Dear Dave

Wednesday 17 June 2009

An academic exercise

Dear Dave,

Marie just got her final end-of-year report from nursery.

I suppose it should have been a momentous occasion. Another three weeks and she'll be done with pre-school education. More significantly, after six years of lurking outside the nursery door at 11:30 every morning, I'll be done with pre-school education. All three of my kids will have moved on. This was my chance to reflect on how far Marie's come and savour the fruits of my housedad labour.

Except, of course, I had a quick glance over the report, shrugged and then filed it on top of the big stack of stuff that I'll maybe have time to file properly once she's at school.

I remember poring over Fraser's first nursery report, analysing every detail. He can hang up his own coat! He can count to 10! He can interact with other children without battering them over the head with a wooden brick! Surely he must be a genius! I saw that same hungry eagerness in the eyes of the newer parents. In some cases this was their first taste of institutional feedback on their three-year-olds; their first chance to have their parenting affirmed. They ripped open the envelopes and devoured every last comma of the contents.

I, meanwhile, have now received getting on for a dozen school reports on my children. Since the teachers obviously expend a great deal of time and stress on them, it's something of a shame that I've come to realise the information they contain can be divided into two categories:
  • Stuff I already know.

  • Stuff I don't agree with.
This makes the whole exercise slightly pointless.

It really isn't a surprise to me, for instance, that Marie 'regularly uses her own drawings to express her ideas' and that she 'loves to show adults her work and to talk about it'. Rather than counting the number of pictures she produces each day, I now measure her output in terms of how many inches higher she's made the pile of creations I've been forced to admire. I'm well aware of her artistic tendencies. (To be honest, I'd be more interested if they'd found a way to get her to stop expressing her ideas...)

Elsewhere, however, the report states that 'Marie is able to count from 1 to 10 and recognise all these numbers in writing'. This is technically true but I'd actually be pretty confident of her recognising any number from 1 to 100. It's not worth making a fuss about but a factor of ten disagreement in her level of numerical attainment does make me wonder at the accuracy of the rest of the report. Taking every word to heart probably isn't wise.

Now I think of it, I guess there's a third category of content in reports that becomes more prominent higher up the school: stuff that's very important to teachers but that I'm not interested in at all. This includes such things as attainment against national standards and what's in the curriculum for the year. I can see why the teachers are very agitated about this information - it affects their career prospects, school funding and the likelihood of the Teacher Police turning up and asking awkward questions in a stern voice. If I was a teacher, I'd be agitated too.

As a parent, I'm not so fussed.

National standards come and go with every passing government. I don't need the details. I only care whether my kids are doing 'Well', 'OK' or 'Not so hot'. As for the content of what they're studying, I'm fairly indifferent. There's more 'common knowledge' in the subject of geography alone than my kids could realistically hope to learn in their entire school careers even if they studied nothing else. If it's ever important that they know the state capital of Minnesota, they can look it up on Wikipedia. At the moment, they're learning how to learn. I'm sure they'll cover the basics - dinosaurs, the Romans, Google and Mary Queen of Scots - at some stage. Beyond that, I'm happy to let the teachers stick to whatever topic they've found good worksheets for.

Yep, I've chilled out considerably since reading Fraser's first report. The kids are doing fine and hopefully they would tell me early on if there was a major problem rather than letting me wait until I got the write-up at the end of the year.

The official reports seem somewhat unnecessary with nursery kids anyway. I only have to stand Marie next to a three-year-old to see how much she's progressed since this time last year.

That's not to say I'm entirely past caring, though. The final sentence of her report did catch my eye. It says, 'Marie is ready to start school.'

Let's face it, that was worth reading.

(...even if I did know it already.)

Yours in a woman's world,


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