Recently we had Parent-Teacher meetings at school.

I love Parent-Teacher evenings because I’m always on my own, with four tired, bored, hungry children who would rather be doing ANYTHING except having to vaguely behave in school after-hours.

I usually let them loose in the playground with a ball so that I can half-concentrate on what the teacher has to say. The other half of me is praying that they don’t break the school windows.

As one of my children is struggling a little in one subject and another son is struggling a little in another, this time I asked the teacher if she would have any objection to me getting a tutor for them to help them get caught up. Oh no, not at all, she said quickly, in fact I can recommend Janet Hopkinson who is tutoring Maddy and Jake or Mrs Symonds who is tutoring Henry and Timothy.

I manage to keep the surprise off my face. I think. OK, so I hadn’t realised all those children were being tutored. But there’s no reason I would know I suppose.

So the next day I chatted to Maddy’s, Jake’s and Henry’s parents to get the tutors’ numbers.

And then I talked to some more parents who cheerily told me their children had been having tutors for some time. And then I talked to a few more parents who said their children had finished general tutoring and had now moved on to 11+ tutoring.

I felt like I was being initiated into some sort of club that I hadn’t even realised existed.

Our school is outstanding. It does very well in league tables. Several children go on to grammar school each year. Many of the parents are middle-class.

The tutoring thing has just left me with a bunch of questions though.

I’m not bothered that parents are choosing to have their children tutored because that’s their right if that’s what they want to do.

But I have to wonder how much of the school’s results are due to the teaching in the school and how much is due to the fact that so many of the children have catch-up tuition or tuition to get them ahead, to get them ready for the 11+.

If all these children weren’t being tutored, would my child not be one of the ones languishing in the classroom? Does the tutoring raise the average level of ability and is that a good thing, in that the others will be stretched? Or does it just increase the gap between the clever and the not-so-clever?

Are the better-off families buying themselves a better education? (Hasn’t it always been thus?)

How much does the tutoring affect the performance tables of the school and the inspection reports? Does the fact that we live in a middle-class village mean more children are tutored, bolstering the school’s results, making the school more attractive to families and making house prices more expensive, meaning only more middle-class people can afford to live here?

I realise that living in an 11+ school district means that there is more competition for state school places than there might be elsewhere. (I should point out that we plan on having our children sit the 11+ and we are already preparing them for that at home but no way do we plan on having them cram for the test or tutored every Saturday for months beforehand. I want them to pass the test if they are clever enough and not pass it if they are not clever enough. Perhaps naively, I hadn’t thought about the ones being tutored privately or sent to private school with the primary aim of being prepared for the 11+.)

Anyway, for us, the tutoring at this point is simply to get Harry and William caught up with some of the things they are supposed to have covered in class already and are a little behind on.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. I just know that finding out that so many children are being tutored leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable.

Would you consider tutoring for your child? Do you feel tutoring has wider implications (good or bad) in state schools?

Photo: Herkie


cherry blossom sakura

Today Melvyn went to see the cherry blossom, or sakura, in Japan.

The sakura usually arrives in Tokyo at the end of March or the beginning of April and, when it does, the Japanese come out in large crowds to hold flower-viewing parties in parks and shrines and they celebrate the beauty of the sakura with Hanami festivals.


comfort-sfwWilliam was off school sick again today and Edward, my littlest, has been a little under the weather for a couple of days so I had two mildly sick boys on my hands today.

But it was lovely to see them interacting once we got back home after the morning school run. In a big family, taking one or two children out of the equation changes the whole dynamics of the sibling relationships. Where normally there is loud, rambunctious, full-on boyhood all the time, losing a couple of children brings the whole child-rearing thing into a more manageable state. The house seems so quiet! The children (those who are left) seem so nice!

And when they are poorly a bit of the fight is already taken out of them. They play together companionably, quietly.

It’s just like having a couple of girls!

I think maybe I should have been the mother of two girls.

But I made the most of today and enjoyed their quiet company. They spent some time quietly cuddling. And then after they both had a nap, we walked to school and they held hands, each wanting to comfort his poorly brother just a little bit longer.

Ethics and activism: blogging for change

Increasingly I am finding myself drawn to those bloggers who are writing about what they are doing to bring about change, making a difference to something somewhere and making the world a better place to live.  As the use of social media and blogging increases, blogging is becoming an increasingly powerful platform for bringing about change by raising awareness so that others might be inspired to take action.

I have been involved in ethical and environmental issues and animal welfare all my life and more recently I have become more involved in charity endeavours too. I support campaigns to end poverty and campaigns to prevent maternal and childhood deaths. I continue to ask for trade justice, tax justice and to drop the debt owed by poor countries since I first became involved with those issues during the Live8 campaign.

As a family we try to live ethically. I buy as many fairtrade goods as I can and practice positive buying. I  boycott companies like Nestle and I try to read up on the ethics of businesses that I deal with. One of the arguments I meet about the Nestle boycott is ‘why boycott Nestle when there are so many other companies that have an equally bad track record? Isn’t it hypocritical to boycott one and not all?’ My thoughts about this are pretty simple. Lots of people are not interested in boycotts or ethical living in general and I have no problem with that. Some people may choose to boycott several companies in the hope that they can make a difference. But others may choose to boycott one company, perhaps the only problematic company that they know about or perhaps it is the company or issue they feel the most strongly about, in the hope that they can make a difference. Any or all of those are good enough. It’s OK to make small changes. We can’t set the whole world to rights.

We are also starting to think more about the ethics of clothes production. We already buy a lot of second hand clothes and use hand-me-downs and I am starting to check the ethics behind some of the cheap clothing companies and supermarkets that we use.

I support animal welfare and sign my name to campaign letters. I won’t buy anything that has been tested on animals and I check before I buy. I buy food which has been produced in an ethical way: no battery eggs/chicken, foie gras or factory-farmed milk or meat. I boycott companies like KFC. But as someone concerned about animal welfare I’m not sure that’s enough for me. I am leaning towards vegetarianism for health reasons, for animal welfare reasons and for environmental reasons.

I have fostered dogs in the past that are waiting for a forever home. Fostering is so much fun and when the children are long gone to their own grown-up lives I imagine a house full of rescue and foster dogs! At least I won’t suffer too much from empty nest syndrome. In fact, I’ll probably be loving it as I’m pretty sure they won’t be giving me attitude when I ask them to ‘sit’ or ‘be quiet’.

We live a green lifestyle and I try to reduce our ecological footprint in as many aspects of our family life as I can. The chief of these is reducing our consumption, followed by reusing and recycling. So there’s lots of reusing cardboxes for craft and then recycling them when the children aren’t looking and reducing things like our water use (which does not, as my children insist it must, involve having a bath only once a month).

With four small children I haven’t really been able to get out there and make changes but I can make a difference in the actions I take at home, the things I buy and in the things I support online.  This year I want to be involved with projects where I can really make a difference by taking action and it is fun trying to decide what that might involve.

Photo: justinbaeder

Since writing this post, the terrible events in Japan have happened. If you are looking for somewhere to donate, please consider the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

There are lots of bloggers who are working to bring about change either by blogging about what they believe in or by blogging about what they have done to raise awareness and inspire others. Here are some inspirational posts by some of those bloggers, please click through and read about the fantastic things they are doing:

Merry at Patch of Puddles writes about better buying in Poking a Toe at Off Grid – Buying Better.

Jax at Live Otherwise writes about the Nestle boycott and changing behaviours  in Time for a New Consumerism.

Hannah at Muddling Along Mummy blogs about why she boycotts Nestle in Is it better to do the popular thing or to do the right thing?

Heather at Note from Lapland has a very detailed post about the Nestle boycott in The Nestle Boycott – what’s that all about then?

Hayley at Simply Hayley writes about educating herself about the Nestle boycott in Our household and the Nestle Boycott.

Dara at Readily a Parent writes about the Nestle boycott and other changes in In a Boycotting Kind of Mood.

Rachel at Midlife Singlemum adds her thoughts to the Nestle boycott debate in The Nestle Boycott – Truth or Hysteria?

QWERTYMum discusses positive consumerism in Eggs.

Mama Syder of At Home with Mama Syder writes about rehoming battery hens in Life from The Henhouse.

Kirsty at Imperfect Pages blogs about ethical clothing in An Ethical Epiphany.

Wendy of Inside the Wendy House tells us Why She is a Vegetarian.

Onykahonie of We Don’t Eat Anything with a Face discusses animal welfare in Zoos – The Moral Dilemma.

Jacq of Mymumdom writes about animal welfare in Make Every Animal a Wanted Pet.

Gemma at HelloitsGemma’s Blog tells us about the demonstration she took part in in Strands Together.

Jax at Live Otherwise organised a 100 books challenge to raise money to build a library with Oxfam Unwrapped.

Michelle at Mummy From The Heart writes about taking part in Operation Christmas Child.

Liska at New Mum Online writes about aspartame and asks readers to read and vote with their feet in Aspartame is legal because…?

Ailbh at Who Teaches Whom writes about Passing on my values to my children.

At Tots 100, Christine of Thinly Spread writes about ethical blogging in Blogging Activism: making a difference? and there’s also a survey of parent bloggers about ethical blogging.

Jax at Live Otherwise writes about the sometimes problematic relationship of companies supporting charities for marketing purposes in Charitable Thoughts and about companies using bloggers to advertise their charitable campaigns in Charitising.

Nova at Cherished by Me writes about the power of blogging and social media in making a difference.

Josie at Sleep is for the Weak blogged about her trip to Bangladesh to raise awareness of the Save the Children Blogladesh Campaign in Beauty and Horror: Two Sides to Bangladesh.

Rosie Scribble blogged about her trip to Cameroon to raise awareness of the Pampers and UNICEF vaccination campaign in Pampers, UNICEF and my blogging trip to Africa.

Jules from Curtains For The Window blogged to raise awareness of the many women in poverty stricken areas of the world in Get Lippy! Nazziwa’s Story.

A few bloggers have taken part in the Save The Children Born To campaign. Michelle at Mummy From The Heart writes about what she was born to do in What were you Born to do? It’s a Big Question! and Bod for Tea blogged about the fundraising playdate she had for the Born To campaign in Can a pasta necklace save a child’s life?

Mummy Beadzoid blogs about her involvement in the BLISS charity for premature babies.

Cara at Freckles Family discusses whether we really need a census in Census and Sensibility.

Aspergers, Family Life and Me writes about spreading awareness through the blogosphere about autism in Why Do I Blog?

Looking for Blue Sky tells us why she has set up a special needs group in Meeting people in the real world is important too.

Susie at New Day New Lesson writes about judging each other in The Only Way To Really Understand Something is To Experience It.

And finally Becky from Baby Budgeting gives us a lovely quote to round up these inspirational posts in A hundred years from now it will not matter….

Thank you to all these lovely bloggers for taking part in this carnival. I would love to think that someone might read here today, read one of the brilliant posts above and think about something they could do.

Updated: I’ve added in a couple of posts that people pointed me to. If you don’t want your post included for any reason, please let me know!

Have you blogged about something you’ve done to bring about change? Please leave a link in the comments so we can come and show our support!


pancake1-sfwThis year for Lent, I am giving up Unhappiness.

Or to phrase it more positively, I am going to work on being happy.

Either way, I plan on being less of a miserable cow.

(I think a week in the Bahamas, returning to a clean house with a newly-employed nanny and housekeeper should do it.)

What are you giving up for Lent?

Photo: me