Thursday, 2 December 2010

The school hall

The primary school hall. To what has this Victorian room borne witness? Two world wars, votes for women, the election of the first Labour government with its pledge of free universal education for all, thousands of children passing through en route to great, or more likely average, things and now, on a Friday evening, the genitalia on Arthur Smith’s comedy pants.

Rewind to the Friday morning and the very same room is thronged with eager faces waiting for proceedings to begin. The children? Actually I was thinking of the parents who regularly fill the place to capacity to watch children presenting work they’ve been doing in class that week. Evidently not something the Victorian architects anticipated.

I’ve been coming here every Friday morning at ten for years. At first I invariably sat at the back along with one or two other stay-at-home mums, sometimes even with a stay-at-home dad (or should that be freelance?). Now it’s standing room only if you don’t get there quickly enough.

While this perfectly demonstrates how the school has changed over the years and the heartening way in which so many parents now take an active role in their children’s progress, there’s also something a bit unnerving about it as a frenzy of waving and blowing kisses kicks off between offspring and parents.

What about the children whose parents never come? What about those whose parents work five days a week or haven’t the inclination? And are the parents who do come here to share in the success of all pupils or just celebrate that of their own?

Sometimes it’s a troubling atmosphere, undoubtedly one of celebration but also of competition. The school is keen to reward good work and behaviour in the form of certificates presented to two children from every class each week but as there are 30 children in most classes it means that 28 children are not rewarded. To address this rewards are evenly distributed over time so that everybody gets one in the end, in which case isn’t it all a bit meaningless? Tricky.

Michael Rosen has written that the current fashion in education for constantly rewarding the few with stickers and certificates and medals effectively means punishing the many. I’m not sure I agree; but sometimes, in assemblies in particular, I see what he means especially when it comes to praising projects (projects are one of my pet hates).

Having been to so many assemblies over the years I’ve also got to know the national curriculum rather well. If there was something a bit Groundhog Day for me about watching reception recite the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, in unison and with actions, again last week God know how the teachers must feel.

But it was charming and the faces of those children’s parents, craning their necks to see from the back (and the audience does mostly consist of parents of younger children), was a sight to behold: all wide smiles and glistening eyes. Of course I was - am - a doting parent myself: I’ve even re-scheduled a day out next week because it clashes with the afternoon carol service at the local church. I wouldn’t miss that for the world. As I’ve already blogged, there won’t be many more primary school carol concerts for me …

In the evening a crowd turned up again to cram the same school hall with much the same enthusiasm, this time for the PTA comedy night. Quite a contrast: the wide-eyed innocence of the morning’s proceedings set against the expletive-ridden filth of the evening.

Much of the audience was the same but instead of a model of a World War 2 prisoner of war camp held aloft or the story of The Three Billy Goat’s Gruff to regale us, we cried with laughter as a grown man pulled his trousers down (the evening was so much more that that and very funny).

Both events were entertaining and just go to show what a multifaceted lot we south London parents are.

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