Poor Old Whitehaven Academy

I have a blogpost in the brewing about this year’s school sports day, here in Motomachi, but I am interrupting my daily kanji learning to blog about the school cultures here in Japan and in the UK in light of Warren Turner’s apparent resignation as head of Whitehaven Academy.

The background to Whitehaven Academy is that is was turned into an academy and Bright Tribe, a Multi Academy Trust, (MAT) were the sponsors. They let the buildings get in a terrible state, their staffing levels left a lot to be desired meaning children studying GCSEs were often without subject-proficient teachers and took lots of money from the UK government with very little to show for it here in Whitehaven. In September a Panorama tv programme highlighted the corruption of MATs who run many secondary and primary schools in England and highlighted irregularities found in Bright Tribe.

Through the campaigning efforts of parents and the local MP Bright Tribe have relinquished control of Whitehaven and a new, local, MAT is in the process of taking over. All good. But sadly, it seems as though the head teacher who really was well-respected and tried his hardest for the kids of Whitehaven has felt he has to resign. This seems to be the way the new MAT likes new acquisitions – with a new head who can be moulded into shape and be a true ambassador for the MAT.

And this is where it is all wrong. The education of pupils should be a community effort, not a corporate one.

Here in Japan, for all its failings, (and many parents are not adequately happy with public elementary schools here and enrol their children into cram schools too), the schools are run by local school boards. The city boards’ schools work together to share best practice and ensure parity for all children. The teachers are all highly trained (as opposed to some of the international private schools where you can teach without training). Yes, I know Japan is an extreme example of a homogenous community, but it is a very comfortable community to be a part of.

Headteachers in England have the pressure from government of performing well in league tables – in primary education it’s SAT results, (important because if they underperform they then become a target for becoming an MAT and there goes some/most of their autonomy), and at secondary level it’s the Progress Eight scores. Then, as heads in MATs have extra pressure to stay ‘on message’ and do the Trust’s bidding, another tier of pressure is added to an already stressful job.

I really do fear for the pupils we are churning out in English state schools. Their education is politicised and monetised and I do not think we are producing better-educated souls as a result.

Ideally, I would like to see all schools come back under the control of a well-funded LEA, led by people who understand education and pedagogy and who can produce community spirited, educated young adults. But so much needs to change for that to happen. Sighs.

Anyway, I’d better get back to my Kanji flashcards. Oliver is at Motomachi elementary right now (Saturday!), taking part in an earthquake emergency training session. Hubby and youngest are sat in the Italian Gardens, reading. I’m meant to be finishing my kanji learning and I got distracted.

 

The Guilt of November 11

British autumns from your childhood, eh? You’ve got the thrill of going back to school, (I enjoyed kit lists and new stationary and all that jazz); you’ve got harvest festivals, (some great primary school classics such as ‘Autumn leaves when the grass is jewelled’ and ‘Cauliflowers fluffy and cabbages green’); then there’s Halloween and Bonfire Night; and then church parade and Remembrance Day. All well and good.

This year we are in Yokohama and the school term starts in April, not September; the school’s focus was undokai (sports festival), not harvest festival; yes, there’s been Halloween celebrations but no trick or treating and it’s warm and sunny not cold and rainy, and as far as autumn landmarks go, that’s it now. No Bonfire Night, (obviously) and no Remembrance Day.

But, as I recalled, Japan was an ally in World War One so why isn’t there a similar event here? Well, the losses Japan sustained were a tiny fraction of those of the British and Commonwealth forces – I think less than one hundred were killed, mostly in the Mediterranean, and it is hardly mentioned in the Japanese history books. Conversely, British society was torn asunder by the loss of young men: men who never returned or if they did, were often affected by physical or mental wounds. It scarred the British psyche.

Of course, the second world war scarred the country again – and the civilian population sustained losses in the blitz and u boat campaigns. Children born after 1945 were often fascinated by the impact of the war on their families and country. Their children are my generation who now have children of our own.

Thankfully my knowledge of war is scant. I remember the first months of the first Iraq war whilst I was basking on a school bench in Kenilworth, one sunny September lunchtime. Then, the start of the second Iraq war coincided with me taking on a job at County archive. However, as a Guide, I would dutifully and patriotically take part in Remembrance Day Parade. Later, as part of a Scout marching band we would lead the march through small town in the New Forest.  I even attended one or two wreath laying events at university: for the first time attending in civvies. As a young adult I would happily buy a poppy. Pin it to a coat. Then lose that poppy, and go and buy another. Then more recently, I would buy a poppy or two but I would perhaps be wearing my Goretex jacket (as by this point I was living in rainy Cumbria, land of Goretex), or it might be a dry day and I might be wearing my new Rab feather jacket and not want to get a hole in it, and that act of buying a poppy becomes an imposition. I still buy the poppy but it languishes beside my bed. They are just bloody impractical for November weather in Cumbria.

Why am I obsessing about the wearing of a poppy? Tommy Robinson. I saw him on telly, a good week or two ago, stood outside a court in his smart suit and pristine poppy and it reminded me of all the news/media folk you see on the telly at this time of year, all with their pristine poppies which are OBVIOUSLY newly pinned by some runner whose job it is from mid-October onwards to have a ready supply of poppies (and pins) to hand. Because heaven forfend that you are seen without one. A nod to the mores but not necessarily sincere.

I do often think about the soldiers’ sacrifice, and griping about the impracticality of wearing a poppy for a week or so does seem so bloody petulant, but I’m fed up with the guilt. The guilt of feeling like you have to prove to people that you HAVE bought a poppy (usually several). The guilt that you haven’t had to see your generation sacrificed for some greater cause, and now the guilt that this sort of unhealthy and impractical relationship to the fallen can be commandeered by right wingers.

Having lived in a country that has had to redefine itself after 1945 I find it refreshing to know that national esteem doesn’t have to be linked to military victories. I’ve decided that the next time I am in the UK in October/ November I am going to make a donation to the Royal British Legion and then buy some temporary poppy tattoos online and stick them on my face. Yes, it’s unconventional, but that’s me.

Vha+1QMVRX+3VIqQ5uJcxg

Above is a list of allied servicemen who gave their lives in the First World War. It’s in the Yokohama Foreign Cemetery. I’m plan to find out more about it. Watch this space.

Sunshine in October

 

Today’s Halloween and am I missing the overpriced school party, the cold and the rain? Am I missing the last minute sweet shopping for trick or treating or persuading the boys to dress up? No, not at all. The other morning it was slightly chillier and I did consider making a cup of tea (Yorkshire Gold with milk) but I didn’t get round to it and the urge passed.

We’re hosting a Bonfire Night party with some other Brits on Friday but otherwise, I am not missing British autumn at all.

The last few days have been so warm and sunny, I’ve loved walking around Yokohama, soaking up the sunshine.

On Monday night I went to a theatre to listen to a traditional storyteller tell some standup in English. It’s called rakugu I think. It was really good, and I was part of an audience that had been invited to go for the experience to be filmed by NHK World. I got a decorative handkerchief/towel and 1ooo yen as a thank you. I was in the third row along with a Black couple, a Filipina and an Indian guy. I think my Mediterranean looks affected my seating. On the front row were all the blonde women. (Yes, Japan is racist).

Dan’s working hard at the moment in a three week blast of HAZOP meetings. I’m getting by, but I am missing having lunch with him and his colleagues. The kids are ok at school – I don’t think there are any big events coming up for them, but we are needing to tell the school that we’ll be taking them out of school YET AGAIN as the term doesn’t end till December 26th. That’s right folks, without Dan’s intervention, they’d be at school on Christmas Day. (I’m all up for it as I hate Christmas).

 

 

 

Bloody Brexit

Screen Shot 2018-09-02 at 14.55.34

Today’s been pretty productive. I’ve got up early, written my Morning Pages for the first time; gone through my Anki flashcards (katakana, kanji and conversation); sewed some colours onto the boys’ gym hats for sports day; cooked porridge; stripped the bed; put a wash on; washed up. But then I peeked at Twitter. I know, I know. Stupid me.

Most week days I meet up with Dan and his colleagues for lunch. Most of us are English but usually there is at least one Japanese friend too. Most days we lament Brexit and I used to feel bad for our Nihongo friend for talking politics in front of him. A couple of months ago we’d be incredulous but jovial about it. More recently, however, the joy has gone and we are more angry and I am not feeling bad about talking politics because this is SEISMIC in terms of what it means to be British and the future of Britain and we are angry about it and this is a historical time for us and we care.

Yesterday there was a government advice notice, (or whatever they’re called) that puts it in black and white that air traffic could well be affected. I remember discussing this with a Brit I met at a hostel last October and the Europeans we were chatting with dismissed this – it wouldn’t happen. But I reckon it might. And when is Dan’s contract meant to end? When are we meant to fly back? Start of April. Ho, ho, ho!

I’m getting so angry about the stripping of rights and freedoms for us Brits and especially the younger generation. What is our country meant to become? What is our plan, our vision, our blueprint? Even now, there’s no obvious future except uncertainty at best and economic ruin and social chaos at worst. It’s been a shambles for TWO BLOODY YEARS. I’m sorry. I know this is nothing new but I just have to vent.

I get bogged down in this division that has been thrust upon us by the righteous 52% and then think, but it’s okay. There are still artists and kind people and beautiful green countryside and they make living in the UK worthwhile. But I also get the feeling that everyone is getting fed up with the whole Brexit process. At best they are ignoring it and assuming everything will be fine. At worst, friends are depressed and anxious about their jobs, their future, medicines, the food they will be able to buy and feed their families with and the cost of holidays. They are wondering if their neighbours are going to stick around; if there will be enough doctors and GPs, enough people to pick the food this country CAN grow.

Returning to the UK was going to be hard enough come the spring, but returning to Brexit Britain really makes my heart sink.

I’ve got lots of lovely holiday-type blog posts to write. I’m sorry I’m overdue. And if you’ve got this far through this post you deserve a gold star. Good on you. Take care of yourselves.

Screenshot 2018-09-27 10.16.30.png

It’s a New Term and a New Boo-Boo

Yes, we’re talking another episode of ‘King Family Disappointing the School’.

Poor Dan hasn’t had time off work since coming to the UK in April to help us clear out of the rented place after the fire and bring us out to Japan. Not the most relaxing week or two of his life. The boys and I went back to England, fleetingly – for just over two weeks, in August so that we could get our eyes checked, visit the dentist and so that George could go to his Razzamatazz summer school. We also had a lovely few days on the south coast visiting Parkin family. Anyway, before the kids broke up from school, we wrote in their communications books that we’d be taking them out of school for two weeks. (We’ll be visiting a rice farm during harvest, then exploring Osaka and Kyoto and Okinawa). The teachers wrote replies saying that this was ok.

Fast forward to today and Dan writes another nudge note in the comms book reminding the teachers that we’ll be away.

Then, after lunch, there is an email from the lovely lady from HR to say that the school had telephoned her and that they were shocked and concerned about the boys missing the preparation for Sports Day. (Which is happening on the Saturday, a week after our return from holiday). Thankfully the  WONDERFUL HR lady knows us well and is married to an American, (and so can see the foibles of Japanese school culture), and blagged it for us saying it was part of our homeschool programme and that the boys would continue with their prep for sports day whilst we were away. Anyway, I felt awful again. I do hate to disappoint the school, and if they had raised concerns about the block of time before the school holidays we could have altered things, perhaps.

Well, I then went to the Daiso (100yen shop) and bought what was on the list AND some of the very-tasty-full-of-artificial-colours-and-sour-Octopus-jelly-sweets and came home and now feel a little bit better.

This is the Soran Bushi dance that Oliver has to practise and that he’ll be performing on Sports Day. He’s been practising at home off his own bat, which has been really lovely as dance isn’t normally his thing. But he’s enjoying this, which is great. (Another credit to Motomachi school for that).

Back to School

We had a rather hectic fortnight in the UK at the end of August visiting friends and relatives and getting George to and from his Razzamatazz summer school. Sadly the UK’s heatwave had waved away so it was the usual grey chilly summer weather that I expect of Cumbria.

Right now I am shirking from the job of hanging out the washing on our balcony. I’ve just updated my LinkedIn profile. (Why?!) And am waiting for some actually caffeinated coffee to brew. (Again, why? I’ve been off caffeine for months now.) It’s a crazy morning.

Today is Disaster Training Day. Dan has it at work and the boys are doing it at school too. I have to go and pick them up at 11.20 as if there’s been a massive earthquake. (Remember to take slippers and PTA ID badge, though).

The boys have been back at school for one week and only mornings at that. I think it’s been a really good reintroduction to school life. That plus the AWESOME school party that was held last Saturday. We didn’t know what to expect, and Dan was wanting us to go to see the last of the summer fireworks at Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, where there would be large crowds of Japanese in their finery. But we were knackered from the jet lag and the boys had been griping about being back in Japan and having to go to school so I didn’t want a late night.

Anyway, we went and it was ace. There were food stalls and lucky dip type stalls and dancing, drumming and singing, and folks in their finery too. And there was a beer tent. Everyone was happy.

Our Mini Scouting Adventure

About a month ago I decided the boys had settled in enough with life here and we could shake things up by finding them a Beaver colony and Cub pack for them to join. We figured it would help George make friends outside school which would be a good thing too as he has been struggling a bit socially with his classmates.

Well, we were contacted by our nearest group who meet down the road and are based at the Catholic Church. They meet on Sunday mornings and we arranged a meeting with the leaders to find out more. Next came a wee interview by the deputy chair of the group (who spoke good English) and we were told about all the events that the group puts on through the year and also about the upcoming Group camp to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. In two weeks’ time. So we came away and thought about it. O was skeptical, G was keen. We went and bought the uniform. So. Cool.

IMG_2913

And then the boys had one session and we had to make a decision on camp that day. Thankfully they had a great time and fears were allayed, so the boys were happy to go camping. And then both Dan and I were asked if we wanted to go along too. Hell yes. So last Friday, we met at the church at 6.30am to get on a coach and we returned last Monday afternoon.

Usually the sections all camp separately, so this was a rather unique opportunity to meet the whole group and for Oliver to see what the Scouts get up to. (He will move up when he is eleven). You might know that we too had some extreme heat in Japan recently, well thankfully, that dissipated on the Friday only to make way for a typhoon. The Cubs and Beavers (and parents) were staying in a building with aircon whilst the Scouts and Venture Scouts were under canvas. This was a deal maker, really, in our decision on whether to go or not. The site was described as a Catholic university: I think it comprises a girls’ secondary school; a small community of sisters and various facilities. There was a chapel, a church, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, lines of tea bushes and a bamboo forest. Mount Fuji loomed in the distance above the campsite. Dan left on Sunday night after the campfire to catch the train back to Yokohama for work on Monday.

Food

In charge of the kitchen was a fantastic Scouter called Morai san. She was helped by another lady Scouter whose name I never mastered. I didn’t master many names, to be honest. Anyway. I tried to help out in the kitchen and I chopped cabbage, set tables and dished out food and probably got in the way a lot. The kitchen was much bigger than Ennerdale or Branthwaite’s – I was really impressed with the facilities.

We ate a lot of rice and the meals were simple with the exception of the most awesome barbecue. I managed to lose 1.7 kilos over the four days without being hungry which was brilliant!

Anyway, that barbecue. It was AMAZING. There was rice (and chopped carrot) cooked in bamboo canes; pork; sweet rice balls on sticks wrapped in bacon and doused in soy sauce; sweetcorn; aubergine; fish; baguettes packed with mozzarella, onions, tomatoes, wholegrain mustard and spam; whole chickens; watermelon; the most wonderful smores I’ve ever eaten and this was all washed down with iced tea and lemon water.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Activities

There was a lot of formality. Each morning there was flag break and muster followed by callisthenics.

Generally Dan and I were both taken aback by the lack of things to do. It was all very relaxed and there was no morning or afternoon snacks. So an activity would be penciled in for ALL MORNING. There was a hike around a trail of bamboo crosses (that also doubled as teaching about the stations of the cross); a water fight; swimming; a night walk in the graveyard entitled ‘Test of Courage’; a mass; bamboo crafts and the campfire.

The tradition in Japan is that everyone wears their neckers (or chiefs as they call them here) on their heads. Every six/ group had prepared a sketch and there were songs too. I got them to sing the Spanish song about bogies. Always high brow, me. The camp fire was started with a bottle of lit flammable liquid travelling down a wire to the prepared fire stack. Very impressive. The campfire leader, (the Scout leader), would lead everyone to sing a chant that translated “Good evening, who is here? [person about to perform yells their name], everyone chants “what will you do?” [person responds] and then they do their thing. The campfire ended with us all stood round the fire, holding hands and singing a song to the tune of the New World Symphony and then humming it. Just lovely.