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Coping with a culture clash - sorry for length

(40 Posts)
Dankemumma Wed 22-Aug-18 15:22:50

We are struggling with the school we chose 2 years ago. Raise your hand if it’s normal when...

1. You apply to your child’s prospective school in March 2014. They advise you he’ll be eligible to enrol in 2015. You move to the borough where the school is located in Feb 2015. You contact the school in March 2015. No word. April, no word. May, you’re told that you’ve been passed over, and your child won’t be able to enrol. In the meantime, you’ve left a neighbourhood you liked, all your child’s friends, and his lovely former school. You receive no apology and no explanation. Another family experiences the same dilemma. They pay £3,000 in deposit to another school, only to be awarded a place the week before classes begin. They accept the offer, only to lose £3,000.

2. You are finally called to interview for admission in January 2016. The school is run by another country’s ministry of education, and teaching is in another language. Your husband is in South Africa for work. He can’t make the interview, so you take your child. He’s fearful, fretful, and apprehensive. The woman conducting the interview starts a rapid-fire monologue in a language you don’t speak, directed at the child, who responds by hiding under a chair. She quickly deflates, as people tend to do when running on slightly manic enthusiasm, and utters the verdict: “Well, his [language] doesn’t seem to be very good, so I don’t know if there’s much point.” In front of him. Mic drop. You get home, and write a message to the lady in question, cc’ing your husband: under no circumstances would you enrol a child at this school. You receive an offer of admission the same week - by apology? Your husband speaks to the school and assures you this is a fluke. You’re deeply sceptical. But you accept.

3. The instructions for the first year of school arrive entirely in another tongue. You have been told many times the school is proud to host children from around the world. You have been assured all documents are translated. You decide to give them the benefit of the doubt.

4. The first year of school begins with a vicious campaign of bullying. The youngest boy of the class is routinely targeted. The oldest boy in the class instructs all the others not to play with him. The youngest is your son’s best friend. This little one is going home to his mum, crying. You speak to the school. They don’t offer any opinion.

5. You speak to the mother of the little one, it turns out she’s another non-native, divorced from his dad. The school has only sent enrolment forms to his dad, and not to her. She is therefore not listed as the boy’s mother with the school. Stunningly, they refuse to acknowledge she is his legal guardian. It takes her weeks to persuade the school that her son is, in fact, her child. She describes it as a nightmare.

6. You continue to hear stories of bullying. You speak to the mother of the boy playing ringleader. She sends you an email featuring CAPS LOCK curses and expletives. She accuses you of being in a loveless marriage, being “pathetic” because you are a Stay-at-Home-Mum, etc. You respond that you’re not auditioning for a telenovela. The next day she confronts you in the cubby room, in front of the children, and shouts that she is going to the police. You tell her to go right ahead. She does. The police recommend you avoid her. You do. You ask the school for help — again. They make no response. At all.

7. Cut to a year later: one enterprising and driven parent puts together an anti-bullying presentation of a programme used in 90% of schools in Finland, called KiVa, which, in Finnish, means, “kind.” The presentation is at 8pm on a weekday. About 200 parents attend. Four teachers have been charged with implementing the programme on a trial basis. None of them turns up. A roomful of parents express dismay: “At least one of them could have been here,” someone says, audibly. The headmaster is present and assures you they are all very busy.

8. You make it through the year as best you can. In the last week of school, you arrive one morning and find another boy, in your son’s class, doubled over behind a parked car. He’s clutching his face, he’s bright red and hyperventilating, sobbing, and traumatised. You drop your bike and run towards him, asking, “What happened?!” He tells you: another boy hit him. A different bully, this time. You take him to the infirmary. Your son is trailing behind you, trying to help, “Don’t worry, it will be ok!” The lady at the desk literally jumps out of her seat, grabs the boy, and asks, “What happened?” He tells her. They summon his mum to come back to school and get him. He’s sent to get medical help. You write to both mothers, the same message, word for word, but send it separately. You say, “these things can happen when the kids are unsupervised.” You note that the nanny who was supposed to be watching the boy who attacked the other kid was sitting a few feet away, but noticed nothing. That boy’s parents’ response is to send you several angry emails enjoining you to let the school do its job and stop meddling. You counter that the school was closed, & the doors were locked. The father in question demands to see you the following day. You decline another ugly schoolyard confrontation in front of the children.

9. This family throws a birthday party at which children aged 6-7 are crossing a busy road between a church hall and a park opposite, unsupervised. You take one look and started sprinting for the road. Get there in time. Your son looks up with a furrowed brow, and observes, “Mummy, it’s not safe.”

10. The next year begins, fall 2017. This time, another set of instructions arrive, six pages, single-spaced, no translation. The school prides itself on being international. You let it go. After the ordeal you’ve been through, you just don’t want to be seen to complain.

11. The kids transfer to the big campus, which means that parents are not allowed to walk them to school. They share this campus with everyone between 6-18. A lot of them are a lot more apprehensive than they were going to pre-school. In the first week, you see a young boy in your child’s class being escorted onto campus by his grandparents; he has only arrived in England a few weeks beforehand. A young girl, who does not speak the language his grandparents do, is physically attempting to obstruct their efforts to walk him to his class. She is instantly defensive and pointlessly belligerent. This sort of encounter is particularly painful for parents to witness, given the school’s policy of appointing students who are teenagers themselves, to make sure that parents do not walk their children to school. The child is clearly distressed. Later in the year, your child is late coming out of karate, as are most other children. You have to pick up his bicycle from the racks at the back of the campus. The gate has been locked. You dash to the front gate before that, too, can be locked, and ask the young man supervising if you might cross the campus to collect the bike, so it isn’t locked in over the weekend. He is in conversation with a teacher. Both of them gave you quite a stern look and a dismissive speech about rules, etc. Your son is witnessing all of this.

12. Another mother reports to you that she has spent the entire year attempting - without success - to contact her son’s class teacher on email. He’s in another section of the same year. She is a native speaker. She is not able to attend office hours because she works full time. She has sent her au pair into the primary school in person to follow up on regular occasions. She is also a native speaker. The au pair has come to you independently to report that she has been made to feel unwelcome. It is hard to see why this should be the case.

13. Despite many pledges to the contrary, translations are the exception that proves the rule. There is a weekly newsletter in which all sections are bilingual, except those that apply to the primary school. You contact the woman in charge of this weekly report, and ask her to have it translated. There are 870 students, many bilingual. There are 1,740 parents, many bilingual. Many have offered to help. She ignores you. You write again. She ignores you. Again. Same. You write, on the last day of school, to inform her that you are filing a formal complaint. Two weeks later, she gets back to you, to state that due to time constraints, nothing will change.

14. Discontent is brewing. Another mother writes, in an email to 39 other parents: “It is disappointing though to hear that the school leadership believes that the format where spoken [language] is used in the parents’ evening ‘works well,’ on what basis do they say that? Have they done any parents’ survey? Personally, I left the parents’ meeting in the beginning of year feeling alienated, confused and excluded from my daughter’s education.” In a feat of unintended comedy, the bills sent out to parents are in English.

15. Children in year 1 of primary school are assigned homework on a daily basis. At no time throughout the entire year have we been given any information about our children’s homework assignments. One little boy was told by his parents to put his name on his assignments. He countered, in innocence, that it didn’t matter, because no one checked them. And yet, every day that I passed the school on my bicycle, I ran into my son’s class teacher, riding at the neighbouring polo club. The school has yet to respond to this point, which has been raised, many times, by a number of parents.

16. The school continues to insist that their method is designed to make children independent. Parents were not told whether they were allowed to attend the Easter Assembly, We were not told whether we were allowed to attend Sports Day. Parents in another class received a message one night at 10pm, asking them to send children into school the following day in pirate costumes. This prompted disbelief and exasperation, since none had pirate costumes handy lying around at home. At a charity run to raise money for refugees, we were told our class would run last. As it transpired, they ran first. Several parents registered dismay.

17. Faced with the foregoing debacles, I raised a number of concerns, in a series of emails, to the school. I cc’d all the parents in our class. The school’s only response, was to threaten to expel my son. This is what we were told in a meeting with the headmaster, the morning of the end-of-year picnic. The reason we were given, is that a number of parents complained about my emails. The husband of our designated class representative — a lady who did little by way of representing us — called me “disgusting” in an email circulated to the parents of all my son’s friends. I went to the picnic afterwards and sat at the edge of the field and watched the kids play. We contacted Ofsted before, and afterwards. They responded the same day.

18. We have written to the head of the primary school. She has yet to acknowledge us. We’ve never met her.

19. Another mother pointed me toward a review of the school on another site, called “Check-a-School”. The title? “Avoid.” That might be apt, if my son were willing. He’s sadly reluctant.

20. My husband and I finally have a huge fight. My point to him? If this is what it means to be from his country, I don’t want my son to learn to behave this way. We’ve looked at other schools in the area. There is a British state primary 5 minutes from us, directly adjacent to the school we attend. The cosmic irony is, it bears a plaque at the entrance, proclaiming that the school “was destroyed by enemy action in 1943.”

21. I am in the midst of writing a book about Brexit, and why the British, faced with obvious economic loss and potential catastrophe, are still adamant about leaving the EU. I began work on it at Deutsche Bank, first in New York, then in London. What began as an economic analysis, became a human interest story. All of the faults that Brexiteers have attributed to Brussels, exist in microcosm at the school: unaccountable officials, a lack of transparency, and contempt for differing opinions. Yet we are the people to whom the school is ultimately accountable.

22. What appeared to be a utopian project, involving happy children, low fees, and commuters on bicycles, has become a saga in which pre-schoolers have been bullied; families like ours have been threatened for speaking out; and class teachers have been observed riding at the Polo Club, yet do not grade homework. I think this story is ripe for reporting, if only to compel the school to step outside its bubble, and take some accountability for its relationship with us, the people to whom it sends its bills, who have entrusted it with our children.

OP’s posts: |
Cantthinkofnameargh Wed 22-Aug-18 17:51:01

I'm soo sorry you are facing a tough time. What is stopping you from going to another school....seems like an average state school would be better then this?

DamnCommandments Wed 22-Aug-18 17:58:18

Is this an international school in the UK? Operating in a language other than English? International schools are renowned for being laws unto themselves. My kids are in one overseas... Is it 'owned' by a trust? Can you go up the chain?

Or is there another way of achieving your language goals? I assume that's why you're using the school...?

DamnCommandments Wed 22-Aug-18 18:14:32

Is it your husband you need to persuade here? It sounds like you know you need to pull him out. If you're an English speaker and he speaks the other language, but works long hours and is often away, it sounds like he's paying the school to maintain a language as he's not able too help with.

PatriciaHolm Wed 22-Aug-18 20:44:30

Can you summarise?

All the strikeouts make it unreadable, on a phone at least.

I hope writing it has been cathartic, at least...

Littlefish Wed 22-Aug-18 22:02:29

It sounds like your ideals and the running of the school are fundamentally at odds with each other.

Sending an e-mail to the school, copying in all the other parents is extremely odd in my opinion, and will do nothing to gain you support from the other parents.

If you have problems with the school, deal with the school directly. If you are not happy with their response, or lack of response, vote with your feet and move your child to another school.

Grasslands Thu 23-Aug-18 00:01:34

oh wow that was long....although all this relates to your son and your family some of this has nothing to do with the school;
the birthday party has nothing to do with the school
your book has nothing to do with the school, what sport a teacher participates in, etc.
but you are obviously deeply unhappy, changing schools seems the best option regardless of whether this is a culture clash or not

underneaththeash Thu 23-Aug-18 11:06:11

It sounds dire...private schools can pretty much run things as they wish though. We've just moved our daughter from a private school which was also resilient to any parental feedback and unwilling to make any changes at all to address their poor teaching and old-fashioned beliefs.

We've just moved her to another school, which is clearly what you need to do as well.

BubblesBuddy Thu 23-Aug-18 11:19:47

Well teachers are allowed hobbies - even if it’s mega expensive polo!

Seriously though, move. I’m not clear what language is used in school. You write in English. Is the basic language English or not? As you are in the uk, choose a school that supports English as a first language. Why do you need translations? I am utterly confused.

You will never be happy there. So you need to move. Many parents keep languages going privately but accept their children are taught in English in the uk. I would try and accept this as the norm and go with the flow!

BubblesBuddy Thu 23-Aug-18 11:21:33

You do get the prize for the longest post ever OP! Quite an essay!

Bombardier25966 Thu 23-Aug-18 11:36:00

I stopped reading two years in. The school sounds awful but you don't make things easy for yourself and I expect the school and other parents see you as very hard work.

I may have missed it, but why is your child still at the school? There's a point where you stop fighting a losing battle, and that is long passed!

DamnCommandments Thu 23-Aug-18 12:56:49

Come on OP! We all read your essay - come back and talk about it!

PathOfLeastResitance Thu 23-Aug-18 15:23:38

Why would you continue to send your child here?

wurzelburga Thu 23-Aug-18 15:35:58

Is this the German School in Ham?

wurzelburga Thu 23-Aug-18 15:47:19

Is so, there are lots of excellent state and private alternatives in the area.

German schools can be very rigid. And a school funded by the German government to educate Germans abroad in the German way is likely to conform to the German way of things. I have come across a number of Anglophone/Germanophone families in London over the years who have misunderstood this and seen the German school as a cut price international private school. It is not.

I think you need to have a long chat with DH about the best way to educate your child. If you are not planning to return to Germany you may be better off moving to the British system. If you are likely to end up in Germany and want your child to transferto a Gymnasium you should probably stick it out.

blueskiesandforests Thu 23-Aug-18 16:03:17

Is this a private school? You mention bills. If so just move your child.

Or is it one of those weird hybrid state/ private/ church schools which charge top up fees (if Dankemama means your in Germany)?

I presume you've swapped Britian into your account in place of the country you're in to make it relatable - it's worth remembering that very, very few state schools in England will offer all communications in multiple languages, though a newsletter might be produced in the main minority language if there are a significant number of first generation immigrant parents believed not to read much English.

I don't think your experience will be common because most people would have changed school.

I do wonder where you are - if it's Germany then your experience is utterly unrecognisable - I've got 3 kids in German state school, the eldest started German state kindergarten over 10 years ago, and (apart from all communications being in German, because we're in Germany) nothing you describe has happened to us.

EduCated Thu 23-Aug-18 18:42:50

It does sound like you have some genuine and founded concerns, but why on earth are you sending a ‘series of emails’ to the school and copying all the other parents in?

MidniteScribbler Fri 24-Aug-18 01:56:59

The school sounds pretty bad, but you sound like hard work and a trouble maker.

I think that expecting newsletters in multiple different languages is completely unreasonable. We have children who speak a mix of 35 different languages at home who attend our school. We can't translate a newsletter into that many languages to suit everyone. We will arrange a translator for important private meetings, but we can't make every school information session, assembly or event multi language. At some point people need to take responsibility for finding information for themselves.

SD1978 Fri 24-Aug-18 02:07:20

Are you in the UK? at an international school? Why not move schools if it's that bad for you?

MrBloomsLeftVeg Fri 24-Aug-18 02:07:42

Spend less time policing other people. It might make life less stressful.

pengymum Fri 24-Aug-18 02:36:55

Very easy to identify the school.
I’d have moved schools a long time ago! Your child is your priority & if your husband knows all this, I don’t know why you haven’t moved your child!

AltheaorDonna Fri 24-Aug-18 03:08:17

The school sounds terrible, but some of this is totally irrelevant, for example the road crossing at the children's party and the polo playing teacher. And the bit about writing a book on Brexit. Also, I'm afraid you are That Parent. Why not move schools if its that rubbish?

MerryMarigold Fri 24-Aug-18 03:50:07

I just don't understand why you're still at the school if you hate it this much. I read the first two years but could get no further as there just seems to be so many points here, many of which are nothing to do with the school, or nothing to do with you.

KnotsInMay Fri 24-Aug-18 03:57:17

So the school is administratively inefficient, communicates very badly with parents, does nothing about bullying (turns a blind eye) and don’t mark homework.

It sounds awful, and you have a good alternative, the state school, on your doorstep.

But if your DH doesn’t agree then he is s major part of the problem. It becomes a relationship problem.

SD1978 Fri 24-Aug-18 05:25:41

Can you apply to the Russell school if you hate the bilingual one so much?

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