My son turned four in August last year. Five weeks later he joined a merry band of fellow four year olds and started school. Full time and five days a week.
We are now fixed on ‘school time’. Not something I have a problem with actually. Of course the pricing out of the holiday market is a bit rubbish. The mercenary society we live in can collectively and crassly shout supply and demand all they like – it’s still a bit rubbish.
Otherwise the new timetable provides a pretty good structure to our week. My favourite moment being this one right now when all three of the family are on drop-off and I get thirty minutes to breathe at the start of each day.
Most important of all is my son. He seems so happy. He has a wildly sociable nature and is thriving in the exuberant games and social politics of Year R. He enjoys school, he enjoys being part of something and he LOVES learning.
Watching him learn to read is like watching a slow but mind-blowing magic trick. How does he do it? How does he do it? How does he do it? I would like to know…
He is reading everything. Signs, menus, leaflets, newspapers. I mean not in their entirety, and often not particularly accurately (“sandwiches and mash”), but he can pick out words and make a good stab at working out others. He is also air writing constantly – with one eye squinted shut he spells out sentences in the sky for us to decipher:
“O-l-i-v-e i-s i-n the b-o-x o-f ch-o-c-o-l-t-s”.
So ‘chocolates’ is a bit of a tricky word then. But yes, his sister was in a box of chocolates. A little more urgency would have helped me save the strawberry cream…
And how many chocolates were in the box? Because maths – less magical to me – is also burgeoning in his mind. ‘Number sentences’ are where it’s at. Counting in twos? No problem. Doubling…well as some of you may know, it ain’t no trouble for them to add double.
Our fears about his age in many ways have been unfounded. He has coped admirably. Not unusually, however, he is exhausted. At times just very tired but at other times – particularly as we limped to the end of last term – exhausted. Behaviour deteriorates. Dreams turn into nightmares and draining night terrors. 7am wake ups slip to 8am. And little illnesses turn into bigger illnesses.
He wants to attend though. I want him to attend. I like him going to school and some days, let’s be honest, I need him to go to school. Yes we have sent him in with a dose of Calpol and a wish of good luck on the odd day, but only if we deem him to be sort of ok and not too anti-socially germy. We are not going to send him to the detriment of himself or other people. Plenty of time for that.
So we quietly celebrate every full week he gets through because it is an effort most weeks and it is remarkable and we didn’t expect him to manage a full week until October, maybe November. Because have I mentioned he is only four? Institutionally inexperienced and not used to a barrage of bugs; an August-baby-four. Getting older every day but still just four.
Legally not even required to attend school yet.
Imagine, then, my delight at receiving an attendance letter from school noting my son’s attendance at 87.2%. Eighty seven point two percent. Wowee!! How amazing is that!?
Well apparently not so amazing. The cut and paste letter continued with warnings of continued monitoring and the need for things to improve. It mentioned the government set level and threatened contact and meetings with council officers.
How unbearably sad. How sad that we are so caught up in a world of statistics that four year olds in Year R are included in the attendance records of primary schools. How sad that good, kind schools don’t have the resources to take even slightly individual approaches and initiate a dialogue with families they think might be struggling.
I believe we will capture and keep some of my son’s current love of learning if we start his education well. I believe we will develop his commitment to the school community and to attendance if we start well.
I believe we are getting my son’s first year of school right. I believe that 87.2% is getting it so right.