Neglect, n.

Neglect.  As in My blog has fallen into a state of neglect.  I haven’t written anything. It has accumulated spam comments (now deleted, I hope).  There are real comments, including some from Reluctant Memsahib, one of my favourite reads, and I haven’t responded.   I’ve been busy. I’ve been away. I have lots of excuses.  I don’t really like excuses, though.   My sister has taken me to task. “Why doesn’t your blog work? It won’t load” she asked.   I think it’s sulking.

It’s not that there’s a shortage of material.  The holiday, for instance, is begging to be told.  Stories about the fading American lady in Fiji Continue reading

I’m not nervous!

So, 10am I dropped off a jittery, jumpy, couldn’t-sit-still GP2 for his first exam.  “I’m not nervous” he said.  Hmm.  By the time we got to the school he had my stomach turning somersaults.  Maths.

It started yesterday, 3pm.  “Mum! My calculator’s broken”.  “It’ll be the battery” she said sagely and spent the next 20 minutes extricating one of those tiny silver buttons, the sort you never have spares of in the house, from an impossibly tight casing.  Dashed up to town for spares.  Dashed home to insert.  It still didn’t work.  Emergency phone call to GPD to purchase new calculator on his way home.

“I can’t do this question! How do I work this out? We’ve not done this.”

GPM thinks: Continue reading

Teacher speke

Parents’ Evening could have been worse, I suppose, but you do have to read between the lines.  A little conversation ensued on my Facebook page, to help me in the interpretation.  I though you might all like to join in.

Facebook quotes:-

“I used to get comments like, easily distracted, can do it if he makes the effort. Not to mention the poor splelling 😉 “
“My best was for p.e. – J.  would benefit from a more active approach to this subject”
“Teachers’ code. Lazy ass who needs a kick up the backside. But we are not allowed to say stuff like that.”
“Teachers’ code: I know a teacher who refers to the pupils as E.L.F.s (evil little f…ers) Made us laugh lots.”
So was the “There’s been some improvement” code for Continue reading

Boys: a miscellany

One hitherto unforeseen advantage of trundling round the house with the vacuum cleaner is that it gives you space to compose blog posts in your head.  One disadvantage is that the instant you switch the machine off, those wonderfully crafted words disappear, sucked up as far as I can tell into the Dyson. 

Anyway, there I was, mulling over the apparent impossibility of getting GP1 to even think about doing any revision for the forthcoming prelims or perhaps even making a list of what he needs to do.  I don’t ask for much.  His younger brother, on the other hand, also faced with exams, comes out with such gems as “Mum, if I do this past paper could you mark it so that I don’t cheat?”  You’d throw up wouldn’t you, if he wasn’t your own son.  So I just laugh, lavish praise,  agree and wonder why the application genes couldn’t have been divided equally.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to auction tickets for someone to accompany me to Parents’ Evening tonight.  Continue reading

Talking to teachers

The school communication chain

Part 1    Parents talking to teachers

  1. Identify a pressing need to speak to a teacher.
  2. Find out name of relevant teacher from reluctant teenager.
  3. Weekday morning: write note and send it into school with relevant teenager.
  4. Weekend morning: find scrunched up note in pocket of trousers heading for washing machine.
  5. Next week:  phone school to speak to teacher.
  6. Teachers being teachers, they’re teaching (during school hours) or in meetings (after school hours), not speaking to parents on phone.
  7. Leave message for teacher.
  8. 2 or 3 days later, phone school again.
  9. Speak to receptionist, she of So I’m Supposed To Know Everything, Now? fame.  She insists that it’s not school policy to put parents through to teachers and you have to be routed via guidance. (See?  She does know everything.)  Leave message for Guidance teacher to pass to Class teacher.
  10. 2 or 3 days later…  Assuming you 1) still have the will to live, 2) can remember the original question (did you keep that note?) and 3) still want an answer, figure out Guidance teacher’s email address and email the question.
  11. 2 or 3 days later… Yes!  Result!  Receive response from Guidance teacher who has spoken to class teacher.
  12. But…  You need to reply to the teacher’s reply.  Email Guidance again.
  13. 2 or 3 days later…  receive a reply to the reply.
  14. It must be about week 4 by now.
  15. If you’re lucky, very lucky, Continue reading

Onwards and upwards

 Standard Grades seemed so simple.  Were they ever an issue?  Did I ever worry that GP1 might not be working hard enough?  Surely not.  The fact that GP2 is sitting his SGs this year is really just incidental.   Because, dear reader, we have Highers looming.   I have written very little about GP1 and his meandering journey towards Highers for the simple reason that I find it all too distressing.  It’s also difficult not to get too personal about it all.  Why, I wonder, am I the one waking in the middle of the night worrying about oldest son’s English essay?  I’ve got my own report deadlines to worry about, thank you very much.

But I was cheered the other day by an email comment from the wonderful lady who is struggling to tutor him through English and I thought perhaps Continue reading


Timetable in a Norwegian school by Edublogger.It was the end of June and so the end of term when I found myself reminded of the reason why I adopted Guineapigmum as my nom de blog.  Three years ago (was it really that long ago?) the school decided to bring the Standard Grade exams forward a year.  The students would choose their 8 subjects at the end of S1 (Year 8 ) rather than S2 and sit their exams at the end of S3  (Year 10) instead of S4.     They would choose their 5 subjects for Higher at the end of S3, do a 2 year instead of the more usual 1 year course and sit Highers as normal at the end of S5.  Got that?  Come on, keep up at the back of the class.  If you stopped gossiping you’d know what I said.  

GP1 was in the first year group to go through this system and so he sat his Standard Grades a year ago, in 2007.  With this first cohort, the teachers had to deal with two entire year groups Continue reading

The personal touch

45656455_ed1f145c5c.jpgSo there we are.  External exams are over for another year.  Next year will be the big one – GP1/Highers (I’m trembling and pale at the prospect) with GP2/Standard Grades (an entirely different proposition).  This year, though,  was a relative breeze. 

First up there was SVS.  Once I’d got my head round the fact that Continue reading

The Glass Menagerie

venetian_animals.jpgMy birthday is in January and this year, in celebration of my advancing years, we thought we’d go and play at being grown ups for an evening.  So we went to the theatre – and it’s not even the Festival!  Yes, we had to remind ourselves that there is theatre in Edinburgh outside the Festival.  I used to love going to the theatre as a child when my mother would take various of her offspring to the Theatre Royal in Brighton but, in recent years, we’ve more often had trips to the cinema.  And, having children of a certain age, we rarely see anything more advanced than a 12A.  We could, of course, have gone out for the evening on our own but thought we’d like a family outing and would take the children to the theatre with us.  Whether or not they would appreciate The Glass Menagerie at the Lyceum in Edinburgh was, of course, another question entirely.   

January is by now almost lost in the mists of time.  But Continue reading

High days and Holy days

grumpyowl.jpgThis is going to be a very selfish, mean-spirited, churlish, curmudgeonly, whingeing and Grumpy Old Woman sort of post.  There.  You’ve been warned.  For more enlightened, friendly, positive, cheerful reading you could try some of the links on my blogroll instead.  Iota’s started posting again about life in the States and she’s always entertaining and currently much more enthusiastic than me.  Or there’s Reluctant Memsahib who writes about homeschooling, schooling of the boarding variety but mainly day to day living in the Tanzanian outback.  And you could try Potty Mummy, Mother at Large and Pig in the Kitchen for general entertainment and cooking tips.  Oh, and I nearly forgot Fidra books who are offering to give away books to schools.  I hope you’ve all gone now so I can complain in peace.

Well, brother-in-law got engaged at Christmas. Good news! Exciting news, even, as his fiancee only appeared on the scene in September; Mother-in-law had, I think, secretly started to give up hope of any more grandchildren and suddenly hope came galloping into our Christmas celebrations.  Sister-in-law to be, who keeps Continue reading

Some standard reflections

jane-on-cita-scillies.jpgNow that the silly grin is starting to wear off GP1’s face and school is back in earnest, I thought it was time to reflect on our experience of sitting Standard Grades in S3.  After all, this is pretty much where I came in, although my blog posts have since ambled off into all sorts of areas of general family life. 

Just to be clear at the outset, we are all very pleased with GP1’s results; 6 credits, a 3 and an A.  They’re not going to set the world alight but he has done averagely well, met most of the target grades and has good enough grades to move on to whatever he wants to do next.  It is something of a relief, given that he appeared to do very little work and I still think he had no idea how to work by himself at home – although he is conscientious and I’m quite sure he did generally work well in class. Those 2s could so easily have slipped down to 3s.  Certainly the subjects he got 1s in were the most modular, with the largest elements of assessment outside exams (I think!).  

Would he have done better if he had done the exams next year?  There is no way of telling and, in any case, it doesn’t really matter Continue reading


Standard Grade results are out and he’s done just fine!  What a relief!  I knew it wouldn’t in fact be the end of the world as we know it if he didn’t get the necessary grades – but respectable grades do make it so much more straighforward!  He got Credits in the 6 exams he sat at Credit level (mixture of 1s and 2s) and the highest marks he could in the other two, so we’re all happy. 

And even happier to know that he was one of the lucky 6000 who managed to get on line to get the results.   It did take a while and there was a minor password glitch, but he’d got them before lunchtime.  If they knew in May that 34,000 students had applied for internet access, how come the system crashed at 6,000?  They must surely have anticipated everyone trying to log on at once at 9 am (or 11 am for the real teenagers). In GP2s case, a reminder on the login page of the length/format of the password would have sorted that particular problem immediately.  Still, he got there and didn’t have to wait for the post tomorrow.

So, we move on to whatever comes next.  And the children have a couple more weeks holiday yet. 

Home Alone

hedgehog-in-garden.jpgI’m all on my own for a few days this week, with the boys in St Andrews and husband deep south on a school reunion.  It feels quite strange – I don’t have to take anyone anywhere and can cook and eat what I want when I want.  So instead of cooking dinner at the normal time last night, I went into the tropical rain forest that is masquerading as our garden and cut the grass, filled the brown wheelie bin and picked all the currants and gooseberries.  I excavated the compost bins from a blackberry jungle – goodness knows what’s happened to the raspberries – and tried to identify the location of the pond.  I know it’s there, as I dug it.  Continue reading

Raison d’être

Now that the Standard Grades are over, and school is winding down for the year, I have this niggling feeling that my raison d’être has gone, vanished, disparu.  Perhaps I should write a final blog post, following the lead of AB and Blethers.  Trouble is, it’s too addictive and I’m not sure I could even bring myself to write a spoof.  So you’ll have to put up with me for a little longer.

There is a real end of term feel invading the cage.  GP2 arrived home yesterday with a pile of artwork; I always like seeing what they’ve been up to but I guess this is the last such pile we’ll see as he’s dropping art.  We look and admire and then wonder what to do with it all.  It will sit around for a while and then I will act as ruthless editor and decide which pieces should retain housespace and which will quietly leave the premises while his attention is elsewhere.  I have to say, biased as I am, that he has done some really nice work this year.  The genes are there, on both sides (although they skipped me!), with an uncle who has managed to make a living as a painter and a cousin who graduates any day now from Edinburgh Art School.  Her final year show opens next week so we will go and be impressed by the professionals-to-be.  In my guise as professional aunt, I have hardly seen said niece/cousin in her 3 years up north.  I haven’t provided regular meals, baled her out when she’s been stuck, or supplied income from baby-sitting duties. How can 3 years go by so fast?

I now have approximately 20 fewer pieces of metal embedded in my leg and a shiny new plaster to cover it all although the titanium plate, which I suspect will set off airport metal detectors for evermore, remains.  I have also been assured that I won’t be walking around boulder beaches 3 weeks after the plaster comes off so I’m going to have to phone my colleagues and pull out of the fortnight’s work in Shetland at the end of July.  So no watching otters on low tide at dawn this year.  Oh well.  The good thing is that I’ll have a summer at home, if only the weather would improve.  The downside – we’ll be broke.  But I will be here when the exam results come out.  Good thing or bad thing?  Who knows!

Normal service

Well, Standard Grades finished last Friday and there has been a collective breathing out and relaxing of all muscles (at least, all that don’t involve crutches and ankles).  Biology last Monday received some intensive enforced revision over the final 24 hours although, once he’d trotted off to the exam, I looked over some past papers and thought perhaps we should have spent more of that time doing some graph interpretation than checking that he’d at least read everything once.  Right, as it turns out, as he got stuck on a pie chart.  Oh well.  We’ll just have to wait until August.  Planned parental support (= pressure?) for the German exam at the end of the week never materialised due to my enforced bedrest courtesy of the NHS.  In fact, not only could I not offer any help, wanted or otherwise, but the boys were getting phonecalls along the lines of “You’d better go to the chippy for some tea” as OH found balancing a hard week at work, visiting the hospital, finding the stuff I needed – toothbrush, clean underwear, that sort of thing – managing the house, and organising the boys something of a challenge.  Not the best support for Standard Grades, I’m afraid, but I’m sure other children have to endure worse.

Back at school now and after a few days of watching videos they seem to be doing work in class again, even in the subjects they’re giving up.  I suspect this is a small challenge for the school and possibly something that hadn’t been given too much thought beforehand; how to handle 2 year groups at once following the exams.  meanwhile GP2 is coming home saying things like “Only 2 more biology lessons to go” or “I’ve only got 3 more art lessons ever“.  He could go to lunchtime art club next year only it’s at the same time as band practice.  Come August, neither of the boys will be doing Biology but at least GP2 will be doing Geography which will provide some Environmental Science input.  

All at sea


tubularia-indivisa.jpgIt seems that most of the Irish Sea – well, the seabed – has just arrived in my back yard, as a result of one of the quotes I did last week.  If I had my camera, which I kirchenpaueria-with-pycnogonids.jpgbucket.jpgmislaid at Dunbar last week, I would show you what it looks like and why I am scared, very scared!  It is one thing seeing a spreadsheet with a list of numbers of buckets and jars – quite another seeing it in the flesh.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to get my microscope serviced and clear my cubby hole in the utility room where it looks like I’ll be spending rather a lot of the next couple of months.  It’s the sort of thing I’d much rather do over the winter, but we can’t be choosy.

Standard Grades start for GP1 today.  Continue reading

A little more of too little

Just something I didn’t get around to writing the other day, when thinking about S3 Standard Grades.   

What are the perceived benefits of bringing the exams forward? Please discuss.  I think it was explained to us at the time that there is a big drop in learning during second year, and that bringing the exams forward should keep the learning momentum going into exams.  Or something along those lines.  I seem to remember that, at the time, a fair proportion of parents thought that pushing the children towards earlier exams had to be a good thing.  I don’t know whether or not they still think that.  I was a doubter from the start but as this is now the system we find ourselves in, we have to make the best of it and the grapevine suggests that a lot more schools are going to be moving in that direction.

As I said – or tried to – in my earlier post, my main problem with it is the early reduction in the syllabus.  I do think that this is potentially of considerable benefit to the less able children who are are able to drop subjects they loathe and concentrate earlier on improving grades over a narrower syllabus.  But the more able children, who may well go on to higher education, can probably cope with a wider range of subjects for longer.  They are having to drop subjects they enjoy and would be happy doing for another year without the pressure of exams.  Once you’re onto that exam roller coaster, there is no let up until well after University.  The trouble is perhaps that a comprehensive system within the constraints of school organisation has to be designed to suit everyone at once. 

The top’s just over the next hill

It was S3 parents’ evening last week.  protantheasmall.jpgWe got there early and fully expected to whizz round and be out in time for swimming club.  Wrong again!  I eventually sent the boys to help out on poolside, OH went to a squash match and I queued for 1/2 hour for the last teacher.  Finally arrived at the pool very late to find my fellow coach totally frazzled by the demands of my beginner’s lane.  Why do 7yr old boys, as a general principle, have the attention span of a gnat?  Or do they use up all their stores of attention in class during the day and just switch off as soon as they get home?  Answers on a postage stamp to…

 But back to parents evening.  It was good to meet all the teachers and this time I was very impressed by how friendly, professional, on the case and of course human they all were, without exception.  I do have to confess that this has not always been the case – on one memorable open night, after speaking to one particular teacher I voiced the opinion that “if there is any remote chance of that person teaching you next year, you won’t be doing that subject”.  Fortunately it didn’t become an issue!  Open nights are useful and first impressions do make a difference. 

But parents’ night.  Reports were generally more favourable than the tracking report had suggested, which was reassuring – there is such a big difference between talking to people and reading the permitted 30 words.  However, a recurrent theme from all of the teachers was the pressure of taking the exams a year early.  It is a lot of pressure on the children (and presumably on the teachers), a lot of work to get through and, at least for some subjects, we can’t expect the grades that they would get if there was another year. 

Maths, for example.  They will have covered all of the Int2 course but might only be entered for the Int1 exam, to make sure that they don’t fail.  But it doesn’t matter because the work they’ll have done will put them well ahead for Higher Maths, when they should be able to get a very good grade and that’s the one that counts. Still with me?  I struggled with this.  From what I understand, Highers will be done over 2 years rather than 1, which should improve Higher results.  Not being intimately familiar with the various syllabuses, I haven’t yet entirely worked out the logic.  Seems like it will be fine for those subjects that they continue with to Higher level, but that the subjects they drop at Standard Grade might well have suffered.  And it looks like he’ll be doing Higher Maths, come what may.   More to come on this & related themes in future postings.

One very useful outcome of the parents’ evening was the explanations we got of how the different subjects are examined.   For example, I had absolutely no idea beforehand that the students need to submit 5 folio pieces for English so that everything they are now bringing home to do counts towards their final mark. 14 yr old boys do not share this sort of information with their parents.  You need to understand for this that OH and I went through the English system more years ago than we like to think.  Grammar schools were the only schools worth considering, exams were exams, homework was homework and continuous assessment was something that bearded, sandal-wearing liberals discussed in the Guardian.  On second thoughts, Shirley Williams never grew a beard. 

I have found, since the day that the child minder told me I needed to register the boys’ names at nursery on their 2nd birthday and not a second later, that the system and all who work in it assume that parents are born understanding its intimate workings.  This is not the case.  We know nothing with the first child through the system and our children tell us nothing.  So please, could someone write a nice simple guide to what is involved in each subject at Standard Grade and perhaps subsequently at Higher.  This is for distribution either at the end of first year when they are making subject choices or at the start of 2nd year.  And what is an Advanced Higher and that even more mysterious 6th Year Studies? 

The present problem confronting us is how to persuade a 14yr old boy to get his head down & get on with it for a few months, that everything he does from now on counts, and has to be the best – no short cuts.  Doing work in little bits now will pay huge dividends next year.  Ears are deaf unfortunately.  We can tell him it’s only for a short time and that once the exams are over, that’s it.  But I know it’s a lie – as soon as this lot are over there are Highers, Advanced Highers, University, job applications, work, report deadlines….  The climb starts here and the top is always over the next hill.  I just have to hope that he gets better at dealing with it.