How much do you know about what goes on at school? Every little thing? Or not much? This book review of What Every Parent Needs to Know: how to help your child get the most out of primary school might be useful. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com
My childless friends are ruthlessly rude about school run mums. “They don’t mean to be boring,” they say with a grimace. “But if they start talking about schools, or to another mum about schools you wonder what happened to the woman you used to know.” School chat and humour are a long way apart as is all too obvious when you read one-time enfant terrible Toby Young’s new book about primary school learning. Young’s finest hour was the funny memoir of life at Vanity Fair in New York, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, which even became a film. Since then he’s set up the controversial West London Free School, raised four children and most recently written with Miranda Thomas What Every Parent Needs to Know: how to help your child get the most out of primary school (Penguin, £14.99).
What’s the book about?
This is a guide for UK primary school families. It attempts to nail down the new national curriculum – something tinkered about with, and occasionally butchered, while Michael Gove was Minister of Education – broken down into what the child might learn in each year group.
My own children have passed through primary school and the obsession to talk about their lack of homework or spectacular creativity with cardboard loo roll middles in D&T (design and technology) has definitely passed. That said I am certain that those parents going through the primary school years will find this book useful for topping up learning sessions at home– so long as their child is a sweet, clever, biddable beast willing to sit still and focus for 40 minute slots. Although there is a short section on special educational needs, this book is written for the anxious/smug mum and competitive dad who have a child in the top 25 per cent (OK, 7 per cent) and if they get the chance would like to make sure everyone knows it.
Although schools will tell parents what children are to be taught each term, this book makes clear what form teachers are trying to instil in their pupils. And that can be helpful given that kids in Year 2 and Year 6 will be tested to ensure progress is being made. It’s also got great web resources peppered throughout the chapters to help you do school work at home – some llinnks were so good I might even cancel my Netflix account.
But the tone of the book – positive cheerleading with a London focus (I’m not sure how my radar picked that up) and a fear of creativity – grates. I’m not that keen on Toby Young’s politics (seemingly moving from left to right as the years pass) but kept being surprised by the strange inclusion of the canny parents’ rhymes such as, eg, “on your knees to pay the fees”, though I suppose us non Church going readers should be grateful this wasn’t in Latin.
The authors tell us when to hand our darling a mobile, but there is absolutely no help with what every working parent really needs to know which is do I have to get embroiled in the PTA? And how do I get my child registered on the breakfast and after school club?
Helping with homework
Besides reading to my children when they were younger (and I have to admit that I’d be happy to keep doing this until they’re, say, 36 when they should switch to Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime) I have never done their homework. If you are the kind of mum who needs, or wants, to do this, What Every Parent Needs to Know is going to be a godsend and may see you your child clock Year 6 SATS with a Level 5 in English and Level 6 in Maths.
What it won’t give you any help on is teaching your child to think, or be kind, or instil in them the emotional resilience needed to cope with the toxic mix of school work, friendship ups and downs, failing exams, families under stress, hideous world disasters broadcast live on TV combined with growing up and hormonal changes.
So the book is great for the pushy mums… and if read carefully you’ll learn the curriculum maps and every educational acronym, not just G&T (gifted and talented). You may also benefit from a top up on old-school memory rhymes (eg, American states, Kings & Queens of England) – the sort of info a pub team quiz member who takes a pride in collecting facts probably already knows. Maybe that could be Young and Thomas’ next enterprise?
Buy it? Borrow it? Bin it?
I’m glad I’ve read this book but if I was giving it to a friend I’d suggest they tried to forget the competitive edge it could give their child and instead focus on what each Year teacher is trying to give to a whole class of children. Maybe if you go and look at that Florence Nightingale statue in Waterloo Place, Westminser or the Fire of London Monument (as recommended during Year 2/history) bring along a couple of your child’s friends so more people get the benefit of Young and Thomas’ curriculum research and your out-of-hours dedication.
What Every Parent Needs to Know is by Toby Young and Miranda Thomas (Penguin, £14.99). Nicola Baird is author of Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco friendly ways to raise your children. She is also a secondary school governor.
Over to you?
What do you think? Do you have books about how to help your child at school? Do they help? Do share in the comments. I’m especially interested in feedback from families who opt out of the system and do homeschooling. How do you guys teach collective responsibility, creativity and the importance of an individual decision?