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Elephants in the Zoom

Claudia Savage-Gore blames the tutors for the darlings’ home- schooling problems

Hot House

This article is taken from the April 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.


So we had all three parents evenings this week, and each one was a shit show in its own special way. The saving grace was that they were all conducted over Zoom — parents’ evening IRL being its own fresh hell.

In Lyra’s case — she’s at the oligarch-heavy prep in Hampstead — previous parents evenings have triggered full sartorial crises, as all the other mothers look like influencers (because hedge funder husbands).

And with Hector and Minnie, the hell is knowing that the couple behind you can probably hear the teacher saying things like “struggling slightly” or “just a bit concerned” or “untapped potential”. There’s one particularly
shameless French mother in Hector’s class who invariably asks, afterwards, exactly what the teacher said about Hector. Why?

And why do I care that Enzo (a name that’s rapidly descending the social scale IMO) has been recommended for a special Kumon programme? I mean, obviously I do care, but I wouldn’t if she didn’t tell me.

But the elephant in the room, after a year of on-off home schooling, was that all these failures were now somehow our fault

Equally galling: feeling old and haggard when faced with 25-year-old teachers, and Will putting on his suave dad voice when speaking to said teachers. Fresh hell, like I said.

Anyway. so hector — usual spiel about illegible handwriting, problems with “numeracy” (fucking call it maths), inability to concentrate, difficulty listening to others, no evidence of practising violin.

But the elephant in the room, after a year of on-off home schooling, was that all these failures were now somehow our fault, and not the school’s. I say “our fault”, obviously everyone was looking at me, as mother and therefore default home schooler.

So naturally, I blamed the tutors we grafted in for the last lockdown, and then realised this was actually worse than mutely taking the blame myself. Forgot how much teachers hate tutors.

Hector’s head of year looked pained and talked about the importance of parental involvement and academic nurturing, and NOT creating a “pressure cooker” environment. Chance of Hector ever feeling any pressure to do anything is nil, and made me question — if his year head knew him so badly — whether this was in fact the right school.

Will and I argued about this all the way from Belsize Park to St John’s Wood. Now having recurrent anxiety dreams about Hector, and panicking that he’s destined to end up like Will.

Same story pretty much with Minnie, but because she’s at arty Bedales-Lite boarding school the main concern seems to be that she still hasn’t found “what makes her tick”. Cue hollow internal laugh at thought that TikTok is all that makes Minnie tick, but we went through miserable charade of all pretending to contemplate whether she’d be happier doing more drama and less art, or more sport and less music.

Instead of high-fiving me her teachers raised a load of “pastoral care” concerns

Then Lyra, who I rely on to make me feel like a Tiger Mother — or at least a solid NW8 helicopter parent — delivered on the academic front (she takes after me), but instead of high-fiving me her teachers raised a load of “pastoral care” concerns. Apparently Lyra had been “withdrawn” and “distracted” at school, and the phrase “we now take mental health very seriously” came up, twice. Arguably, more mortifying than being told your child is underachieving.

Explained that Lyra had been “destabilised” by my decision to return new lockdown puppy (my worst impulse buy of the decade), which seemed to simultaneously reassure and alarm teachers. Later, they sent us a link to child pet bereavement service. Didn’t have the energy to reiterate the dog hadn’t died, it had just kept shitting in my new Vejas.

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