Archive for the 'school' Category

News from across the pond

No, still no hard news on if we are moving or not, only to say that as of yesterday we’ve confirmed it is still a possibility. To cut the pain of uncertainty I’ve enjoyed reading the British news lately – my favorite (no suprise here) is the very liberal Guardian.

So, since we have no news ON England, how about some cultural commentary FROM England?

Apparently it isn’t just the United States that suffers from puritanical ideals when it comes to breastfeeding.  A woman was told to leave a restaurant when she was inconspicuously breastfeeding her child because, according to the cafe owner,  “I can’t have someone breastfeeding while another table is next to them eating.”  What, you can’t have someone EATING next to other people EATING?  In that case, sir, it’s time to close your doors.

Slate has a hilarious essay up on nursery school admissions in London to which I can totally relate. Of course I was looking for schools in the lazy, hazy countryside of Somerset, which although I like to play off as a low maintenance gal, apparently I’m even more high-strung on some things than most Americans. Oy.

This explains some things about the British diet. My problem besides the lack of items on any given menu and almost complete lack of restaurants can be summed up in four words: where are the veggies? And no, potatoes do not count. I suppose I’m a veggie nut and am not typical but I’d love to have a fresh greens salad that wasn’t drowned by a mayonnaise-like substance or a meal that wasn’t primarily light brown. Before you rail on me, keep in mind, again, I was in Somerset, where things are generally much more traditional. In my experience London itself has amazingly delicious dining options which rivals any I’ve ever tasted. By the way, articles like this with references to shops, brands and other British cultural self-evident assumptions that go completely over my head is part of the reason that I feel like a fish out of water “over there”. I’m even more of a dork in England than in my own country, which says a lot.

And a little insight on why housing is so darned expensive in England. Even in Somerset.



Yesterday I was on my own and had grand plans to visit 5-10 schools in the Taunton area (I had only seen Bridgwater schools up until that point), but the day didn’t end up cooperating with me.  It turns out that over the past day or two I had been very lucky, but at most schools you must make appointments to be able to tour the school and chat with the headmaster.  Once I had been turned away from two schools in a row, I realized I needed to go back to my hotel room and make some phone calls if I wanted to be welcomed.  So yesterday I was only able to see one school – it was a very nice school but felt crowded and a little rowdy.  Defeated, I retreated to the safety of my room and managed to work up a bit of optimism and a game plan for the next day (once phone calls were made and appointments were set, of course).

Rich had the day off today, and since our school decision was to be made at 4pm, he didn’t have much choice about the nature of his day.  All his dreams of visiting Bath had to be pushed off to tomorrow – a day of which he will be in control (if he wishes).

After a full English breakfast (cereal, fruit, bacon AND sausage, egg, toast and tomato), we set out for the day.  First up was a school in Trull – the area we drove through that was very quiet and nice, with beautiful large homes that are probably out of our budget.  The school was FABULOUS.  Two children from the oldest class were chosen to give us the school tour, and they did a wonderful job showing us around and answering our questions.  They both were incredibly polite and I really liked how the school gave students the chance to do important work like this.  The school building itself was newer and recently had been added on to.  The children were very well behaved and seemed in control at all times, yet very happy to be there.  There were even extras such as a swimming pool on site!  We had a nice long meeting with the headmaster, who was very charming and kind.  This was our new favorite school.  Sadly, they already have more students applying to get in than are going to be allowed, so our chances to get in were almost zero.

Next up we decided to swing by (without an appointment) to another Church of England school nearby at the Trull school’s headmaster’s suggestion.  Somehow I had not noted it as a school I had wanted to visit, but it was rated very highly and was in a nice part of town, and I’m not sure why I missed it.  Unfortunately they were not able to see us, as the headmaster was out for an undetermined amount of time.  But we did get a prospectus and got to peek down the hall and onto the field, and it looked like a very nice place similar to the Trull school where children were enjoying themselves and well behaved.  This school, site almost unseen, was now our number two school.

I had decided to check out a more rural school just for the fun of it in a village just north of Taunton called Kingston St. Mary.  The area suprised us – we rounded the bend and came across very nice homes and in the middle a darling little school.  I wish I had a picture for you – it is probably 30 years old but is in very good condition.  Only 100 children attend the school and is more of a family atmosphere – the headmaster not only knows each of the children’s names, but really KNOWS the children and their families.  And although it is a village school, it had all the new equipment the other in-town Church of England schools had such as a computer room and an interactive white board in each classroom.  Some of the highlights were the “friendship bench” on the playground where a child who might have no one to play with and was feeling left out could go sit, and one of the older kids (given that job that day to manage the friendship bench) would go up to the child and invite them to play with them that day.  I could give many examples of this kind of caring ethos that absolutely enveloped the entire school’s ethos.  The whole school was inviting and wonderful.  The reception teacher had been teaching for a number of years and was very knowledgable.   I waffled between this being my new favorite choice or my second favorite choice behind Trull.

Finally we had decided to check out one private school.  I should say here that private schools in England are very expensive, so we’re not even sure it’s in our price range, but we thought it would be only fair to look at one at least.  I had chosen King’s Hall Pre-Prep for several reasons, one being that its nursery and reception had been rated as outstanding by Ofstead (a very rare and high honor), one being that its nursery (equivalent to preschool in the US) is contained within the school, and one being that nursery is a montessori program (which Connor is enrolled in a part-montessori program at home).

I didn’t expect that the school would be so excellent that it would want to sway me from the state schools that I found quite good, but it just might.  There is a small fenced-off forest in the back of the school and nursery and reception classes have a few days of “outdoor education” where they learn how to use a compass, make a shelter, whittle, play in the mud, and all kinds of wonderful things.  There was a beautiful pool on the grounds.  Also there was a log cabin that functioned as the library made just for the nursery and reception class.  The teacher to student ratio was much stronger than the other schools.  Only positive reinforcement was given, unless a child made a very bad mistake and broke one of the eight “rules” – all worded positively of course such as “be honest” and “be kind” and then if it happened two times in a day they might have to lose 5 minutes of “golden time” – free-play time where the children can choose to do whatever they want.  Activities were extremely well-planned and done very much in advance.  I could go ON and ON – just like I do for Connor’s current school.  If we can afford it, this is the school home I’d like to make for him.

I’ll say here that generally I find Britain’s schools to be very good.  Teachers go a wonderful job planning lessons that really inspire and encourage the child to learn.  No dry lessons here, folks!  Whatever school Connor ends up at, I’m sure he’ll do just fine.

So, only less than an hour ago, I sent in my state school choices via email – I won’t post them here for privacy’s sake for now.  But the current line of thinking is to check the budget and perhaps enroll Connor into King’s Hall for Nursery for the remainder of this year, and then as we see how the budget goes we can easily switch him to whichever state school he gets in to next September at the beginning of the school year.

Finally the schools are chosen and it is out of our hands.  Tomorrow – a “spa day” in BATH!!!

Day 6

I’ve still been preoccupied with school stuff so I’m going to hand the reigns of the website over to the hubby, Rich.  (Let me just tell you how thankful I am that he has the day off tomorrow and will be around to help make the school decision).  Anyroad, here he is:

Cheerio all from Mr. Mum!

I guess am to write my first ever blog entry today, which as you can guess goes against most of my manly beliefs.  Work goes smashing over here in the U.K.  The wide range of people I work with makes the work day a lot of fun.  The Scottish accent is my personal favorite.  They sound so excited and interested in every topic mentioned. 

Now, as for the English cuisine.  It does leave something to be desired……most meals come with two servings of ‘vegetables,’ but this really means two different forms of potatoes.  And for someone who is trying to eat a low carb diet, this can be very difficult.  And as gross as it sounds, the black pudding (blood sausage) is acutally quite good! 

So for the question that everyone is asking, “Are we going to move to England?”  Good question.  Still don’t have a good answer for you all….. sorry. 



Day 5

Bloody ‘ell (as they would say here), I just received some crazy news this afternoon.

I already knew that Connor would be entering into Foundation (kind of like Kindergarten but they start 1 year earlier) at a regular school in the fall.  What I didn’t know is that the extended deadline (for pity cases such as ourselves who are moving into the area, etc.) for putting in on choice of school is due THIS FRIDAY AT 4PM and that the good schools are already filling up.  How do I pick a school before I’ve picked a place to live?  If I get Connor in to the school of his choice, will there be a home for us available nearby?  It is hard to choose a good neighborhood when here in the UK I wouldn’t recognize one if it hit me in the face.  It is like the chicken/egg scenario but with much more at stake. 

If the school I choose is over-subscribed (too many parents have chosen it), then they use subscription criteria to determine which children get in.  They are:

1) children who the state is their guardian (‘looked after children’) get top pick

2) children with special educational needs get second priority

3) children who live in the catchment area who have a sibling attending the school

4) other children living in the catchment area

5) children living outside the catchment area who have a sibling attending the school

6) if a religious school, children outside the catchment area whose parents are practising members of the church

7) other children living outside the catchment area, measured by straight line measurement.

They are fair, valid criteria.  But unfortunately for us we fall into category 7, and technically our ‘straight line measurement’ would be 4,800 miles (give or take).  Yep – we’re doomed.  I plan on using the Inn as our hotel, however it is a little bit out of town so most likely I won’t fall into the catchment area of my choosing.  Luckily I get to put down my top 3 choices, and we’ll hear our results by mail on the 19th of January.

My plan:  pick 3 schools, then hear our choice, then pick a home right afterward and if all goes according to plan we’ll be able to move in by February.  Just without any furniture.

Enough about my anxiety attack.  Let me share with you my day today.

We’ve heard that the proprietor of our inn is interested in buying up homes for the sole purpose of renting them out to us poor Americans.  We haven’t actually spoken to him about the idea, but word has it, from several sources, that basically you pick a home and he buys it for you, furnishes it if you wish, and rents it directly to you, making a profit of course.  Since the plan is for us to be here only for a couple of years, this seems like the perfect scenario for us.

This morning I got up and drove into town to take a look at some new home developments in the Bridgwater area.  I was really impressed with one – Churchfields in Wembdon, which lies on the Western edge of Bridgwater proper.  Wembdon is an area of nice, large, quiet older homes and a couple of new developments.  There is a walking path along the main road which I would no doubt make use of.

Here I should mention that a typical modern British home is considerably smaller than what we are used to seeing in the States.  Their largest home for sale is just about the same size as our house in Richland, which is the smallest home in our neighboorhood at just over 1500 square feet.  Also, modern British homes are not as open and airy, which is something we would have to get used to but may have some benefits (we would have more privacy).  All the homes I have seen have only one living room, which has shutting doors to all the adjacent rooms.  One thing I really like about the homes I saw were that many of them had a conservatory, which is a bit like an enclosed screened porch you might see in the Eastern US except it is made entirely of glass windows.  What a great way to enjoy the outdoors even when the weather is wet.

It is really hard to say what our price range will be, but homes here are EXPENSIVE by our standards.  Prices seem to be right around 200 pounds a square foot, which computes out to 400 dollars a square foot.  This is FOUR TIMES what we are used to paying.  Since we have a family of four, I’m not sure we’ll be able to skimp on square footage much.  I would say that food and other living expenses is in the same price point.  Luckily Rich will be getting his salary plus a travel allowance for each day we live here.  Needless to say we will have to sell or rent our home back in the states.

I’ll try and post some snapshots of a typical British model home I took later tonight if I get a chance.

After touring the neighborhoods and homes, I went over to the primary school in the area.  This is a Church of England school, but it is public and would be paid for by the state.  I was hesitant to check out a CofE school as I do believe in the separation of church and state and we are not regular church goers ourselves (but do consider ourselves Christians although we have a very liberal sense of what that means).  However as 25% of public schools in the UK are CofE and the other 75% have christian-based religious education included in the core curriculum, I wanted to check at least one out.

I was floored.  This is an incredible school.  The building was much nicer than any of the other schools I’ve seen so far, and the headmaster and teachers were warm and kind.  Children in Reception class spoke to me kindly and shared the projects they were working on at the moment for an anti-bullying art contest.  There was a quiet room for children who wanted to take a moment to rest or do something else.  An entire room was dedicated to IT learning with probably 30 computer terminals and two electronic white boards with overhead projected monitor.  The playground was huge and the school has a great reputation for football (soccer) having won 8 of the 9 area championships.  A separate mobile music class where children as young as five start learning to play instruments.  I got up the courage to ask about religious education and his answer couldn’t have been better – they spend a good deal of time discussing the world religions but the majority of time is spent on the Christian faith, with love and community being at the core.  No fire and brimstone, I was assured.

So I’m pretty sure I’ve found my top pick for a school.  The question remains, will I get in?  The answer is probably not.

Can American English be qualified as a special need, or do I need to turn Connor over as a ward of the state?

I’m only half joking.

Day 4

Today I accidently slept until 11 am or so – so although I’m getting a full night’s sleep, obviously the jet lag is still somewhat in effect.

After a shower I drove straight to the village of North Petherton – a large village right between Bridgwater (where Rich will be working) and Taunton (the largest town of Somerset).  It has a very highly rated infants’ school (ages 4-5 through 7-8) so I wanted to check it out and look at the local area especially since it would be so convenient for us.

I liked the school.  I don’t have anything to base it on seeing as it is the first one I’ve toured but I would be happy if Connor ended up here.  Although he will not be entering into full-time school for another year, I thought it was important that we check it out since chances are we’ll be here for longer than one year.

Afterwards, I went across the street to the childcare center – also highly rated – that has a preschool session.  I got the assurance that preschool is publicly funded for 3-4 year olds up to 16 hours a week.  Yippee – there goes 125 dollars from our monthly budget! (not that England isn’t expensive…)  The childcare center was a very nice place.  I really liked the school’s owner, and the ratios are very good.  However I get the feeling it is a little less structured than what Connor is used to and I have no idea if this is a British thing or just at this school.  Although it has sessions, it is also a full-time child care centre and I would prefer it be only open for preschool (or as they say, playgroup).  The school is very highly rated through Ofsted and it seems they follow themes and there was a lot of interaction with the teachers and students.  I think it is a good choice for Connor, however I need to look at a few more schools before I decide.  And who knows where a rental (letting) will be available for when we need it.

After the school tours, I went for a little walk around North Petherton.  I saw several new neighborhoods and young families, which is a huge plus for us.  The houses looked nice, and there was a big field with some playground equipment like a slide, etc. in the middle of it.  I’ve included pictures of the schools, neighborhood and park below.

My growing muffin toppers and thighs are thanking me that tonight we went to dinner somewhere else.  The Plough is a nice pub right down the road from our inn.  The proprietor was a Canadian and we were at a table full of Rich’s American workmates – all very nice people.  There was one Scottish fellow and no, I didn’t tell him his accent was “thick”.  Lots of stories were told and we had a great time.  I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of these folks in the (weeks?/months?/years?) ahead.

Dolphins Childcare Centre

Dolphins Childcare Centre, originally uploaded by american_mum.

Dolphins Childcare Centre Playground

Dolphins Childcare Centre Playground, originally uploaded by american_mum.

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