Some may still consider me a novice primary school parent, what with my son shortly to be only going into Year 3. However, in those three short years, I have learned much of the mysterious ways of the primary school. So as my youngest now embarks on the good ship Primary, I think it is time I spread my anti-wisdom around a bit for all those parents out there who will also be untying the mooring lines from their offspring and pushing them off into the uncharted territory of school, to watch them bob around aimlessly whilst they learn to work their rudders. At which point I shall gracefully swim away from this boating metaphor, as I really do not know what the fuck I am talking about.
At some point between July and September, the purchase of uniform will take place. All hail the cut-price supermarket clothes, is all I can say. The local uniform shop where we are obliged to buy the branded items is a sphincter-clenchingly irritating dichotomy of being last decorated in 1973 whilst its young customer assistants are bang up to date with their studied aloofness and inability to spot a customer in need from five paces.
Two years ago, I left the purchase of non-branded items to the middle of the summer holiday. Oh, how I didn’t laugh when I sailed up the Asda escalator to be confronted by a scene from the Apocalypse, only involving slightly more easy-iron shirts in inappropriate sizes. The only thing left hanging on the uniform rails was my will to live. An odd pair of grey shorts lay forlorn on the floor, four sizes too large, whilst half a pack of socks swung at an odd angle from a hanger that once gripped a navy skirt. I managed to find an assistant to enquire if they were expecting more in, and she gave me a smile of such pity that a little part of me died inside. So now, as soon as I see the summer holiday looming, it’s a family trip to the supermarket for us, then I don’t feed them for six weeks to stunt their growth and it’s job done.
I’ll name that jumper in one (Sharpie pen)
Labelling your child’s uniform. Simple, right? Wrong. There is a hierarchy of labelling methods that correlates precisely to how shit you are as a parent.
At the top of the parenting tree smugly sways the sewn-in labels. Oh, look at me, with my groovy coloured font and my neat little stitches. There are mums (and I wish not to be sexist, but I have never yet met a dad who would dream of entertaining such ludicrousy) who spend days before school starts hunched over a mountain of uniform, meticulously sewing a label into each shirt, skirt and sock, every stitch a pledge of love and devotion for their beautiful, well turned-out offspring.
Below this on the tree there are the iron-in name badges. You can still show off with a funky font and a range of colours, but this practical naming solution means you never have to try to thread the end of a piece of cotton into an opening smaller than an ant’s arsehole, or jab a needle under your thumb nail, a pain so hideous it makes you spontaneously invent a new swear word as the ones currently at your disposal are just not up to the job. But let’s not forget, this is not a solution for the lazy. After all, it means that you have to iron your child’s uniform at least once.
And then, at the bottom of the tree, slouched with legs open and a fag on the go, is the Sharpie pen. The naming implement of parents too lazy to get the ironing board out, or too those too unprepared to have ordered iron-in name labels two weeks previously. Unless your child’s name is Ed Law or Sue Po, however, there may well be a space issue, so you end up writing tiny letters with a fat-nibbed writing implement that look fine and dandy for the first 12 micro-seconds, then as the ink bleeds across the label, you realise you have just basically redacted the washing instructions. On the upside, however, it is one of the few naming solutions that can be executed with child in situ. Child’s arms aloft, you can pull the shirt label toward a nearby table and Sharpie it to your heart’s content, or turn the waistband of trousers inside out and quickly scribble the name in the three seconds your child will stand still for. You can’t do that with a bloody iron. No really, don’t.
Just to clarify, I have never, ever, used a Sharpie pen to label my child’s uniform. *kicks two Sharpie pens under sofa and walks away nonchalantly, whistling*
The way the years are titled at primary school is a complete mystery. I know I was educated in an era when throwing a blackboard rubber at a pupil was an acceptable way of a teacher commanding attention, and in fact, in an era when there was actually such as thing as a blackboard rubber, but really, it didn’t used to be this complicated.
Now, the first year at primary is not called Year 1. Good God no. I mean, that would be ridiculous. In our school this first year is called Reception. Unless you write it down, when it becomes YrF. Which I think stands for Foundation. But could possibly stand for Fuckwit.
I could sort of understand this approach a few years ago, when reception was a gentle introduction to learning, the metaphorical atrium where children gathered to slowly acclimatise to this new phase of their life and where the curriculum consisted largely of colouring in and singing songs. However, with the introduction of the new curriculum in 2014 this is no longer the case. So concerned was the Department for Education that we were rearing a nation of dullards that the new curriculum dictates that by the spring term of reception the kids are expected to be calculating simultaneous equations and spotting subordinate clauses at around the same time as they master a knife and fork. Give or take.
So kids have to have been in school a whole year before they are in Year 1, at which point it finally becomes a lot simpler, and you count the years up to 6. Although don’t forget, when they get to year 3 they stop being Key Stage 1 and commence Key Stage 2. Which in old money, converts back to infants and primary. Although taking into account deflation, the increased value of sterling and the accelerated curriculum, probably actually equates to senior school and university.
So. We’re all clear on that then, yes?
The Teacher’s home visit
The home visit from your child’s teacher is one of the most high-pressure, high-stakes situations you will endure. You will spend the preceding three hours wiping every bogey from the kitchen chairs, picking up those tiny bits of Lego that you have pretended not to notice in the corner of the room for the previous five weeks and checking the cleaned toilet for fresh skid marks at least once every ten minutes. You will agonise over refreshment choice and ponder snack options. Biscuits: too sugary? Fruit: too messy? Homemade gingerbread men: too full of a 4-year old’s bogeys and bacteria?
You will sit in one room with the teacher, answering benign questions about your child, what they like and dislike, what nursery they have been to, and so on, whilst in the other room the teaching assistant gets down to the real interrogation with your child. You silently pray to the God of Keeping your Trap Shut that he doesn’t say anything too incriminating, doesn’t mention the time that you nearly shut his head in the car boot, and doesn’t repeat a heinous swear word that he may or may not have heard you say when you stubbed your toe on a bloody scooter that had been discarded in the middle of the kitchen floor.
As they leave they give you a smile that possibly means ‘your child is a retard and a horror’ and you smile back, a rictus grin that definitely means ‘I need a large glass of wine now’.
What they did that day
Get used to knowing nothing about what happens to your child every day. Along with sticking their laminated name by their peg and learning where to put their book bag on their first day at school, every reception child swears a ninja vow of silence. Henceforth, conversations about what they have been doing that day will run somewhere along these lines:
“So, what was your best part of today?”
“What did you have?”
“So apart from lunch, what else did you do that you enjoyed?”
“Lovely. Did you do anything in the classroom that was good?”
“Ooh, what was that then?”
“That sounds good. What did you play?”
“Who did you play with?”
“How nice. Which friends?”
The Beginner’s Guide to Primary School Part 2 will be published next week. I know. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff.