There was a part of me which wondered if, after all the debate about the Slimming World and cosmetic dentist leaflets, an instruction had gone out not to give my boy anything that I might be tempted to write about.
And it did spark an almighty discussion when I blogged about it.
Countless angry parents contacted me to say that they thought it unacceptable that promotions for private companies were being placed in a child’s schoolbag. I thought this was a valid point.
Several others told me that it wasn’t worth making a fuss about and the best thing to do was just to bin the leaflets. There were bigger things to worry about. I thought this was equally valid.
One mother seemed quite peeved and asked me if I had nothing better to do with my time. When I honestly answered that I hadn’t, she unfollowed me. Such is the lot of the blogger.
And so today, secreted among the schoolbooks, I discovered another leaflet. This time for Kumon Maths and English Study Centre.
I had no idea what this was so I went surfing. It turns out Kumon is a private education system designed by a Japanese maths teacher in the 1950s. It has since spread all over the world. It’s big business. There’s a centre just a couple of miles from our house. It provides after-school tuition for children.
The leaflet which was sent home offers a two week free trial.
What it doesn’t mention are the prices if you decide to continue with the study. It’s £30 registration and then £65 per subject each month, according to the Lisburn Kumon centre’s website.
So what we have is another private business being advertised via the schoolbag.
Of course it can be argued quite reasonably that it’s easier to defend this practice when it’s tuition in maths or English (private though it may be) rather than an ad for a slimming company.
But here’s the bit that confuses me.
Yesterday the parents of P1 pupils were asked to come to the school so the curriculum could be explained to us. Many of us complied.
Let’s look at what they told us about mathematics. The presentation said it’s practical based, numerical concepts reinforced through structured play. One of the teachers went as far as telling us we wouldn’t be seeing any maths equations in exercise books for a while.
It’s a world away from how I was taught maths in P1, but I’m happy to trust the system and go along with it.
But when I look at the maths programme offered by Kumon for young children, it’s very different.
Their website talks about a daily ‘worksheet based programme’ allowing students to develop ‘an affinity for mental maths’.
The website says this: ‘At Kumon we place great importance on children understanding how a calculation works and therefore their ability to select the most efficient approach to solve a problem. This is achieved through individualised instruction and the use of traditional methods.’
So, on the face of it they seem to be describing two completely different systems for teaching maths. Structured play v traditional methods. It’s night and day.
Would following both approaches be confusing for a young child? Does it undermine the school system if another method is being taught simultaneously?
And how does Kumon sit with the local school curriculum?
Their website says this. ‘As a global programme, Kumon does not follow a school curriculum, but rather is complementary to curricula across the world.’
Which is grand. It’s great to give people choices and not to be overly fettered by narrow systems.
But it doesn’t answer my basic question. Why does the school tell us one day how we can assist in following a curriculum but the very next pass out promotions for an education company which operates outside of that very curriculum?
Is the leaflet a case of the school advocating the Kumon system for those who can afford it?
Or is it something else?
Since I posted about the previous leaflets several parents have told me there is a flat-rate charged for the distribution of leaflets by the school.
So has the schoolbag simply become a conduit in a mercenary exercise?
Is it simply a case of Kumon down, the price is right?