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.

Bread and Circuses (or School Dinners and Japanese Theatre)

Quiet, Sophisticated Dining

Not surprisingly, this does not refer to the school dinners. Usually I meet Dan and a selection of his colleagues for lunch. At the start of June our numbers were depleted as Jermain san was on holiday and Paul san was in Hitachi city. So Dan, Sesheimo san and I had a couple of quieter lunches, the most memorable of which was at a French restaurant where I had my first ever galette. It was flavoured with blue cheese, pink peppercorns and honey. We ate outside and had beautiful views of the Yokohama wheel.

I’d first read about galettes in a book I read in October called ‘Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather’ set in Quebec. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17120581-fish-change-direction-in-cold-weather It’s a sweet book, I recommend it. The following day I had the school lunch to look forward to. Below are some snaps I took around Motomachi, where the school is situated.

 

School Dinners

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Armed with my slippers in a bag, my 260yen for lunch and a red PTA lanyard from the 100yen shop, I arrived at the school at the correct time. Go me.

Of course I hadn’t realised that there would be an hour-long presentation from the head of health and hygiene at the school about how the lunches are prepared.

It was all in Japanese but thankfully there were pictures too, but I did get more from the experience when an English speaker mother whose daughter is in Oliver’s class came over and explained some of it to me.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • All meals are made on site in the school kitchens.
  • They are making meals for over 600 people, (pupils and staff combined).
  • All meals are made from scratch, including broths. Recent changes to the amount of salt allowed in the meals means that more effort has to go into flavouring the broths, and ideally these would be simmered over a longer period, but due to time constraints they are not as flavourful as the staff would like. But it’s a compromise.
  • The staff take stringent measures to prevent against cross-contamination. Not only do they use separate knives and boards for different foods, but also different aprons, gloves and face masks. Wow.
  • There was a problem with waste at the school but after giving a presentation to the students about how hard the cooks work to ensure the children get tasty and healthy meals, the amount of waste has been drastically reduced.
  • Staff from Kamakura district education board were attending the presentation in order to learn from what Yokohama are doing. Yokohama must be a beacon of yumminess.

Finally, the presentation was over, and after washing our hands we lined up for our lunch.

PQ%9g9FYSICiIdfqk+UWZgIt was delicious. Except for the milk, which was just odd. I’m not a big milk drinker at the best of times, but I closed my eyes and sucked it up and then I could focus on the other elements of the meal: bread roll flavoured with cheese (yum); spaghetti bolognaise; cabbage salad and melon. Yum, yum, yum and yum.

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Theatre trip

That week also had Oliver going on a school trip to the theatre, which us parents were also invited to. So I walked through Nogai to the theatre and saw some new bits of Yokohama including this Art and Architecture library/ cafe, which I filed away to visit a later time.

I also clocked these bars along the banks of the canal that looked artistically seedy and so took this snap of them.

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I’ve never been to a Japanese theatre before, and apart from he decor, it was very similar to a British (modern) theatre. l+BOjgKiRHar+TZTkFIBRQ

When the curtain went up there were three gentlemen in Kimonos who came onto stage and played percussion instruments.

IMG_2133 Then a lady came on stage and played the shamisen. She played two or three tunes, including one western one which was familiar to me mainly through campfire singing at Guides. (‘Mary Had some Marmalade’ and ‘Jonny was a Parachuter’). There were three schools at the theatre, all of the kids were in the 5th grade. Two kids from each school were invited up on stage to have a go with the percussion whilst the shamisen player played alongside.

There was an interval, then one of the gentlemen came onstage and told a story.

IMG_2132 After this, the tone changed completely and a lady dressed in sparkly high heels, a split skirt and witchy get-up came on to do some magic.This bit was rather bizarre. The magic wasn’t that great either.

This was followed by another Japanese story telling session.

Quite an experience. Glad I went.

Shogaku – 小学. The boys are back in school.

I thought I had done most of the shopping for the boys’ start of school by Saturday, and true, on Sunday there was only a couple of things outstanding. Then we labelled. That was a lot of fun.

I lie.

But, the upshot is that we all now know how to write the boys’ names in katakana and their pants are named so I don’t have to be rooting around looking at what age is on the label. (A wee bugbear.)

Monday morning. The boys are excited. The randoseru, (backpacks) are packed.

We are to be at the school at 8am to meet with Lin-sensei, the head of the international classroom. I think I’m going to refer to it as a unit though.

At Kenilworth school there were units – the deaf unit and the behavioural unit. (There weren’t any units at BSG and that made me sad. Because we all know that to be in the top 16% you cannot be deaf or have any emotional issues. Mmm.)
Dan didn’t make it past the genkan, (area where you doff your shoes), and was shooed away. It was all a bit of a blur. I had more forms to fill in and things to order.

The boys were made welcome by their classmates and teachers, who both seem nice. Oliver’s in particular is lovely. He is lucky because he has a girl in his class, Erica, who can speak English, (she’s Japanese though). I did spot a slightly European-looking kid in George’s class but George said that none of the kids spoke English. That mystery was solved today by me bumping into a tall Caucasian who introduced himself as the boy’s dad and he is Norwegian. So this Dad goes into school once a week to teach his son Norwegian. Cool.

I was in George’s classroom during the music lesson and they sang BINGO (in Nihongo) and I joined in in English which was great fun and earned me some kudos among the kids! I was hoping to be around at lunch time but I was dismissed by 10.30. Oliver is wanting me to stay but really, there’s not much I am doing of any worth.

So for some lessons they are in the unit, where they are getting intensive Japanese (Nihongo) support but otherwise they are in their classrooms. Oliver’s class has 36 kids, but the rooms seem big enough and I really don’t think it’s an issue.

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I was told by George’s teacher that I need to make a mat for when they do art.

So I did that the Monday night. I also needed an empty 5kg rice bag for putting his flower pot in. So Dan sourced one of those from his colleagues and brought it back yesterday.

I also needed to go shopping yesterday for a yellow bandana for when Oliver does Home Ec (Friday), and a new, washable facemask. He will be able to take the apron made by the lovely folk in Montana, who belong to a Christian community,  (their name escapes me) which was gifted by Fiona.

IMG_1339The boys are enjoying their lunches. I have been told that George needs to adjust his grip when using a spoon. George went back for seconds on Monday. On Friday it will be George’s turn to be serving lunch to the others. Exciting.

Oliver said yesterday that he is loving school. George is having a whale of a time. Yesterday he was having his PE lesson and I sneaked this shot of them all listening to the teacher. Note the caps which are reversible – you get one red team and one white team.

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School

This morning we need to go and buy a thermometer. Part of the paperwork that took NINETY minutes to complete yesterday, (with an interpreter), was writing down the kids’ average body temperature. Both the international teacher, Lin-sensai, and our interpreter, (a lovely lady from Dan’s HR department), were shocked that I didn’t know this off the top of my head. So today we buy a thermometer and start taking readings.

The orientation session yesterday was long. I need to set-up a bank account: in order to do this I need to create a seal. Woah. I need to take some paperwork over to Naka ward office today, and at some point we need to buy all the bits and bobs for Monday morning. It was a hard ninety minutes but I held it together until we got out. Really overwhelmed. And Oliver was being difficult.

As it happens, next week the teachers are carrying out home visits for all the pupils in the afternoons so the boys will only be going in for morning session and lunch.

I’ll be going in with them for that first week. Both the boys are upbeat and excited. Turns out Oliver will be going on a residential camp in June at a peninsular where they’ll be fishing and kayaking and suchlike.

So the photos. The school itself looks run-down in comparison to British primary schools. It reminds me of schooling from the 1960s. Or maybe earlier. But they WILL learn some Japanese!

The future of the future of A level students.

Ah Gove. Mister Michael Gove. The Right Honourable Michael Gove. This is a Conservative Cabinet member who the Guardian today reckoned was one of the rising stars of the party, and this makes me shudder. 

He is a man who seems bent on reforming the state education system towards something resembling a nineteen sixties grammar school. One where university education was the reserve for the academically gifted, (but free) and where the non-academic pupils were catered for by secondary modern and secondary technical schools. Of course now nearly fifty percent of pupils go to University and it certainly isn’t free and there is no special provision for those who are not academically gifted.

Today there are a good few handful of grammar schools still in existence: flourishing and keeping local economies (and house prices) buoyant, and I had the experience of attending one for a little over two years as a youngster in Bournemouth. In the latest league tables of GCSE results ninety-nine percent of its pupils attained A*- C grades. At my local comprehensive in the town I now live in that figure is in the mid forty percents. Why? because this school does not select its pupils and has no great culture of academic aspiration. It has a nuclear facility on its doorstep that provides well-paid jobs regardless of whether you are a graduate or not and so there simply is not the emphasis to go and learn for the mere sake of it. When I went to Kenya in 1998 I visited a girls secondary school and saw a list of A level results. The girls had done well, but the only A levels on offer to them were science, maths and english. At the time I felt sad that those with a love of the arts were being funnelled into different directions, but since graduating with an arts degree and marrying a chemical engineer, I am more fully aware of the benefits of science degrees when it comes to making a living. What good is an education for its own sake if it costs you time and money and gives you little return financially?

Of course, it is wrong of me to assume that schools with good league table positions are encouraging further education for its own sake. Of course they aren’t. Not since the Russell Group of Universities declared its list of ‘facilitating subjects’ in 2011, which has since been latched onto by league table manipulators/setters/policy people. Yes now exam league tables rank schools by the percentage of pupils with two A grades and a B at A-level in facilitating subjects – which exclude subjects including Religious Studies, Music, Art, Economics, Design and Technology, Philosophy, Politics and Theatre Studies. It was always common sense that if one wanted to apply to Cambridge to study PPE, then A levels in Photography, Psychology and Media Studies probably wouldn’t cut the mustard, but to have this formalised into league-tables is going to affect more than the individual pupil and his/her future.  

Yet even some of the facilitating subjects aren’t secure under Gove’s helm. I read recently that Historians are worried that the abolition of AS levels are going to discourage students from picking the subject at sixteen, (as they will be in it for the whole two year slog) and this in turn will affect the uptake of History at age fourteen. As a History and English graduate, part of me thinks this is Historians trying to justify their jobs, turkeys not voting for Christmas if you will, but maybe they are onto something. 

So maybe in three or four years’ time students will be leaving prestige secondary schools with A levels in the sciences, maths, english and to a lesser extent, languages and geography/ history. What is going to happen to Music and Art departments in schools across the land? Hopefully they will not vanish altogether. For instance I can see them staying on vestigially in independent schools who have such a large curriculum to fill (all that prep and Saturday morning study), but as for state schools like my local school, I really don’t know. I would hope they might put a finger up to the league tables and accept that they are going to be scoring badly when assessed on ‘facilitating subjects’ and continue to fund their less academic, yet economically useful, subjects. And therein lies the crux of the matter. Funding.