Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Open Letter to Primary School Principals

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It will shock you to hear me admit that I am not a patient person especially when it comes to education and doubly especially when it comes to issues with my lovely Grandie. Yeh yeh yeh, I wasn't any more patient with issues around my girl's schooling either, but let's just live in the present shall we?

I am not one of those parents who is intimidated by, or afraid of, or in awe of Head teachers or in deed any teacher, so at the start of the school year when I found out that Zig's school had shoveled him into a composite year 5/6 class, the only composite class in the school, and in defiance of the school ethos about composites, I rang the Head Teacher.

I was not happy.

He began happily discussing things until I asked difficult questions, like, 'How were the kids selected? Did the teacher volunteer?' And then he rather oddly shut down and said that it was not proper that he was speaking to me, he should only be speaking to the parents. Ho very HUM. He couldn't speak to me but it was OK for me to run Drama workshops every week for a year, without ever having to show qualifications or a blue card, just because I was the grandmother.

I have never spoken to a teacher who is happy to teach a composite group.

I have never heard of a composite class where the educational or social needs of the different groups are equally well met.

So here's the update.

The teacher of the composite 5/6 class was away more than he was there for term 1.

The teacher of the composite class seems to be the school's Philosophy expert so is away to attend in-service and to deliver lessons to other classes. I can't help thinking that this was the trade off he negotiated when he was told to take the class. This may be a cynical view.

There are I think, about 25 kids in the class, only 9 of 'em are in year 6 and of those 9, only 3 of 'em are boys, and of those 3 boys, only one of 'em is friendly with Zig, and by that I mean the other boy and Zig, have a 6 year history of animosity that the school is more than aware of. How they both ended up in this group is anyone's guess.

The Head Teacher said that the year 5's are all very bright but he refused, as I said before, to explain how the year 6 kids were selected. One can only surmise that it was because the school predicted that these kid's parents would kick up the least fuss.

I believe, though do not know for certain as I am not in the class,  the 2 year levels do the same work, cover the same topics, spellings, maths, social studies etc, and I just don't know how that works when surely the subject matter and complexity of understanding must be sequential at this age level. If you read the criteria statements for assessment items it certainly implies that year 6s are expected to achieve different skills and levels of understanding and complexity of thought, ah but the year 5s are very bright, so maybe they are working on the year 6 criterias... I wonder what happens to 'em next year when they are all flung back into the main stream, only to be doing the same old things again. Either that or the year 6s are doing the year 5 work, who knows.

I do know that Zig does not do any homework and there is clearly no downside as a result, and neither does he feel he is missing out on any treats for doing well. He just doesn't do it, maybe it is not set. Maybe it's last year's and he's bored, maybe he's a little turd and needs to disciplined.

I do know that in spite of being told a number of times (teachers / head teacher) there are on going problems between Zig and this other boy which are escalating. Zig says the teachers don't notice.

I have been worried about this all year, and have tried to be sanguine about it admitting that everyone has to expect in the public system, that their kids are gonna have one shit year in primary school, and that it is just a shame that it happens to be Zig's last year there.

But there are intricacies that are now really troubling me.

The year 5s do NAPLAN testing and there are practice sessions too and for this the year 6s are farmed out to other classes.

The Year 5s are going on camp next week and so the year 6s are farmed out again. according to Zig,  'The 4 pretty girls go to one teacher, the 2 naughty girls go to someone else and the 3 boys go together.'

The preparation for the year 5 camp has clearly brought back memories of his own sad experience last year where he was always on his own. He sat on the bus on his own, he did not have a bunk buddy and while all the other kids paired up in the canoes he paddled on his own. He was ALONE. The teacher either didn't notice or didn't care. He is a shy kid. He doesn't easily play with other kids. Anyway this memory coupled with the fact that he has only 2 boys ( one of whom pulls his hair and puts shit on him and teases him and encourages all the class to laugh at him) to pal around with on camp cos all the other year 6 kids have already formed firm friendship groups, has now left him feeling very doubtful about going to the year 6 camp later in the year. He imagines he will be on the bus, all the way to Canberra, on his own and that will just be that start of the loneliness.

See I thought that a part of the Primary school experience was to teach kids to be social beings. Yeh they need to spell and add up and know about other stuff, but they should be taught how to interact with their peers, and this can only be done by practice and encouragement. With only one boy in his class to knock around with, how much can we expect Zig has learnt this year?

I realise that Zig can be a little smart arse, and I can just imagine that he has back chatted more than one teacher. He does not always tell the truth and can be sneaky about getting what he wants in the face of being told NO. My vision is not rose tinted.

But he is not certifiable, and he doesn't punch kids or intimidate them. I rather imagine that he is very much like every other shy kid. He needs to be coaxed into joining in. He needs to be fed the actual sentence to say when introducing himself. He needs attention to be paid. He is extremely confident in adult company but with children he needs some hand holding and really a little spoonful of that isn't asking too much during his primary schooling.

I am worried that without these social basics, he is gonna spend a very lonely time at high school, and for a clever kid to shrivel before being given the chance to thrive, that is a shame.

Shame on his school.
Shame on the Head Teacher.
Shame on the system.

Fingers firmly crossed that he will prevail in spite of, or to spite Holland Park SS.