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.

 

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).

 

 

 

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.

More Shogaku life

Two weeks ago I had a meeting with the other international (English speaking) parents about how the kids are progressing and the forthcoming swimming season. Here is the form I have to fill in and confirm with my banking seal each morning for each child (on the days they have swimming), otherwise they won’t be allowed to participate.

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These are the boys’ mugshots in the International Classroom. I am super impressed with the neatness of Oliver’s hiragana because his English handwriting is not nearly so nice!

After the chat with the principal and general swimming briefing, we had a presentation about Oliver’s residential trip. Take a gander:

 

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Here are the sick bags (labelled of course) that I’ve had to put together for the trip.

He’ll be spending two nights at a purpose built centre owned by Yokohama City Council.

It was rebuilt after the 2011 earthquake, in a different spot and orientation but it is up a hill. The kids will have tsunami practice which involves running up the hill to the centre from the water’s edge. That should keep them fit. They will bring the dried fish they create home on the bus in an ice bag. Mmm.

 

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Also last week the boys had a medical at the school. They’ve had ECGs, fitness tests and had their BMIs measured. Not only this but also they were sent home with this: that’s right folks, a urine test. (Thankfully, they passed with a literally clean bill of health.)

However, they are both a bit obsessed by “Diabetes Type 2”, as they call it and we’ve had lots of discussions, which is all to the good.

Last Friday the school had an open afternoon. We were able to observe Oliver having a maths lesson which wasn’t that exciting, whilst George was having a music lesson. There was lots of school work on display and we were chuffed to see this from the boys.

These boys

They’re both growing up so fast. Oliver is going on a school residential trip on Monday for two nights; for this I had to buy him some marine shoes (Gul shoes, I think we might call them). Anyway, he’s a SIZE 6!! How did that happen? He came home from shogaku today and said he has Home Ec tomorrow and needs to take 40g each of broccoli, carrot and cabbage. I roll my eyes and think of the traipse we’ll have to do en famille later to go shopping, but then remember we’re in Japan where it is perfectly acceptable for kids to go places on their own. So off he went to the Family Mart at the bottom of the hill to buy his provisions.

In a similar vein, George has been gagging to have a playdate with one of his classmates. They had planned a playdate earlier in the week but we had already agreed to go to Tokyo with the Moomins, (in-laws), so that had to be quashed, (much to George’s disappointment.)

Today though, the Moomins have gone and we are not busy so I dropped him off but we agreed that he could walk home on his own.

They both had a great time with Grandma and Grandad, and both are enjoying school. I’m so proud of them.