This post might be of interest to those of you with reception aged children this year or next, or those considering a nursery place within a primary school setting too. It's a long post but has a happy ending!
I have to admit I was pretty dismayed when my child’s primary school, Allfarthing in Wandsworth, advised us of the scheduled start for reception year children in September. The first part made a great deal of sense – the youngest would go in first for half days, in small groups of 10 until all the children had had a morning by the end of the first week of term. It was the fact that we were then told we’d only be getting half days for a full further two weeks, to allow for ‘home visits’, that I found excessive.
For those that don’t know, home visits are when a teacher and teaching assistant (or nursery staff) visit you in your own home to meet your child in its home environment. I don’t want to get into this too deeply but some of the respective schools of thought are – schools will say that it’s useful for teachers to see the kids in their home environment because if anything emerges that suggests said home environment is adversely affecting a child’s ability to learn, they are better placed to take remedial action. Others have said they think it’s a slightly cynical ploy to identify ‘problem families’ or spy on parents. I don’t quite subscribe to either view but do firmly believe they should be explicitly voluntary. I think it’s extremely tenuous to inflict these meetings on the whole year for the chance that it might be helpful to the teachers in a very small number of isolated cases, so I turned down my ‘home visit’, as did some others, but I believe many more probably would have done so, if told they were voluntary. Many parents, whose child, like mine, had spent a whole year in the nursery within the school, were utterly perplexed as to why one would ever be deemed necessary.
Anyway I thought prior to approaching the school, it would be sensible to do a bit of research as to whether this 3 week period was normal and widely adopted across the country, or whether it was a Wandsworth, or London, thing. So, I put a few posts up on parenting forums to see what other parents and teachers thought. Just to clarify, it was never my intention to restrict anyone else’s choice to have as long a settling in period as they wanted, I just felt the school could offer parents a choice if they wanted FT education for their child sooner.
As ever, sometimes these threads go off on tangents somewhat off topic and can occasionally get a bit narky, but they are well worth reading all the way through if this issue interests you.
https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/primary/a2 ... me-earlier
https://www.****.com/coffeehouse/chi ... 5bdcb498a6
The response was both amazing (in sheer number of replies) and enlightening.
Some of the things that emerged were:
More than half the country has never heard of ‘home visits’, let alone had one.
A majority of the country’s schools go straight into full time (sometimes with a proviso that those who want a gentler start can have it).
Many people believe that this policy is the very opposite of ‘settling’ because they are forced to use unfamiliar childminders for these odd 3 or 4 hour periods, upsetting their children at a time of change when that’s the last thing they need.
Others complain that when they have other children at different schools, it presents a logistical nightmare.
Some said that the cost of the additional childcare meant their kids would be going without some of their usual activities or treats
Others said that one or other, or both parents had to burn through most of their annual leave meaning that their family would miss out on a proper holiday that year.
A high proportion of teachers were against – some said they had experimented with this policy but generally found kids settled faster when going FT more quickly or straight away.
My personal view is that any policy whose impact is most keenly felt by those on low incomes cannot be a good thing. Those with full-time nannies or au-pairs, or those lucky enough to need only one parent to work, will probably not have been affected at all. Those on minimum wage, facing a 3 week period of additional childcare costs, have my sympathy. Above all, the school should be able to offer choice – a gentle start, or straight in – then everyone can have what they believe will suit their child best.
So, armed with this knowledge, I approached the Head, shortly into term. He read these threads and, I believe, was persuaded that the school should reconsider and see how they might offer choice to parents. He only joined in January, so it was fair of him to say that his hands were somewhat tied by the arrangements that were already in place regarding ‘home visits’ and the impact on resources, but he’d see what he could do. I’m very pleased to say he was able to bring forward the provision of full-time education by three days and pledged to look carefully at ways in which that earlier start could be offered to parents next year.
I was delighted by the head’s response, but somewhat disappointed by some peoples’ reactions to what I was trying to do. I will add first that lots of people were lovely, made smart, sensible or enlightening comments, sent me messages of support and thanks for what they considered ‘sticking up for them’. However, some tended towards the dim, blinkered and downright nasty.
Some of the responses I got included (and I paraphrase)
Oh suck it up, it’s only for three weeks, stop making a fuss (I fairly sure this was from a stay at home parent unaffected by the issue)
Others were quite beyond belief and went something like….
Schools know best, they’ve been doing this for donkeys’ years, so don’t question their policies because you’re undermining them. (as if we’re supposed to uncritically accept anything that a ‘professional’ or institution tells us and just pipe down?)
People said that what I was doing was a ‘waste of time’. Well, it would appear not….
People (laughably) said that by pointing out this policy impacted low-income people most was ‘inciting class hatred’. FFS, it’s a simple unalloyed fact!
People made daft (and not funny) ‘jokes’ about me ‘wanting education on in-set days next’ – ho-di-ho
Another said ‘amazed if you can approach the school respectfully I just don't think you have this in your DNA’ – er, wrong!
Anyway, some of these idiotic comments can be found on this earlier NVN thread
http://www.nappyvalleynet.com/mums/view ... =excessive
However, there were also some constructive and useful comments (Thanks Liver bird) and it did reveal some interesting things… (Faced with the same situation, a teacher in Bournemouth challenged her school through the school’s adjudicator system and it ruled in her favour, leading the council to remind all schools of their obligations)
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2 ... rents-work
So anyway, the point of posting the outcome of this dialogue is so that parents can see that they are not powerless to influence school policy. Do your research, build a consensus among other parents, approach the school politely and even ways of doing things that have been settled policy for some years, possibly decades, can be rethought and improved.
To the naysayers, I’m afraid you’ve all been proved emphatically wrong. I achieved more or less exactly what I set out to, and I look forward to playing a part in helping the school design a better system for families with two working parents next year.
Perhaps if other parents reading this, whose children are approaching school age, decide to ask this of their school too (do it in Jan/Feb when you first get offered your place), then we may see a number of other schools deciding that increased choice for working parents is both achievable and desirable. Then hopefully a large number of families may be able to avoid some of the inconvenience and suffering caused by an excessive period of settling in.
So, huge thanks to Mr Holmes and the teachers in reception year at Allfarthing for being open-minded, and doing their best to improve the situation this year. It is their efforts that may be the start of this entry system changing across the borough for the better. Bravo!