Friday, 28 August 2015

Educating Cardiff

Another series of this always absorbing fly-on-the-wall-of-the-school documentary. This time they have crossed the border into Wales. Though others may debate the Welshness of Cardiff. I am not saying it's not Welsh, what with it being the capital of Wales and all, but in comparison to, say, Pembrokeshire or Snowdonia it struck me as a very English speaking and English-like place. As is the school, though the secretary answers the phone with a "bore da". The headmistress Mrs Ballard only knows the word "fantastic"(ffantastig) in Welsh, but at least it's a positive start. I am not sure how often she gets to use the word, given the quality of the school and the pupils she inherited. Mrs Ballard has a slight air of Miss Trunchbull about her. A bit like Ms Smith in the previous series in the East End, she's dead hard. You ain't going to mess with her. But she's good and fair-minded, and it seems that she is turning things around for the school.

The pupils are the usual mix of bright sparks and bored creatures of apathy who are prepared to make minimal effort on anything other than their hairstyles. It's so disheartening to see teachers having to waste hours of their lives just trying to get pupils to turn up to school in the morning, then put a tie on and actually attend class when they get there. And this is before they have had a chance to stand in front of them at an interactive whiteboard and get them to shut up and listen to anything or actually do any work. If the teachers got to teach once in a while rather than constantly having to nanny the disruptive pupils who are going to bring the school attendance figures down, then maybe everyone would have a chance to find something engaging in lessons. (Or looking at some of the pupils they are faced with, possibly not.***) But meanwhile the clever kids who do want to do some work aren't getting nearly enough attention. Although one of them is offered a school magazine editorship.

My daughter is so excited about starting school next week. She just learns naturally, absorbing the world like a little sponge, and wants to find out more and more with incessant questions and curiosity. I hope she maintains this level of enthusiasm for a long time. But I suspect eventually peer pressure will win out. I don't think I could bear her turning into one of these stroppy girls who roll their eyes at the teachers and see learning as a massive inconvenience to their social networking, fingernail painting and sleeping. Though I am not sure if there will even be any teachers left by the time my daughter gets to secondary school age, the way things are going.

"What made you become a teacher?" the scary man in school, Mr Hennessy, is asked. He sighs. "The long holidays," he replies. A current bugbear for me at the end of what has felt like the longest seven weeks of my life. Seven weeks of my daughter - come on, teachers! She is desperate to join you, and leave me. She will be nice for you. It's too much time to fill - 50 13-hour days - all on my own, with all our other weekly activities also suspended and the city packed out with tourists. We started well - a few days with friends in London, some shows at the Great Yorkshire Fringe, a week of mornings at sports camp, a long road trip to see other friends in Warwickshire and Devon. Then my husband got rushed into hospital with suspected gallstones, I got a kidney infection, and both of us felt like death warmed up for days and days and days. But there were still three bloody weeks to go. Friends stepped in to take Charlotte out or have her round to play (thank you, thank you and thank you again) so I think she continued to have a good time, but now we are literally limping to the end and hoping we can survive this last week.

Trafalgar Square

Eltham Palace

Sidmouth Sea Front
As for Cardiff, I've been, once in 1990. There was a castle, it rained. Better talk to my brother, since he studied at the Welsh College of Music and Drama for a couple of years. Or my friend at The Twisted Yarn, who left my school to Educated near Cardiff herself, at the same sixth form that Sir Anthony Hopkins once attended.

***Though I do get the point about not really needing to use Pythagorus in everyday life.