getting Ready to Read books.  I read one story but Pickle started fidgeting so I decided to keep those for another day and we headed down to the lower bookshelf on the app and selected Kipper’s Alphabet I Spy.  Now, this was right up TM’s street.  Actually Pickle thoroughly enjoyed doing this as well.  He not only had a go at writing the letter (following the dotted lines) but he got to choose which objects on the right hand side started with the letter.  We all had great fun working our way through this and it was a great opportunity (I don’t get many) to get TM to try saying words and listen to the start of them.

Biff and Chip app

We then tried Chip’s Letter Sounds which worked some more on tracing the letters but, most importantly, spend a lot of time saying the sound.  They then got to find objects in a picture starting with that sound.  Both of them loved this.  TM started by finding the 5 easiest ones (with help) and then Pickle would find the other 5 (or not — a few tricky ones were in there).

Needless to say the books have gone down a storm in our house.  TM gets excited at the prospect of using the iPad and then happily sits down to practice “my words” and I get (vaguely) excited that I’m actually putting some effort into trying to get my son (and second born) into some sort of acceptable state for school in September.

I would thoroughly recommend them (especially for younger children) as a good introduction to phonics and reading.  They have been a very welcome addition to our iPad.


This is NOT a sponsored post.  I was offered a free version of these book apps with no obligation to write a post (honestly – happy to drag the email out for you if you want).  I have written this post by choice as I liked them.

The apps are available for £4.99 each




Was I Like Her?

Me :  “Okay …4 times 5.  Let’s count up in 5’s using the blocks.  Five….”

Her : “Ummmm. 10……….and ummmmm” *sticks finger in her mouth and stares at ceiling.

Me : “Come on, we’ve just counted up when we did 6 times 5.  It’s 15.   Let’s do it again”

Her: “5, ummmmm, 10, ummmmmm, 15…………………………………………………………*shouts* 34″

Me: “come on, we’ve just done it, you know it’s not 34″

Her: *baby voice* yes it is.

Me:  “Right, lets take you to bed I can’t do this anymore”

Her: *starts crying* “but I neeeed to do my homework”.

This isn’t isolated.  She mucks about, she doesn’t concentrate, she purposely says the wrong answer, claims she doesn’t know things she has just said.

To be honest, I’m starting to see something familiar going on and I can’t but wonder whether  this familiarity harks back to the later 70’s and early 80’s when I was attempting to grasp the basics with maths and english.

I have no firm memories but sometimes I feel like I’m talking to my younger self.

So bloody frustrating.

How do you stop yourself from getting annoyed?

I know she’s capable.  I know she’s like me, above average capability but lacking confidence, concentration and interest.

Get me on a good day, I am cheerfully persistent and kind and try different things to engage her, but get me on a bad day and I really struggle with not getting very very cross.

Is this it for ever more?   Am I going to be punished for my own lack of enthusiasm for learning by experiencing the difficulty of myself through my daughter?




Choosing a Primary School – A Warning

As October arrives, parents of children who are turning 4 between September 2013 and July 2014 will start thinking about researching, visiting and choosing a school for their child to start in September 2014.

I really wanted to get this post sent out during this critical time, because I need new parents to understand exactly what they need to look out for in a potential primary school and not have a knee jerk reaction to “markers” just because we are led to believe that these are what makes a school good.  Don’t be dazzled by numbers, especially at Primary School and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t discredit a school entirely based on an Ofsted.  This story may explain why.

Much like many of you when we moved house, we considered the schools.  We knew we had a couple of good primary schools very close to us, but when you’ve got a 2-year-old, the thought of doing in-depth research doesn’t cross your mind and you read a report on Ofsted, feel happy that it’s not a demon school, move and then do all the in-depth research when your child is 4. When it really matters.

We had a choice of 2 schools.  Both were given a “good”.  The one closest to us (walking distance) was “good” with “outstanding features”.  The other one looked bigger, but was also in higher demand because it was a feeder school to a much coveted secondary school in the area.  Most people chose that one, just for that reason. I think last year, the “feeder” system was removed, but you’d need to check that yourself.  Anyway, as we thought it was unlikely we would stay in the area long enough to use the secondary, it didn’t sway us.  We saw both schools as potential candidates and went to their open visits to walk around and meet the head and other teachers.

Bollocks, does it.

Bollocks, does it.

Both schools were lovely.  The one further away felt a little impersonal to us (but we visited on a strike day) and we didn’t much like the head.  They didn’t show us any outdoor areas other than that in Reception.  The one closest to us, had a very warm feel about it.  Maybe we were biased because we really wanted to be able to walk to school, who knows, but I did fall in love with the school. It reminded me of my school growing up. The reception classrooms were just lovely, the outdoor space was huge and the head teacher was a great, down to earth kind of guy.  I would have been happy in a school like that.  So, decision made.  We put that down as our first choice and Pickle got in.

Pickle LOVED her school. We loved the school.  On any one day the mix of students was perfect. Every nationality, religion, social demographic was there.  This was what we were looking for and Pickle made great friends with children who’s parent’s I also liked.

Then in April we had a bomb shell.  The school had an Ofsted inspection and went from being “good” with “outstanding features” to “Inadequate”.  That was the old “Special Measures”.  You know, the one where you imagined 12 year olds smoking around the back of the class room and teachers drunk in the staff room.  Where disorder reigns and results fail.  Except that WASN’T our school.  That couldn’t have been further from what our school was like!  The report was patchy about where it failed.  It mumbled on about not allowing students real application of their skills (physical learning).  It talked about children not being asked to come up and participate in learning, about not splitting by ability often enough.  A lack of maths focus.  That was it!  Reception was marked as Good with outstanding features.  Year 1-2 as “needing improvement” and the rest as “Inadequate”.  To us though, it didn’t feel inadequate at all!!

We obviously all got very very upset.  This was around the time new parents had received their notification of which school their 4 year olds would get into and I imagine there was a mass panic by parents at our Local Authority to reject the offer and go to the other school.  We all demanded answers, but we got a new Head in place (our old one, bless  him, had wanted to retire at Christmas but the governors had asked him to stay on. So he left in the wake of this!) and a promise that they’d turn it around.

Then we got the news the school was becoming an Academy.  More worry. More upset. More parents demanding what was going on.  Academies are bad, right?  They are run by owner’s of Carpet shops for money.  They don’t care about the kids?  So we researched into the cows came home. Decided we’d all rebel if the right academy owner wasn’t found.  Recent news, at the end of the summer term, was a well-respected local secondary school which had recently, voluntarily, become an academy was going to be our Sponsor.  We all heaved a sigh of relief.  Fingers crossed it all gets sorted by January as promised and we can get on with the job at hand, teaching our children.

I then stumbled upon this article this week.  Which was EXACTLY what we thought happened with our school but couldn’t prove. I don’t think there is any doubt that the pushing down of our Ofsted was because of the boroughs need to get its first primary school to become an Academy.  There are no outstanding primary school’s in our borough so I imagine they picked on one they thought they could manipulate, one that was due an Ofsted.  Read the article. It’s a real eye opener.

The point is.  Ofsted has changed A LOT in the last 5 years.  Whilst we all look for a way to be able to grade our primary schools and help us make decisions, I think they do us all a disservice by setting a criteria (a moveable criteria) that immediately segregates our local schools based on what the government thinks is flavour of the month.  Yes, we want to make sure the curriculum is stuck to. Yes, we want good marks, but the criteria has become so narrow, our schools have no choice but to teach to the dot….oh no hang on. As long as they appear to teach to the dot on the day of the inspection.  Yes, no guarantee it actually happens every day.  An inspection can be 1-3 days long.  Wonder how many schools have a special “Ofsted Teaching Plan”.  How the hell can that be a sign of a good school?

I guess the big advantage for us, about to become an Academy, is that strict structure gets done away with, but it was still a really rubbish time. A time of uncertainty that made your realise one very important fact when you are choosing a school.  Your school cannot be EXACTLY like the last Ofsted (especially as they are done every 3 years). Things change.  Head teachers move on.  Teachers leave, new ones come.  Standards rise or fall.  It’s a moving organism.  You can NEVER guarantee that the school that is “good” will stay good whilst you are there.  You have to LOVE that school for all of it’s parts and be prepared to stick with it.  If you’re local school doesn’t have a good Ofsted, find out why.  Meet the head. Ask what is being done. That will be the biggest mark of how good your school is.  Drill down.  It probably isn’t a bad school at all.  Things may change. That school may become “good” even “outstanding” at a time your child is in Year 5 or 6 and the school you chose over it, could drop down, right when you need it to be there for you.

All I’m saying, is please don’t judge a school by its Ofsted.  Ofsted can be a load of baloney!





When I was a girl (both little and big) I had very little confidence.  There were a lot of incidences where I was dumstruck in social situations and had no idea how to handle them.  On one occasion me and my sister arrived at my brother’s fancy dress competition at school with our multi coloured ponchos on (it was the 70’s!) and were handed a ticket to take part.  We were so embarrassed and didn’t know what to do so we attempted to shove the ticket into our mum’s handbag.  She caught us out and did a great big embarrassing snorty laugh before giving it back to the ladies at the desk.  I was always a bit angry about that, like my lack of confidence was my mum’s fault.

I did ballet, but my sister did no extra currilcular activities. I stopped ballet 2 years in, once I was in a class of 3 and the other 2 girls were older than me and wouldn’t speak to me.  My sister did no activities at all.

I have always been a bit unimpressed my mother didn’t have us do lots of activities or that she didn’t try and encourage us to be more outgoing, but having witnessed my daughter today, I may have figured out why.

Pickle has always been a bit of an emotional girl.  She’s 5 now but very unsure in circumstances she’s not familiar with (not unlike me), however since her operation 4 weeks ago it has really got bad.  The first birthday party she attended about 8 days after her operation, she clung to me like a limpet and refused to take part.  This isn’t massively unusual for her, if I’m there, she does hang on to us for about 10 minutes, until a friend puts their hand out or an entertainer gets her doing something.  This time it took over an hour (the party was only 1.5 hours long) before I could leave her and then she got hit by another child accidently and ended up back with me for 10 minutes.

Yesterday I took her to her first tennis lesson.  We HAD talked about it.  She had initially had to be convinced to try it out. Once she had agreed I did discuss with her what she will be like when she gets there.  We weren’t pushy, but we told her why we thought she’d enjoy it and encouraged her by reminding her how good at swing ball she is.  I then reminded her, that her friend would be there and there will be children of lots of different ages and abilities. I said I know she’ll want me nearby and I would be staying with her the whole time and she needn’t be clingy. I tried to mitigate her lack of confidence.

A few days beforehand at bedtime I told her I was taking time off work to take her and that I hoped she wouldn’t getting worried about going or change her mind when we got there.  She told me that she would be brave and wouldn’t get clingy or cry.

Well, the promises of a 5 year old hold little weight I’m afraid.  She was fine when we first arrived but the minute we got on the court she clung to my leg and cried and cried and cried.  Nothing could convince her to let go or take part in any of the activities.  She kept crying and eventually after 20 very LONG minutes, I took her back to the car and drove her home.

I was fuming!!!  I was so cross I could barely put my thoughts into words.  We drove back in silence.

Now, before you start thinking I’m the cruellest mother ever, it’s one thing for me to have a few hours of contemplation of events and quite another when it’s happening right there in front of you.  An hysterical girl, a trainer who is trying his best to get her to play, a woman in high heels (me) attempting to “join in” to convince her child, all the other mums OUTSIDE the court sitting down watching their children follow instructions, the £27 cheque, the time off work.  I was massively embarrassed and I am positive that any one else in my position would have been as well.  It’s hard not to be cross.  Irrationally I wanted her to be just like the other children and just get on with it.  The trouble is she isn’t one of the other children, she’s my child and she’s different. The sensible adult in me knows you should “feel the fear and do it anyway” but that’s a big old jump for a 5 year old who just wants “to go home”.

I was still angry when I got her back to the house and left her with her grandma and brother and got back into the car to go to work.  Being left alone for 45 minutes for my journey to work I dwelled on what had just happened.

Is she just lacking confidence? Is it just that she’s taken a bit of a knock since the accident?  Will this sit with her for the rest of her life so she’s always a bystander and never taking part?  Is there anything I can do now that can boost that confidence?

Then I thought about what I was like and realised I was no different. I don’t think there was any coincidence that my lack of out of school activities was probably linked to my general nervouseness in groups.  I’ve never been one to “muck in” and I have no idea why I thought my daughter would be any different.  I think I partly blamed my parents for not building my confidence and partly blamed the fact that I had a sister 18 months younger than me an therefore I never needed to find a playmate.  That is not the same for Pickle. Her brother is 3 years younger than her and it’s likely they’ll have less in common as they get older.

I’m not sure if there is something I should be doing here?  Do I gently and slowly find a way to encourage her to take part more often or do I accept that she is a bit of a wall flower and watch as she misses out on some wonderful experiences because of it?  I know I missed out on so many things because I couldn’t even speak to an adult and I really don’t want her to have the same issues.  Do I stop trying to book her into activities?  Do I decline party invites before she even knows about it because I can’t be dealing with the leg clinging and crying? Because even if she said she won’t I know there is an 80% chance she will.

Anyone with any advice on what I can do?