Last day of school.  The kids were excited about that, especially since it is so much later than what they were used to.  Six weeks of vacation is nothing like 12.  Already, they’re wishing it was six years.  They have not realised that they may be involved in lifetime learning and now’s not the time to bring that up.

Because summer vacation (or holiday) is so much shorter than in the US, I hope they learn to appreciate the time and make it worthwhile.  Though we had a TV in the US, it was one of those old analog models that cannot pick up signals very well without the use of cable or satellite.  So, it was only used to watch videos or DVDs.  Now, we no longer have a TV, but we do have laptops.  And they are hooked on YouTube.  I would hope they do not waste their time with that for the duration of this break.  But, they did mention they wanted to go to Nanny’s tomorrow because there was a movie on TV they wanted to see.  Sigh.

The school year is divided very differently from the US, and despite the half-term and end-of-term breaks, the number of days off for holidays is still far fewer than in the US.  It is so hard to gauge whether the increased school days translate into more or better education. 

Things have changed so much according to my husband and critics have complained that education has been dumbed down.  The method of teaching using various historical themes is very different.  This year, it has been WWII, the Tudors, the Romans and Anglo-Saxons.  For each period, they made “topic books” and they brought them home at the end of each term.  However, the last one is to be returned at the beginning of next year so that their new teacher can see it.  The topic books contain everything they did related to the period and it looks almost like a complete scrapbook.  It makes it so easy to save and store for future reference.

The themed study made it fun and interesting for the girls and I’m glad they had that.  I have to say that I have been impressed with their writing.  I cannot comment much on their reading skills as assessed by the school.  I know they both have great reading skills but I have to say that I was a bit disappointed in the lack of teacher-assigned reading as well as requisite reading for their level.  Let’s hope that the summer reading program will make up for that.

Our older daughter participated in Area Sports yesterday.  There were 8 schools total. 

It was apparent even before the sports day that our school was not very serious about this competition.  I say this because they never practiced.  In addition, there was never any formal process in selecting the participants.  We had passed one other rival school at various times and they were holding after-school practices.  On the day of the competition, a couple of the schools were out and warming up properly.  Ours stayed cool under their tents.

Despite the disadvantages, our school did fine.  They ended up third, despite having no one making or breaking any record (every other school had at least one of those), despite several participants not knowing what they were supposed to do, dropping batons, taking off late, etc.

Of course, we were unfamiliar with the other schools, but the other parents shrugged their shoulders at the results, already anticipating the outcome and sure enough, they were correct.  The same school won for the umpteenth time.  Nevertheless, no one got angry, no one booed anybody else, cheers were given to all and to encourage the students to complete their races despite the heat.  So unlike the atmosphere at another Area Sports event I read about early on in the year.  It was nice to see that these parents were showing their kids good sportsmanship.

One of the reasons we decided to move to the UK was for our children to get a better education. At least, that was our intention. Has it turned out the way we expected? Well….. Let’s just say the jury’s still out on that one. We’re considering letting them take the CAT this year, to see how they compare to last year, when they were home-schooled in the US.

We chose the school based on Ofsted reports, even though two headteachers sort of pooh-pahed the whole thing. As it turned out, the Ofsted reports were completely unreliable, as I’ll explain later. The school is OK – it is not terrible. However, it does not seem that academically superior in any way to the school they had previously attended in the US.

I especially oppose this notion of combining classes of different levels. For some of those mixed classes, it was based on their birthdays. The older kids of one year combined with the younger kids of the next year. We had been told that the kids were taught based on their ability, not on their age. Yet, when you combine a classroom like this, how are you distinguishing them based on their ability. Does that mean that our daughter, who is a younger member in her class, will be moved to the mixed class where she will be with the older kids from next year’s class? From what I’ve seen of these mixed-classes, one of which our other daughter is in, all the students are taught the same material but given work based on their school year level or ability (I don’t know which criteria is really used). Our older daughter seems to be doing work she has done in previous years of schooling and which our younger daughter is already familiar with.

Our goal is to get them into academically strong schools to give them an edge for the future. But are the schools living up to our expectations? Even the natives complain. There have been so many changes in the way kids are taught nowadays (it’s exactly the same complaint in the US). We were told to look up Ofsted reports to determine which schools are good. We have since determined that Ofsted does not reflect on a school’s academic performance in any way. They are an organization that is focused on children’s welfare. Not only do they give reports on schools and daycares, they are also involved with social services for child welfare. Therefore, their ratings of schools are based on how well the schools offer support to children of all backgrounds. It is a social report. A good or positive Ofsted report does not equate to an outstanding school. Neither does a bad or negative Ofsted report reflect a bad school. Lesson learned.

We’ll see this year through and have them take some tests at the end to determine where they’re at. At the moment, we cannot afford to send them to private schools, so we’ll have to look at other options.

One of the concerns I had about transferring the kids to schools in the UK was the change in the school calendar.  I knew that schools here let out for summer vacation much later than in the US.  What I did not realise was that they get a week break every half-term, and two weeks at the term break.  So, in effect, they are in school for about 6 weeks, followed by a break each time, with 6 weeks for summer break.  Then, of course, there are a few bank holidays as well.

In the US, we had several holidays, some similar to the UK bank holidays, but they were usually dispersed through the year.  The bank holidays here are in May and August.  Other holidays, such as Christmas and Easter always fall during the school breaks.  Since Easter varies each year, the spring term may vary in length, with the summer term adjusting for the length of the spring term.

I’m not working at the moment, so for me to get adjusted to the schedule was relatively easy.  In the US, most people would book their vacations/holidays for the summer break, and sometimes spring break.  Here, there are more opportunities for holidays when they get a full week for half-term as well.

What I wonder about is how the kids will like it that they have to stay in school longer than they used to.  One advantage to them is that they will actually get to celebrate their birthdays during the school term now.  It used to be difficult to get invitations out in the summer and to have adequate attendance.