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A happy conclusion to the issue of excessive ‘settling in’ periods for reception year children - Allfarthing primary in Wandsworth adjusted their policy :)

(22 Posts)
Guy1973 Thu 09-Nov-17 13:19:32

This post might be of interest to those of you with reception aged children this year or next, or those considering a nursery place within a primary school setting too.
I have to admit I was pretty dismayed when my child’s primary school, Allfarthing in Wandsworth, advised us of the scheduled start for reception year children in September. The first part made a great deal of sense – the youngest would go in first for half days, in small groups of 10 until all the children had had a morning by the end of the first week of term. It was the fact that we were then told we’d only be getting half days for a full further two weeks, to allow for ‘home visits’, that I found excessive.
For those that don’t know, home visits are when a teacher and teaching assistant (or nursery staff) visit you in your own home to meet your child in its home environment. I don’t want to get into this too deeply but some of the respective schools of thought are – schools will say that it’s useful for teachers to see the kids in their home environment because if anything emerges that suggests said home environment is adversely affecting a child’s ability to learn, they are better placed to take remedial action. Others have said they think it’s a slightly cynical ploy to identify ‘problem families’ or spy on parents. I don’t quite subscribe to either view but do firmly believe they should be explicitly voluntary. I think it’s extremely tenuous to inflict these meetings on the whole year for the chance that it might be helpful to the teachers in a very small number of isolated cases, so I turned down my ‘home visit’, as did some others, but I believe many more probably would have done so, if told they were voluntary. Many parents, whose child, like mine, had spent a whole year in the nursery within the school, were utterly perplexed as to why one would ever be deemed necessary.
Anyway I thought prior to approaching the school, it would be sensible to do a bit of research as to whether this 3 week period was normal and widely adopted across the country, or whether it was a Wandsworth, or London, thing. So, I put a few posts up on parenting forums to see what other parents and teachers thought. Just to clarify, it was never my intention to restrict anyone else’s choice to have as long a settling in period as they wanted, I just felt the school could offer parents a choice if they wanted FT education for their child sooner.
As ever, sometimes these threads go off on tangents somewhat off topic and can occasionally get a bit narky, but they are well worth reading all the way through if this issue interests you.
The response was both amazing (in sheer number of replies) and enlightening.
Some of the things that emerged were:
More than half the country has never heard of ‘home visits’, let alone had one.
A majority of the country’s schools go straight into full time (sometimes with a proviso that those who want a gentler start can have it).
Many people believe that this policy is the very opposite of ‘settling’ because they are forced to use unfamiliar childminders for these odd 3 or 4 hour periods, upsetting their children at a time of change when that’s the last thing they need.
Others complain that when they have other children at different schools, it presents a logistical nightmare.
Some said that the cost of the additional childcare meant their kids would be going without some of their usual activities or treats
Others said that one or other, or both parents had to burn through most of their annual leave meaning that their family would miss out on a proper holiday that year.
A high proportion of teachers were against – some said they had experimented with this policy but generally found kids settled faster when going FT more quickly or straight away.
My personal view is that any policy whose impact is most keenly felt by those on low incomes cannot be a good thing. Those with full-time nannies or au-pairs, or those lucky enough to need only one parent to work, will probably not have been affected at all. Those on minimum wage, facing a 3 week period of additional childcare costs, have my sympathy. Above all, the school should be able to offer choice – a gentle start, or straight in – then everyone can have what they believe will suit their child best.
So, armed with this knowledge, I approached the Head, shortly into term. He read these threads and, I believe, was persuaded that the school should reconsider and see how they might offer choice to parents. He only joined in January, so it was fair of him to say that his hands were somewhat tied by the arrangements that were already in place regarding ‘home visits’ and the impact on resources, but he’d see what he could do. I’m very pleased to say he was able to bring forward the provision of full-time education by three days and pledged to look carefully at ways in which that earlier start could be offered to parents next year.
I was delighted by the head’s response, but somewhat disappointed by some peoples’ reactions to what I was trying to do. I will add first that lots of people were lovely, made smart, sensible or enlightening comments, sent me messages of support and thanks for what they considered ‘sticking up for them’. However, some tended towards the dim, blinkered and downright nasty.
Some of the responses I got included (and I paraphrase)
Oh suck it up, it’s only for three weeks, stop making a fuss (I fairly sure this was from a stay at home parent unaffected by the issue)
Others were quite beyond belief and went something like….
Schools know best, they’ve been doing this for donkeys’ years, so don’t question their policies because you’re undermining them. (as if we’re supposed to uncritically accept anything that a ‘professional’ or institution tells us and just pipe down?)
People said that what I was doing was a ‘waste of time’. Well, it would appear not….
People (laughably) said that by pointing out this policy impacted low-income people most was ‘inciting class hatred’. FFS, it’s a simple unalloyed fact!
People made daft (and not funny) ‘jokes’ about me ‘wanting education on in-set days next’ – ho-di-ho
Another said ‘amazed if you can approach the school respectfully I just don't think you have this in your DNA’ – er, wrong!
Anyway, some of these idiotic comments can be found on this earlier NVN thread
However, there were also some constructive and useful comments (Thanks Liver bird) and it did reveal some interesting things… (Faced with the same situation, a teacher in Bournemouth challenged her school through the school’s adjudicator system and it ruled in her favour, leading the council to remind all schools of their obligations)
So anyway, the point of posting the outcome of this dialogue is so that parents can see that they are not powerless to influence school policy. Do your research, build a consensus among other parents, approach the school politely and even ways of doing things that have been settled policy for some years, possibly decades, can be rethought and improved.
To the naysayers, I’m afraid you’ve all been proved emphatically wrong. I achieved more or less exactly what I set out to, and I look forward to playing a part in helping the school design a better system for families with two working parents next year.
Perhaps if other parents reading this, whose children are approaching school age, decide to ask this of their school too (do it in Jan/Feb when you first get offered your place), then we may see a number of other schools deciding that increased choice for working parents is both achievable and desirable. Then hopefully a large number of families may be able to avoid some of the inconvenience and suffering caused by an excessive period of settling in.
So, huge thanks to Mr Holmes and the teachers in reception year at Allfarthing for being open-minded, and doing their best to improve the situation this year. It is their efforts that may be the start of this entry system changing across the borough for the better. Bravo!

Guy1973 Fri 10-Nov-17 15:06:24

Really pleased to have been contacted by a publisher and a journalist today, it'll be great for this issue to be debated more widely...

SomewhatIdiosyncratic Fri 10-Nov-17 22:47:57

I got caught out this year. Two years ago DS1 went straight into FT. I was unaware that the policy had changed as that little gem of information was buried partway down page 14 of a misleadingly titled page in the new starters booklet. Given that it was less than 3 years since the head teacher had said there was no demand from parents because many of them worked, I'm not sure why the policy changed and it wasn't something I was expecting to arise.

Fortunately I'm now a SAHM, otherwise DS2 would have missed some of his first days at school as I'd have had to have taken him to work with me on the days that DH was working away. I could not miss my first lessons with my own classes! DS had finished nursery and I don't know anyone well enough that doesn't work FT to be able to ask them to be ferrying my child around like a childminder.

Children should have the availability of full time school from the start, with options for parents to reduce that if necessary rather than mucking about in an educational version of the hokey cokey of random timings and routines that just delay getting used to the real ones. In our case, children are either used to half days in the school nursery or full days in private nursery so there was no benefit to starting the first day on a nursery routine rather than school routine, particularly when it's even the same teacher!

Guy1973 Tue 14-Nov-17 12:47:38

Thanks for your post SomewhatIdiosyncratic, it must be so hard for teachers. Choice is definitely the best option, and if inflicting compulsory home visits on families means there isn't the resource to offer FT, then I think they could be ditched in favour of perhaps some small group stay and play sessions which I notice some of your local primaries do, as a way for children to gently acclimatise to the school.

VeryPunny Tue 14-Nov-17 12:49:59

Aren't schools legally obliged to take them full time from the start of term? Our school takes everyone FT from day 1, and home visits are done in the previous summer terms. A lot of other schools around here do staggered starts, but if you push them will take your child FT from day 1.

WellThisIsShit Tue 14-Nov-17 13:00:52

Our home visits happen in the summer term as part of a programme of overall new starters, all very relaxed and all voluntary. It really helped DS to first meet his teachers 1to1 on his home territory so he felt confident.

I cannot see any point to home visits after the children have started in Reception.

Anyway, this was obviously a huge deal to you and you changed it for the better, so congratulations!

steppemum Tue 14-Nov-17 13:05:10

I think you are conflating 2 issues to be honest.

Our school does home visits during June and July, for the September starters.
The home visits are seen as being really helpful. They are done by a teacher and a TA. The TA plays some games with the child while the teacher talks to the parent and fills in forms etc.

It provides an opportunity for teacher to meet every parent. Children whose parents work full time are often collected by childminder/grandparent or at after school club, and so teacher doesn't get a chance to meet parents.
They can, for example, explain how useful for the school it is if parents who are eliglible sign up to FSM (as the school recieves PP)

It ensures every piece of necessary paperwrok is actually filled in a returned.
Yes it highlights kids in need (35% of our school are FSM)
It gives a quick picture of home, simple things like - only child, youngest of 4, new baby on the way etc.

The TA playing with the child quickly picks up on things which may need further investigation or support, speech delay, can the count to 10, do they know their colours etc etc.

It is an opportunity for parents to raise worries and highlight concerns (eg child isn't properly potty trained yet)

That is one issue, the other is the settling in period.

nuttyknitter Tue 14-Nov-17 13:08:21

What an ill informed post. The main purpose of school is not free childcare.

steppemum Tue 14-Nov-17 13:13:20

The main purpose of school is not free childcare

heaven forbid that we do what is best for the child wrt settling in.

DelurkingAJ Tue 14-Nov-17 21:12:26

The main point of school is also not to stress the parents to breaking point either through cost or logistics (and I say this as a lucky one who had available free childcare).

Carebear1357 Tue 14-Nov-17 21:17:06

I am lucky and my child has settled into reception immediately. I thought the week of half days was too fussy. I think it should be FT straight away. Just rip that plaster off... less pain!

SimultaneousEquation Tue 14-Nov-17 21:40:27

A child has the right to attend school full time from the start of the autumn term. Your headmaster, by making the concession to allow your dc to start a few days earlier, is not complying with the schools admissions code if he is not complying with requests for full-time education from the beginning of term.

I argued with the headteacher of my dc’s school that the settling in arrangements were excessive, and she told me the school knew what they were doing and it was best for the children. So I wrote to her and the chair of the governors requesting a full time start for my dc and made clear the legal basis, and my dc started full-time. And settled with no problem. Next year they all started full time.

sparechange Tue 14-Nov-17 22:22:56

Part of the reason for the home visits, and probably the main reason why they are ubiquitous in Wandsworth, is to help weed out fraudulent applications for places.

If you’ve lived in the borough for any time, and if you pay any attention to NVN other than to whinge, you’d notice what a huge problem this had become

Parents were using grandparents’ addresses, short term rentals or buy-to-let flats they own to get into the desirable schools.
The home visits helped to crack down on this.

Given how massively oversubscribed Allfarthing is, this policy has worked to your advantage

But well done on your crusade hmm
Hope you’re practicing your boohoo face for the Daily Mail

MidniteScribbler Wed 15-Nov-17 06:58:47

Do you want a medal, or a chest to pin it on?

meditrina Wed 15-Nov-17 07:07:49

It's precisely because school isn't childcare that prolonged settling in periods are a problem.

Childcare is what you arrange around school.

Needed extra, possibly unfamiliar, temporary childcare just as a DC is starting school is an extra burden on the DC.

Not every household has a SAHP.

I think that lengthy 'settling' periods have not been shown to have any particular benefit, and they are certainly detrimental to some families (usually those least able to withstand extra stressors).

Good schools know what's going on in their parent community, and works with it, not to burden it.

ShiftyMcGifty Wed 15-Nov-17 07:13:44

So all your "facts" like "more than half the country" are based on who responded to an obscure thread posted on Netmums and now you and some lazy journo are going to pedal your shite as research ?!

AnguaResurgam Wed 15-Nov-17 07:24:03

It's a frequent MN topic too.

Usually, like this thread, in an education topic not AIBU.

I don't think a good case has been made on educational grounds for protracted part-time attendance, and there are definite negatives.

I've just googled the school - it's OFSTED good and a community school (not an academy) so if the Admissions Authority (the borough council) wanted to check for admissions fraud, shouldn't it be doing it, rather than insisting that the school using termtime days to do it for them?

EvilRinguBitch Wed 15-Nov-17 07:31:04

Bloody hell a lot of people got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. You do realise this isn’t AIBU? The OP has a right to be a bit smug under the circumstances - or is it he fact that she cheated on us with NM that you object to.

Well done OP. I agree with you that three whole weeks of half days will be a big strain to a lot of working families and I’m glad your efforts showed results.

OTOH I do think that home visits are valuable (though if they’re catching admissions fraud it would be better to do that in July rather than September).

Quartz2208 Wed 15-Nov-17 07:41:31

Three whole weeks of half days is too much, ours has changed it to one and that is sufficient (after parents discussion)

That said I found the home visit useful for me and them. It enabled the teachers to gain an insight into my son and me to glean a lot about them and ask questions (and for fraudulent admissions)

Guy1973 Wed 15-Nov-17 09:49:53

Thanks for the responses. Very puny and simultaneousequation, you’re right I could have insisted but I think it would have prejudiced my relationship with the head and teaching staff (possibly to my children’s detriment) and there might well have been a few other parents who joined me in insisting, but I’d perhaps have risked upsetting many more parents by being a bit heavy-handed. The heads hands were also tied from arrangements already in place, as he only joined in Jan. On balance, I thought it better to ask nicely, get a little movement in the right direction this year and be part of a consultation with parents that brings forward full time much more quickly next September, when my younger daughter will be joining reception.
Steepemum, I’m not conflating two issues because the reason for the excessive 3 week period was cited as the best they could do given the resource put towards home visits. I spoke to another head at a nearby primary yesterday and he said his school had ditched home visits because parents and teachers thought their value was questionable and he also said the whole primary sector, in his experience is moving away from them. I agree with some other posters that perhaps a voluntary home visit could be offered at the end of the summer term to solve this issue.
Gosh, there are always a few bitter naysayers on these threads aren’t there? Happily in this case the likes of ShiftyMcGifty and spare change are massively outnumbered by supportive and constructive posts – Thanks so much for your support. No, I don’t want a medal midnight scribbler, I simply took a little bit of trouble to see if I could change a system at my child’s school for the benefit of both the children and families with two working parents. I would suggest it’s deeply churlish to have any kind of issue with that (and you’re in a distinct minority).
I am a dad btw!

VeryPunny Wed 15-Nov-17 10:02:33

How very sad that you think raising a valid concern would have affected your relationship with teaching staffsad Sadly I know of several schools around here with the same attitude - and it does seem to be the schools that parents clamour to get into....

Anyway, glad you have a resolution.

Guy1973 Mon 20-Nov-17 10:04:13

Thanks Verypuny, you're absolutely right it shouldn't do, but I think a compromise was the best solution in this particular situation and I think we'll get an even better solution for working families next year, so really good progress smile

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