Social Commentary

The British Schooling (Torture) System

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Images courtesy of the internet. NHYM 2018. 

Lately, all we’ve (the mums) been talking about has been exams: it is January when most of the 7+/8+/11+ exams are happening and it’s been dire: chatter about who’s taking what exam, to what school and who’s been getting interviews etc…and those that say they aren’t taking them and you see them at the 7+ hiding in the bushes. I have consciously not yet entered this quite cutthroat world, but eventually, I too will have to face it.

I was having lunch with a friend who is slightly panicking because she has never tutored her kids but now has the 11+ coming up next year and is worried about her child not getting into any school. She is adamantly against tutoring, but I told her that the problem is that everyone else is tutoring, so you need to know what you are up against. She then said ‘This is crazy. What are we doing to our kids? And to what end?’

I have heard of people going on anxiety pills for the infamous 11+ – and that’s just the mums – and children not able to sleep at night because of exam stress as young as 7 years old. Everyone is getting stressed: fathers losing their s*&t and mums taking a year off prestigious jobs to overlook their children’s progress. But it is starting earlier and earlier. Children are already being tutored in Reception and by Year 2, everything accelerates when those looking to do the 7+ are already learning the Year 4 curriculum. I’m being advised by a friend on what activities my child should be doing right now for her future university application. It’s all very fast, too early and too soon.

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So, why are we doing this to our children? The most prestigious girls school in the UK has an extremely high rate of mental health issues: anxiety, depression, eating disorders and personality disorders. Until this changes, I would never send my children there. And the girls consortium who is trying to scrap their exam because of exam stress. Isn’t it all a bit much for 11 year olds?

I understand the statistics though: the better school you get into, the higher chance of going to a good university, and the better the university, the better chance of getting a good job. This is all true, by all means. But it’s not the only way. There are ways of getting to the top without these illustrious diplomas and distinctions.

My alma mater receives 30,000 applications for something like 1,500 spots. There is no way I would get into it these days. But I have hope that there are plenty of great schools/universities – perhaps not the best but very good – that will provide my children with a great education. So, let’s all relax a bit. If you’re not trying to be a billionaire/Fortune 500 CEO/Entrepreneur of the year, then you should relax too (and if you are, good luck to you). Most of us are lucky enough to send our children to good schools, and most likely they will end up in good universities. So, let’s just take a step back and realise that the world will be run by robots anyway, so your kids might as well have fun along the way.

xx

NHYM

http://www.nottinghillyummymummy.com

 

Here’s some advice to parents from Hannah Ogahara, who runs a local tutoring agency Love Learning Tutors:

How to be involved in your child’s school life without being overbearing

It is easy enough to be involved with your child’s studies when they are young but what do you do when your child grows into one of those moody teenagers? We’ve all been on the receiving end of some harsh backchat. It can leave you feeling helpless when all you want to do is to offer your years of experience. Let’s face the facts, it may be a challenge to be your child’s best friend over the next few years, but here are some simple things you can do to ease tension at home and stay involved without becoming overbearing.

Actively listen

One of the greatest frustration that teenagers face is when parents make assumptions about what they should be doing. This is quite a general one and includes friendship groups and interests as well as school life. It may be that you don’t remember the particular teacher they are talking about, or perhaps you weren’t really listening because you were juggling many tasks when they confided in you. We recommend discussing school life with your child and making an effort to really listen and retain what you are being told. This builds trust and the knowledge that they can come to you for guidance.

Be aware of your communication style

If you find yourself getting into frequent arguments with your child about school, change your approach. Try to avoid confrontation and change the focus to constructive solutions. Veer away from the nagging voice and steer towards calm, pragmatic tones. Ask open question rather than questions that can be quickly shut down.

Swap “Have you done your homework?” and “Where is your homework?” for “Do you have a lot of homework?”, “Tell me about your homework, is there anything interesting?”

Ask small questions often

Get into the habit of asking small school related questions often so that it doesn’t come as a surprise when you need to bring something up. Try remember who is teaching what, which teachers they like and which they don’t. This shows that you’re really listening and taking interest. It makes it easier for your child to keep you in the loop.

Celebrate

Let your child know when they are doing well and celebrate successes together. Everyone loves to feel successful and valued. No matter how big your child gets, no one is immune to a bit of praise (provided they feel they have earned it). This should encourage your child to tell you how things are going on a frequent basis.

Share stories

Carefully select stories to share about your school experiences. Regardless of whether they are things that went well or terribly wrong. A good story provided at the right time can allow for bonding between you and your child. It helps your child understand that you’ve been through the same things are sympathetic towards them and their academic journey. Be on the same team rather than opposing sides, “you are wrong” vs “I am right”.

Less “When I was at school it was much harder because…”

More “I had a similar teacher who used to…”

Don’t take it personally

This is one of the hardest tips to put into practice. Having your child snap at you can leave you feeling distraught; and feeling that your constant efforts to provide them with the best you can, aren’t being appreciated. Unfortunately, adolescence is a difficult time for everybody. The above suggestions will help with positive and open communication, but things will not always go to plan. When this happens take a deep breath and step away for a moment, rather than letting things escalate.

www.lovelearningtutors.com

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Social Commentary

Notting Hill Nurseries & The Rise of the Notting Hill Yummy Mummy

 

Baby chic

I was first introduced to the world of Notting Hill Yummy Mummies 10 years ago when I was still in the world of Little Miss Notting Hill (www.littlemissnottinghill.com), brunching at the old Electric, Sunday afternoons at the Westbourne, and late nights at Montgomery Place, blissfully unaware of the darker side of Notting Hill. I met ‘Francesca’ through an ex-P.E. boyfriend, who ended up being instrumental in my rise to being a Notting Hill Yummy Mummy. She taught me everything there is to know about motherhood: ‘1. Get Mr. Teoh on the phone as soon as you are pregnant and book your suite at the Portland Hotel & Spa (for those of you who don’t know, it really is a hospital, but their concierge/bellhop is very good, breakfast is 5 star, and request the Dutch Bowen therapist, she is lovely) 2. The day he/she is born, send the sperm-donor to the gates of ‘that’ school with the to-die-for school uniforms (Wetherby/Pembridge Hall), application in hand and stop by ‘the’ nursery on the same day (one of the ‘famous five’). 3. Discipline, Persistence, Perseverance and Consistency (I wasn’t sure if she meant that for me or for my children, but it worked for both). That’s all you need to know about parenting,’ she assured me. I followed all of her advice and here I am today, a Notting Hill Yummy Mummy.

Only after the fact did I realise how much time and money Francesca saved me. I avoided hours of research, headaches wondering which nursery to send M to, visiting all the below nurseries, or paying a ‘school consultant’ hundreds of pounds to research the nurseries before doing all of it again myself . I once almost veered off track and asked about a Bilingual nursery, but my Alpha mum friend told me ‘Don’t do it. Your child will be put in the Z class at Pembridge/Wetherby and that’s the end of it. You can forget about Oxbridge.’ ‘What’s the Z class?’ I asked wide-eyed, innocent and ignorant. ‘It’s for the slow kids that the teachers ignore.’ After that, I thought it best to take Francesca’s advice, and do what I was told.
The first day of nursery, nervous, scouring for new friends, wearing a new outfit, and some crying involved, I felt 7 again on the first day of school, while M was happily playing with the toy kitchen. (Thankfully, I wasn’t aware that some parents were googling each other, otherwise I would have really lost it) but all has turned out just fine. Here’s my piece of advice for new mums choosing a nursery: stop giving yourselves headaches, women! They are all great nurseries! Which is why everyone bribes and steals to get in, but each has its own personality, which is what I will focus on below. Once in, you just need to stay away from the competitive Alpha and Tiger mums, be polite to the billionaires (you never know when you’ll be needing their private jet) and somewhere in there, in every nursery, you will find clever, interesting, genuine parents that you may become friends with. Just make sure you send in an application as soon as your child is born. That is imperative. If not, send them cards and photos of your child each month, cookies may help, or pretend that you’ve just moved to London, cry a little, and they will take pity on you (There are always spaces once offers are declined. This strategy works well at Acorn).
So here I am paying it back by spreading Francesca’s wisdom and giving you the ‘real’ low-down on the ‘Famous Five’ Notting Hill Nurseries. For Free.

‘FAMOUS FIVE’ NOTTING HILL NURSERIES

‘A is for… A-List ACORN NURSERY’
Best for: Rock ‘n’ Roll Royalty and the Kool Kids
McCartney and Jagger are common last names at this nursery. A-List Hollywood actors send their kids here when they are filming their latest flick in London. Film directors, news presenters and politicians all send their kids here. You have to be ready to mingle with the fash-pack, as you will have to compete with shoe designers, who probably design their children’s own shoes, and a famous fashion designer with rock royalty genes whose latest very cute, kids see-through waterproof raincoat will put your child’s Gap raincoat to shame. But not all fashion designers are welcome. One famous A-list fashion designer (one half of an A-list ‘Golden’ couple) was rumoured not to have gotten a place because when she visited she wore big, oversized sunglasses and never smiled (I wouldn’t smile either if I only are one green apple a day). Madonna apparently was rejected and Richard Curtis may have based the Christmas Play in his film ‘Love Actually’ on this nursery’s Christmas play. There are ‘Daddy mornings’ which involve daddies coming for a coffee morning to encourage daddy and child bonding (which really just highlights the fact that these daddies need their assistants to schedule me-and-child-time in their busy work schedules). A whole article in the Telegraph was written about this nursery in 2004 which will give you a flavour of this nursery, but also of all the nurseries in the area: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1459538/The-only-education-you-need-is-Acorn-and-Oxford.html.
Ofsted rating: Good (2011). http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/CARE/105673

‘M is for… Mini Royals at the MINORS NURSERY’
Best for: English Royalty and Wannabe English Royalty
This nursery was made famous by Lady Di dropping off her precious princes William and Harry at Minors Nursery in the eighties. It has since then become a haven for a few leftover English Elite (a 5th Baron-turned-nightclub-MD-turned-communications-director comes to mind) but mostly everyone else wanting to rub shoulders with the English Elite. The nursery is rather on the small side with little outdoor space and the toys are so pristine and clean, they look like they’ve never been used. The parents say that this nursery is ‘all about the children’ so there is less parent-competition around once you are in (the competition remains behind closed doors during the application process here). There is a new headmistress who started a few years ago, whom some parents feel is rather cold and on the snobby side, especially when she explains that Minors stands out for ‘not being a nursery in a dirty church hall’ (what’s wrong with a dirty church hall? They probably had more fun there and that’s probably where most of these mums went to nursery). One parent given the tour of the nursery felt that the children seemed a bit snotty (not the cold-virus-nose-snotty kind but the spoiled-brat kind) and the girls were all in expensive princess dresses (not the Disney kind, more the Melissa Wyndham kind), which scared them off. She asked how they disciplined a child if a child is found to be hitting another child, and the headmistress replied that the child would get a first warning, then a second warning, and then the children would sit in a circle with the ‘naughty’ child in the middle and they would all decide the child’s punishment. I am not sure what scares me most, the Lord of the Flies punishment or this kind of responsibility given to 3 year olds. But if that doesn’t bother you, it is an excellent nursery in every other respect.
Ofsted report: Outstanding (2011). http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/CARE/EY295790

‘S is for… Sexy Dads and Stepford wives at STRAWBERRY FIELDS’
Best for: The American PTA mum and hot-daddy-watching/drooling
Strawberry fields is earning its reputation as having the best-looking-dad-of-all-nursery-dads. ‘He just walked by…’ one mum will say, without even mentioning his name, and all the other mums will sigh in unison. This is one good enough reason to send your kids here, but I will try to remain unbiased and will fill another whole post on the virtues on this very famous ex-football player as the ‘World’s Best Dad’ another time (who by the way does the drop off and pick up more than any other dad, takes his daughter to Granger for lunch after nursery, and then drops her off to playdates and BabyBop). As one woman manning a booth at the Christmas fair was overheard saying ‘Every woman should have an accessory like that.’ There are a few other arm-candy dads around, like another ex-pro sports player with a nanny fan-club and the supercool toyboy boyfriend of a certain English heiress. But it’s the mummies to be afraid of at this nursery. There are some who send their nannies to stand in line for them at the Christmas play and then use their twiglet, sharpened elbows to bulldozer through the line 10 minutes before the start to ensure front row seats. Then there are the panic-attack-inducing mums who organise the Christmas fair (the Christmas Fair deserves another blog to itself). Apart from those details, the nursery itself is wonderful, the staff is strict but loving, the children are adorable, the nursery feels spacious and welcoming, having the use of the large adjacent church hall for physical education, christmas plays, easter hat parades and farm animal visits. Having said all that, the parents are extremely involved, if that is your thing, and there are parents’ nights out at the Lonsdale, lunches at Osteria, and Pub Quizzes all organised by the Class and School Representatives and there are some lovely international parents to have coffee with at Kitchen & Pantry before or after pick up and drop off.
Ofsted: Outstanding (2013). http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/CARE/EY456623

‘R is for… Respite or Rejects? at ROLFE’S’
Best for: Those who are just afraid of all of the above or didn’t get into any of the above
Rolfe’s is having a bit of an identity crisis. It used to be in a great space in a lovely, large and spacious building on Kensington Park Road until it moved to the ‘other side of the tracks’ to Oxford Gardens just over a year ago into what looks like a council housing block (no way Kate will be bringing Prince George here). This nursery is part of the Alpha Plus Group, which has Pembridge Hall, Wetherby and Minors in its roster, so comes from a very good pedigree. Rolfe’s was the opposite of the Minors, with children running around in the big open area on the ground floor, playing with sand, and getting their hands dirty in the outdoor space. It all seemed like good fun. It is still very good, the parents love it and the new nursery premise is brand new, but for me the space has lost its charm and coziness of the Ken Park Road space. It has also just lost its Outstanding Ofsted rating last year due to an unreported ‘technical’ Significant Event, which they are appealing, but required the headmistress to send a letter of explanation to all the demanding parents (although most parents have no idea what the incident was about), so Rolfe’s has lost a bit of its lustre. Some of the mums choose Rolfe’s in hope that they are shielding their children from the Alpha mums and Bling from the other nurseries, but they can’t escape. There are still chauffeur-driven children being dropped off, mums who give Harrod’s presents to the teachers at Christmas and mums asking other mums ‘So, are you teaching your child Mandarin yet?’
Ofsted: Good (2013). http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/CARE/EY448774

‘L is for… La La Land at LADBROKE SQUARE MONTESSORI’
Best for: The Anti-Bling Notting Hill Hippy Chick
For the remaining Hippy Chicks who live in Notting Hill and decidedly want to stay away from the Hedge Fund/Banker/Bling crowd (although don’t be duped, there are still children living in £13 million mansions backing onto communal gardens), most opt for Ladbroke Square Montessori. There is less competition, so it is easier to get in and is described as a ‘warm and happy place.’ Despite its name, the children have very limited access to Ladbroke Square Gardens and the big space ‘makes it feel like a big factory’ says one mum. It is not known for its discipline, but for its carefree approach, unlike some of the other nurseries above mentioned. When touring the nursery, one parent asked: ‘How do you discipline a child if one child hits another child?’ ‘We ask the child to apologise to the other child.’ ‘What if they don’t want to apologise?’ ‘We encourage them to say sorry but if they don’t want to say sorry, we don’t make them.’ So, apparently there are not many ‘sorrys, please and thank yous’ here. In the Montessori philosophy, the children do whatever they want. Even if this means watching TV all day long and spreading their germs to every child around. Parents who send their children to Ladbroke Montessori often have a version of this quote to describe it: ‘I am paying an arm and a leg for my child to blow bubbles and watch Peppa Pig all day.’
Ofsted: Outstanding (2011). http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/CARE/105707

xx

NHYM

http://www.nottinghillyummymummy.com

twitter: @NHyummymummy

p.s. Check out my mention in this Saturday Times Magazine 30/8/14 in the articles on London Nurseries & Schools!!! xx

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Social Commentary

The ‘Fairytale’ Story of Alpha Mum & Alpha Dad

Once Upon a Time, there was a young girl who dreamed of meeting Alpha Dad her whole life. She hung out at the Westbourne Pub in Notting Hill on Sundays, Eclipse on Walton Street in Chelsea on Tuesdays and at Tramps in Mayfair on Thursdays. Alpha Mum went to a very good university and graduates with a 2:1 and then finds a very good job until she meets Alpha Dad. Alpha Mum is not beautiful, but cleans up well with some makeup, a few designer dresses and is pretty enough to catch Alpha Dad’s eye in order to be a ‘presentable’ wife. Meanwhile, Alpha Dad has been working on his career of being a millionaire at 28, Managing Director at 30, and making Partner at 32 in a Hedge Fund/Goldman Sachs/Private Equity shop. His favorite words are ‘P&L, EBITDA’ and ‘Bonus’, his favourite car is a Porsche 911 Turbo, and his handsome arrogance has already gotten him far with the girls and a seat in the Executive Boardroom.

Alpha Mum and Alpha Dad fall in love after a whirlwind romance in St. Barth’s, Venice and a safari in ‘exotic’ South Africa. They marry at the Villa Ephrussi Rothschild in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, Cote D’azur, France, she in Vera Wang, he in an Armani suit, surrounded by 400 of their closest friends, colleagues and family friends. Everyone comments how beautiful they are as a couple, only to mutter under their breath that ‘money helps’. They return to London and find a beautiful white, stucco house in Chelsea/South Ken/Notting Hill and settle into married bliss. She rarely sees Alpha Dad who is traveling most of the week to New York/Frankfurt/Hong Kong for his ‘Global’ job, but she jokes with her friends that it is better that way, since they quarrel constantly if he isn’t traveling 50% of the time. In between his travels, they manage to conceive at the Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados when she manages to ‘lose’ his Crackberry in the sand.

Baby Oliver is born on September 23rd and Alpha Dad is waiting at the gates of Wetherby, application in hand, to ensure his son’s entrance into the prestige school. They also have the applications for nurseries ready with Minors as first choice, Strawberry Fields as second and Acorn as third (more on nurseries in another post). Alpha Mum has done her research and after hiring a ‘school consultant’ knows exactly the educational trajectory of her son: Minors Nursery, Wetherby Pre-Prep, Colet Court, then St. Paul’s (or Westminster will do), culminating into an admission into Oxbridge.

Alpha Dad is not involved in the baby period, as he doesn’t feel the need to bond with the baby. Luckily, Alpha Mum has a maternity nurse that stays on for 6 months and Alpha Mum privately thinks that a nanny and maternity nurse are more important than a dad in raising a baby. When she confronts Alpha Dad for not spending enough time with baby O, he responds curtly ‘You can’t recut the deck, the cards have been dealt.’ It was always clear to him that Alpha Mum would run the household and the kids, while Alpha Dad would be earning the money for their luxurious existence of a Bugaboo pram, a black Range Rover, a second home in St. Tropez, flying business class, and their £8.5 million home backing onto a lavish Notting Hill communal garden, with its own private playground.

Having sent cookies, photos and cards to Minors every month before the year of entry, Alpha Mum is delighted to receive the ‘phone call’ accepting little O into Minors Nursery. Her favorite question now to all her mummy friends is ‘Where’s your little one going to nursery?’ then smugly telling them that Little O has gotten into Minors and Wetherby when they stressfully admit that they still don’t have a place anywhere.

Once little O has been accepted to nursery, Alpha Mum is ready for her next project, Project Olivia, O’s little sister. She pins down Alpha Dad after he has come home drunk after a day of making £45 million for his Hedge Fund/Private Equity/Goldman Sachs and his testosterone levels are at their highest. Luckily, little Olivia will have a place at Minors and with luck will get into Pembridge Hall, since Alpha Dad has been prepped of his most important post-partum duty of dropping off the application in person the day Olivia is born.

Olivia is a beautiful little girl. All the mums know that she is a quick learner, walks earlier, speaks earlier, and whines earlier than all her baby friends. Alpha Mum has already signed her up for swimming classes twice a week, dance lessons, piano lessons, French lessons (‘so she can read Balzac, Victor Hugo and Camus in its original form’), and Mandarin Chinese ‘for the future’. By the time Olivia is at nursery, she has activities every day of the week, including gymnastics lessons given only in Mandarin therefore has no time for playdates. Oliver is now at Wetherby and is already being tutored to ensure he will get into Colet Court. Alpha Mum doesn’t tell the other mums that he is being tutored because it is not the ‘cool’ thing to do, but she is found out when another mum asks the nanny to do a playdate with Oliver, and the nanny says he can’t because his tutor is coming over.

Alpha Mum is preparing Oliver for his entrance exams but poor little Oliver is starting to lose his hair and isn’t sleeping well at night because he is stressed and anxious of letting Alpha Mum and Alpha Dad down. He knows how much it would mean to Alpha Dad that he goes to Colet Court, St. Paul’s and Oxbridge, and thinks that perhaps if he got into those schools, Alpha Dad would finally notice him. Alpha Mum is really stressed because Oliver’s exams are coming up and she has a meeting with Olivia’s headmaster because Olivia has no friends and is hitting all her classmates at nursery, pushing them, telling them they are stupid (which she heard Alpha Dad telling Alpha Mum one Saturday he was home). Olivia has become very aggressive and constantly on edge. The one time she is invited to a playdate, she tells her friend that she doesn’t want to go to her house because she doesn’t have her own playroom.

Alpha Dad is not very involved in Oliver and Olivia’s schooling, except for Sports Day, when he gets to ogle supermodels and yummy mummies, and show his ‘competitive spirit’, determined to win all the races in front of all the dads. Alpha Dad is very competitive, not only in his work, but also competes with his peers by having the biggest house, the flashiest car and owning 4 polo ponies. Alpha Mum is tired of Alpha Dad never being home these days, he is either traveling to Dubai/Shanghai/Moscow for business (‘that’s where the real money is these days’), playing polo as the patron of a polo team at Guards, sleeping with escorts or seeing his mistresses in New York or Miami. They rarely argue as she has learnt that it will only end in her tears and that his aspirations to rule the London financial scene is more important than her needs.

Finally, Alpha Mum has had enough of his philandering/work obsession/polo hobbies and asks for a divorce, after ensuring Fiona Shackleton is free to take her on. She takes him out for half of his £25 million fortune, including the house in St. Tropez. Alpha Mum moves away from Notting Hill, once the mums now stay clear of her afraid that she will try to steal their husbands, and closer to her parents. She never has to work again, vacations in St. Tropez, where she meets an artist who ‘prioritises her.’ The kids go to the local school and have become polite, well adjusted, and happy. They see Alpha Dad every other weekend, which is more than they ever saw him growing up. Alpha Dad has adopted a 22 y.o. model to make up for never spending time with his kids when they were young. And everyone lived happily ever after.

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