Diary Of A Primary School Mum: 'Thanks to TV, they can count to 10 in Spanish'

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The Independent Online

New term, new classroom, new registration system! On arrival, children must sign their names on a giant easel. A fabulous idea – if only it didn't take the twins so damn long. To speed up the process one morning, I grabbed the pencil before little fingers could get to it (naughty, I know) and scribbled an extremely polished "Claire" before adjusting to a more child-like scrawl with "Oliver". Later that day, not one, not two, but half a dozen mummies praised Claire's stunning handwriting. "It's so grown-up." "How does she do it?" "Is she a whizz kid?"

Time to confess! There was nothing to fear: Claire's writing is as mediocre as most of her classmates'. It got me thinking, though, because paranoia about the twins' intellectual standing in the class is a driving force.

Take Miss Perry's "superstar chart", for example, an incentive scheme based both on good work and good behaviour. Once a pupil has accumulated 10 stars, they get not just a certificate, but the chance to pen their name (yes, that long-winded signature again) in the headmistress's "golden book". Oliver was awarded his just before Christmas, and Claire hers just after. Were they the first? No, a handful of kids beat them to it.

My best friend, who's a primary school teacher, was round with her children, who were busy making a gooey mess (supposedly pizza dough) with my duo at the kitchen table. I told her about my vicarious competitive streak for the twins to be top of the class. "Is this irrational?" I asked.

"It's only natural," she assured me, "but it's also pointless. It won't make your child do any better. Besides, it's such a moveable feast at this age. They might be bottom of the class one year and a veritable Einstein the next. All you need to know is that they're enjoying learning and making progress." She attacked the grater with a hunk of cheddar.

"So," I mused, putting every ounce of energy into pulling the lid off a jar of tomato concentrate, "would you even answer a parent's question about how well their child was doing in comparison to the rest of their peers?"

"Maybe." She stuffed cheese crumbs into her mouth. "If they're doing well, I might say they're 'definitely in the top half of the class'. If they're struggling, I might say they're 'making improvements'."

I resolve to remember this phrasing for Miss Perry's next round of parent/teacher consultations, and forget my paranoia – until speaking to another friend, whose four-year-old attends one of the UK's leading independent girls' schools. "Daisy," she boasts, "is already learning to write joined up (beats the twins), is on reading level three (beats the twins), and I've seen her tapping away at the keyboard wearing earphones in IT class (don't think the twins even have IT class)."

Perhaps, though, formal education is overrated. So far, thanks to children's TV, they've learned to count to 10 in Spanish, know all about Cillit Bang (the household stain remover, the commercial for which appears on Nick Jr) and have an extremely good grasp of history: the "olden days" is their current pet period. "Mummy," asked Oliver recently at Grandma's, "were you alive in the olden days?" "No," I replied, "the olden days were long before even I arrived." "Silly," said Claire, "the olden days were when GRANDMA was born and there wasn't any television and children had to make their own entertainment. And there were power cuts, too." Grandma harrumphed out the room before she could hear her grandson say, "I'm so happy to be in the modern days."