Monthly Archives: May 2011


It’s been a brilliant day.  Lovely weather again – English people cannot go a day without remarking on the weather, whatever it is.  Every conversation includes comments on the lack of rain but an appreciation of the sunshine.  We went to Gill’s birthday party in the afternoon, left around 6 o’clock to go and put the chickens to bed, and set off for Roses’ birthday party.  In the afternoon, there was a mixture of people we knew and those we didn’t, so we chatted to everyone.  There was one almost silent girl, I still don’t know who she was, Gill and Andy’s three young grandchildren were there so, at one point, I asked her if any of them was hers.  “No!” she replied baldly and in a voice that didn’t invite any comeback and I fell silent.  I did think of something else to say and turned to her again, but she was fiddling with her phone and didn’t look up.  Gill’s mum, who is a delightful old lady who never stops talking, invited me to call round before long, so I’ve said I’ll go the week after next – this seems a long way away, but I don’t think I’ll have time next week.

I had briefly met Roses’ Boy and a couple of his friends, but didn’t know anyone else, but everyone was really friendly and chatty.  Several asked me how we knew each other.  I’m not sure if they all knew about her blog before tonight, but they do now (she didn’t seem to mind being outed).  Roses looked beautiful and was wearing a fabulous dress.  I wore my emerald ring, which doesn’t get too many outings, because it’s a bit delicate for too much daytime use and I don’t normally get out much in the evenings.

I was looking for a little card to go on her present, having sent her proper card earlier in the week, and found a photograph from my first visit to India.  Having finally found the CD to load the scanner software on the computer, I can show it to you.  We were being driven somewhere in Chennai when we saw this elephant looking in the hardware shop.  Just brilliant.  It was looked on in such a matter-of-fact way by everyone else.

Question and answer

The question was “If you had a clever, quiet, student, disengaged, who did the work but you didn’t feel you were really getting through to him/her, what would you do to engage him/her in all that the school had to offer?” It was based on me (and one of my children, actually) but not me, in part because schools are completely different now from when I was a pupil, and also because it doesn’t quite describe young Z.  I was not really asking for on-the-spot psychoanalysis.

I can’t remember quite what the Head said when he was being interviewed, but this time (I may have omitted the word ‘quiet’) he took it to mean a bored lad who was quietly subversive.  He certainly thought it was a masculine trait – which is fair enough, all the things they say about the way boys learn at school compared with girls, I’m well on the boys’ wavelength.

The reason I brought the subject up was that we were planning questions to ask our student teacher, who was going for an interview the next day.  We asked the fairly standard ones, and then slipped in a few tricky ones.  I wanted to ask (and you might suspect you see something of the young Z here too) – oh, I should explain that she is a PE teacher – “teenagers tend to be either sporty or not, and you will naturally identify more easily with the sporty ones.  How do you encourage the less able pupil, who finds sport hard – may be small, overweight, have poor co-ordination or whatever, and doesn’t want to join in?”

She came up with some good suggestions, including getting the pupil to do some coaching, doing dancing and non-competitive exercises, maybe aerobics and so on.  I was happy with her answer but afterwards, I said that her answer to a previous question had actually appealed to me a great deal.  That question was the fairly standard “describe a lesson that had been particularly successful, where learning had taken place, and how would you know that it had?”  She told us of an athletics lesson, where she had been improving the long-jumping skills of a class of girls.  She had put a low barrier of some sort to encourage them to jump higher as well as further, and then measured their progress with and without it.  Each girl had been able to measure her own jumping – there was a row of coloured cones so that, rather than spend time measuring, they had been able to see whether they’d reached the red, yellow or whatever cone, and they had become keen to beat their record.  The point was not, on that occasion, to compete with each other.  They had worked out why they were improving and (unprompted) talked about trajectory and so on – it was really interesting to hear her.  And I said, I thought that would also be good for someone who isn’t a natural athlete, because she wouldn’t have instinctively understood what she was doing wrong or how to improve.  I also think that, for the sort of person who would be more likely to be in the library reading than on the athletics field, that an analytic approach would engage interest, especially when it transpired that the theory worked in practice.

Afterwards, of course, the Head said to me, “so, what is the answer to your original question?”  And I’m not so sure that I had a complete one, although I did give him an answer.  And that can wait for another day.  Both the Sage and I had difficulty sleeping last night and kept waking each other up.  I’m tired and I’ve got two parties to go to tomorrow.  Of course, one always perks up for a party.


I’m feeling pleased with myself.  I have recruited a new governor.  She’s already a governor at another school (which will close in another year, when we’ll take on half its pupils) and I have been hoping to get her then, but I had half a chance and took it, and wrote to ask.  And she’s accepted.  She is brilliant and will fit in perfectly.  I also, yesterday, wrote inviting another person to join us, and that he hasn’t replied yet doesn’t put me off, it’s fine to take a few days to think about it.  He will also be ideal – I hardly know him myself, but he’s experienced as a governor, is a parent at the school and supportive, and the Head knows and gets on with him.

I set a lot of store by having a full governing body, with people whom I trust to get on with things.  When I left my last chairmanship I had got bums on all the seats, and I found someone to replace me when I left.  With my more boring eye on legality, I’m always the first to count up to make sure we’re quorate, and there are a lot of jobs to do and, the more people we have, the fewer there are for each of us.  I used to have three subject areas to monitor as well as being SEN governor and now I have one, music, which I do not want to relinquish anyway.

Oh, there was a chaffinch on the windowsill, peering in the window.  Lovely!

This afternoon, I heard a sound in the passageway, and knew who it was.  Black Granny.  She came in and waited while I fetched a slice of bread for her, which she pecked at on the carpet before pottering out again.  It’s more like the Beverley Hillbillies around here every day.  The Sage and I had a conversation this afternoon where we agreed that, sooner or later, we would both move upstairs and leave the downstairs to the bantams.  They obviously would like to move in.


She was shaking the bread so hard that her neck is out of focus!

Pfft. Bring it on.

Indeed, the flurry of worry was what I needed and I’ve focussed on what more I need to do, and the inspection can come along next week and I’ll be fine.  I’ve noted down what I still need to check on and will have a meeting with the head on Friday and quiz him, and also give him some robust encouragement.  I’m feeling okay.

The cup and saucer that the Sage and I both liked best went for a startlingly high sum.  The Sage bid well, but wasn’t going to pay £3,000 (plus commission and VAT on that, blimey, I make that £3,720!!!!!) for a 230-year-old cup and saucer – assuming that he wasn’t outbid at that.  He bid up to two and a half, he says. He bought a lustre jug, which we both liked, and a couple of late Lowestoft teabowls, or maybe a bowl and a coffee cup, can’t remember, both of which he has a saucer to match up with.  So, not what we’d have liked but he hasn’t spent a lot and isn’t empty handed.  He’ll be back in an hour or so … which reminds me, roast potatoes into the oven in a few minutes.

After our meeting with some Local Authority people, the Head asked if I’d be free to join him in a mock interview with a PGCE student who has an interview the day after tomorrow for her first job as a teacher.  As we discussed what to ask her – really tricky questions, we tried to cover all the bases – I reminded him of a question I’d asked him, as a supplementary in his final interview, when he was appointed.  “You still remember it, evidently it mattered,” he said resignedly.  “You didn’t quite get me either, I let you get away with it,” I said.  I had to remind him.  Ahem.

Okay.  So, this was, more or less, the question, and I’d only have asked it of someone I was seriously considering giving the job to.  It was at the final, no holds barred interview and I only asked it of him.  “If you had a clever, quiet, student, disengaged, who did the work but you didn’t feel you were really getting through to him/her, what would you do to engage him/her in all that the school had to offer?”

The best answer will win a prize if it’s worth it.  In fact, I’ve finally, and largely due to Diana’s interview this afternoon (she was really good and I hope she gets the job she wants) worked myself into the mind of the young Z.


Thank you for your comments, and I apologise for going wobbly on you.  I’ll stop going on about it after this, but there’s more to say than will fit in a comment.

I remember the first inspection I was involved in, years ago.  The chief inspector said, robustly, “satisfactory means that it gives satisfaction, and that is a perfectly good result.”  In fact, it was never true (although she spoke in good faith) and satisfactory has always meant ‘barely adequate’ in Ofsted terms.  Every inspection of both schools I’ve been involved with has been ‘good’ and the village school only wasn’t judged ‘outstanding’ because of the cramped conditions in a small and unsuitable building.

Last time, there was a brief one-day inspection and the governors weren’t seen, apart from the then chairman.   The time before, all governors were interviewed in pairs.  On that occasion, the whimsical decision was taken to ask us about matters that weren’t our area of expertise.  I was asked about finance and, fortunately, since we were faced with a spending cut at the time and the Head had explained exactly what measures were being taken to keep in the black, I knew plenty about it.  I did already know a fair bit about school finance because of my chairmanship of the other school.

I know I don’t need to quote a lot of facts and I have no thought of doing so.  They will have been through our documents and it depends what they decide to focus on – obviously, it’s likely to be our weaker areas and that’s fair enough, and since I know what they are and what we’re doing about them, and that we’ve already gained ground and that is demonstrable, it’s all right.  But there are three reasons for my anxiety.

One is that, last time, it wasn’t a good experience and everyone concerned found the attitude of the inspectors very unsettling.  The next is that, last time, I wasn’t chairman and now I am.  The third is that, for the first time, I genuinely think that we deserve an evaluation of ‘outstanding’ and I would be devastated if we didn’t get it because I hadn’t come up to scratch or if I felt that they were nitpicking – if they can clearly explain why we’ve fallen short, fair enough.  However, I honestly believe that the school is excellent and I think that I’m doing pretty well – but inspectors do have their preconceived ideas and you can’t always overturn them.  For example, once at the village school, an inspector asked about cultural diversity in a school where there was a predominately white English culture.  I explained about what we were doing and, as a practical example, mentioned that the two Chinese and two half-Chinese children in the school had been involved in our recent celebration of the Chinese New Year, bringing in clothes, food and speaking about customs and so on.  The eldest child, a boy of seven or eight had spoken with pride, loved being the centre of attention and I thought it had been successful.  “Oh,” the inspector said, “but don’t you think that smacks of tokenism?”   I really think that nothing would have been the right answer there, she had already made her decision.  If I hadn’t mentioned it, she might well have been critical that we were not being inclusive of the culture of our ethnic minorities.

As a side reason, we’re already up to our necks in preparing for the closure of the middle schools, taking on two extra year groups and moving our sixth form to different premises, arguing for funding to do that from the local authority because our capital formula funds have been slashed, working on becoming an academy by the end of this term, not knowing whether our application has been successful and in the middle of the exam period.

Fret work

I’ve had a meeting to get an update on Special Needs matters – I’m always pretty well in touch, but haven’t had more than a brief chat this term so far, so it was good to have an update.  And I’ve arranged to go through our annual development plan with the Head on Friday.  I have to trust myself and not panic into a lot of rote-learning of facts and figures.  I don’t think I need to know all the details; or rather, I don’t have to remember them.  I go to a lot of trouble to find things out, to ask questions and to ensure what should be done is done, and then I forget the detail.

So, this afternoon, I asked him if there was anything I should address and he kindly reassured me – I said that I know where I’m good, it’s where I am not and don’t know it that a weakness may lie.  I would rather not be caught out.  He asked me an Ofstedish question and I stared horrified for a moment before rallying and answering straightforwardly – actually, the whole role-play sort of thing disconcerts me, but I did sort of ask for it.  Actually, I’d quite like some robust and specific criticism, it’s not that I am modest about self-worth but I appreciate a frank appraisal, preferably in time to do something about it.  I have various documents to re-read – like, for example, I can’t remember in the least what’s in the Head’s performance management, because I didn’t do it.  Well, I wouldn’t remember anyway.

I know how the students did so well last year and that it wasn’t a fluke, and can explain in what ways the pupils are told what the point of a lesson is, what they are supposed to be learning and why, and how to know if they’ve learned it.  That would have been jolly useful when I was at school, I can tell you.  There were, certainly, teachers who brought that across but there were only too many lessons when I had no idea what, if any the purpose was, and didn’t learn anything.  I also know how the teachers look out for difficulties a student, or group of students may have and address it – for example, when one of the governors was in a maths lesson back in the winter, a small group had a session on the use of brackets, because they hadn’t grasped it.  I know who was entered early for an exam and who wasn’t and why – not as individuals, but as groups.  I know that students should know their target grades and what marks they need to get them.

If I were asked why I’m the Special Needs governor, rather than someone else, I can explain, and say what I do and when I check on things and then leave them to it.  I can say what value we place on vocational qualifications and apprenticeships.  I can tell you what we do for our gifted students and how we support pupils who feel that they are bullied, and how we know about it.  If asked to talk by way through a financial spreadsheet, I’d be fine.  I know about partnerships with other schools and how we’re developing them further.  If asked about uniform (behaviour, punctuality and appearance are going to be looked at) I can tell them that, a year ago, the School Council asked that staff be robust in enforcing the school uniform rules.  Dyed hair and dreadlocks are okay, piercings, apart from a single earring in each ear, are not.

I know a lot.  But what if I’m asked something and my mind is blank?  I don’t know what they’re going to talk to me about, that’s the thing.

And if I’m this anxious now, what sort of a nervous wreck will I be when the inspectors actually announce their arrival?


I’ve been watching a programme about problems with medical implants – I usually avoid such medical things, but I rather felt I should.

Those of you who have known me long enough may remember, some 20 months ago, I enquired about hip resurfacing as an alternative to a full hip replacement.  The surgeon to whom my GP referred me was very off-putting, saying that there were a lot of problems with metal-on-metal implants and, in addition, hip resurfacing had its own dangers, especially for women – this being because, post-menopause, most women lose bone density and the less invasive treatment of resurfacing can leave the femur more at risk of fracture.  I’ve got a socking great porcelain spike in my femur, which adds stability rather than lessens it.  I quizzed him pretty sceptically and straightforwardly (for example, I asked how many hip resurfacings he had done, and whether his reluctance was because he hadn’t done enough of them to become fully adept) and I am appreciative that he took me seriously and explained without patronising or being offended.  Every time he has seen me since, he’s asked if I’ve seen the latest findings, which, thanks to Hip Headlines, I have.

I asked him why, if there were good hip replacements, new and untried ones were being used, and he frankly said, because of the money in them.  Something new can be sold for a lot of money.  He didn’t for a minute suggest any corruption or malpractice, but simply that it’s a massive industry and that companies doing research need to sell their devices, and surgeons can be convinced to try them.  At Norwich, they had watched what was going on, were not comfortable with the number of problems thrown up and had made the decision to stop doing any metal-on-metal implants.  Since then, there have been a lot of recalls of specific devices and many people have had to have further operations to replace their artificial hips.

Today, we went to view a sale at B0nh@ms in London.  The Sage is going to the sale on Wednesday, but I won’t go then.  We had plenty of time to look and handle all the china we wanted to – if you have never been to view an auction, you can ask to see and hold anything you want to (actually, I’m not sure if it works the same for delicate stuff worth millions, but it certainly does for the thousands-worth).  It’s brilliant.  It’s good to hold a lovely item that you will never own, and handling it adds a lot to just seeing it.  I have ambivalent thoughts about museum pieces – of course, some things are so rare and precious and of such historical significance that they should be kept in museums, but they will never be loved and appreciated again in the same way.  Lovely things should be touched, if they’re not too fragile, and so much in museums is kept in store and rarely seen again.  Especially now, when a museum is meant to be a viewing experience rather than a historical record.  It’s laid out very artistically, but there’s not room to show much of the collection, even the really beautiful pieces.  They might as well be sold on for people to enjoy and appreciate again.

Bright College Daze

We had a governors’ meeting last Monday, but on the Thursday before, I had an email from the Head asking me to come in for a meeting the next day.  He’d been notified that the school was going to be part of the pilot for the new regime of school inspections.  So at the meeting, the governors had to make a final decision about confirming our application for Academy status (the local paper, if you saw it, didn’t get it quite right) and were also told about Ofsted coming.

We have made a commitment to becoming an academy and are waiting to hear if the application is successful.  What it means is that it will still be a fully state funded school and won’t actually change at all, but the governors, under a board of trustees (four governors including the head) will take over running it, rather than Suffolk Local Authority.  The work that’s been done so far – we’re employing financial people, HR people and solicitors – is a revelation of efficiency.  The LA has not, over the past few years, been what it used to be and has been frustrating to work with.  And you don’t know where you are with them, which has always been the case.  You are never lied to, I’m not making any accusations, but they don’t volunteer any information they don’t have to.  They have a lot of schools to take into account, but they don’t actually say that, they say supportive but non-committal things and later you find out that you’ve gone away with the wrong impression, or find that all your reasoned arguments, which seemed to have been accepted, were quite pointless because an opposite decision had already been made.   It is so hard to work with.

There are, however, some really tricky things ahead in the next few years, and I have to accept that this is a commitment I’m not going to relinquish in a hurry.  We’ve got really good governors, but some of them have had other things crop up and don’t have a lot of time at present.  Sad to say, the wife of one of them has just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, so I’m particularly appreciative of Rog’s cycling efforts this week, as he’s raising money in memory of Kaz.  It’s a beastly illness and not that unusual – I know more women who have or have had it than any other cancer except breast.  As you probably know, the worst problem is that it’s often picked up relatively late, having few symptoms in the early stages and, even when the woman starts to feel unwell, the GP may well not immediately identify the need for tests; so when it’s diagnosed it’s already strongly established.

Our inspection is unlikely to be held this week, but could be next, or in the first week after half term.  This means that, under the rule of Sod’s Law, that it could well be on the day that Dilly will have her baby.  Of course, that day and the next I am due to be on hand to look after Squiffany and Pugsley.

For the next few weeks, I really will feel as though I’m sliding down the razor-blade of life.  I am getting extremely anxious.  I’m very worried about letting the school down – I know a lot, but it all depends on what I’m asked and if they want to tie me in knots, as some inspectors do, I am afraid of letting the side down.

However, tomorrow we’re going to London to view a sale at B0nh@ms.  So I’ll try to put all this out of my mind.

The Sage sees a friend

The Sage has had a particularly cheery day.  His best friend moved to New Zealand some years ago.  The tale starts over ten years ago, when his daughter and her boyfriend decided to take a sabbatical from their jobs and travel the world.  They had both gone straight from school to further education to jobs, and took a belated gap year.  They wound up in New Zealand, loved it and wanted to live there.  They got married there, but had to return to their jobs and to apply for residency.  In due course, they moved back permanently and now have three daughters and are thoroughly settled in Auckland.  Her parents went to visit several times, loved it too and were able to get permission to live there as via Tom and Maxine.  They bought a house and, for a few years, divided their time between the hemispheres.  However, three years ago, their respective mothers died and since then they have lived in NZ.

The mothers dying when they did was an odd coincidence, in fact.  One of them was gravely ill, so Graham and Sandra flew back, to be told that she had just died – but within days, the other mother died too.  So both funerals were held within a week of each other, they sorted out the legal and domestic matters and went back again.  Since then, Sandra has been back but this is Graham’s first visit.  He’ll be here for six weeks, and you can imagine how pleased the Sage is.  They often talk on the phone, but they had a great four hours today catching up.

I cycled in to town to buy food and had hardly arrived back when it started to rain.  It was as well it rained then, because I had just been vexedly remembering that I’d forgotten to buy coffee beans, although I’d cycled past the shop.  As it was, I was glad that I’d come straight back.  I popped back again later and have just had my evening cup of strong black brew.  We’ve not had that much rain, don’t know if there’s much more to come.  The Ups and Downs (our undulating field of ancient meadow land) hasn’t been grazed this year, but the grass is short and browning off as if it is August.

I saw Weeza on Thursday, first time since Easter.  She’s now about six months pregnant and feeling well.  She was tired for a couple of weeks, but has got over that.  Phil’s mother was staying for the long weekend – she’s recently retired, so is footloose.  His dad is still working.  It was good to see her, and lovely how well Zerlina gets on with her.  Very sweet, she walked along holding each of us by the hand.  She’d been holding a biscuit, so put that in her mouth for safekeeping.

The old black Granny hen came from Graham, his eldest grandson was keen on chickens for a while and had reared more chicks than he wanted, so we had some.  As is the way of things, the majority turned out to be cockerels – the Sage had had an idea of keeping one, but they were a bit more feisty than we really wanted, so homes were found and we kept the hens.  Granny is the last one left, of three I think.  Must be at least 8 years old.  Anyway, Graham was very pleased to see her.  The chickens were all being very friendly and confident.  I hand-fed some of them some cheese yesterday.  They are inordinately fond of cheese, so now hang around by me almost as if I were the Sage.

The birds and the bugs

Driving home yesterday evening, I was listening to a nature programme and they were talking about insects. This warm dry spring has been very good for them, it seems.  They said that there are a lot of cockchafers around this year.  I was going to post a picture of one, but it occurs to me that some of you really don’t like bugs, so I won’t. 
Cockchafer is, of course, the best and most amusing bug name of any and all, ever.  They are also known as May Bugs and, in this part of the country anyway, as Billy Witches.  They are big, slow, blundering beetles.  I remember once, when we lived in Lowestoft, all going for a stroll along Pakefield cliffs and a whole swarm of them came flying along.  They kept flying into us and it wasn’t pleasant at all, they tend to stick rather and are so heavy they quite hurt.  They don’t seem to have the sense to avoid you and there were on that occasion far too many to be able to dodge them.  Weeza shared a house with a friend’s brother in Norwich for a while (they just shared the house and the rent, they weren’t romantically linked) and he had a cockchafer phobia.  Weeza said that his sisters teased him about it, usually by finding one and threatening him with it.  It is a pleasure to sisters, it seems, to watch their elder brother in a state of panic.
Although this dry weather is not good for birds that eat worms or snails, it’s very good for birds that eat insects and that is what we have been noticing.  There are always a lot of nesting birds around here mind you, we have the sort of garden and environment that encourages them.  When the Sage was at the AGM of the Common owners a week or two ago, they had invited a bird expert who works for a naturalist organisation – I can’t remember which, and the Sage has squirrelled away his business card somewhere – and he invited the chap, whose name is Steve, to come and look around here and give advice on encouraging birds even more.  We have a few fields and Steve was very enthusiastic.  The one behind the house, there is a diagonal row of small trees – hedge plants that have grown into trees really, such as hawthorn – which he liked very much, and when they went over to the other field, he was even happier.  It is untouched, although grazed by sheep, and wildlife is completely undisturbed.  He said that he will come back at dawn one day soon to do a bird count and give us a list of the species he sees.