04 Mar



We had a Year 1-2 Curriculum Information Night this evening, at the girls’ school. Relevant for Otto in Year 1, less relevant for Biggie in Year 5 (it actually clashed with Sexuality Education Information Night … more on this later).

Now, the school that the girls to has an experimental curriculum for Years Prep to 2. The first 2 hours of every day are spent in “play and enquiry-based learning” which is hailed as a wonderful thing. Our exposure to this program started the year the Bigster was in Year 2 – after 2 years of “old style school”, there was a switch to Play and Enquiry-based learning. For her, this meant

  • she no longer needed to do any work because she could claim to be doing just about anything (oh no, I am not playing with plastic farm animals and blocks, I am building a Roman villa and these are the animals that live there)
  • she learned that you don’t have to do your best when it’s enough to just do an adequate job.
  • the two bullies in her class had free reign to bully her for 2 hours a day, most days, because the teacher was busy supervising other children.
  • 2 hours less a day, 5 days a week, 40 weeks of the year, of the formal learning that she loved and that saw her looking forward to school every day. That’s 400 hours.
  • an attitudinal shift that saw her dreading school, faking illness and begging to be allowed to stay at home.

It may or may not be relevant that the Year 5 cohort at school is known to be weak at many of the basics – spelling, simple maths, etc. Our Biggie consistently performs well below her capability, and we have concerns about this as we start to think about transition to high school.

You may have noticed that I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the program.

In fairness, I will say that it helped Otto transition to school, and that I think many of the Bigster’s problems were triggered by the change from formal to informal learning rather than the program itself.


The night started with a welcome from the new principal, a super-high achiever who I think will be wonderful for the school and for whom I have an ocean of respect. Then we had an overview of the program from the literacy co-ordinator. No problems so far.


She started with “You might not think your child is learning from this program” but then explained that that is OUR fault because we are too short-sighted to understand what is actually happening in their brain and in their classroom. This on its own was enough to get my body language screaming JUST GO AWAY NOW – I think she noticed too. She seemed to speak faster and get agitated when she looked in my direction. I would have walked out, but I was in the middle of a row and it would have been rude. Later, I was so far gone that I couldn’t speak – I think I would have started crying if I had had to say anything. I never get that upset – and I REALLY never get angry like I was (still am, to tell the truth) tonight.

But it was what she said at the end of her 20-minute presentation that really blew me away.

“I have never had any sleepless nights worrying about the good of this program … and you can’t really understand it unless you have spent 15 years studying Education and spent 5 years on a Master’s on this type of program.”


Can we talk about patronising? Can we talk about defensive and unable to accept criticism? Can we talk about passive-aggressive?

And can we talk about the fact that not a single one of the teachers at school has spent 15 years studying Education or 5 years on a Master’s on this type of program?

That’s right. Apparently the people who are implementing it can’t understand it either.

I barely heard what the Italian and Art teachers spoke about, I was so busy trying to calm myself down.

I think I horrified some of the parents in the classroom afterwards, when I raised some questions with Otto’s teacher and freely owned up to the chip on my shoulder. Teacher took it the right way and showed me enough to reassure me that we’re not headed for the same problems (because each child brings her own set of problems, of course).

And for what it’s worth, Teacher agreed that she felt some of what was said was patronising, too.

If I can calm down enough, I’ll talk about it with the principal tomorrow. You can’t have someone saying things like that to parents.

Meanwhile, Fraser spent most of the evening at Sexuality Education.

Wish I’d had the sense to go with him. That might have been fun 🙂


Posted by on March 4, 2009 in children, school


9 responses to “Fuming

  1. Chris

    March 5, 2009 at 3:03 am

    I sympathize with you to a great degree. My children and their education are of great concern to me, Our school system in Oxford seems to do pretty well, however, I am no expert. And I’m sad to say that I wish I made time to learn more about the school system rather than relying on what people tell me, so at least you have that to be proud of. I think showing your children that you are just as interested in their education can be a big step in them knowing how important it is.

    I was just saying to my wife the other day, that I need to join the PTA, but I don’t know when I would find time. Of course, I suppose you make time for the things you want to do. I need to become a better parent.

  2. Linnaeus

    March 5, 2009 at 4:12 am

    In all seriousness, I would tell her the next time you see her that if she’s half as intelligent as she thinks she is she can explain this program to anyone that is genuinely interested. Especially if she is supposed to be an educator.

    There is no excuse for that sort of behaviour.

  3. anye

    March 5, 2009 at 6:01 am

    I’d have torn her head off. What an arrogant )(#&%)(@#&%)(#@&%/ who is just trying to make up an excuse to have a job.

  4. melissainau

    March 5, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Chris: I rather suspect that I blew any chance of being elected to School Council last night 😦 — I guess I should be proud that I didn’t yell or scream at anyone (because I sure felt like it)

    Gerald: I might have done that, if I could have spoken. Really. I don’t know what I would have said – and when you feel that way, it’s generally better not to speak.

    Anye: Precisely.

  5. jon

    March 5, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Have you fed back to B that you now understand her desire to avoid school (or did you know already (and did she know that you knew))?

  6. melissainau

    March 5, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Jon: Yep. Possibly that wasn’t really appropriate of me, but she’s out of that program now so I don’t feel so bad that she knows my concerns. At the time, I tried very hard to work with the school and with her teacher to engage her, so I didn’t give her that information then.

  7. Friendless

    March 5, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Can’t Biggie take some games along to school and play them with the other kids? If the teacher queries her she could say that nobody without years of experience in board-gaming would understand what she’s doing.

  8. melissainau

    March 5, 2009 at 11:05 am

    John: Clearly that is the mistake I make – I’ve been telling them for years that the benefits of the boardgames are *obvious*.

  9. Fraser

    March 5, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Gerald: Next time Melissa sees her I will be selling tickets for the cage-match 😉

    She really was that angry. I have had to suffer through that woman before, but she wasn’t as bad as she was last night (otherwise Melissa would have been forewarned).


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