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Is this normal for a headteacher/first day of school?

(35 Posts)
Spalva Wed 03-Oct-12 09:24:54

I'm likely to spend lots of time here these days. I'm very thankful to have a place to come and ask questions.

My eldest daughter had her first day yesterday at the local secondary school. She is in Year 8; we just moved to the UK from abroad. Dd has lived in five countries in ten years. This school was our last choice (it is our catchment school). That is the background info.

We had an appointment to meet the headteacher (an apparently famous guy) first thing in the morning. He came into the reception hall, saw us, and said, "Oh! You must be the people I'm supposed to meet this morning. The told me I'm to meet "some people" at 8:30, but they didn't give me any details. I tried to get them tell me details. So, I'm sorry, but I didn't know who you were." Then for ten minutes he kept mentioning that he wasn't told who we were and that now he knows who we are. He took a few details, tried to reassure us about some points, and let us go.

So I handed my dd over to the head of her house, who couldn't tell us if she would need her PE kit because he couldn't figure out if it was week A or week B. So he asked the admissions officer, who had to flip through her agenda to figure it out.

Not one of dd's teachers ever took her aside and spoke to her. In physical education her buddy for the day had to try to figure which "set" she would be in and ended by assuming that she would be in set 2. I kept asking what the teacher said about it but she just shrugged. My child doesn't even know what a set is -- and I only know because I've been reading here!

My dd carried her heavy PE kit (she brought the whole lot since she didn't know what she would need) around all day long. No one mentioned getting a locker. No one asked about taking her fingerprints so she can get set up to eat. There was nowhere to sit to eat, anyway. She barely had time to swallow three crackers at 10 am (she gets low blood sugar).

I realize British schools are not set up to cater to kids who have never been in the British system. I do. But what about new kids? Do they really just throw them in there and make them swim? Dd was in a tiny school, had nine children in her whole year! She is completely overwhelmed. When I tried to explain to her that she should meet a pastoral manager she was panicky and said, Whaaatt? in a very uncharacteristic, teary way. She has been crying since she got home yesterday and she never, never cries. She was a top student and I'm worried. Can you tell?

I'm not sure there is much advice for anyone to give me here. But I just moved here and have absolutely nobody to talk to. And, I must say, I'm quite teary myself. I'd just like to understand better how this should work, in an ideal British secondary school, let's say.

Lancelottie Wed 03-Oct-12 09:33:49

Your poor daughter!

Mine moved schools in yr 8, mid term. No big deal, same country, same system, not even very far away. Here's what a 'good' school did:

The year manager met us together, showed him round and introduced the form tutor
Found him a uniform order form
Provided him with a buddy, a locker and a timetable
Suggested he stay just for an hour to get his bearings, then a half day before he went full-time
Emailed me twice that week to let us know how things were going

...why these guys haven't got Ofsted weeping on their shoulders I'll never know.

Lancelottie Wed 03-Oct-12 09:35:25

Actually the PE teacher is the only one DS struggled with -- gave him detention for incorrect kit in his first week, before we'd got the order through --so maybe your daughter's lack of help from the PE teacher is par for the course!

Hopeforever Wed 03-Oct-12 09:35:55

It sounds chaotic, but how much contact did you have with the school before you took DD in for her first day?

I would have expected her to see the school and meet the head before her first day.

It sounds as if you have only just moved?

As for the locker, no year 8's at DS's school have lockers. They do get to know which day they will need kit, and what kit they need.

Hope things improve

Skivvytomany Wed 03-Oct-12 09:36:54

It doesn't sound very organised. I know that when I changed my sons school ( only a couple of miles away not a different country or anything) the school had like a buddy system for new pupils. They didn't know what levels he should be on because old school never sent on the information but as he was only twelve they figured out his levels quite quickly.
The school should have given you some sort of handbook with all the information in it before she started though.
Give the school a phone and ask them for the extra information. Also does your school have a website, that may have some more information for you.

QuintessentialShadows Wed 03-Oct-12 09:42:45

Had you not spoken to the school at all prior to showing up for first day? Not gone in for even one visit or a tour?

Did you at any point ring the school and say "Hi, I am Spalva, my daughter is joining Y8 next week, can we come and speak to somebody and have a look around?"

If you had not, this may explain the Heads perplexity, and frequent mention of not knowing who you were....

Faxthatpam Wed 03-Oct-12 09:53:49

They have not done their job at all!
Whether he knew who you were or not is irrelevant - he was rude. They should have given you a tour, explained the system with food, found a buddy, a timetable - all the things Lancelottie's DS got.

I would call them and ask for a chat with the head of year, explain that your DD is feeling overwhelmed and get them to look after her properly, don't take no for an answer.

Good luck, I am sure it will improve once she (and you) finds her feet.

Spalva Wed 03-Oct-12 09:55:57

Sorry, I didn't mention it because I felt my post was already too long. We had a tour of the school last week with the admissions officer. I must say it was a bit like having a real estate agent show us a property. I know schools in this area are competing for students, but it was a bit soulless. We were both completely lost in the conversations about exams. The whole meeting was basically about GSCEs and A-levels; my dd just went blank and stared at the wall she was so confused (didn't give much of a good impression, I'm afraid, but she was quite disappointed about several things at that moment).

She gave us a booklet from 2011 for Year 7s, which didn't tell us much about what she'll be studying this year. I have no clue. I mean, I know the general subjects but haven't been able to find anything at all about what exactly they're doing in history, English, maths, etc.

And the admissions said she would have a locker but that the finance people would explain to her about perhaps paying less since she's starting in year 8 and may not stay. But my dd has no clue how to find the finance people.

She did have a buddy, so that was nice. But she got lost at lunchtime because the buddy went to buy lunch. Fortunately, some year 9s came up to dd and asked if she was okay, which was really heart-warming.

Lancelottie -- I almost cried I would be so happy if they did that for dd. An hour and then half a day?? That would have been so helpful. My dd didn't know if she was going to be able to find her form room or whatever it's called this morning. I couldn't take her because I have a younger one to take to school in an opposite direction.

Hopeforever -- yes, we arrived the last few days of August, waited all this time to get a school. And, actually, I only got her started at this school because I called all the schools we applied to directly. We still don't have an official letter from the LA telling us which school she is assigned to. Now I'm thinking I really need to appeal to our first choice school.

Thanks everyone!

mummytime Wed 03-Oct-12 10:07:36

I would appeal. I would also phone the school and ask to speak to the head of year, and explain to them how confusing your daughter found the school.

Are you on the waiting list for all the schools you preferred? I would also phone the LA today and ask about this school, if they have found a place for your daughter, and explain about the total lack of preparedness for your daughter.
It certainly sounds as if their pastoral care isn't very good.

TantrumsAndBalloons Wed 03-Oct-12 10:15:42

Ok, that was an example of how it should not be done.
My dd moved school in year 8.
On the first day we met with the head of year. We also went to see her form tutor. We had a tour of the school, got her timetable, sorted out her locker, organized her thumbprint and met the head of pastoral care.
We were there for 2 hours. She also met the 3 people who were going to look after her.
Then we all went home.

So the next day was her first day technically. Her buddies met her in the hall before registration and looked after her the whole day.

She had a meeting with the head at lunchtime to make sure she wasn't concerned about anything. The head called me at 5pm to see how I thought her first day went and did I have any questions?

I would go in and see her head of year if possible and explain this is incredibly overwhelming and you do not think she was adequately prepared to start school and see what they can suggest to help.

I would also be appealing for your first choice school ASAP if that's possible.

Spalva Wed 03-Oct-12 10:18:25

I filled out the appeal this morning and need to get it printed and posted.

Neither our first (international school) nor second choice school mentioned a waiting list. The third choice (MFL specialist) did: she is number 8 (we are not in the catchment area).

I finally got the LA by email yesterday (calling has not been working) as they finally answered my question as to whether our third choice had declined or not (I called third choice school long ago to verify). They said they that they had sent a letter back on the 20th and re-sent it yesterday with a booklet about what to do from here.

I'm going to wait and see if things are any better today, see what the letter says (hope to get it today) and then call LA and school as needed tomorrow. I'll appeal to school 1 and also find out which other schools might have places.

Spalva Wed 03-Oct-12 10:24:16

Thank you so, so much for that. Really, I wasn't sure if my dd's experience was normal and I didn't want to jump to conclusions about "British schools,' I've moved too many times in my life to do that. But I am so happy to see how it should have gone. I am appalled, really.

I didn't appeal earlier because I really thought it would be useless. I have been in contact with this school since before moving. We tried to find something in the catchment but we had ten days to find something and just couldn't. We are in the borough, though. They have told me from the beginning that there were no places. We meet their fourth criterion, which is to have recent international experience. I'm appealing on those grounds but I really don't have stronger reasons.

noblegiraffe Wed 03-Oct-12 10:24:52

At my school carrying PE kit around is normal so wouldn't have been considered an issue. If your DD is international then no, the teachers wouldn't have any idea what set she should be in - my school would probably give her an assessment at some point early on to decide and stick her in a set with space in until then.
As a teacher I wouldn't have time to take her aside and chat to her individually as she would have probably turned up to my lesson with little or no warning so I would get on with the planned lesson once I'd found out who she was. In a school with 9 kids that might be possible but in one with 1500 where kids suddenly appear in your class a degree of simply getting on with it would be expected.
The buddy should have helped her with lunch, however!

lljkk Wed 03-Oct-12 10:28:14

I am not surprised by your experience. Have had extremely similar with DS (he's in y8, too, started at new school 4 weeks ago). Only at least he had a personal apology from the HT & I had an apologetic call from HT's PA.

I would be fairly surprised if you found any other state school managed to induct her any better (sorry). I figured out back in June that I was going to have to be very canny about prising information out of the school & psyching DS up for their disorganisation and making sure he could just roll with whatever happened.

No matter what happens next you need to get closely involved until she's settled in (& maybe afterwards), chasing hard to make sure that she's as ready as she can be for whatever lack of organisation she is presented with. Someone in our school office is quite on the ball & quickly deals with emails, I've discovered, if only to delegate them to correct others. So that's a good channel in for us.

ShobGiteTheKnid Wed 03-Oct-12 10:35:05

What noblegiraffe said. Not a nice start at all, but not abnormal either. No time for the personal service that you get in international schools (I now work in one - it is an entirely different kettle of fish).

I would make sure the head of year knows she is struggling, and have a good chat with them about routines etc - dinner, lockers etc.

Spalva Wed 03-Oct-12 10:42:19

Oh I get that the teacher would need to get on with the lesson, I do. And, of course, you get what you pay for, right? Doesn't make it easier on the kid, though.

lljkk -- thanks for the advice. Those year 9s who helped dd yesterday were new and telling her they felt very lost too. Makes me sad.

tiggytape Wed 03-Oct-12 11:43:06

I agree with the others having just had a Year 7 start a new school. Some of what you've experienced is not great but I think perhaps you were expecting a level of support that almost no secondary school offers:
Most do not tell you in advance what the children will be studying in each subject (they may have a parents' meeting later in the term for some subjects though eg maths), most would not know what set she is in right away and most expect the children to find out things for themselves to some extent. And most of them have little room in the canteen - this seems to be the norm - I dread to think what happens in the Winter and many of them have no lockers or not enough lockers.

In smaller schools and in private schools they perhaps have a better set up and more time to do these things. In our local (large, London) school, no child ever has a 1 to 1 with the Head Teacher I don't think unless they're being expelled and certainly not to settle them in.

Hopeforever Wed 03-Oct-12 11:51:44

Have sent you a PM as I think we might be local to you

Spalva Wed 03-Oct-12 11:56:59

So, two schools of thought here. That's confusing.

First some clarifications: I don't expect to know what set she is in; I barely know what a set is. But I would expect the teacher to speak up and say "we don't know yet what set you're in so just go stand over there." Or something of the like. At that point, whether my dd understands what a set is is irrelevant! At least she knows what to do, where to stand.

As for the subjects, it's simply for me to understand where she is in all this? What has she already covered, what will be completely new (ie. British history), what kinds of books do they read in English. It's really more curiosity than anything else.

I am not asking for everyone to explain the minutiae to her; she's been in enough countries and enough schools (this is her 7th in 8 years) to figure things out a bit. But she can't get herself a locker or a fingerprint on her own. And, really, most school systems do not have daily-changing schedules which then rotate week to week. So, imho, some extra guidance is needed.

tiggytape Wed 03-Oct-12 12:06:03

I agree with you on the finger printing - especially if it means she cannot access food or library books. And I agree she should have been given a timetable even if it will eventually change when she moves sets. That was poor and makes her feel on the back foot / unwelcome.

The subject breakdown though - I have never heard of this being given out to parents at secondary school. We know what DS is doing in each subject at the moment but I don't know what his history topic will be next half term or after Christmas or how often they change them. I don't know what they study in maths or when. He seems to be covering quite a lot of old ground in some subjects. I don't know when it steps up a gear.

The canteen thing is very common in large schools. So many schools have more pupils now than when they were originally built and cannot always seat every student all at once for lunch or for assemblies. Ditto locker allocations - not all schools have enough room for one each.

DS found nobody helped them find out where to go for lessons although they were given some leeway in the first couple of weeks. If you are new you are forgiven for getting lost on the way to the science labs but once they've been there a while this wouldn't be overlooked. They’d had a general tour of the school but it is huge so there is no way they could even vaguely remember room numbers from a quick look around.

In some respects, I agree that a lot of these things are less than ideal. It just seems to be the norm in larger, busier schools.

brentwoodgal Wed 03-Oct-12 12:12:29

I've PMed you too

noblegiraffe Wed 03-Oct-12 12:15:39

She should have a form tutor that she sees daily who would be able to direct her to the right place to ask about fingerprints and lockers. Did she ask?

I'm afraid that if you're hoping someone will sort this all out without chasing you'll probably be disappointed. Your DD needs a list of things to request and then ask where she should go to sort them. There will be a reception/student support area where the kids go if they're ill/need to sign in or check lost property. They should be able to help.

lljkk Wed 03-Oct-12 12:36:51

It's nice to read that not every school cocks it up.
With respect, I am pretty sure that anyone who has been thru the usual steps of yr7 transfer will have had a huge amount more support than was offered to OP (or me) in bringing in our new pupils after yr7. I dare say I'll be able to verify that for myself when DD starts yr7 in 2013! I even moaned about the apparent disorganisation of DS school on here & was poopooed assured that of course the school would manage the transfer well (bollux).

I found out by accident when induction meeting for yr7s was at DC school, and it's only by crashing that meeting that I felt confident about what DS needed to do on his first day as a new yr8. We are still catching up with regard to equipment. I had to email 2 weeks after he started school to get DS his own login, that kind of thing is still happening. (But to be fair they respond to emails well).

It's the things that need doing that you don't know need doing that catch you out.

It's a learning opportunity for your DD, OP, dealing with disorganised institutions. Gotta find a positive in some part of it.

admission Wed 03-Oct-12 12:56:53

My secondary school, where I am a governor, has been outstanding on pastoral care for the past three Ofsted inspections. Its a big school, 1700 pupils, so it is easy for pupils to feel completely overwhelmed when they first come to the school but the trick, which we seem to have got right is how you split up the school and have the right pastoral support team around a house system.
Your child would have seen the head teacher or one of the deputies first thing when arriving. They would have been guided around the school by one of the pastoral support team on the first day and had everything like timetable, lockers, dinner time etc sorted. They would have been paired up with another pupil to act as a buddy in the same year group and also a pupil in year 10/11 who they turn to for help.
I am sure that we don't get it completely right every time a pupil starts but I know that your experience is way below what should be happening. I agree with others that the school has failed to help your child and therefore looking for another more caring school would seem a sensible move.

Spalva Wed 03-Oct-12 13:14:47

Okay, I keep coming here in between sorting laundry, washing dishes, unpacking boxes (still!)...

admission (you gave me quite a start, as I was thinking I had been found out by the school I'm writing about! :-)), some of those things did happen, but in such a superficial way, if that's the right way to explain it. We had this quick meeting with the head, and she was taken away by the head of the house. But dd never understood who he was, and he just dropped her off in the form room. She did have a buddy, but not the older buddy -- though her form group is made up of kids from all years. Of course, if you just follow a buddy around, how can you be expected to learn your own way around (case in point, she didn't know how to find her room this morning because she had been led there in the morning by the head of house), so in the end the answer is just: it will take time, isn't it?

Perhaps things turned out all right today.

To the others who are saying that she needs to find her way, I agree with you. But we are also talking about a 12 year-old girl who in no way fits in with her peers at this school and who only found out she was moving to the UK and leaving her school, her beloved city, and famliar teachers and friends behind two months ago. Can you say emotional pre-adolescent mess? She didn't ask for this. But you couldn't find a child more determined to succeed or stoic, for that matter (it really takes a lot to make her cry), but this is not easy for her.

It's true that she is shy; she realized on her own that she needed to be asking more questions. If she comes home again like yesterday, I will give her this list of things to ask and where to ask them.

I've also emailed the pastoral manager.

Thanks everyone! But I still would like advice on whether or not I have any chance to win an appeal for a school not in my catchment area (knowing that she meets the fourth criterion after catchment, siblings, looked-after).

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